The Cincinnati Bengals are heading into a Week 5 matchup that could be considered a solid barometer for how the rest of the season will play out. Going on the road against a Dallas Cowboys team that currently sits at 3-1, despite injuries to many of their star players, definitely provides a challenge.
On Wednesday, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis addressed the media to talk about a number of subjects, including the upcoming matchup against “America’s Team”, the emergence of Will Clarke and what he thinks of Cincinnati’s somewhat-disappointing 2-2 start to the season.
“The Cowboys are playing good football,” Lewis noted. “They’ve obviously done a very effective job offensively with running the football, winning on third down – at a 50 percent conversion (rate) –and their yards per carry.”
Dallas’ winning record has come on the backs of two rookies: running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott. The rookie signal-caller out of Mississippi State has a 98.5 quarterback rating and hasn’t committed any turnovers in four starts so far in 2016, while Elliott is coming off of back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances going into Week 5.
Their quarterback has been very, very good,” Lewis said as he started to channel his infamous coach-speak. “He’s (Prescott) not really even throwing the ball into traffic. He’s very efficient with his throws and not making any error that way. That’s been their key thus far. So it’s important for us. We’ve got to play really well. They’re doing a good job, and we have to play our football game.”
Lewis continued to also praise Elliott, calling him “fast and strong, with great vision”. But it isn’t only the exciting skill set of the rookie back that has been the key to his success.
The overall talent of the Cowboys offensive line has also been the talk of the week. Tyron Smith appears to be returning to practice, strengthening the talent up front even further, which has Bengals fans envious, based on the state of their offensive line so far in 2016.
“They’re athletic. They’re strong. They’re big. They’re physical,” Lewis continued with his praise on the Cowboys. “They’re obviously put together very well. You’ve got three first-round picks up there, so they’re guys that everybody knew were really good players.”
In speaking about his own team, Lewis was also asked about the surprising emergence of Will Clarke, a third-year defensive end who is finally beginning to flourish as a rotational lineman. Through four games, Clarke is tied for the team lead in sacks with three alongside Carlos Dunlap, and he has stepped in after injuries and free agency departures hit Cincinnati’s defensive front.
“He has worked hard, taken advantage of opportunities, and done a really good job as a rotation guy and a player that can take advantage of a situation. Most importantly, he is finishing plays,” Lewis said.
After the team started 1-1, murmurs began about the next two games being “must-win” scenarios, but a chance for the Bengals to escape the first part of their treacherous schedule with a winning record would be huge. Lewis didn’t tip his hand much about the attitude from the players on the magnitude of the contest, but getting a win in Dallas would go a long way in turning around a mediocre start to the season.
“We’re in October now, so there is a sense of urgency that you’ve got to have to have to be a great football team. We’re playing all good teams. We’ve got 12 football games left in the regular season, and they’re all good football teams. We’re going to have to play good football week in and week out. It’s time for us to step forward, put our best feet forward and play well.”
There were missed opportunities in the losses to both the Steelers and the Broncos which the Bengals could have capitalized on for possible wins. Two dropped interceptions in Week 3 against Denver particularly come to mind, as do the aforementioned struggles of Cincinnati’s offensive line in all four games.
With the new personnel the Bengals have employed this offseason, a month’s worth of games should provide enough time to start jelling. It’s especially true as the Bengals got back Vontaze Burfict last week, and are awaiting the return of Tyler Eifert. But quality play is paramount this week as the team travels to take on a talented opponent.