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NFL Week 1: What we learned from the Bengals’ loss to the Ravens

The Bengals dropped their season opener in ugly fashion to the Ravens. Here’s what we learned.

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

If there was a game the Cincinnati Bengals could win, it would be their first home opener since 2009. It would be on a day in which they celebrate their 50th season. It would be against a Baltimore Ravens team they’ve defeated in seven of their last eight meetings, including the last four home games.

Yet, here we are.

There is nothing else to say: This game was ugly. It was embarrassing. It was painful. But you know this. If you watched the game and have eyes, you already figured this out. The Bengals have a lot they need to work out before facing the Houston Texans. With a short week coming up, they need to improve in a hurry.

It wasn’t all bad, though. There are some bright moments we can look back and see. But it was by no means perfect. But let’s start with the bad news.

Andy Dalton needs to clean up his game

The Red Rifle attempted 31 passes, completed 16 of them, threw four interceptions, fumbled once, and scored zero points, with a passer rating of 28.4. It should also be noted that 23 percent of Dalton’s passing yards came on a screen to Giovani Bernard in garbage time.

It was frustrating watching Dalton miss on what should have been easy throws. Time after time, he missed on short passes and slant routes that should be an easy completion. Whether he was off on his timing, the receivers were at fault, or the defenders disrupted the receivers routes, this needs to end. If Dalton can’t complete a simple five-yard slant, he’s going to have a long season.

It was frustrating watching the deep ball fail to connect. Cody Core was open deep two times. If Dalton had connected on those passes, the Bengals would have been in scoring position, if not in the endzone. In a game where the Bengals scored zero points, the deep ball would be a weapon that would bring them back into the competition.

It was frustrating watching Dalton turn the ball over five times. Dalton Made terrible decisions, costing the offense dearly. In the first quarter, down 3-0, the Bengals could have kicked a field goal to tie the game.

Instead, Dalton tried to test C.J. Mosley and failed. In the third quarter, desperate to chip away at the Ravens 17-0 lead, the Bengals could have changed the momentum of the game. Instead, Dalton attempted a risky pass and paid the price. The fumble wasn’t his fault, but it was still frustrating to see the Bengals fail drive after drive.

I’ve heard people say, "A couple of his interceptions were tipped," as if to say that only two of them were his fault. If this is true, then he is still on the hook for three turnovers, which is alarming. But they are all still his fault. The reason they were tipped is because they were poorly thrown (though the offensive line is also partly to blame for his interception to Lardarius Webb, but I will get to that later).

In summary, it was frustrating to watch Dalton on Sunday. He played an atrocious game and needs to work out the kinks before Thursday.

As bad as he was though, it still isn’t time for AJ McCarron. And we certainly don’t want to see Carson Palmer in Cincinnati again.

The offensive line is not free of responsibility, however.

The offensive line is as bad as we feared

It was Dalton’s fault that he made bad decisions. It is not his fault that he was never able to settle into the pocket.

The Ravens defense had five sacks, three QB hits, seven tackles for a loss, a fumble, and a fumble recovery. The offensive line was just plain ugly. Tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher were overpowered, Trey Hopkins left with an injury, Russell Bodine continued to be Russell Bodine.

Not only did they fail to do their job and protect Dalton, they actually assisted the Ravens in two of their turnovers. On the previously mentioned Webb interception, Fisher practically tackled Dalton. He was therefore unable to communicate with his team that the ball had been tipped or even to contest the catch himself because his right tackle was sitting on him.

On Dalton’s fumble, Ogbuehi slightly re-routed Terrell Suggs, allowing him to get into the backfield before the play could develop. Dalton probably couldn’t feel the pressure from the blindside; even if he did, he had no time to react.

Pro Football Focus was brutally honest about the Bengals offensive line. You can read the article here, but if there’s one takeaway, it is this: Backup interior lineman T.J. Johnson received the highest grade, despite only playing about half of the offensive snaps, and was still ranked below average.

You might be thinking, They were playing the Ravens, and the Raven have a really good defense. Yes, you are right. The Ravens defense is really good. Fortunately, the Bengals have an easy game on Thursday against J.J. Watt and the Texans.

They get another break in Week 3 when they play the Packers, who had the eighth best run defense of 2016 and forced six QB hits and six TFLs on Sunday. Then they get to play T.J. Watt and the gritty Steelers defense twice. Then the Ravens again. And if they’re lucky, they only have to see number overall draft pick Miles Garrett once this year.

The point of this is, they had better figure out how to block and figure it out fast. They will have no mercy in the coming weeks.

Jeremy Hill is still the starting running back

Even though starter Jeremy Hill received less than half the snaps that both Joe Mixon and Bernard received, he is still king of the running backs. Mixon had the most carries with eight, but only gained nine yards. Jeremy Hill gained 26 yards on six carries, averaging 4.3 yards per attempt. The Bengals most certainly are not going to give up on the rookie, but Hill has earned his starting spot.

Even though Bernard outgained them both combined, but he will not start. The Bengals want to use him as a primarily change-of-pace back. Historically, that is how Marvin Lewis operates.

The defense is vastly improved from last year

Considering how dominant the Ravens were on offense, the fact that they only scored 20 points speaks volumes. If the Bengals had any other team’s offense, the game would have been a lot closer.

The front four was formidable against the Ravens line. Carlos Dunlap was constantly in the backfield and made life for Flacco uncomfortable. Geno Atkins was the NFL’s highest rated run stoppers this week, according to PFF. Carl Lawson also received high marks from PFF, making a living in the Ravens backfield on the few snaps he played.

The three starting linebackers, Vincent Rey, Kevin Minter, and Nick Vigil, combined for 30 tackles and an interception. Minter was the highest rated Bengal by PFF. Both he and Rey had double digit tackles, with ten and 11 tackles respectively. Vigil had the defense’s lone interception and added a pass defended to the stat sheet, proving his value in the passing game.

Even the young corners succeeded in keeping Joe Flacco to minimal gains. Early on, Flacco targeted third-string cornerback William Jackson in the red zone but ended up kicking a field goal. Playing on the opposite boundary, veteran Dre Kirkpatrick ended the game with a passer rating of 39.6. Flacco ended the game with a measly 121 yards through the air. Shockingly, 48 of those came on one play which resulted in a Jeremy Maclin touchdown, but that had more to do with a well drawn-up play by the offense than a failure on defense.

Fortunately for the Bengals, their next opponent struggled as much as they did. It’s hard to imagine the Bengals playing much worse. They will return to Paul Brown Stadium on Thursday to take on the Texans.