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Bengals’ offense showed surprising positives and frustrating negatives vs Ravens

The Bengals ended a disappointing season on a high note, but both long-term promise and glaring issues on offense shouldn’t be glossed over as sights are set for 2017.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Depending on your stance with the Bengals, the result of Sunday’s 2016 finale against the Ravens either gave you hope in the new year, or irritated you because of draft positioning. Regardless, Cincinnati soundly defeated Baltimore, 27-10, as the Bengals used a cast of new characters to grab their sixth win of the year.

Rex Burkhead was the workhorse Cincinnati rode throughout the afternoon, while Andy Dalton was extremely efficient in the passing game. The offensive dominance was something to behold—especially with A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard out of the lineup.

Through it all though, Cincinnati’s offense also showed some familiar warts. In doing so, more questions are surfacing about the future of the unit, whether it’s scheme, personnel, or something else.

More second half issues:

Dalton was sharp on the afternoon, particularly in the first half. His 226-yard, one-touchdown performance was especially commendable, given the lack of Green and Eifert at his disposal. Still, Dalton was 14-of-17 for 181 of those 226 passing yards in the first two quarters.

Throughout the first year of Ken Zampese’s reign as the Bengals’ offensive coordinator, much of the unit’s issues appear in the second halves of games. This stigma didn’t resolve itself in the season finale, as the group looked completely different after the halftime gun.

A familiar goose egg was laid in the third quarter and much of the sizzle stayed in the locker room. The team only managed seven points in the second half, and the larger chunk of Burkhead’s production came in the first two quarters.

So, is the issue linked to Zampese failing to make proper adjustments? Or create a second half gameplan that works? Is it a matter of Cincinnati not having two of their biggest players in crunch time for many recent contests? Or, is it simply a matter of a first-time coordinator and players who are new to the team needing more experience together? Whichever kind of combination it may be, it can’t be a problem in 2017 if the Bengals want a bounce-back year.

Young receivers step up:

Rookie Cody Core has begun to impress in the past couple of games and led the team in receiving yardage against Baltimore with 82 yards on four grabs. Fellow rookie receiver Tyler Boyd really had a steady campaign, as he showcased his hands and an ability to make plays as a runner versus the Ravens.

Additionally, C.J. Uzomah caught his first career touchdown in the finale, capping off a decent season from the second-year tight end. He’s essentially replaced Tyler Kroft in the passing game with Eifert missing more time with injury, though, Kroft was out for the final two weeks of the season, too.

Unfortunately for the Bengals, the absence of star players has sometimes showed an the supposed depth of the roster to be overrated. At other times though, the youngsters have stepped up and produced in the wake of injuries. What’s tricky is that the team shouldn’t cross almost any position off the list for possible improvement this offseason, but guys like Core, a sixth-round pick and Uzomah, a former fifth-round selection proved their worth as the season ended.

What’s next for Rex?

The Bengals’ third-string running back had an outstanding day against a stout Ravens run defense (119 yards and two scores), and it of course comes in the last game before he is set to hit free agency. Marvin Lewis, who, by most accounts, appears to be returning for the 2017 season, recently noted the team’s desire to bring Burkhead back. And, with Cincinnati’s preference to focus on re-sign its own talent in March, it’s possible they make a good push for him.

There are a couple of underlying issues here, though. First of all, even if the money the team offers him is decent, will he be willing to once again take a possible back seat to both Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard? If the plan is for him to have a more prominent role, that would mean Hill or Bernard would see a dip in touches.

Some believe Hill should take the back seat and there is merit to the argument, as he just hasn’t looked like the same back who took the league by storm in 2014. Still, fans and coaches asked two things of Hill in 2017: hang on to the football and increase the yards per carry, which were two major problem areas for him last season. While he only jumped from 3.6 to 3.8 yards, it was still an increase, and he didn’t fumble the ball all season.

The good news is that there is talent in the group, regardless of what happens with Burkhead.