"Everybody has a plan 'til they get punched in the mouth". Most know the famous quote by former heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson, and the Cincinnati Bengals are currently becoming very familiar with the idea.
Going into this offseason, most began proclaiming this team as one of the most talented in franchise history and one poised to make a Super Bowl run. Bold? Sure. Far-fetched? Not really. Labor Day faded into the background and the games began to count for real.
Making believers of the predictors, the Bengals shot off to a fast 3-0 start, with a particularly impressive road victory against the Baltimore Ravens. Seeing the wins and how dominant every aspect of the team looked, it became difficult to pick out a game on the schedule that would be chalked up in the "L" column. The guys from the Queen City quickly became the Kings of the Power Rankings.
And then the buzz saw happened.
The perfect storm awaited them in New England and the proud men from the Midwest began playing like a completely different team. Gone was the swagger and speed that made them the best-looking team in the AFC. Gone was the crisp execution and dominant victories. The fun, for the most part, left with it.
It's an odd statement to make once it's said out loud, but when the Bengals go to Indianapolis next Sunday, they will be facing the prospect of not having won a football game for a month. That is a difficult achievement for a team that currently sits with only one loss on the season.
The stark contrast between Weeks 1-3 and 4-6 is staggering. Yes, there were some glimpses of potential cracks of erosion in those blowout wins, but so many other strong areas quelled any concerns that could have possibly surfaced. Many, including myself, labeled the Carolina Panthers as a "Jekyll and Hyde team" as this Sunday's showdown approached. As the weeks continue to roll by, it might be the Bengals that embody that fickle nature.
The Numbers Tell A Story:
|Stat Category||Points Scored||Points Allowed||Total Yards||Total Yards Allowed||Pass Yards||Rush Yards
||Rushing Yards Allowed
||Passing Yards Allowed||Sacks||Sacks Allowed||Turnovers Forced||Turnovers Against||Penalties||Point Differential|
It's easy to see where some of the problem areas are the past two weeks. Turnovers, penalties and rushing yardage allowed are all the primary culprits--particularly when you break it down to a per-game or per-play type of scenario. That trifecta, which the Bengals have managed to achieve, spelled the 0-1-1 result the past two games.
From where this writer sits, the most concerning issues lie in the turnover differential and the big drop-off in quarterback sacks. Teams simply don't win in the NFL when they lose the turnover battle, especially in such a steep manner, as well as showing the inability to pressure the opposing passer. The scary thing is that those are the types of statistical categories that the Bengals' defense has made a living off of the past few years.
Injuries: Though Andy Dalton has remained effective during this slide, it doesn't help that Tyler Eifert, A.J. Green and Marvin Jones have all been out of the lineup. Throw in the absence of Vontaze Burfict against Tom Brady and the Patriots, a still-recovering Geno Atkins and other bumps and bruises on defense and there is a major issue. No matter how deep of a team has been constructed, clubs can't lose Pro Bowlers and major contributors all at once and not feel the effects.
Paul Guenther: It's one thing to get torched by a highly-motivated and angry Patriots team. It's another to look befuddled and downtrodden on that side of the ball for two consecutive weeks. The Panthers gouged them on the ground and through the air, while the Bengals kept extending their drives with huge (and sometimes unfairly called) penalties. Coaching in every aspect has been bad during the past two weeks, but the defense has looked soft and disgraced, quite frankly.
Facing Tougher Teams: Going on the road to New England is never an easy task, even if they don't look like the same world-beaters they have been over the past decade and a half. Carolina is coming off of an 11-win season from a year ago and Cam Newton is getting healthier every week. Most reasonable fans knew these would be difficult games. Still, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, right?
The Silver Lining:
I look to the beginning of 2012 for solace. The Bengals and their defense got off to a horrible 3-4 start, including a blowout loss at the hands of the Ravens, two poor performances against the Browns that netted them a 1-1 split, a familiar loss to the Steelers and a stressful win to the Redskins with rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. The proud defense, coached by Cincinnati savior, Mike Zimmer, was crumbling.
Cleveland racked up 61 points in those two contests, including career performances from quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson, both current backups. As it was with Newton this past Sunday, RG3 had a monster statistical day against Cincinnati with the read-option, as the Bengals squeaked out a 38-31 win on the road. The Bengals then rallied to a 7-2 finish on the season and made the playoffs after tightening up significantly on defense.
The moral of the story? Maybe the sky isn't falling...yet. In the coming weeks, people will truly see what this team is made of--be it via coaching adjustments, getting healthy and/or cleaning up bonehead mistakes. They have already made some roster moves that could make fans uneasy, but they are doing what is necessary at the given time.