At the start of this season, the Cincinnati Bengals seemed like sure-fire Super Bowl contenders. Now five games into the season, the Bengals sit at 2-3 and the postseason is not guaranteed.
One problem for the offense is they aren’t scoring at nearly as high of a rate as they have in the past. So why can’t the Bengals score? The problem is pretty clear to see; they’re missing the best red zone target on the team, their leader in receiving touchdowns from 2015, and Dalton’s go-to in the red zone. The absence of Tyler Eifert has obliterated Cincinnati’s offense.
At 6’6”, 250 pounds, Eifert’s size and hands make an easy target for Dalton when in the red zone, and he was the lifeblood of the Cincinnati offense inside the 20 last season.
The evidence of that is clear in the red zone numbers. Last season, Cincinnati ranked sixth in red zone touchdown percentage, putting up six points in the red zone 65 percent of the time, according to teamrankings.com. This season, Cincinnati is 30th in the league in that same category, converting touchdowns at a rate of just 40 percent.
It certainly isn’t a coincidence that Cincinnati’s red zone scoring percentage is down with Eifert out. Last season, 11 of Eifert’s 13 touchdowns came from inside the red zone. Those 11 touchdowns were the second-most by any receiver in the red zone, according to NFL Savant. Only Allen Robinson had more (12), and Eifert tied with Jordan Reed for second. Eifert was targeted 16 times in the red zone, meaning the Bengals scored a touchdown 69% of the time they passed to him when within 20 yards of the end zone. Eifert’s red zone touchdowns accounted for well over half of Dalton’s 19 touchdown passes in the red zone last season, so it’s obvious that Eifert is Dalton’s go-to near the goal line.
Without Eifert, the main target becomes Green, who had seven red zone touchdowns last season. Green was targeted more often than Eifert in the red zone last year, getting thrown to 22 times. The touchdown rate of Green being lower than that of Eifert is further proof that Eifert is Cincinnati’s top receiver in the red zone. Green’s lower conversion rate is an even bigger problem this year, as the Bengals have much less depth at the wide receiver position. Without Marvin Jones (who is now the league’s leading receiver) and Mohamed Sanu (who’s doing well in Atlanta), Green becomes not only the most significant option in the red zone, but one of the only options in the red zone.
Without the big tight end to target near the goal line, Cincinnati’s offense is struggling mightily. Their inability to score in the red zone has hurt them badly this year. Eifert would not only help improve the team’s red zone percentage, but also help get them into the red zone to begin with. The Bengals couldn’t do much at all on offense until late against the Dallas Cowboys, and having Eifert as a target would’ve helped get the team into better position to score, and at the very least keep the game competitive.
Until Eifert returns from this extended period of injury-caused inactivity, the Bengals are going to be a stagnant scoring offense. It’s crazy to think that one player could change a team so much, but he is the primary component of Cincinnati’s red zone offense. The offense is great in the middle of the field, but Eifert is the only solution to their red zone woes. Once he returns, Cincinnati could likely get back to the high-powered, high-scoring offense we saw last season.