The Bengals losing is no longer surprising. The way they lose, however, never ceases to amaze.
Missing several starters to injury, the Bengals were poised for a Mitchell Trubisky breakout game. Trubisky was an unstoppable force, helping the league’s worst offense put more points on the board than both the Steelers on two attempts and Aaron Rodgers with the advantage of an overtime period. The Bengals gave up more points against Trubisky than they have to anyone else all season.
The worst offense in the league is just shy of 500 net yards— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) December 10, 2017
Da Bears, who average 291 yards and 17 points per game, put up 482 yards and 33 points against the Bengals. How embarrassing.
Then, there’s the offense. A.J. McCarron had a team-high rating of 68.2, even though he attempted 21 fewer passes than Andy Dalton. The Bengals gained only 234 yards, which is below their league-worst average of 277.
If the Bengals are going to humiliate themselves, they might as well learn a lesson or two. Here’s what we learned:
A.J. Green needs to limit dumb turnovers
Wait, A.J. Green?
When the opposing rookie quarterback is having a career game, dumb turnovers do not help your team.
Typically, throwing to Green’s chest would be highly recommended. Dalton was just plain unlucky. How many passes that hit Green in the hands end up being intercepted?
On that one, you could argue that Bryce Callahan made a great play on the ball and Eddie Jackson put himself in a great position to pick it off. You could even argue that Green’s fumble was just another great play by Jackson.
But the disturbing connection between the two turnovers is that Green had his hands on the ball on both. The best player on the offense by a wide margin was directly involved in both turnovers. Both turnovers were after a Bears scoring drive, too, making it impossible to stay in the game.
Obviously, the game was already over by that point, so I’m not saying that the Bengals’ could have come back. But I will say that the turnovers stopped the offense from finding any sort of rhythm.
The Bengals were clearly still recovering from the Steelers on Monday Night Football. A little momentum in the fourth quarter could go a long way, especially when the Bengals’ next foe is the NFC North-leading Vikings.
The fact that Green was the culprit on both occasions confirms Dalton’s comments about the game. He said there was no energy in the huddle. This translated to Green’s unusually sloppy play.
It’s not the actual turnovers that are bothersome, even though turnovers are obviously a very bad thing. It is the fact that the Bengals were behind the eight ball the whole game, and when the best playmaker on the team was entrusted to make something happen, the Bears ended up with the ball.
That trend is alarming.
When the best player on the team fails to step up, how can we expect anyone else to do the same?
The defense needs to wake up
Even though Paul Guenther and the Bengals defense had to play without Vontaze Burfict, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Nick Vigil, Shawn Williams, and essentially Geno Atkins, this would have been a good week to do it on paper.
Trubisky is a rookie who had still not proven that he was worth the controversial trade in this years’ draft. Their wide receiver corps is very pedestrian. Their star tight end is out for the year with an injury. Even with the one-two punch of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, their offense is completely one dimensional.
Yet somehow, wide receiver Kendall Wright had his first 100-yard game of the year. Here’s how embarrassing it is that Wright racked up 107 yards on the Bengals: He averaged 31 yards per game entering Week 14, his next highest single-game total is 69 yards (from all the back in Week 2 against the Buccaneers), and he tallied 111 yards in his previous four games combined.
Fellow receiver Josh Bellamy averaged 18 yards a game before coming into Paul Brown Stadium and racking up 52 yards.
Despite the prowess of Howard and Cohen, the Bengals’ run defense was nonexistent. The Bears rushed for an unprecedented 232 yards on the ground. When was the last time the Bengals gave up 200 rushing yards in a game? It was in Week 5 of the 2015 season against the Seahawks (which was otherwise a really fun game to watch).
Even though most of the players in the game were young and inexperienced, an NFL defense did not take the field on Sunday.
Are the young defenders not talented? Or was Marvin Lewis wrong when he said there was no lack of effort?
Here’s a hint: it’s the second one.
The remaining schedule against the Vikings in Minnesota, Lions, and Ravens in Baltimore will be very difficult to overcome with this pathetic show of indifference.
Giovani Bernard can be an every-down back
It was an injury in 2014 that kept Bernard out of the starting lineup. Jeremy Hill would step in and keep the starting job, for better or worse, until he himself was sidelined with an injury this year.
While the hype around Bernard was always there, he was buried in the depth chart until injuries necessitated his return.
When Bernard is the only running back on the active roster, besides a rookie who has been in Cincinnati for only two weeks, the Bengals are forced to rely on him. As it turns out, Bernard is delivering in spades.
The fifth-year back out of North Carolina is second on the team in yards per carry, with 4.5 (behind only John Ross, who has one for 12 yards). When he gets seven or more carries in a game this year, he averages 5.8 yards.
If that’s not a good enough reason to get him the ball, then what it?
His usual role in this offense as the receiving back still holds up, too. He is fourth on the team in receptions and receiving yards, averaging over 11 yards per grab. Against the Bears, Bernard led the team receptions, receiving yards, and had the longest catch of the day.
While he is a smaller back, he can still run between the tackles and drive the pile. Or he can bounce around to the outside. Or he can run draw plays. Or screens. Or run routes. Or pick up blitzes.
Basically, he can do everything a running back should be able to do.
When Joe Mixon returns, obviously he should get most of the carries. But before Bernard became the starter, he averaged exactly three carries a game. He is showing now that he is vastly underused.
If Bernard gets the ball every so often, his differences in running style and skill set that set him apart from Mixon is something that defenses will be forced to account for.
In other words, in a season in which the Bengals have more weapons in their arsenal that they are using, and in a season in which the offense is in the bottom-five in the NFL in most statistical categories, they should be using whatever they have.
Michael Johnson’s move inside is really helping him out
The Bengals’ Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee looked like he was running his career on fumes last season. But he was one of the few bright spots on defense against the Bears, with two sacks, two QB hits, three total tackles for a loss, and six total tackles.
This isn’t his only game where he has shown improvement.
Michael Johnson has only five games with two or more sacks in his career, and two of them came this year.— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) December 10, 2017
When the Bengals brought in Carl Lawson as an edge rusher, Johnson received some more snaps on the inside of the defensive line. The defensive end already has one and a half more sacks than he did last year, and almost as many tackles.
Perhaps the 30-year-old still has more left in the tank. A move inside suits his skill set better, especially since he is not a spring chicken anymore.
Marvin Lewis doesn’t know what his job includes
What did he think his job was?
Who knows, but he doesn’t think his job is motivating his team. After all, there is no need to motivate if there is no lack of effort.
The fact is, yes, motivation is part of the head coach’s job, just like making halftime adjustments is part of his job too. Those are two things that Marvin struggles doing.
If he can’t do two important parts of his job, maybe he shouldn’t have the job in the first place.
And as always, don’t forget your “Fire Marvin” t-shirts.