Sunday wasn’t much fun, but not all is lost for the Cincinnati Bengals.
However, the 20-0 loss to the Baltimore Ravens was one of the uglier defeats of the Marvin Lewis era. As bad as it was, there’s still hope for these Bengals.
For now, here are some postgame thoughts on the Week 1 debacle:
Zampese is Still Awful
Remember when Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski was so bad that opposing defenses seemingly knew the Bengals’ offense better than the Bengals?
It may be getting that bad with Ken Zampese, and even the announcers commented that the Ravens looked like they knew Zampese’s predictable playcalling better than the Bengals.
Andy Dalton and the offensive line deserve plenty of blame, but Zampese is doing them no favors. When you have a flawed offense (namely, the offensive line), a good/great offensive coordinator is needed to help overcome it, such as Jay Gruden or Hue Jackson.
Instead, the Bengals have one of the NFL’s worst, and it’s proven costly far too often since he assumed the position last year.
As bad as the Bengals looked, no one on the schedule really scares you other than maybe the Denver Broncos because of their front seven versus this struggling offensive line. If Sunday was any indicator, the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears are very beatable, even for a flawed Bengals team. The Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers have their weaknesses, too.
Of course, the Bengals have to play a lot better for any of those games to be truly winnable, but getting to that level is very much within reach for a team with as much talent as the Bengals possess.
As crazy as it sounds, I could still see this team getting nine wins and being back in the playoff hunt. They just need to beat the struggling Texans this Thursday, then get a lot of things corrected during the long break. They still have a chance to make it to their Week 6 bye with a 3-2 record.
For most of the Marvin Lewis era, the Bengals have typically have had trouble with scat backs who were good pass-catchers. That’s been remedied at times with Vontaze Burfict being a great coverage back, but when he’s out, this unit really struggles against guys like Danny Woodhead. The new Ravens running back was slicing up the Bengals in the first quarter, and it looked like he may very well be the difference-maker of this game.
However, Woodhead went down with a hamstring injury with Baltimore at the goal line. He went out, and the Bengals’ defense looked great the rest of the way. This issue may not rear its ugly head on Thursday against the Houston Texans, but the Cleveland Browns could present a mismatch here in Week 3
Hopefully, this is an issue the Bengals fix with the return of Burfict, as well as Nick Vigil and Kevin Minter getting more accustomed to their new roles in this defense.
Dalton Felt Pressure Right Away
Everyone knows Andy Dalton had a ton of pressure on his shoulders coming into this game. Most of that was due to the offensive line being in shambles, which required Dalton to be on point while facing relentless pressure. However, there was a lot of pressure on Dalton to adequately utilize arguably his deepest group of pass-catchers in his seven-year career.
Unfortunately, Dalton looked like a guy who felt the pressure and couldn’t handle it almost as soon as the game began. That led to the kind of bad plays we’ve rarely seen in his career.
Per ESPN Stats and Info, that was Dalton's first red zone interception since Week 14 of the 2015 season against the Steelers— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) September 10, 2017
The Bengals needed Dalton to play like the MVP-caliber player he was before his thumb injury in 2015. Instead, he looked like a shell of himself.
I’m not worried about Dalton...
Look, Dalton is a game-manager who can play at an elite level when he has a great supporting cast. He may have a great group of pass-catchers, but the offensive line is struggling mightily, and Zampese is making things worse. Dalton needs more help if he’s going to get back to that 2015 form, including help from the playcalling. This offensive line needs to figure itself out, though, after an offseason of work, how much better can they get now that the season is underway?
Simply put, Dalton will stink if his offense stinks and thrive when his offense can thrive. Right now, I’m not sure they can thrive...
Loss of Whitworth Proves Costly
There’s no doubt in my mind the Bengals would win this game if Andrew Whitworth was playing at left tackle. That’s how much of an impact Cedric Ogbuehi made on this game in a negative way. He gave up to the red-zone strip sack to Terrell Suggs, and Dalton probably wouldn’t throw four picks if Whitworth was keeping his blindside clean.
Alas, Whitworth is now protecting Jared Goff, who just led to Los Angeles Rams to a destruction of the Indianapolis Colts. The Bengals have to figure out a better solution on the blindside than Ogbuehi, who is still a major work in progress.
My suggestion: Jake Fisher at left tackle and Andre Smith at right tackle. Perhaps even flipping those two works, but either option is better than anything that involves Ogbuehi.
I Really Like the Secondary
Sure, Joe Flacco was rusty after missing training camp and the preseason, but the secondary looked good overall against a talented Ravens pass-catching group. The Jeremy Maclin touchdown was more a result of Darqueze Dennard running into George Iloka’s arms than Maclin actually getting free for the Bengals’ defenders.
When you give Jeremy Maclin that much space, you get burned pic.twitter.com/FpCpanGgn8— Barstool Mizzou (@BarstoolMizzou) September 10, 2017
Dennard was practically clotheslined while trying to get to Maclin as Iloka was pressing his man. Iloka is a good safety, but he shouldn’t be pressing anyone. Take away that 48-yard play, and the Ravens had just 73 passing yards, 33 of which went to Danny Woodhead (see above).
The secondary looked great, whether it was Dennard, Dre Kirkpatrick or William Jackson III. The pass interference call on Jackson was bogus. He had Maclin perfectly defended on that play, and I really like the potential of the former 21st-overall pick.
Oh, and that’s before Adam Jones and Shawn Williams return. This has the potential to be a very scary unit against a schedule with some pretty weak passing offenses.
Thank Goodness for Thursday
The best way to forget about Sunday is to have a game on Thursday, which is exactly what the Bengals will receive when the Texans come to Paul Brown Stadium. Win that game, and suddenly, we at least start to forget about Week 1 and think more about what the rest of the season has to offer.
It won’t be easy beating a talented Texans team that’s also desperate to get Sunday’s bad taste out of their mouth. Their home loss to the Jaguars was arguably worse than the Bengals’ home defeat to the Ravens. This is a must-win game for both teams, and a win is exactly what Cincinnati needs after Week 1.