You’ve probably heard it at least five times this week, and I’m sure you’ll hear it several times more, but as Bill Parcells once said, “you are what your record says you are.” And for the 3-5-1 Bengals, that’s not good news.
Another loss to a beatable NFC East opponent turned what could’ve been a great opportunity for the Bengals to get back into the mix into a somewhat dooming scenario. Old narratives about the Bengals as team who can’t win in primetime, need to fire Marvin Lewis/bench Andy Dalton and whose window is closed resurfaced after Monday night. The Bengals are on the outside looking in, and it would take a near-miracle for Cincinnati to end up with a playoff berth at this point in the 2016 season. The Steelers lost three straight games between the Bengals’ tie in London and loss in New York, yet Cincinnati still couldn’t capitalize on their opportunity. Here’s what we learned this week:
Hot takes about Lewis and Dalton start now.
The Bengals lost yet another primetime game. I’m not one of the belief that this is a cursed team or that Lewis and Dalton are simply incapable of winning games under the lights. Expect someone like Stephen A. Smith, Colin Cowherd or another “respected sports journalist” to spew out some ridiculous take about how Dalton is worse than Jay Cutler and Lewis is the worst head coach of all-time despite turning around what was, prior to his tenure, a dumpster fire of an NFL franchise. Dalton could’ve definitely played better on Monday night, and Lewis could have coached better, but neither the coach nor the quarterback are below-average at their professions.
The Bengals’ reluctance to run is becoming a serious issue.
When Cincinnati doesn’t establish a running game, it does not win football games. The Bengals weren’t ever more than one score behind the Giants, so there was no excuse not to run the ball, yet the Bengals did not run the ball. New York’s defense is far from terrible, but any defense can shut down an opponent’s offense when it knows the offense refuses to run the ball.
Drive-killing offensive penalties and drive-sustaining defensive penalties are killing Cincinnati.
The Bengals’ offense continues to kill drives with costly penalties. Two third down conversions were negated by critical penalties and, as a result, the Bengals were unable to convert a single third down on their first seven attempts.
On defense, things weren’t much better. Several costly Bengals penalties gave the Giants a chance to sustain their drives, something teams cannot afford in today’s NFL.
The Bengals are incapable of capitalizing on opponents’ mistakes
Not only did the Bengals score just three points on their two forced turnovers, but they also failed to capitalize on good field position whenever they seemed to have it. Cincinnati only had two drives of more than five plays in New York, which went for six plays (punt) and seven plays (interception). In fact, the Bengals’ two touchdown drives took a combined five offensive plays.
The Bengals caught virtually every break possible. They watched the Giants drop what seemed like dozens of passes, intercepted an Eli Manning pass nine seconds after Dalton’s only interception and put themselves into a scenario where all they needed to do to earn a final chance to win the game was stop a Rashad Jennings run on a third-and-six. But of course, Jennings converted and the Bengals didn’t even get a chance to redeem themselves.
Even individual plays, like Tyler Boyd’s second dropped touchdown pass of the season, stood out.
The Bengals’ issues aren’t easy to fix.
Cincinnati’s offensive line woes won’t just be fixed by firing Lewis or Paul Alexander, benching Russell Bodine or even benching Cedric Ogbuehi. (And for the record, Bodine has improved this season while every other member of the line has taken a step back this season. He’s not the problem.) The line’s issues are a combination of several elements: the play-calling needs to involve more runs, the offensive linemen still don’t appear to have the continuity needed to be a successful unit (just look at the play where Jason Pierre-Paul had a clear lane to Dalton and batted down what could’ve been an intercepted pass, for instance) and none of the Bengals’ backup linemen — aside from Eric Winston, who has played in rotation — are ready for action.
That’s not to say Ogbuehi or Jake Fisher are busts — they still need time to develop — but the uncertainty along the offensive line, especially with Andrew Whitworth’s noticeable regression and Kevin Zeitler’s impending free agency, is scary. That said...
The Bengals’ front office needs to be questioned.
I’m not going to pretend like I know who has the final say on Cincinnati’s player evaluation and draft selections, but what I do know is that player development has been an issue. And no, I’m not going to make the cliché case that the Bengals haven’t been able to land any superstars in the early rounds of the two most recent drafts, though that argument has some merit. I’m going to reiterate a point I feel like I make frequently, and that is that Cincinnati’s draft choices at the linebacker position have been very, very questionable. The only linebacker on the Bengals’ roster who is athletic is Nick Vigil. In today’s NFL, in which teams seem to pass on a more and more frequent basis, this is a major issue. Vontaze Burfict’s instincts are so great that he’s able to make up for his lack of athleticism, but unfortunately, he’s the only linebacker on the roster who can say this. At some point, the Bengals need to accept the fact that innovation can be helpful. They don’t need to make any drastic changes, but just a few slight tweaks here and there could go a long way.
The Bengals are a longshot in the playoff race, but a playoff berth is still possible.
Unfortunately, we’re not too sure how exactly this team can right the ship. But again, it’s still within the realm of possibility at this point, which is at least somewhat encouraging. Hopefully I won’t be making this point again next week, but I have a feeling I will.