Though the Cincinnati Bengals aren’t mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, the cards are stacked enough against them and many fans are looking on to 2017. This season has passed by in such a disappointing blur that no one can fully grasp just what has transpired with the team in 2016.
Overconfidence in their draft-and-develop strategy, reliance on aging veterans, eschewing any significant moves in free agency, coaching and player attrition, as well as the inability to cope with what happened last January in the Wild Card loss against the Steelers have taken its toll. However, these aren’t things that anyone who follows the Bengals doesn’t know, and frankly, it’s something I could write about with every passing week in these previews.
Though Marvin Lewis’ words and actions don’t show it, the future is now for the Bengals. Sure, the veteran mainstays will be trotted out in all three phases, but the sprinkling in of other young players needing time has started. Whether it’s because of injury or the 3-7-1 record, players like Josh Shaw, Nick Vigil and others will be seen more frequently than early on in the season, even if it’s sparingly.
With each passing week and racked up loss, Bengals problems become prevalent—whether they are new or recurring ones. Team speed, the kicking game and a listless look from the players all top the list, as do recent questionable coaching decisions. It’s been so bad that it will have been six weeks since Cincinnati has last won a game.
In a season full of staggering statistics for this disappointing Bengals season, one of the most frustrating has to be in the point differential over their past four games. In the recent 0-3-1 stretch that has essentially decided the direction of their season, the Bengals have scored just 10 less total points than the opposition. From where this writer sits, it points to a talented team that continues to shoot themselves in the foot while being unsure of how to finish out games.
Another frustrating occurrence is the Bengals constantly playing from behind. In seven of 11 games this year, opponents have scored a touchdown on their opening drive. When your last three losses are by an average of 3.34 points, it’s definitely something that puts teams into the loss column more often than not.
The Eagles know what it’s like to have a bad season. Philadelphia cleaned house and attempted to eliminate any trace of the Chip Kelly era this offseason, while hiring Doug Pederson as their new head coach. They also gave up much of the vault to move up to No. 2 in the NFL Draft for quarterback Carson Wentz. And, for the first three weeks of the season, all associated with Philadelphia’s football franchise looked like geniuses.
Then, the calendar turned to October.
Wentz was an early frontrunner for Offensive Rookie of the Year, but teams have seemed to figure out what his inexperience can give. In their 3-0 start, he had five touchdown passes against zero interceptions. Since, the Eagles have gone 2-6 with Wentz throwing six touchdowns against eight interceptions. See a pattern?
It’s hard to say what the formula should be for the Bengals when it comes to attacking Wentz this week. He’s athletic out of the pocket, but he’s recently struggled with accuracy while on the run. When he’s had a clean pocket, he’s been effective, even during the rough patch.
Why it’s difficult to say how Paul Guenther will attack him is because the Bengals’ defense haven’t fared well against young quarterbacks they haven’t seen before--especially ones who can move. Will they try and keep him in the pocket hoping for pressure, or will they trust their secondary to make plays when flushing him out of it?
Meanwhile, Andy Dalton has looked like a shadow of his 2015 MVP-like self this year. Though, much of his struggles aren’t his fault. Shockingly shoddy offensive line play, an injury to A.J. Green and inconsistency against the run have contributed to a downtick in production. Hue Jackson’s departure hasn’t helped either, but Dalton now looks skittish and uncomfortable almost immediately after receiving the snap.
It won’t be an easy matchup for Dalton and Co. this Sunday, either. The Eagles quietly boast the No. 8 overall defense, while sitting at 11th against the pass and 17th against the run. Maybe it’s pointing to a good day from the running backs, but Jeremy Hill is without Giovani Bernard for the rest of the season. If that can be achieved, the Bengals should be able to come out on top.
Big if, though, given Bernard’s absence and the team’s No. 19 ranking in rushing yards per game.
Somehow, someway, I think the Bengals scrape one together this Sunday. Call it Lewis rallying the troops, or one of the unfortunate end-of-the year wins that is a feather in his cap as Mike Brown makes coaching decisions this offseason, but Cincinnati will get off the schneid at home against Philadelphia.
Eagles 17, Bengals 20
AC -- Play for pride.