The Bengals’ 2016 season is not shaping up like the 2015 season did. After their home opener against the Denver Broncos in Week 3, the Bengals are already sitting on top of two losses to two of their biggest competitors in the AFC, the Broncos and Steelers.
Against the Broncos, the Bengals managed to take a 17-16 lead in the earliest stages of the fourth quarter. They weren’t exactly dominating the game, but an effective offense and stout defensive performance looked like it was going to be enough for the Bengals to bounce back from their poor performance in Pittsburgh with a win at home. What actually happened, as explained by Benjamin Hoffman of the New York Times, was significantly more depressing.
The game was a letdown for the Bengals, who held tough through three quarters and took a lead four seconds into the fourth quarter on a 34-yard field goal by Mike Nugent. But from that point on, it was all Denver, as the Broncos reeled off 13 unanswered points and their defense tightened the screws, shutting down any attempt from the Bengals to keep up.
The depressing sentiment was echoed by ESPN’s Matthew Berry.
Every time you believe in the Bengals...— Matthew Berry (@MatthewBerryTMR) September 25, 2016
It was a particularly rough day for the Bengals’ secondary. Last year, Adam Jones received a Pro Bowl berth for his excellent play at cornerback while others were also recognized for their ability to play well. But, we didn’t see anything close to that this week as he fumbled one punt return and allowed a big day from Broncos’ wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. This observation was made by Jay Morrison of the Dayton Daily News, along with an explanation from Jones himself.
The fumble came on the last play of the first quarter when it looked as though the Bengals would be getting good field position with Jones fielding the punt at his own 46. Instead, Denver took over at the Cincinnati 46 and cashed in the Sanders touchdown after he put a double move on Pacman.
“He got me on that one,” Jones said. “I played a horrible first half. I couldn’t get my feet together, couldn’t do (squat) the first half. You live and you learn, you suck it up and come back and make a play the first play of the second half.”
It was especially frustrating considering how well Jones played last week. The Bengals may have lost to the Steelers, but he was able to keep dynamic receiver Antonio Brown in check through most of the game. It was surprising to see someone like Sanders turn in a huge day against the Bengals the very next week, as NFL Network’s Rich Eisen tweeted:
Trevor Siemian and Emmanuel Sanders just beat PacMan in a way that Big Ben and AB could/did not last week.— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) September 25, 2016
There was a lot of bad to talk about in this rough loss for the Bengals. But, it was extremely encouraging to see Jeremy Hill and the Bengals’ running game finally looking like the unit that so many people knew they could be. For Bengals fans, as Katherine Terrell of ESPN explains, the resurgence of the running game is an extremely welcome sight that might suggest the team still has a chance to shift into the right gear this season.
Part of the Bengals' success against Miller was an early commitment to the run game -- something Cincinnati hadn’t done well for the first two weeks of the season. If they wouldn't pass the ball, Miller would have fewer opportunities to make an impact.
Bengals running back Jeremy Hill had one of his best games in recent memory, rushing for 97 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. Hill jump-started the offense with a 65-yard rush down the sideline on the Bengals' first drive, capped off by a 3-yard touchdown on the next play.
The reignited run game can’t come at a better time for the Bengals with the struggling Dolphins coming to town. The Dolphins have one of the worst rushing defenses in the league.
A big part of the running game this week involved punching the ball in the endzone twice. Yes, putting up 143 yards on the ground was huge. But, as James Palmer of NFL Network tweeted, perhaps prematurely, it looked like the Bengals were in control at one time because of a strong running presence in the red zone.
For a very talented defense, the Broncos continue to struggle as a redzone defense. Bengals 2/2 today. 14-10 Cincy.— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) September 25, 2016
That said, the running game clearly wasn’t enough, because the Bengals’ pass defense couldn’t stop Trevor Siemian from amassing 23 completions on 35 attempts for 312 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. That was enough for a quarterback rating of 132.1. Part of the problem was the fact that Sanders and Demaryius Thomas were allowed to shred the Bengals for over 100 yards each. Siemian’s confidence, as Nancy Armour of USA Today explains, built throughout the game and culminated with the Broncos’ go-ahead touchdown to journeyman third-string tight end, John Phillips.
One of the strengths of Kubiak’s offense is it doesn’t ask a quarterback to do too much, prizing execution over creativity. Not straying from the framework of the offense, Siemian mixed in short passes with long, throwing four passes of 11 yards or more, before hitting John Phillips for the 1-yard TD.
“He seems real confident to me,” Phillips said. “He made some real big throws in key situations.”
Allowing Sanders and Thomas to have big days is one thing. That’s expected. But, allowing guys like Jeff Heuerman, Devontae Booker, Bennie Fowler, Andy Janovich, Cody Latimer, and John Phillips to combine for over 100 yards and a touchdown is just embarrassing. Even NFL Network’s official Fantasy Football account was shocked by Phillips’ go-ahead touchdown.
But, however bad the last two weeks have been, there’s still 13 games left to play. Many Bengals fans are rightfully upset about the product they have seen on the field so far this season. But, the Bengals are expected to get two stars back soon, one on offense in Tyler Eifert and one on defense in Vontaze Burfict. The Bengals have had some serious missed opportunities the last two weeks. But, as Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk pointed out with some help from Jones, there’s no reason to panic yet.
Trevor Siemian threw two touchdown passes sandwiched around a Bengals three and out and Andy Dalton was intercepted one play after the second touchdown to seal the Bengals’ fate as losers for the second straight week. That’s certainly not the way that the Bengals want things to play out, but it’s not enough to have cornerback Adam Jones questioning the team’s chances.
“Why would we hit the panic button? Vontaze [Burfict] is coming back. Our team is a good team,” Jones said, via ESPN.com. “We let two of them slip away. [Tyler] Eifert is on the way back. … First quarter of the season. Let’s get out of the first quarter .500. That’s the goal.”
Here are some more interesting tweets from the media in reaction to the Bengals’ loss to the Broncos:
Trevor Siemian carving up the Bengals.— Matthew Berry (@MatthewBerryTMR) September 25, 2016