The Bengals' 2-2 star feels like that of a glass-half-empty/glass-half-full ordeal.
That's looking at Cincinnati in a pessimistic light. But, this is a Bengals team that is looking strong, despite several issues, including the team's red zone woes which have killed off the hopes of a 3-1 record being a reality.
Just last week against the Dolphins, the game felt like one that should have been a 30 point win by the Bengals, but their continued red zone struggles helped make it just 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 worst red zone offense in the NFL. They're converting just 30.8 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.
New offensive coordinator Ken Zampese isn't running away from his unit's early-season struggles, and he's demanding more when they get into good scoring position.
"We should have more than we have," said Zampese on Monday, via Bengals.com. "And we've put ourselves in bad situations on our own. Self-inflicted. Regardless of who we have in there, we're better than what we've shown, and we'll be better as we go forward. We'll make sure."
As Zampese alluded to, simple mistakes cost Cincinnati on three drives that were poised 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 third-and-goal. The next red-zone trip died on a first-and-10 play at the Miami 20 thanks to a bad snap by Russell Bodine, which Andy Dalton dropped and lost 14 yards on. That drive also ended in a field goal.
Those were the difference in Cincinnati winning 30-7 or 34-7 and instead squeaking by with a 22-7 win.
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.
"We have minus-yard plays that set us back. We've had a lot of third-and-longs once we've got in there that made it hard for us to score," Zampese said. "We need to do a better job on first and second down -- not having minus-yard plays or zero plays -- where we can stay in positive situations when we get to third down and make it a lot shorter than what we've been in."
If the Bengals only get touchdowns one-third of the time the offense is in the red zone, it will not only keep this team from being a title contender, but probably end their postseason streak as well.
One thing that will aid in this area in a big way is the return of Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert. In 2015, Eifert led all NFL tight ends with 13 touchdowns, all but one of which came in the red zone. That helped the the Bengals finish tied for fifth with a touchdown percentage of 66.00 when in the red zone.
Zampese admitted Eifert's return is a big addition to his unit.
"I can't wait," Zampese said. "It's just another piece. I want him in there healthy and as we know him. "
But Zampese is optimistic about his entire unit improving with or without Eifert. He knows the young guys like Uzomah, Boyd, Cody Core, Cedric Ogbuehi, and Tyler Kroft will all continue to get comfortable with their roles, making this offense more dangerous even when Eifert isn't on the field.
"If he doesn't come back right away we are going to get better regardless," said Zampese. "These will be the same guys doing it over and over again. We'll be better with the group we have. And when we get him back in the mix he'll add whatever he ends up adding to us."