After a terrible loss to the Cowboys in Jerry World, the Bengals don’t look like a contender anymore. Of course there is still a lot of season left, but Cincinnati doesn’t scare anyone right now. It reminds me of the 2014 Cincinnati squad, which can be both a good and bad thing.
The Bengals were without Marvin Jones Jr. and also lost Tyler Eifert after one quarter of play. A.J. Green would also miss four contests, including the Wild Card game that Cincinnati lost in Indianapolis in awful fashion. The offense struggled throughout much of the year, unable to stretch opposing defenses vertically and they needed to switch to a power running scheme that saw rookie running back Jeremy Hill excell. I mean, Brandon Tate and Greg Little took turns getting blanketed by rival cornerbacks throughout the season.
Cincinnati was bad against winning teams in 2014, losing twice to the Steelers and the Colts and getting destroyed on Thursday Night Football at home by the lowly Browns. The eventual Super Bowl winners, the Patriots, trashed them early in the season as well. They swept the Ravens, though, and Baltimore also ended up making the playoffs. Some of those losses were just ugly: 43-17 in Foxboro, 27-0 in Indianapolis, 24-3 at home against Cleveland.
The Bengals have started the 2016 season looking similarly. The offense can’t get anything going for various reasons: the offensive line has regressed, nobody is getting open as no outside speed was added in the offseason, the running game is in a rut; and the defense is again struggling to get to the quarterback as Geno Atkins doesn’t look like his best self and behind the still-great Carlos Dunlap, there’s nobody. This time around, the defense is even more concerning as they’re allowing a ton of big plays.
Two years ago, the Bengals still managed to beat mediocre competition to reach 10 wins and one tie - thank you, Mike Nugent. In 2016 they’ve barely beaten the New York Jets and dismantled the same Miami Dolphins that lost this week to Mike Mularkey’s Titans offense.
But think about it, this team could still get it together and achieve a winning season. They are not as good as some thought they would be entering the season, but the Bengals still have more talent than your average, eight-win team.
Right now the Bengals need to find something that works on offense as they did in 2014, even though those days look further and further away with another disappointing outing by Jeremy Hill and the creative mind of Hue Jackson off in Cleveland. With Marvin Jones gone, Cincinnati doesn’t have anybody opposing defenses must respect deep and that is making Green’s life miserable. Andy Dalton is more adept to taking care of the football, so he’s also not forcing the ball Green’s way when it’s not going to work.
Eifert gave the Bengals’ quarterback a huge weapon down the seams and in the red zone last year, but it’s C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Kroft in at tight end now. Dalton is simply not getting the help he needs to perform at a high level right now.
For the first time in his career, I feel bad for Andy Dalton. Not many would be good when the OL, WRs and Run Game have performed this badly— Joe (@JoeGoodberry) October 9, 2016
The defense is also suffering from a persistent issue at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals are again relying on average backups to replace their gone starters’ production, just like in 2014 when Wallace Gilberry became a starter because of Michael Johnson’s departure for Tampa Bay. No contending team should count Margus Hunt as their rotational pass rusher. Two rookies in William Jackson III and Andrew Billings could have had roles but are injured, and Vontaze Burfict is still getting his way back into football shape. They also lost a very valuable coordinator in Hue Jackson and replaced him internally with Ken Zampese, while experiencing a downgrade in talent as well.
This is part of a bigger problem though. The coaching staff and the rest of the decision makers rave about loyalty and sticking with "their guys", and that is how Russell Bodine is still the Bengals’ starting center and why Rey Maualuga plays in nickel packages.
If you're wondering about Bodine's head-whip pic.twitter.com/cXuCdEjgHe— Joe (@JoeGoodberry) October 9, 2016
You can call me opportunistic because I’m still confident after a 2-3 start to the season in which the Bengals played the Steelers on the road and the defending Super Bowl champions. There’s still 11 more games and two of them are against the Browns.
My point is, we’ve seen this movie before. Unathletic linebackers, no pass rush other than Dunlap, no threat other than Green. We can talk about needing to "keep banging" but the truth is the Bengals need to make adjustments, just like the Cowboys did on Sunday. Known as a heavy man-coverage defense, Dallas switched to a cover 2 and that dismantled the entire rhythm on offense for the Bengals. Going for it on fourth down would help as well.
Cincinnati actually scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, just like we saw them move down the field and rally against Pittsburgh when the Steelers went into full prevention mode. They might have actually started the process though, as Giovani Bernard for example, clearly looks like the better running back for the Bengals right now, and he started in Dallas and had some success early on. The offense looked good until Hill came in and whiffed on a block for a Brandon LaFell reverse that eventually forced the team to punt. That was only their first drive.
The Bengals will find ways to beat less talented teams, but right now, the team doesn’t look like it can beat an above average squad, just like we saw in 2014. But just like in 2014, that might be enough to earn them a Wild Card spot, which I’d gladly take, too.
PS: Don’t be too hard on me; I read all of the comments.