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Red Zone Issues Continue Surfacing For The Cincinnati Bengals Offense

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"…we still need to look hard at improving our red zone possessions offensively. We get close and then we don’t make the play. We keep getting down there and keep chopping wood at it and make those plays."
- Marvin Lewis following Cincinnati’s 20-13 win over the St. Louis Rams on December 18

With just under ten minutes remaining in the first quarter, the Cincinnati Bengals reached St. Louis’ two-yard line after another impressively acrobatic reception was made by the team’s most talented wide receiver. Cedric Benson lost a yard on first down, followed up with consecutive Andy Dalton floaters near the back of the end zone for A.J. Green, who caught both but well out of bounds. Mike Nugent comes on and converts the 21-yard field goal to give the Bengals an early three-point lead. The Bengals reentered the red zone on their following possession, for about 10 seconds until backup right guard Mike McGlynn was flagged for an illegal hands to the face. Andy Dalton, putting the weight of the world on his shoulders, threw an interception a couple of plays later leaving as many as 11 points on the field during Cincinnati’s first two possessions.

Through 14 games this season, Cincinnati has scored a touchdown within the red zone 48.8% of the time, which ranks 22nd in the NFL (actually better than three playoff-bound teams in Houston, San Francisco and Denver). Over the course of the last three games when Cincinnati went 1-2 against the Steelers, Texans and Rams, the Bengals have converted only 44.4% of their red zone possessions into touchdowns.

It was a huge reason why the Bengals suffered a devastating loss to the Houston Texans. From the one-yard line with 6:34 remaining in the first quarter, Bobbie Williams is called for a false start. After a run on first down for no-gain, Dalton targets Andre Caldwell on consecutive downs reaching only the four-yard line. Cincinnati left four points on the field following a Mike Nugent field goal. Late in the third quarter Cincinnati established a first and goal from Houston’s nine-yard line. A two-yard loss by Bernard Scott and consecutive ineffective passes by Andy Dalton led to another Mike Nugent field goal, leaving another four points on the field. When it was all said and done, the Bengals lost by a point to the Texans.

Down 31-21 with eight minutes remaining in the game, the Cincinnati Bengals had two red zone opportunities to beat the Baltimore Ravens in week 11. Jermaine Gresham’s touchdown was overturned on third and two from Baltimore’s nine-yard, forcing Mike Nugent to convert a 27-yard field goal with over five minutes remaining. Thanks to a nice defensive stand on third and one, the Bengals drove the football to Baltimore’s seven-yard line. Dalton threw three incomplete passes (one in which was called for intentional ground) and the quarterback was sacked on four and goal from Baltimore’s 17-yard line.

During Cincinnati’s week three loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the Bengals left eight points on the field, forced to convert field goals instead of scoring touchdowns. It’s been happening throughout much of the season and it’s an area within the football team that the coaching staff knows needs improvement.

Unless Cincinnati improves their red zone offense, corrects their mistakes in other areas, the conversation for where the Bengals stand in the playoffs will quickly become irrelevant.