The Cincinnati Bengals have gone from potential playoff contenders to a team that is in serious jeopardy of an 0-3 start.
Thursday’s let down against the Houston Texans gave us more of what we have come to expect from the 2017 version of the Bengals - poor offensive line play, the inability to score in the red zone, inopportune turnovers and one big defensive breakdown.
Now, it’s time for a look at this week’s winners and losers:
Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher and anyone else who had to block J.J. Watt
J.J. Watt was only credited with one quarterback hit, but he was in the backfield all afternoon. He lined up all over the field and had his way with everyone who tried to block him. The game started off with a penalty on T.J. Johnson for an illegal block in the back, and the Bengals got flagged three times on the first three plays of that initial possession (one was refused).
The buildup could not have been any bigger. John Ross, one of the NFL’s fastest men and the holder of the fastest time ever run at the 2017 NFL Combine, was set to be active for the first time Thursday night.
And things started off so promising. Ross took the ball on an end-around for a nice gain of 12 yards on the Bengals’ third possession of the game as Cincinnati drove deep into Houston territory. But Ross fumbled when he was hit and the ball bounced right into the arms of Houston outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney. And that was the last we saw of John Ross.
Cody Core got some work in the opener against Baltimore and, with Tyler Boyd listed as a healthy scratch, figured to get even more opportunities against the Texans. But for whatever reason, the second-year speedster from Ole Miss never even saw the field Thursday night. His role in this offense is clearly diminishing, so much that we may actually see him inactive in favor of Josh Malone if this keeps up.
Bengals defense and one big play
With Cincinnati’s offense once again shooting blanks, the defense needed to make the plays if the Bengals hoped to pull out a victory. And, for the most part, they were up to the task. But just like Sunday, one play made all the difference.
Last week, it was a 48-yard touchdown reception to Jeremy Maclin. Thursday night, a 49-yard touchdown run, during which the defense missed at least two tackles, by rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson spelled the difference between victory and defeat.
The Bengals’ first three drives began at their own 46-yard-line, 45-yard-line and the 39-yard-line of Houston. The first two drives resulted in three and outs, and the third resulted in the Ross fumble.
The Bengals finally got something going on the strength of some quick hitters to A.J. Green, who finished the first half for three catches for 64 yards. Inexplicably, Green was targeted only one time after the half, an early third-quarter reception good for four yards. Andy Dalton did not even seem to look his way in the fourth quarter.
Although Dalton seemed to have a little better day statistically Thursday night, he continued to be unable to hit wide open receivers. He missed Brandon LaFell on several occasions and, late in the game when the Bengals were trying to move in to position to score the winning touchdown, Dalton threw a fourth down pass over everyone’s head. It is one thing to try to avoid the turnover, but it is inexcusable not to even give your receiver a chance when the game is on the line.
Dennard dropped a pick-six early in the game, and his missed tackle on Watson was the difference between holding the Texans to a potential field goal and giving up what proved to be the winning touchdown. It should also be remembered that it was Dennard’s poor angle that resulted in the Maclin touchdown on Sunday. Dennard also got his for an interference penalty that kept a Houston drive alive.
Once again, there were few winners on this second straight home loss. One of them, however, was Jones, who opened the game with a 38-yard punt return. He also showed consistently good pass coverage and won a spirited battle with Houston’s star receiver. Jones brings badly-needed attitude to the Bengals’ defense, and backs it up with consistently stellar play.
Rey did everything he could to make up for the loss of Cincinnati’s all-world linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Rey was all over the field in pass coverage and everywhere in run support. In addition to a number of big stops on third and short, Rey once again led all Bengals defenders with 11 tackles, including six solos.
Erickson gave the Bengals a couple of nice punt returns, and he gave Cincinnati a major boost with his 36-yard kickoff return on the second-to-last possession of the game. But his biggest contribution came in the slot in place of the missing Boyd. Erickson finished the day with four catches for 62 yards, including a long of 37.
Atkins nearly willed the Bengals to their first victory of the season, but his outstanding effort was wasted by another pathetic offensive performance. Atkins finished with two sacks and three quarterback hits among his five total tackles. He looks like his All-Pro self and deserves to be playing in another Pro Bowl. He’s playing at a level that just won’t get enough appreciation nationally with how bad the offense is dragging this team down.
Eifert was a non-factor for most of the first half before a 22-yard reception before halftime reminded everyone that he was still a force to be reckoned with. Eifert looked like he was ready to take over the game in the third quarter before his bad back flared up to slow him down. Eifert finished with three catches for 42 yards. He was far more involved than his Week 1 dud, so hopefully, this is the start of Eifert getting back to being one of the best tight ends in football.
The Bengals have a lot of work to do before heading to Green Bay next Sunday, and have more questions than answers.