One would think there wouldn’t be much to complain about from the kind of dominating performance Cincinnati had Thursday vs Miami.
But while the game felt like that of a 34-0 win by the Bengals, their continued red zone struggles helped make this ‘only’ a 22-7 win. That may be one of the most deceiving scores you’ll see in an NFL game this season, as this was an absolute manhandling of the Dolphins, but failing to get touchdowns and settling instead for field goals led to Cincinnati struggling to put points on the board.
Now, the Bengals have the fourth-worst red zone offense in the NFL. They’re converting just 30.1 percent of their red zone trips into touchdowns. That simply won’t cut it against better teams, and Miami is probably one of the 10 worst teams in the NFL right now.
Only getting touchdowns 1⁄3 of the time will not only keep this team from being a title contender, but probably will kill their postseason hopes as well. Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth knows this, and he stressed the importance of improving following Thursday’s game.
“We just have to eliminate mistakes in the red zone,” Whitworth said. “For whatever reason, every time we get in a scoring position, we have a little hiccup here or there. We’re moving the football well, and to have a hiccup down there when we have a chance to score or we get a turnover down there, we don’t get seven out of it. “
As Whitworth alluded to, simple mistakes cost the Bengals on three drives that looked destined to end with touchdowns. One involved C.J. Uzomah dropping a pass in the red zone that would have given Cincinnati a fresh set of downs deep in Miami territory.
Another drive stalled after Tyler Boyd dropped a touchdown in the end zone on 3rd and goal. The next red-zone trip died on a 1st-and-10 play at the Miami 20 thanks to a bad snap by Russell Bodine that Andy Dalton dropped and lost 14 yards. That drive also ended in a field goal.
Those three drops were the difference in Cincinnati winning 30-7 or 34-7 and instead squeaking by with a 22-7 win.
But those weren’t the only issues. A separate red-zone trip stalled because the Bengals got the Miami 11-yard line, but gained just one yard on the ensuing two run plays by Giovani Bernard. That led to a long third-down attempt that came up just a few yards short when Uzomah caught a six-yard pass.
Losing on first and second down tends to be fatal for said set of downs, and Whit knows the offensive line needs to get more push and execute better to not kill drives.
“This game could have easily been a 40-something to 7 game, and we made it where they still have a shot at the end,” Whitworth said. “The reality is our red zone percentage has got to get better if we’re going to have a chance to get where we want.”
The good news is a lot of these issues have been thanks to new players taking on big roles. Uzomah and Boyd are playing a lot because of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu leaving this offseason in addition to Tyler Eifert being out.
Right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi is also starting for the first time in his very young career after missing a lot of time due to injury over his first year-and-a-half in the NFL. Once he gets settled at right tackle, the offense should move more efficiently, and the same can be said of Uzomah and Boyd getting used to their pass-catching roles.
“Like I said, we’re going to mature,” Whitworth said. “We’re going to get better. We’ve got a lot of new faces in their offensively and if you really look at it snap-to-snap, there’s a lot of guys that haven’t been leaned on to play that many snaps or have never played in the offense, so there’s going to be a growing part of the season.
“Now it’s time to really see guys take leaps and bounds forward.”
The good news is all of these issues are very fixable. Let’s just hope the Bengals use these next 10 days to get them corrected. The next stretch of games at Dallas and at New England will not end in wins if these same mistakes are made.