A win is a win, no matter how ugly it might be. The Cincinnati Bengals’ win to get them to 2-2 wasn’t always pretty, but there were positives to be taken from the Thursday Night Football victory. The defense, particularly the line and the secondary, stepped up big, as did Mike Nugent in his ability to convert five out of five successful field goals.
One could label the offensive line’s performance as a positive, given what they have shown in the first three games, but that’s about akin to saying you have the shiniest nickel in a pile of pennies. Quarterback Andy Dalton, who had a solid game overall, was skittish because of pressure and was sacked once on Thursday night for the 13th time on the season.
It wasn’t much better in the running game either, as running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard combined for 89 yards on 31 carries (2.9 yards per carry). With other receiving options opposite of A.J. Green being inconsistent, having solid offensive line play continues to be paramount.
Penalties and missed opportunities:
Late in the first quarter, the Bengals were on the move, up 10-7. On one of the rare occasions in which the Bengals netted decent yards on first down with a Hill four-yard run, Kevin Zeitler had an inexplicable false start, especially at home, to push Cincinnati back to a 2nd-and-11 situation. They ended up punting the football and lost an opportunity to chew clock and get more points.
However, Zeitler’s penalty was a microcosm of both the game and the 2016 season. Per PFF’s grading, Zeitler had an uncharacteristically poor night, garnering his lowest grade (59.7 overall grade) since Week 1 of 2015. While solid in pass protection, not allowing a single pressure all night, Zeitler struggled run blocking, earning a poor 42.8 run blocking grade.
While everyone should applaud a five field goal performance from Nugent, it also shows an inability of both offensive coordinator Ken Zampese and his line. After Jeremy Hill scratched for a first down with poor blocking on a 4th-and-1 in the second quarter, the Bengals had a new set of downs. They had a first down at the 10-yard line after a C.J. Uzomah catch and looked poised to take a commanding lead.
Two Bernard runs netted one yard and the Bengals had to settle for one of those Nugent field goals. Whether it was a 2nd-and-8 after a big turnover right before the half, or issues in the red zone as the team was trying for six points instead of three, the offensive line pinned the unit back in tough situations after first down.
Here’s something for a reference. In the second quarter, the Bengals were marching on what would become a 13-play drive which would be capped off by a Nugent field goal. However, the Bengals ran seven times for minus-two yards with both Hill and Bernard. Yikes.
When the Bengals lost their Wild Card game to the Houston Texans, many pointed to then-offensive guard Mike McGlynn’s inability to keep J.J. Watt’s hands down to what led to a tip-and-interception that essentially sealed the game. This year’s line showed on Thursday night that some of McGlynn’s issues have resurfaced five years later.
On a few occasions, Dalton’s passes were batted at the line. Some of that could be placed on the quarterback throwing off of his back foot, but constant pressure can cause that. Aside from obvious pass plays getting batted down by the Dolphins, other seemingly safe plays were also touched by the Miami defensive linemen. One such instance was on the opening drive when Dalton attempted one of the offense’s patented screens to A.J. Green, but what should have netted positive yardage was negated by a brief tip of the throw and Green was held to a no gain.
There are many things at play here, but the offensive line needs get better at locking up defenders. Perhaps the awful officiating in three of the last four games the Bengals have played has them a bit tentative with potential holds, but some of these passes are designed as early down run-like plays, so batted balls can’t happen.
Nobody is immune:
Russell Bodine has been a constant whipping boy of Bengals fans, but he actually held his own against Ndamukong Suh and others on Thursday night, for the most part. Zeitler had his penalty, while jumbo packages with extra tight ends and/or offensive linemen didn’t always work to perfection.
Cedric Ogbuehi has all of the talent in the world and has gone up against four tenacious defensive fronts in as many games, but he got pushed into the backfield on a few occasions. One could argue that Clint Boling has been the most steady of the group, but that still isn’t saying all that much.
It’s unclear if play-calling, a new right tackle or the schedule is to blame, but 13 sacks and many more pressures in four games just isn’t getting it done. As Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell are acclimating to the offense, the line needs to do a better job in run blocking and avoiding penalties to make life easier on the team. If these trends continue, Dalton will need to shoulder a lot of responsibility that he hasn’t needed to do with this once-stout unit.