For a second straight week, the Bengals showed glimpses of their 2015-caliber play. Unfortunately for the team and its fans, those glimpses weren’t anything more, as Cincinnati left London with a tie with the Washington Redskins.
This was a game where at times, it was hard to understand why the Bengals didn’t blow the doors off the Redskins, but it was simultaneously incredible that Cincinnati was even in the game. The Bengals were out-gained in yards by a wide margin (the Redskins recorded 546 to the Bengals’ 415), yet they still scored four touchdowns to Washington’s three. The Bengals’ few great moments made up for the majority of the game in which they didn’t look good, but there were only so many great moments. Here’s what we learned this week:
The Bengals got away with a tie in a game they did not deserve to win.
Blame the Bengals’ missed opportunities all you want, but the Redskins missed more opportunities. Washington went 1-for-4 in the red zone and 0-for-2 on fourth downs, gifting the Bengals points by virtue of taking risks which ultimately didn’t pay off, and to top Mike Nugent’s two misses, Dustin Hopkins missed two kicks, including a gimme overtime kick from just 34 yards out which would’ve won the game. That’s Hopkins’ first career miss from inside 40 yards. Though the result isn’t ideal, as a win would always be better, the Bengals are still in the playoff mix at 3-4-1.
For all of the complaints of poor officiating hurting the Bengals this season, Cincinnati was the beneficiary of several missed calls and quite a few questionable penalties this week. To put this out of the way, George Iloka (helmet-to-helmet hit on DeSean Jackson) and Shawn Williams (blatant facemask on Jamison Crowder) got away with plays which should’ve been penalized. The refereeing obviously wasn’t perfect — there were some calls the Redskins got and some missed calls on Washington — but Cincinnati was the clear benefactor in terms of Sunday’s officiating.
A.J. Green is the best receiver in the NFL (but we already knew that).
I made this point last week, but his play on Sunday backed up my point. Josh Norman was noticeably agitated against the wide receiver, who should’ve had more than 200 yards receiving on the day if not for several errant passes from Andy Dalton. NFL Network’s Chris Wesseling made the same point on Sunday’s episode of the Around the NFL Podcast. Hopefully people can start talking about Green as a guy who deserves to be in the “Best NFL Receiver” conversation, as he deserves the recognition.
The AFC is still really bad.
Aside from the Patriots, there are really no clear contenders in the NFL, let alone the AFC. I don’t trust any AFC South team, and the Bills may very well be riding a three-game losing streak when they head to Cincinnati in Week 11. Like the Bills, the Ravens are hard to trust, as they’ve lost four straight heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Steelers. Pittsburgh is a great team on paper, but that hasn’t translated into the win column the way it should have so far, and Cleveland is Cleveland.
The AFC West is competitive, but every team is flawed. Kansas City might be the most trustworthy team in the division (meaning that they’re the one team in the division without any glaring flaws), but they’re still hard to trust after the Steelers trashed them 43-14 in Week 4. Plus, let’s not forget that all of these AFC West teams play each other twice per year. There’s a good chance the teams out west will even each other out by Week 17.
If the Bengals are the team an optimist like myself thinks they are, a second-half surge against a winnable schedule and a potential sixth straight berth run are still within the realm of possibility.
Tyler Eifert is back.
The Bengals didn’t rush him back into action against the Browns (though he played), so we saw the first glimpse this season of the tight end’s real ability in London. Good news: he still has it. The tight end had nine catches, 102 yards and a touchdown in his first start of the 2016 season.
Cincinnati’s front seven has not played up to par.
I have no choice but to beat this point into the ground until something changes, but the Bengals have not been efficient up front this year. Sure, the secondary could’ve been much better on Sunday, but the front seven has wildly underwhelmed this year. Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Vontaze Burfict are all quality players, but they simply aren’t making enough plays. Dre Kirkpatrick has easily been the best member of the Bengals’ secondary this season, yet he manages to give up one huge pass or penalty on a week-to-week basis.
I’m sure we’ll get more into the specifics of the Bengals’ issues up front, but for now, it’s just important to note that the Bengals seem incapable of stopping the run, and the team cannot cover the flats or the middle of the field in the passing game, whether it be because opposing teams have guys making plays out of the backfield, from the slot receiver position or at tight end.
The Bengals’ offensive line had an average game on Sunday.
That’s not good, considering what was a great line in 2015 has now turned to giving up three sacks on average per game this season. Dalton took eight hits — not terrible, but definitely not great — and the running backs were able to break off a few nice runs. That said, the unit only looked dominant on a few plays — most notably, the Jeremy Hill run in which Kevin Zeitler and Clint Boling sealed the edge with a couple of great pull blocks. (Again, why are these concepts not being used more often?)
Safety play remains an issue.
Blame Kirkpatrick all you want, but the fact of the matter is that the Bengals cannot keep up with opposing teams’ deep threats — and that’s more of an indictment of the Bengals’ safeties than their cornerbacks. That, coupled with the should’ve-been penalties and upcoming schedule (the Bengals will face the Giants’ speedy trio of wideouts, then the Bills’ Marquise Goodwin and finally the Ravens’ speedy receiver group in their next three games) present significant causes for concern.
Special teams play hasn’t been up to par.
Nugent had two bad games in two weeks, but there aren’t any reliable kickers on the free agent market. The Bengals are stuck in a sticky situation here. Kevin Huber and the Bengals’ coverage unit have been okay but can be better. Alex Erickson finally had his first good return of the season, but that’s still just one good return on the year for the rookie.
The Bengals’ coaching has been wildly inconsistent.
Cincinnati has an average-or-better coaching staff, whether Bengals fans like to hear that or not. Just being able to stick in Sunday’s game despite the worst Dalton performance of the season and two missed kicks was an encouraging sign from the coaching staff. But that said, there have been plenty of questionable decisions. Nugent shouldn’t be attempting 50-yard field goals at this point in his career, so the coaching staff needs to decide whether to be more aggressive on fourth down or to punt. Watching opposing running backs make an impact in the passing game on a weekly basis has me wondering why Cincinnati’s coaching staff isn’t doing the same. Ryan Hewitt needs to be on the field in obvious run situations. Something needs to be done either personnel-wise or scheme-wise to help the defense cover the shallow area of the field. Those are just a few of the team’s many issues.
The Bengals have the talent and coaching of a playoff-caliber team, but they haven’t been performing like one. Something — scratch that, many things — will need to change over this much-needed bye week, or Cincinnati’s streak of playoff one-and-dones will come to a halt this January, as the Bengals will be watching the playoffs from the couch. If enough changes are made, Cincinnati’s streak of playoff one-and-dones could potentially come to a halt this January, just in a different and more desired way.