The Bengals had two weeks to cook up a game plan against the Falcons and discover a consistency on both sides of the ball, yet results varied again last week as a powerful throwing attack was wasted by a poor defensive showing—or non-showing—in another loss.
It now seems crystal clear that this offense is at its best in the no-huddle comeback mode. They appeared unstoppable during the third quarter and were on their way to a tie game in the fourth when they stopped themselves after Terrell Owens failed to bring in a catchable deep ball and Cedric Benson juked himself out and fumbled the ball away without being touched.
The encouraging thing is seeing how everyone goes about their tasks in a much better rhythm in the no-huddle offense. Atlanta's secondary was on their heels and for the first time in a while, this team set up the run with the pass. That is the identity of this season's offense; it's impossible to ignore, and it should be used before the Bengals need to come from behind. They have found something that works; keep doing that. It's caveman philosophy.
The down-side, of course, is the continuation of self-destruction that this sadomasochistic teenager of a team insists upon. It has identity issues, lacks ambition and can't focus on anything. It has plenty of potential in it, but instead of doing something with it, the Bengals just hang out in the basement with Cleveland doing who knows what.
The offense really showed some firepower that second half, but they also showed they have some more growing up to do—metaphorically speaking, of course.
The defense, however, didn't show us much of anything. Adam Jones and Leon Hall made big plays, but they also contributed to many opposing big plays allowed on that day. Even though this is the exact same cast as last year (plus some), they look slower, older, more injured, less inspired and somewhat disinterested. They certainly no longer reflect the grittiness of their coach. When it's time to dig deep and give Zim their best shit—as he likes to say himself—it's not been good enough. It's been inadequate shit.
Part of me wonders if playing such rugged defense last season took a toll on the players. This defense isn't necessarily young and many of these men seem far more replaceable individually than they did a year ago. That toughness I grew fond of has evaporated, replaced by indifferent lethargy. The undervalued-castaway mentality morphed into into an expectant and assumptive one; as if a fourth-ranked defensive mark was going to occur without the same effort. The defensive line is playing far below average, the linebackers have not played well, the safeties are frightfully bad right now, the corners have been downgraded from great to good. Things are not looking up for Zim's troop.
The other part of me wonders about the scheme and its focus. Loyal readers to this blog were informed last posting that limiting Roddy White was key in this match-up, but he went berserk against the Bengals anyway and inexplicably was not made a priority to stop. During one of his touchdown catches, White was covered by Rey Maualuga wile Chris Crocker and Johnathan Joseph surrounded Tony Gonzalez in the end zone. On another key third-down attempt, White converted with just Crocker there to cover. Why White wasn't doubled more will remain a mystery to me.
So if they weren't committed to stopping White, what was the commitment made toward disarming the Falcons? Tony Gonzalez perhaps? Gonzalez had a quiet day but if that comes at the expense of 400 other yards, Atlanta will take that every time. The Bengals certainly didn't do a good job against the run. Michael Turner has found room outside of the tackle box this year, but it didn't seem to matter what hole he decided to run through. If this defense can't stop the run, can't pressure the quarterback and can't cover most eligible receivers, how do they ever expect to win? If it's a matter of will and not about execution or scheme, this team is in trouble. They still need more players step up in the crunch and they need more big plays to go their way down the stretch. The Bengals will not survive in the long-run if they must shootout with other teams every week.
So if all phases of this team can come together even more than half of the time, life will seem better around these parts. No NFL team is going to be perfect all the time, and perfection is a ridiculous expectation in regards to the Cincinnati Bengals right now, but we can see their greatness through all the frustrating layers of mediocrity. It's like storing priceless antiques in a leaky old garage; all that value is just left to rot and spoil. Any chance for the playoffs this year is quickly being drug out to sea and if some semblance of control isn't developed soon, the undertow will become too strong and the 2010 season will be drowned with the other failed campaigns. Get a grip, men, you're bumming us out.
Mojokong—light years away.