Sometimes there are games that would be better cut short. This was one of them. The Bengals were completely out of the game from nearly the moment it began. There was never a point at which the team gained momentum or gave those watching a reason to believe the team could come back. I like to consider myself a Bengals optimist, but, I couldn’t get on board, which was a problem the Bengals had too, as they were scoreless through three quarters. The Bengals are now are 2-3 and facing a very real possibility of starting the season 2-4 as they head to New England next weekend to face the Patriots. So what went wrong?
Slow start on defense
One of the keys to this game had to be limiting Ezekiel Elliott’s ability on the ground. On the first drive, the Bengals defense couldn’t have done a worse job at stopping Elliott. The rookie running back had 4 rushes for 42 yards and a touchdown on the opening drive. No wonder the Cowboys wanted to start with the ball. The touchdown was the first rushing score the Bengals allowed all year. And, it took less than five minutes in Dallas for it to happen. That drive was pretty indicative of how the rest of the day would play out. Elliott had two rushing scores and Dak Prescott added a third.
Giovani Bernard started... this actually may have been one of the things that went right
Interestingly, and for the first time since the Bengals played the 49ers in Week 15 of 2015, Giovani Bernard started for the Bengals at running back. On the first offensive drive, he had 2 carries for 21 yards and 1 catch for 11. Jeremy Hill did play on the opening offensive drive, so it doesn’t appear the decision to start Bernard was injury related. Though, now it appears Hill is hurt (more on that later).
Vontaze Burfict briefly left the field, holding his stomach after sliding to make a tackle on Brice Butler as he made a catch from Dak Prescott. It appeared Burfict may have had the wind knocked out of him on the play as he quickly entered the game a few plays later.
Scratch slow start, make that slow first half
The Bengals defense looked completely out of sorts throughout the first half, whether it was allowing three different running backs to run for 9+ yards at a time or allowing five Cowboys receivers to make catches for 10 yards or more at a time.
On offense, the Bengals never crossed the Dallas 40-yard line during the entire first half and Dalton was 10/14 for 93 yards. A.J. Green was targeted only one time in the first half and C.J. Uzomah was the leading receiver with 3 catches for 29 yards.
Scratch slow first half, that’s just a bad game
The Cowboys made going up 21-0 on the Bengals look easy. And then made going up 28-0 look easier. By the end of the game, the Bengals had six penalties for 49 yards, which is just one yard less than the amount of rushing yards Giovani Bernard totaled.
The game ended with Brandon LaFell as the leading receiver with 68 yards and 2 touchdowns on 8 catches. Green had just 50 yards on 4 catches and was targeted 8 times. He ended up leaving the game briefly after limping off the field, but did return for at least one play.
Cedric Ogbuehi is killing drives
Cedric Ogbuehi looked bad throughout the first half, but so did the rest of the offensive line. Andy Dalton had no time to throw and as a result, receivers weren’t able to get open in time for him to throw their way. There’s not much Dalton can do when he’s getting no help up front.
This from my CJ colleague, Anthony Cosenza basically sums it up.
Fun drinking game: chug one every time Andy Dalton has to skitter out of the pocket because of poor blocking and/or guys not getting open.— Anthony Cosenza (@CJAnthonyCUI) October 9, 2016
As the second half began, it seemed things were clicking a bit more when the offense got onto the field. Two penalties against the Cowboys helped the Bengals get down the field. But, it didn't work out as the offense stalled with incomplete passes thrown Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green's ways and Mike Nugent missed a 50-yard field goal to render the drive scoreless.
When the Bengals defense took the field for the first time in the second half, they faced a 21-0 scoreboard and in one play, that changed as Elliott ran 61 yards for a touchdown, making the score 28-0. The defense looked confused and completely out of the game.
Back on offense, Dalton was doing all he could to keep the offense coherent, but drops and incompletions were frequent as the second half wore on. It was just one of those days where everything that could go wrong did.
There was a moment when Dalton seemed shaken up and hopped around on one foot before quickly getting back into the huddle. Then, a few plays later Jeremy Hill left the game on a rushing play which netted -1 yards. Hill was deemed questionable to return with a chest injury, but the injury didn’t look good. Hill was on the injury report all week leading up to the game with a chest injury suffered in Week 4 against the Dolphins. It seems possible he aggravated that injury.
Many issues to fix.
Tyler Eifert isn’t going to fix everything on offense with his return; the red zone offense was actually improved against the Cowboys with both opportunities yielding touchdowns from Brandon LaFell. Both the offense and defense have serious work to do before facing the Patriots in just seven days.
The defense was seemingly arguing on the sidelines as at varying moments defensive leaders were seen discussing what was going wrong. Even Pat Sims was angrily talking to Vontaze Burfict about what was going on with the linebackers.
I’ve never seen Andy Dalton leave a game as angry as he left the field at AT&T Stadium.
It’s going to be a long flight back to Cincinnati.