If there’s one thing that can really sum up why the Bengals have struggled to put together a .500 record in the first four games of the season, it’s their red zone efficiency. It has gotten so bad that even when they looked like they were dominating a team like the lowly Miami Dolphins, they ended up settling for field goals on five drives and two out of three in the red zone. The other scoring drive ended in a touchdown pass to A.J. Green.
When you sit down and think about it, a more efficient Bengals offense could have beaten the Dolphins by as much as 42-7. No one is going to complain too much about a 22-7 score, but the final score just did not reflect how much the Bengals absolutely dominated this game between the pylons.
Heading into Week 5, up against a much more competent opponent in the Dallas Cowboys, the Bengals are simply going to have to find a way to punch the ball in the endzone when they enter the red zone.
For the last few weeks, Bengals analysts and fans have generally agreed that the red zone issues can be fixed with the addition of a dynamic red zone weapon like 6’6” Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert. Unfortunately, it was announced on Friday that yet another injury setback will cause him to miss this week’s game.
There is no Eifert bailout coming this week, so the Bengals will need to find some way to turn their league worst 30.77 percent red zone efficiency into something respectable against the Cowboys. The league average is around 60 percent, so they have some work to do.
One strategy they could try is utilizing the running game. It sounds crazy because the Bengals’ rushing attack has been notably lackluster, right? Against the Dolphins, they only managed to put together 77 rushing yards. So far this season, they have recorded the sixth least rushing yards in the NFL (323), the third worst yards per run (3.1), and have only scored three rushing touchdowns in four games.
Yes, it is a bit weird to be suggesting that the Bengals can rely on the running game to pick up the red zone slack this week. But, don’t forget the Cowboys have given up the fifth most yards per run in the NFL so far (4.5). They haven’t allowed many rushing touchdowns (two), but the Bengals’ passing game has already proven that it can carry the load down most of the field. Once the Bengals get near the end zone, all they need to do is hand the ball to last year’s rushing touchdown leader and human bowling ball, Jeremy Hill.
If that doesn’t work, don’t forget that the Bengals have a not-so-secret endzone weapon in A.J. Green who seems to have the ability to bring down even the most impossible looking catches in bounds.
Other than the Jets, the Cowboys have given up more receiving touchdowns than all of the Bengals’ opponents so far (seven). Their defense is pretty good at handling most aspects of the passing game, but tend to come up short when it comes to defending a pass in the endzone. So, it’s not like the passing game should just be shutdown in the red zone.
It is true that offensive coordinator Ken Zampese is going to have to come up with a creative game-plan to help his unit reach their potential in the red zone this week. The offense will continue to struggle in the red zone if something doesn’t change. But, that change doesn’t necessarily have to come from adding more available talent. It would certainly be nice, but the Bengals should have enough weapons to find a way to score regularly in Dallas this week, even without Eifert.