With A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, and Tyler Eifert out this Sunday, it's difficult to foresee Cincinnati's passing offense having much of an impact this weekend. Even when A.J. Green was on the field, the Bengals couldn't breach top-ten status with their passing game. Look at it this way, Andy Dalton has four touchdown passes this season -- on pace for a career-low 16. Andrew Luck has posted four touchdown passes... in a game. Twice.
This isn't a criticism... it just is. Ideally the Bengals use the running game to setup the pass -- Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard are simply more dependable right now. Circumstances, such as early leads and Cincinnati's confident defense, often circumvents the need to throw the football. Other circumstances, such as early deficits, often creates the desperation to throw. Philosophy has preached a significant impact as well, forcing Dalton into quick throws with limited audibles, and no improvisation.
Dare we say that Cincinnati doesn't sport an offense strong enough to face early adversity? Maybe they will soon. Perhaps everything is already clicking after Sunday's thrashing. On the other hand, facing a realistic starting lineup with Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate and (maybe) Dane Sanzenbacher, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will have to get creative or become ridiculously loyal to the ground game.
For the most part, Cincinnati's passing game has been largely proficient. When you're a team that's faced a deficit for 48 seconds in the first three games, you can rely on a conservative system. When faced with adversity (aka, New England Patriots game), it became widely unreliable.
Already losing 14-0 with 2:06 remaining in the first quarter, the Bengals, suddenly faced with a need to invade Patriots airspace, have third and two from their own 28-yard line. Andy Dalton takes the shotgun snap and quickly reads single-coverage on Giovani Bernard's out and up.
It was the right read. Bernard is wide open and with his speed, it's a possible touchdown.
Overthrown. Incomplete. Punt.
On their ensuing possession, they have third and 19 -- thanks to a four-yard loss by Jeremy Hill and an Andrew Whitworth false start. We can't expect Dalton, who found Hill for 15 yards on third down, to overcome that. Cincinnati has third and seven with 6:46 remaining in the second. An incomplete pass was nullified by an Alfonzo Dennard hold, gifting the Bengals with an automatic first down. Cincinnati ran on third and three two plays later and Mike Nugent converts the 23-yarder.
With 14:07 remaining in the third quarter, Cincinnati has third and five from their own 24 yard line. Dalton tried hitting James Wright down the left sidelines. Some may complain "why are we trying to complete a pass to Wright", but everyone should know that New England played it well and... for the love of God, Cincinnati's receivers couldn't find any separation across the board. We're not blaming Dalton on this because there's nothing there. That's either the coordinator, or the receivers, mostly all of whom were single-covered.
Cincinnati can NOT get into poor third down situations. They were awful last week against the Patriots, even with a supposedly healthy A.J. Green. Statistically speaking, they are the worst team in the NFL converting third downs (30 percent) and Andy Dalton isn't very efficient in those situations. Sure, when it's third and nine (or more), Dalton has completed 11 of 12 passes, but he's averaging 5.3 yards per attempt (aka, checking down a lot). When it's third down and eight yards or less, Dalton has completed eight of 19 for 151 yards. Per the Washington Post, Dalton is the worst third down quarterback in the AFC.
This isn't only on Dalton. It's also on the offensive coordinator to find ways for players to succeed. It's also on the receivers to step up. Like most non-future hall of fame quarterbacks, this passing offense can't rely on Dalton alone. He must have help and he must find it from those that are expected to perform.