Remember how good we felt after eight weeks of the 2015 season? The Bengals were 8-0 and looked like one of the best football teams Cincinnati has ever had. Oh, how one year can change things. Now on their Week 9 bye, the Bengals are 3-4-1 and fans are
starting to freaking out. Things don’t look quite as nice in Cincinnati at this point in the season as they did a year ago and there’s not just one area to place the blame. The offensive and defensive lines are not living up to expectations. The new wide receivers have done a decent job, but, without Tyler Eifert in the lineup for Weeks 1-6, A.J. Green was the only really threat among the receiving corps on too many occasions. The cornerbacks aren’t threatening and the linebackers are too slow. The middle of the field is continually exposed, which opposing quarterback-tight end combinations are taking advantage of on a weekly basis. And since the pass rush is lacking and the ability to contain the pass is also lacking, you’d hope the run defense would be strong. But, it’s nothing of the sort, ranked 23rd in the league, and allowing 4.4 yards per carry on average. In short, the Bengals have a number of issues they need to solve if they’d like to make a late-season push to get back to the playoffs this season.
We gathered our staff to discuss their opinions on the number one problem the Bengals must solve in the second half of the 2016 season. Here’s what they had to say:
Braden Whited: If the Bengals don't get their run defense figured out they're for a long second half of the season. The offense is putting up the yards and with Eifert back the red zone negligence should diminish. But if this team can't stop the run there's no hope for a playoff birth. Even the mediocre pass defense this season is affected by how bad the run defense is in. Guenther has over-complicated the way the Bengals defense works and it's making players think rather than react. Very few of the front 7 are being put in the best position to make plays and that falls on the coaches.
Kyle Phelps: The Bengals absolutely have to iron out the offensive line's issues. That begins with coming up with a solution at right tackle, which will probably involve temporarily benching Ogbuehi so he can learn from a veteran like Winston. But, it also has to involve the rest of the offensive line's chemistry. Andrew Whitworth, Russell Bodine, Clint Boling, and Kevin Zeitler have all consistently performed well this season, yet Andy Dalton is the second most sacked quarterback in the NFL (25), behind only Andrew Luck (31). Ogbuehi has struggled, but he is not responsible for all 25 sacks. Therefore, there are some deeper issues for Paul Alexander to work on with his unit. The running game has started to find it's legs in recent weeks, but it would still be nice to see Dalton have time to throw in the pocket.
Connor Howe: I feel as though it's pretty obvious, but the Bengals need to execute better down the stretch. Geno Atkins and Carlos, perhaps the best tandem of defensive linemen in the entire NFL, have combined for just 8.5 sacks compared to 26 quarterback hits through eight games (which means they're on pace for 17 sacks and 52 hits) after registering a collective 24.5 sacks and 55 quarterback hits last year. As productive as both guys have been this season, they can both be better. Personnel-wise, I don't think there's much the Bengals can do. They're bringing in Wallace Gilberry presumably to try him out as a nickel defensive tackle as neither Margus Hunt nor Will Clarke have made a significant impact, while DeShawn Williams presumably hasn't done enough in practice to even warrant being active on game days. But I'm not even buying Gilberry as a guy who brings more to the table than either Hunt or Clarke. Sure, losing Marcus Hardison and Brandon Thompson (who could return soon) to injuries had to hurt, but that's no excuse for the team's inability to pressure opposing quarterbacks in obvious passing situations. Cincinnati's defense is hurting, and I blame poor drafting at the position (every linebacker on the roster has an obvious weakness) more than I blame coaching.
muertedeatenas: I think the coaching staff really needs to give opportunities to other players as a lot of veterans are disappointing. Problem is, they value familiarity over all, as the Wallace Gilberry shows. Let's send a message that mediocre play isn't enough. They can't fix some issues like the lack of athleticism in the second level of the defense, but at least they can see what they have in guys like Nick Vigil. Or Deshawn Williams at the tackle position.
PW: The Bengals need to commit to a win now attitude, starting with the front office, the coaching staff, and the players down on the field. An organization under Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis, which seemingly takes pride in their minuscule inchworm adjustment speed. The 2016 Cincinnati Bengals defense lacks an identity. Most weeks the defense has played undisciplined and uninspired. They certainly don't have a leader on- or off-the-field who is getting the job done. The defensive players who are out of shape should be in the doghouse, seeing their playing time reduced until they hit a targeted weight. Younger players need to platoon playing time with the veteran players. Guenther must adjust his play calling, he must lead this defense off the field, or there needs to be some coaching changes on the defensive side of the ball come 2017.