The Bengals’ opening day disaster is in the books, and we try to look at what went wrong.
The Bengals brought in Kevin Minter to add youth and speed to the linebacking corps, and promoted Nick Vigil into the starting lineup, hoping to provide better coverage on running backs and tight ends.
It did not work. The Bengals continued to show their inability to cover anyone over the middle of the field. It was Week 1, and Vigil did have an interception, which was nice, but the linebackers need to do much better.
Cincinnati drafted Cedric Ogbuehi in the first round on the 2015 NFL Draft with the hope he would eventually replace Andrew Whitworth as the Bengals’ starting left tackle. Ogbuehi got his chance Sunday, after starting at right tackle for much of last year, and it was not pretty.
Ogbuehi continued to struggle against bull rushes, and allowed Baltimore’s aging—but still effective—Terrell Suggs to spend more time in the Bengals’ backfield than any one of Cincinnati’s three running backs.
And it was just as bad on the other side...
Jake Fisher, the other tackle taken in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, got hit with a pair of holding calls and allowed Suggs to run through him, as well. The Bengals are going to need drastically improved offensive line play and it’s unclear how they will accomplish that.
Bengals’ pass catchers
In response to the offense’s red-zone struggles, the Bengals went out and drafted a trio of high-powered offensive players. John Ross, one of the fastest men in football and the team’s first round pick in this year’s NFL Draft, was inactive for the opener. Josh Malone, the blazing fourth-round selection out of Tennessee, was also inactive.
But, the Bengals finally had A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert healthy, so the red-zone woes that plagued them throughout 2016 should no longer be a problem, right? Maybe not.
The Bengals struggled to sustain anything on offense and failed to get Green involved until early in the second quarter. When they finally did manage to move into the red zone, turnovers doomed their every effort.
But perhaps the biggest loser on this afternoon was Dalton, who could not seem to get out of his own way. He missed a wide open Cody Core for potential touchdowns on two occasions and finished a miserable 16 of 31 for 170 yards and four interceptions. He was sacked five times and finished with an abysmal quarterback rating of 28.4.
Cincinnati drove into the red zone on three different occasions Sunday, and the results were always the same. Three trips. Zero points.
The Bengals offense, which looked so good on paper, could not have been any worse. Dalton could never get in sync with his receivers, who never seemed to be able to shake the tight coverage of the Ravens.
The play calling was vanilla, to say the least, and we never got to see any of the innovations we heard so much about. Instead, we get to see Baltimore’s defense toss its first opening-day shutout since 2006.
It is easy to point to the losers on Sunday - Ogbuehi, Dalton and the Cincinnati linebacking corps. But the big losers are the fans, who were subjected to a terrible outing and a huge disappointment on opening day. This simply cannot continue.
If there is a winner out of the mess that was the opening game of the 2017 season, it may have been Jordan Willis. Early in the fourth quarter, as Baltimore tried to put the game away, Willis made his presence felt in a big way. He almost single handedly shut down the Baltimore running game and helped get the ball back for the Bengals for one last gasp with 12:23 left.
The Bengals’ defensive front four gave a pretty good accounting of itself, with Atkins recording a sack and Dunlap making his presence felt, both in the backfield and in coverage. But it was not nearly enough. Michael Johnson sustained a concussion early on, which means he’s unlikely to play in Week 2.
Sunday’s disaster has to go down as one of the worst showings for a Bengals team on opening day, or any other day for that matter. And, with a quick turnaround coming as the Bengals’ face Houston on Thursday night, things will have to change in a hurry if Cincinnati hopes to salvage a season that got off to as bad of a start as one could imagine.