The Bengals have had a handful of problems in 2016 that have led to their current situation of being 3-4-1 on the season. Sure, they’re only a half game out of first place in the AFC North. But, that has more to do with the fact that the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers have both dropped the ball almost as much as the Bengals have to this point. Still, it’s a surprisingly favorable situation that the Bengals find themselves in, despite starting the season in such an average manner.
If the Bengals want to take advantage of their favorable AFC North stauts, they are absolutely going to have to step up their play in certain areas. That also means that certain players who have underperformed for much of the season so far are going to need to get their act together sooner rather than later.
Jeremy Hill has played very well the last two weeks. Against the Browns and Redskins, he racked up 244 yards and two touchdowns in addition to three receptions for 21 yards. He seems to be starting to get to the point where he can be effective as a running back this year, which is going to be critical to the Bengals’ push to make the playoffs in the second half of the season.
The reason for that is the fact that he was so ineffective through the first six weeks of the season. Through those six weeks he only managed to record 271 yards and three touchdowns in addition to three receptions for 37 yards, and the Bengals’ record was 2-4. Most of that production came from a two week window against the Broncos and Dolphins in which he started playing surprisingly well, recording 97 yards and two touchdowns against the Broncos and 71 yards against the Dolphins. In that stretch, the Bengals went 1-1. In the other four games, he never managed to break 40 yards in a game and only found the endzone once.
That two week surge from Hill in Weeks 3 and 4 and the subsequent regression thereafter is exactly why he needs to step it up in the second half of the season. Sure, he has played well the past two weeks, but he needs to prove that he can play well consistently if the Bengals want a legitimate shot of competing for the AFC North division title.
One of the Bengals’ biggest disappointments this season has been the performance of starting right defensive end, Michael Johnson. In 2015, he came back to the Bengals after a year in Tampa Bay and was unable to get back to the high level of production that made him such a high-profile free agent when he left Cincinnati for the Buccaneers. His five sacks, two pass deflections, three forced fumbles, and 29 tackles weren’t bad in 2015, but we expected a lot more from a guy who put up 11.5 sacks, 35 tackles, two pass deflections, and a fumble recovery in 2012.
He was expected to improve upon that performance in 2016, but he hasn’t even lived up to his 2015 production so far. Many thought Johnson’s 2015 play was hindered by playing through injury. But, healthy through eight weeks of 2016, he has recorded 1.5 sacks, 14 tackles, and a pass deflection. The Bengals’ pass rush has been ineffective this season (21st in sacks - 16), despite the admirable efforts of Carlos Dunlap (five sacks) and Geno Atkins (3.5 sacks). With a questionable amount of potential at the other defensive tackle position, the Bengals absolutely need Johnson to step up going forward to create an effective pass rush.
By far the biggest under performer of the Bengals’ 2016 season has been second year right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi. He has been benched in each of the Bengals’ last three games in a learning effort. He’s also the biggest culprit behind Andy Dalton being sacked 25 times on the season (third most in the NFL) and has allowed more hits than anyone else on the line.
The Bengals absolutely must find some way to get more out of their right tackle position. Whether that be Ogbuehi actually improving his play, or the Bengals sitting him more often so the less exciting, but more consistent Eric Winston can keep the right edge under control. This position is one that absolutely must see more production going forward. Hopefully Ogbuehi was busy during the bye week figuring out how he can be more effective in second half of the season.