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6 reasons why the Bengals are 3-6

A tired defensive, an offense that refuses to run the ball and more reasons why the Bengals are 3-6 heading into Week 11.

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens
Andre Smith

The Cincinnati Bengals are 3-6, having lost three of their last four games. Just about everything you can think of has gone wrong for the Bengals during that time, but most of the players are continuing to play hard. Although the season is over, for all intents and purposes, no one seems to be giving up.

The latest last-minute loss to the Titans really seemed to strike a chord for these Bengals, who hope to put together a string of victories to conclude the season. But, in order to do so, lots of things still have to change. There are many reasons why Cincinnati is in the position it is in, and here are six of them.

1. Offensive line play.

The Bengals finally got a little bit of good news in regards to the offensive line. Against Tennessee, Andre Smith started at right tackle in place of the ailing Jake Fisher, and responded with the best day of any offensive lineman in the league. Pro Football Focus gave Smith an overall grade of 87.6 and noted that he allowed only one pressure on Andy Dalton’s 36 dropbacks.

Of course, Smith’s stellar play could do little to hide yet another atrocious performance by left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi. On one occasion, Ogbuehi was badly beaten by former Washington Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo, who hit Dalton from behind and caused a fumble that the Titans recovered. Tennessee went on to score a touchdown on that possession.

Probably the most telling example of poor line play came during the Bengals’ final play of the game, when Dalton dropped back for a Hail Mary in an attempt to win the game. Tennessee was able to get pressure on Dalton with only a three-man rush, and forced him to throw from his back foot. The ball did not even reach the Titans’ 10-yard line, and was knocked away as time expired.

2. Defense is wearing down.

Cincinnati’s defense was ranked among the best in the NFL through the first eight weeks of the season. But a sudden inability to stop teams on third down over the past two weeks has changed that.

Overall, the Bengals’ defense is currently ranked No. 14, behind Cleveland and Seattle, and is No. 12 in points allowed, surrendering an average of 20.2 points per game. It is the inability of the defense to get off the field that has caused those standings to tumble. Tennessee converted on 7-of-15 third-down opportunities this past Sunday, with Jacksonville going 12-of-18 the week before.

In its three wins, Cincinnati has allowed its opposition to make good on 19-of-47 third-down opportunities, or just over 40 percent. In its six losses, the Bengals have allowed the opponents to make good on 38-of-88 third downs - just over 43 percent of the time.

Coming in to the Jacksonville game, Cincinnati was doing a pretty good job on third down. Through the first seven games of the season, teams had converted only 38 of 105 third-down opportunities against the Bengals defense, good for just over 36 percent and well ahead of the current league average of 38.6.

3. Lack of production on offense.

Time of possession is probably the most telling factor in the Bengals’ record to date, and the offense has to shoulder its share of the blame for the huge disparity in that area. It is the inability of the offense to generate first downs that keeps putting the defense back on the field, and sooner or later bad things are going to happen.

Cincinnati held the ball for less than 20 minutes in the losses to the Jaguars and the Titans. Against Jacksonville, the Bengals went 1-for-8 on third down, and went 1-for-10 against Tennessee. In its three wins, Cincinnati has had the ball for an average of 30:44. In its six losses, the Bengals have held the ball for an average of 24:54.

In the Bengals’ loss to Tennessee, the Titans held the ball for 40:09 and ran off 84 plays to only 50 for Cincinnati. Even when the Bengals did manage to score, they barely gave the defense a chance to catch its breath.

Cincinnati’s first score came on a 37-yard pass from Dalton to Brandon LaFell that consumed 3:12 off of the clock. Joe Mixon scored on a 3-yard run after a Marcus Mariota interception and, and the drive took three seconds. Of course, the interception came after the Bengals had marched 63 yards in six plays, with the biggest chunk of that coming on a 25-yard completion to LaFell. That drive ended with a Dalton fumble, and once again consumed 3:12.

Cincinnati scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 70-yard catch and run by A.J. Green to cap a two-play, 82-yard drive that took 41 seconds off the clock.

A clearly exhausted Cincinnati defense was unable to stop the Titans down the stretch, and three defenders whiffed on DeMarco Murray as he dove in the for go-ahead score.

Jacksonville dominated time of possession the week before, as well. The Jaguars held the ball for 40:14 and ran off 78 plays to only 37 for the Bengals. Once again, exhaustion was the biggest factor that allowed Jacksonville to put the game out of reach. This time, it was the special teams unit that ran out of steam. Jaydon Mickens took the fifth of seven Kevin Huber punts back for a 63-yard touchdown that sealed Cincinnati’s fate.

4. Inability/refusal to run the ball.

A successful running game is the best way to control time of possession, and the Bengals boasted what should have been a great trio of running backs in Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon. But, thanks primarily to the instability on the offensive line, none of those backs have been able to get much going.

Hill, the presumptive starter, has carried the ball 37 times for 116 yards, an average of 3.1 yards per carry. After scoring 29 touchdowns in his first three years in the league, Hill had none this year, and was recently lost for the season with an ankle injury.

Bernard has rushed 28 times for 113 yards, an average of four yards per carry, and has 17 receptions out of the backfield for 196 yards and two scores. Mixon has been the primary ball carrier for the Bengals, and has stepped into the starting role following the loss of Hill. On 107 carries, Mixon has managed only 321 yards for an average of just three yards per carry. But he does have three touchdowns on the ground and has added 21 catches for 207 yards.

As much of a struggle as the running game has been, there have been times where it appeared to be on the verge of breaking out. Against Houston, a game that stayed close from start to finish, Mixon only got nine carries and ran for 36 yards. Against Pittsburgh, he had 48 yards on only seven carries by halftime, and Cincinnati only trailed by a score of 20-14. Yet, for whatever reason, Mixon did not get another carry as the Bengals completely abandoned the running game.

And this past Sunday against Tennessee, Mixon had rushed nine times for 37 yards, including a long of 13 yards, with just under 13 minutes remaining in a close 17-13 contest. Inexplicably, he did not touch the ball the rest of the game.

5. No wide receivers outside of Green and LaFell.

A.J. Green, despite a three-game stretch where he had only seven receptions for 74 yards and one touchdown, continues to build on his reputation as one of the best receivers in the game. Green is currently No. 6 in the league with 44 receptions for 693 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Brandon LaFell has cemented his position as Cincinnati’s No. 2 receiver with 31 catches for 303 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But that is where it has stopped. No one has stepped up to claim the No. 3 receiver spot, so teams only have to worry about containing Green and LaFell, in addition to blossoming tight end Tyler Kroft.

The remaining five receivers for the Bengals have a grand total of 16 receptions between them. Tyler Boyd, who has been fighting injury, has only six receptions for 43 yards, and Cody Core, who was generating so much excitement in the offseason, has yet to catch a pass.

Alex Erickson has found some small measure of success, but still only has six receptions for 96 yards, and rookie Josh Malone has managed four receptions for 54 yards in the three games for which he has been active. John Ross, the Bengals’ first-round selection and the fastest man ever at the NFL Combine, has barely seen the field and is still looking for his first reception. None of this group of five has a touchdown reception to their credit.

6. Poor coaching.

Here we are heading into the 11th week of the season, and for the first time all year Andre Smith plays the entire game at right tackle. Smith responds with the best day of any offensive tackle in the league, per PFF.

So why did this not happen earlier, instead of a rotation system that did not seem to benefit anyone? It certainly did not Dalton, who had been sacked 24 times entering the Tennessee game. Sunday, he was sacked one time after Ogbuehi forgot to block his man. Can anyone say, “Coach’s Decision?”

Speaking of coach’s decisions, is there any reason why Hill, prior to his injury, started every game, as well as the first drive of the second half? The decision to start him was never based on performance. And it has been a coach’s decision to go away from the run and force Dalton to put the team on his back, even though he was given a line that rarely was able to keep that back clean.

Cincinnati spent a first-round draft pick on Ross, a second-round draft pick on Boyd, a fourth-round draft pick on Malone, and Core was a sixth-round selection. Erickson was an undrafted free agent. It is up to the coaching staff to develop these players.

Core is in his second season and going nowhere. Boyd is in his second season and going backward. Malone is finally getting to see some playing time, while Ross is no factor at all. He is not even being used as a decoy. He just rarely plays. Only Erickson seems to be developing, albeit slowly.

And here is a statistic that will make even the staunchest of Bengals’ supporters uncomfortable. Of the nine games the Bengals have played, six opposing teams have scored in the final two minutes of the first half. Tennessee, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh all kicked field goals with no time showing on the clock. Jacksonville added a field goal with 23 seconds left in the half, Houston scored a touchdown with 50 seconds showing and Baltimore got a touchdown with 1:28 left. A seventh team, Buffalo, scored a touchdown with 3:10 remaining before halftime.

While Green Bay did not score before the half, it did add a touchdown on the opening possession of the third quarter. Only Cleveland failed to do any damage during that period of time, although it did score a touchdown with less than two minutes left in the game.

Why is the defense so vulnerable near the end of the first half in nearly every game it plays? Coaching.

And what about the offense? In three of the nine games the Bengals have played, Cincinnati has gone three-and-out on the opening possession of the second half. The Bengals lost two of those three games, to Pittsburgh and Tennessee, respectively.

Another time, Cincinnati went four-and-out on its first possession of the second half, and went on to lose to Green Bay in overtime. Twice it went six-and-out on that opening possession, and lost both of those games, as well, to Baltimore and Jacksonville.

Three times, the Bengals scored on their opening possessions of the second half, and won two of those games. Cincinnati scored a touchdown against the Colts and a field goal against the Browns, and added a field goal in a losing effort to the Texans.

So why aren’t the Bengals better prepared coming out of halftime? Why do so many of their initial possessions end in punts? Coaching.

Finally, although I cannot find any stats that address the subject, I think everyone will agree that there are way too many missed tackles. What’s the reason for that? You guessed it: coaching! I don’t even want to mention the penalties, but I must.

Against Tennessee, the Bengals’ defense had three holding penalties on third-and-long situations to help sustain drives and which eventually led to the Titans’ go-ahead score. Of the team’s 12 total penalties, six defensive penalties resulted in first downs on third-down situations.

Cincinnati currently stands 23rd in the league with an average of 7.4 penalties per game, and has averaged 8.3 penalties per game over the last three games. Last year, the Bengals were one of the two least penalized teams in the league with an average of only 5.5 per game. What is the difference? Coaching.


Which of these is the biggest reason why the Bengals are 3-6?

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    Offensive line play
    (658 votes)
  • 0%
    Defense wearing down
    (3 votes)
  • 3%
    Lack of production on offense
    (53 votes)
  • 1%
    Inability/refusal to run the ball
    (30 votes)
  • 0%
    No wide receivers outside of Green and LaFell
    (4 votes)
  • 51%
    Poor coaching
    (816 votes)
  • 1%
    (24 votes)
1588 votes total Vote Now