Isn’t it just like the Bengals to give you false optimism, only to rip away any inkling of hope at the last minute? Or, am I just too gullible?
In any event, there was not much for Bengals fans to be proud of in Sunday’s game against the Titans. The Bengals actually had the lead this Sunday, even if it was only for a few minutes. The defense, the unit that kept the Bengals in the game, failed in the final moments to seal the deal. On a roller coaster of emotions in an amusement park of other such rides that is the Bengals’ season, here is what we learned:
The Bengals playoff hopes are officially dead
I know some of you are going to say, “The Bengals playoff hopes were dead after Week 2.” You’re probably right, but some of us are optimistic. There are also some of you who may be clinging to hope that the Bengals win out. You’re even more optimistic and we encourage that here. Keep hoping!
But, for the realists, the Bengals’ playoff hopes are dead.
Each week up to this point, there has been something for us to pin our hopes on, like when the Bengals fired Ken Zampese, when they scored a touchdown, or when they were one game away from taking the lead in the AFC North race. The first two weeks were just a gigantic mess and the only direction left was up.
Even after the loss to the Jaguars last week, there was still hope. Those of us insanely hopeful fans thought if that game was a fluke, there was still a chance. There have been five teams to go to the playoffs after a 3-5 start, with the most recent two even winning in the first round.
As the Bengals kept climbing upward after a miserable start to the season, they have hit their ceiling. It appears that going upward is no longer an option for the Bengals. All of the problems that led to the Bengals’ woeful 1-3 stretch over the last four games resurfaced on Sunday against the Titans.
After each win, it appeared that the Bengals had learned from their mistakes and slowly improved. It appears that way no longer, as the Bengals have no more hope to hold on to at 3-6.
If you want to continue holding out hope, FiveThirtyEight gives the Bengals a 7 percent chance of making the playoffs.
The Bengals should let the young guys play
I have been saying this for a few weeks now, but in hopes of revitalizing the team. Now that the Bengals have no chance to make the playoffs, its really time to get ready for next year and give the young guns a shot.
According to Profootballfocus.com, Clayton Fejedelem was the highest rated secondary defender after allowing only one reception on 36 cover snaps. William Jackson got his first career sack and Darqueze Dennard got his second career interception. Even Brandon Wilson was instrumental on a special teams play (in his first NFL game) that kept the Titans on the one-yard line. The secondary stands to gain the most from letting guys go out and play. Let them get some experience. What’s the worst that could happen? Playoff elimination?
The wide receiving corps is another unit that could use some young blood. While the young members of the secondary are already making contributions, the young receivers are not. They should get more snaps also, but for a different reason. When the Bengals go to rebuild during the offseason, it will be nice to know what they have. They need to see more of John Ross, Josh Malone, Cody Core and Alex Erickson. A.J. Green and Brandon LaFell have had the lions’ share of receptions out of necessity; but that necessity left when their playoff chances did. It’s time to see what these young guys can do.
That’s not to see Green should see any less work -- he shouldn’t — but LaFell can be replaced more frequently with younger guys.
Good things happen when A.J. Green has the ball
The six-time Pro Bowler hauled in five receptions for 115 yards, averaging a whopping 23 yards per reception. Most importantly, Green’s 70-yard touchdown reception gave the Bengals their first lead of the game.
A week after being held to six yards by Jalen Ramsey in what was the final game of the worst three game stretch of his career, Green broke out and put the Bengals in a position to win a crucial game. With the amount of close games the Bengals have played this season, perhaps the team could have one or two more wins at this point if Green had more targets and catches.
If the aphorism “Great playmakers make great plays,” holds true (which Green proved this week), then there is no reason for Green be lacking receptions.
The defense needs to stop getting in their own way
In each of the last two games, the Bengals offense has held the ball for less than 20 minutes. This means the defense has been working overtime.
The Bengals' offense played 51 snaps on Sunday and the defense played 90. That’s a MAJOR problem. This after the offense played 39 snaps and the defense 80 in Week 9. That cannot continue.
I’m not saying the Titans scored in the final minute only because the Bengals defense was exhausted, but it sure helped. The defense needs find a way off the field, and that’s mostly on the offense for its inability to stay on the field. After all, the Bengals were one for 10 on third down on Sunday. But the defense is also holding itself back in some ways.
Penalties present the most prominent issue for the defense. The Bengals committed 12 penalties on Sunday, half of which were on third down. Nothing could hurt the defense more than an automatic first down instead of a punt. Vontaze Burfict and Josh Shaw both had multiple penalties that extended scoring drives. Burfict even earned himself an ejection (as weak as the reasoning was). Carl Lawson also keeps jumping offsides, which is something that needs to stop.
The offense has put the defense in an uncomfortable position. Because of the ineptitude of the offense, the defense is the unit that will win games for Cincinnati. They need to do everything in their power to get off the field on fourth down, get rested, and stop the opponent’s momentum. They can’t be shooting themselves in the foot with penalties.