We knew it was a tough first three games for the Cincinnati Bengals to start their 2016 season, but getting through the stretch with a losing record isn’t ideal. The Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos came to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday and took advantage of a number of Bengals mistakes to get to 3-0 on the season.
Here are some of the best and worst aspects by the Cincinnati Bengals in their 29-17 loss to the Denver Broncos.
The First Half Version of Jeremy Hill: It was great to see Hill pop off one of his 2014-like big runs in the form of a 50-yarder in the first offensive series for the Bengals. Cincinnati wisely tried to use the run to negate the ferocious Denver pass-rush and Hill plowed 17 times for 97 yards and two touchdowns. In terms of rushing yards, touchdowns, and yards-per-carry average, Sunday was basically his best single-game performance since late-2014 (Hill did have 16 carries for 96 yards and two scores in Week 17 last year).
The Run Defense: If Cincinnati ran the ball well and held C.J. Anderson in check on defense, it should have led to a win, right? Well, both happened for the Bengals on Sunday, but they still came up short because of a combination of plays made by Trevor Siemian and back end defensive breakdowns. Denver had just 52 rushing yards on the day, while Anderson was held to just 37 yards on 14 carries.
Better Third Down Efficiency: Coming into Week 3, the Bengals’ offense had about a 27% conversion rate on third downs. Yet, in another odd stat on the day given the end result, Cincinnati had an uptick of a 41% conversion rate on the Denver defense. With the team’s ability to run the ball, stopping the Broncos’ rushing attack and the Bengals doing relatively well on a critical offensive down, one would think the score would have been different.
Making Hay Against Good DBs: Sure, Andy Dalton threw a late interception, but no other big plays were made by Aqib Talib or Chris Harris, Jr. Most fans have immense respect for the Broncos’ cornerback duo and while they held Bengals receivers in check at times, even the new additions to the Cincinnati offense made plays.
Red Zone Efficiency: In last week’s five keys to victory, we looked at red zone, third down and goal-to-go conversions as facets to the outcome of Week 3. While the Bengals were relatively solid on third down, Cincinnati only got points on three of the four times they entered the red zone—with one of those three being a field goal. Some will point to Tyler Eifert’s absence as a reason for the continued struggles in this facet, but it needs to be cleaned up big time.
The Return Game: The Bengals took a much-needed chance this year on a couple of unproven returners in Alex Erickson and Rex Burkhead and it hasn’t worked out very well through three weeks. Burkhead averaged 20 yards per return, Erickson had one punt return for four yards, while Adam Jones had a fumble on another. Darrin Simmons usually runs a tight ship, but the unit just hasn’t been the same this year.
A Particular Matchup: Why, in the name of Mike Zimmer, was Chris Lewis-Harris matched up one-on-one with Demaryius Thomas without any safety help? As I was in attendance at the game, a made a pre-snap read of the matchup that eventually led to a 55-yard touchdown pass from Siemian to Thomas. Just a terrible coaching decision, even if Josh Shaw went out with an injury earlier, on a play that made a 22-17 game a 29-17 one.
Boneheaded Mistakes: Whether it was two interception opportunities bouncing off of Bengals defenders’ hands, A.J. Green’s critical third down drop or losing the turnover battle, Cincinnati once again found a way to lose a game against a quality opponent. The excuse of “playing good teams” is an easy cop-out, but these are the types of games the Bengals need to start winning if they wanted to be taken seriously.
Officiating: For the second straight week, we have to complain about a facet in the game that was out of the Bengals’ control. Look, the Bengals should have made enough plays to overcome questionable calls and we hate to claim that officiating had a role in the loss. However, Jones’ fumble on the punt return probably shouldn’t have been called as such, while other ticky-tack calls were made by the same crew who officiated the 2015 Wild Card.
Defensive Penalties on Third Down: Despite your jadedness against the officiating, the Bengals had three critical defensive penalties on third down to extend Broncos drives. On drives where Cincinnati had third down penalties of varying degrees, Denver ended up scoring 17 points. Ouch.
The Secondary: Trevor Siemian going for 300-plus passing yards, four touchdowns and zero turnovers—are you kidding me? It’s not to belittle the young starting quarterback, but for the Bengals in their home opener, you’d think the glut of high-priced players in the secondary would step up. Shawn Williams had his second dropped interception of the season, while both Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders torched the Cincinnati backfield all day.
Aftermath of a 1-2 Start: Questions surrounded the club this offseason and after a slow start with losses to two perennial AFC powerhouses, more are surfacing. There is now an odd report of a form of dissension in the locker room between the secondary and coach Kevin Coyle and that’s the type of thing that leads to disastrous seasons.
It’s possible that this is nothing more than a fabricated story by a Miami reporter to fuel the impending Thursday Night Football matchup, but sometimes where there is smoke there is fire. These are the types of rumors that abound when a talented team underachieves, especially when it occurs early in the season.