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What we learned from the Bengals in Week 3: Overreactions start now

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It’s easy to focus on the negative after back-to-back losses, but the Bengals have given us things to be optimistic about, too.

Denver Broncos v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Overreactions were a common theme on Sunday, as the Bengals dropped a second consecutive matchup against a team in which they lost to in 2015. Three of Cincinnati’s five total 2015 losses, playoffs included, came to the two teams the Bengals just lost to. Yet despite this, the feeling around Cincinnati is rightfully one of uncertainty. While some still believe the Bengals’ ceiling is 12-4 high, others think the ceiling — the best possible outcome of this season for this team — is 8-8. While it will be a while before we know who’s right and who’s wrong, it’s important to take a step back and look at what has happened, taking the results with a grain of salt. And while I’m not 100 percent objective, that’s going to be my goal here. So with that, here’s what we learned this week.

The Bengals are 1-2 after facing three teams which won at least 10 games apiece in 2015 and who currently have a collective record of 6-3.

With that in mind, the Bengals will face four teams which made the playoffs last season in the next 13 games, as opposed to two playoff teams and the best team to miss the playoffs in the first three games. The Bengals will also have the homefield advantage in more than half of those remaining games. It’s still too early to write off every team on the schedule, but it’s not as though (reasonable) Cincinnati fans were expecting this team to leap out to another 8-0 start in 2016.

Cincinnati’s offense has struggled early on, just as everyone expected.

Even the most optimistic of us here on Cincy Jungle — I’m well aware I’m one of the more optimistic people on the staff — didn’t expect Cincinnati’s offense to blow through the doors and smoke three quality teams en route to a 3-0 start. With the expected absences of Tyler Eifert and Vontaze Burfict, anticipated growing pains with new coaches on both sides of the ball (but particularly in regards to having a new offensive coordinator) and major holes left at the wide receiver position with the departures of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, it’s no wonder Cincinnati’s offense has struggled. That said, it’s surprising to see the biggest struggles have come along the offensive line.

The offensive line, as a unit, needed to step up early in the season, and it did not get the job done.

Over the offseason, Paul Alexander kept his job as Cincinnati’s offensive line coach and the Bengals only made a change at one position on the offensive line, so a lack of continuity — even with a first year starter at right tackle — is no excuse for the unit’s performance so far. Andrew Whitworth, Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler have been mortal in pass protection, and Cedric Ogbuehi hasn’t been able to step up to the level of his competition on the right side — not that people were expecting him to do so. Russell Bodine has been up and down, but he’s going to be the scapegoat along the line regardless of how well he plays. The bottom line is this: Andy Dalton was only sacked eight times in just over 12 games last season, and he’s already been sacked 12 times in three games. Fortunately for the Bengals, Dalton can take a hit — he was sacked 46 times in 2012. But if Cincinnati wants to establish itself as a contender rather than as a pretender, the offensive line will need to get better, and quickly.

A.J. Green is no joke.

To many fans, the wideout’s Week 3 performance was negated by a bad drop toward the end of the game. But while Green didn’t total over 100 yards, he still played very well, especially considering his competition. Facing what many (myself included) consider the best secondary in football, Green hauled in eight passes on 11 targets, gaining 77 yards. Like I said, that’s not a performance which will turn heads. But it’s certainly not a poor performance, especially facing a defense which was historically dominant last year and has the potential to be even better in 2016.

People hold Jeremy Hill to a strange standard.

The running back tallied 65 yards and a touchdown on his first four carries, which included a 50-yarder, but many aren’t satisfied with Hill’s performance. Hill’s stat line included 17 carries for 97 yards and two touchdowns, but apparently since one of those runs went for 50 yards, we’re supposed to throw that out the window and claim he had a bad game. Why weren’t people doing this in 2014 when Hill was tallying 50-yard runs on a seemingly weekly basis? Maybe it’s because people weren’t nitpicking the running back’s game for flaws at every possible chance. Hill had a good game, and the Bengals proved they can run the ball. Now it’s a matter of improving the consistency, both at the running back position and along the offensive line. Fortunately for the Bengals, the team still has 13 games to figure things out.

Brandon LaFell is quickly becoming a scapegoat, and I’m already getting annoyed by it.

The Bengals’ new WR2 totaled 164 yards on nine catches through three games, compared to 161 yards and two touchdowns on 16 catches in that same timespan from Marvin Jones last year. Yet because Jones is now the top option in Detroit and putting up big numbers in the Lions’ losses, the Bengals are apparently killing their franchise for letting the wide receiver walk. Look, I like Jones. But I understand why the Bengals were reluctant to pay more than market value at the position when they can get similar production from a guy making millions less. Plus, Jones left because he wanted to be a No. 1 WR, which it looks like he now is. LaFell is not a liability on offense — at least not yet.

I feel like I write this every week, but Dre Kirkpatrick is the real deal.

Anyone who closely watched the cornerback this week recognized that Trevor Siemian didn’t even seem to look anywhere near the right side of the field when Kirkpatrick was in coverage. A deceptive 100-yard game from Demaryius Thomas — the majority of which came when the receiver was facing reserves in the Bengals secondary — will turn fans against the corner, but the fact of the matter is that Kirkpatrick, at least through three weeks, is the Bengals’ most consistent and reliable corner.

Another common scapegoat, Margus Hunt, has been great through three weeks.

I don’t think the Estonian (or any other backup defensive lineman) is ready to replace Michael Johnson as the starter, but Hunt is exactly what I hoped he’d be when I watched his preseason tape. After writing a film review on Hunt, several fans made it well-known that the defensive lineman wasn’t just bad — he was apparently the worst player on Cincinnati’s 53-man roster:

“Sorry but I disagree with almost all that you wrote. Hunt simply can’t play football and you try to see good things where there aren’t. THIS YEAR AGAIN will show that you are wrong on him and I hope you will have the honesty to admit it”

“Utterly inexcusable to let a guy who doesn’t belong in the NFL waltz onto the roster without real competition (unless we count UDFA Ryan Brown, who nearly overcame unfair circumstances)...Hunt is old, has poor technique, and is limited in many areas, but worst of all is he doesn’t consistently try”

“This is proof that no one should ever write anything for the internet.

Thanks, Connor.”

I don’t take offense to anything written on the internet, but in retrospect I think it’s interesting to reflect on how much fans despised the former second-round pick. That said, it’s important to note that while many believed the Bengals should’ve moved on from Hunt, plenty of people were open to giving him another chance.

Ultimately, the Bengals selected Hunt as a developmental player. It’s fair to assume the team expected growing pains when drafting him. But three games in, the swing defensive lineman has been very impressive, making plays from two different defensive positions and in multiple facets of the special teams game. He’s tallied six tackles, two tackles for loss, two pass deflections, a special teams tackle and two blocked kicks. And if it weren’t for a couple of blatant holds in the Steelers game, perhaps the Estonian could’ve even had a sack at this point.

Vincent Rey is channeling his 2013 form.

Last week, Pro Football Focus gave the linebacker a surprisingly high grade, and I wasn’t sure why. Upon taking a closer look at Rey in Week 3, it’s easy to see why. Rey flies all over the field; he’s drastically improved in coverage and he’s proven to be a versatile player. Burfict will take Rey’s position in the starting lineup on Thursday, but I’m now excited to see Rey continue to make plays in a rotation. Perhaps decreasing the snaps Rey and Karlos Dansby take on a week-to-week basis will rejuvenate the linebackers and ensure they won’t wear out from continual snaps throughout the season.

Paul Guenther’s playcall on the long touchdown to Thomas was easily the most confusing move made by any Bengals coach this season.

The defensive coordinator put it all on the line in calling a zero-blitz on Siemian as the Bengals were looking to battle back late in the game, and he paid the price for it. Chris Lewis-Harris got burned as Thomas hauled in a 55-yard touchdown catch to all but secure the Broncos’ victory. Maybe things would’ve been different if not for a slew of injuries to Cincinnati’s top cornerbacks, but in that scenario, it was strange to see Guenther align Lewis-Harris up with a top-tier wide receiver in one-on-one coverage with zero safety help in an obvious passing situation.

The Bengals’ decision to stick with Mike Nugent is making more and more sense.

Only eight kickers haven’t missed a kick this season, and those eight kickers all happen to be the only kickers who have been more accurate than Nugent this season. Only two kickers have made more field goals than Nugent, who has drilled seven of his eight attempts — the only miss coming from beyond 50 yards in the Bengals’ victory over the Jets. Meanwhile in Cleveland, Cody Parkey — a guy many fans (myself included) were curious about — has missed three kicks in six attempts, including what would’ve been a game-winner against the Dolphins. The Browns went on to lose in Miami.

There are 13 more games in the regular season.

Let’s just all take a step back and enjoy the year, one game at a time. We’ve been very lucky to witness five consecutive playoff berths, and we’ll be very lucky if the Bengals are fortunate enough to get another chance at hoisting the Lombardi trophy this season — something which would still be in the realm of possibility even with a loss to the Dolphins this Thursday.

Oh yeah, and I almost forgot:

Never bench Hill in fantasy football.

Because when you do, you’ll pay the price.