It happened again—the Cincinnati Bengals lost in primetime.
Not only that, but the Bengals lost to a team whom they claimed was the worst in the NFL. A team who was humiliated by Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars, beat the Bengals on their home turf. The same team who gave up ten sacks in Week 1 beat the Bengals as much of the nation was watching and benched their Week 1 starter in favor of a rookie beat the Bengals in familiar, heartbreaking fashion.
Cincinnati’s offense continued to lag after an awful performance to open the season. The Bengals are still looking for their first touchdown of 2017, as almost every facet of the offense has been struggling. First round draft pick John Ross fumbled on his only touch of the game and first as a pro. Meanwhile, Andy Dalton still missed on wide open passes. Ken Zampese paid the price, but will that be enough?
After a second consecutive ugly loss this season, here is what we learned:
The offense as a whole is still terrible
But, you knew that already. The unit hasn’t scored a touchdown through the first two weeks and have just nine points the entire year. With five turnovers and two more on downs through the first two games, it’s a miracle the team has only allowed 33 points.
The trio of second-round picks at running back have yet to make big plays, while the myriad of supposed pass-catching weapons have largely been lackluster. It’s just been a gigantic mess, and it’s yet to be seen if Bill Lazor’s promotion will make a big difference.
Dalton looked better, but still needs improvement
The Bengals quarterback looked better on Thursday than he did on Sunday, but that isn’t saying very much. Obviously, the “Thursday version” of Dalton is far more preferable to “last Sunday’s Dalton,” but even what we witnessed a few days ago isn’t the same Dalton that Bengals fans have become accustomed to watching. Dalton completed just 57.1 percent of his passes, averaged 6.4 yards per attempt, and earned a rating of 76.4 against the Texans.
While his rating is almost 50 points better than what he put up on Sunday, which was a much-needed improvement, we’ve seen that he can do much better. Dalton has a career completion percentage of 62.6, a career yards per attempt average of 7.2 and a rating of 88.2. So, even though we’ve seen past struggles from Dalton in big games, the aforementioned stats are more like what we’ve been accustomed to in his career.
The good news for Dalton is that Lazor seems to have a good grasp on what the Cincinnati offense should look like, as he helped Dalton achieve what Marvin Lewis called a career year last year. Lazor has also helped other quarterbacks around the league, such as Ryan Tannehill and Nick Foles, reach career milestones as well.
Dalton and the offense now have ten days to adjust to Lazor’s new offense as he replaces Zampese as the offensive coordinator, as they prepare for the Packers. The veteran signal-caller needs to show improvement to get back to his old self, and the hope is that Lazor can help him get there.
At the end of the day, Dalton’s Thursday performance didn’t make me want to stab my eyes out with a letter opener after watching. That isn’t to say that there weren’t moments of frustration, though.
He missed Brandon LaFell on a play that was so wide open, analyst Cris Collinsworth announced, “You just don’t get more wide open than that.” It was also frustrating to watch the Bengals’ offense forced to score a touchdown late in the fourth quarter and fail to even get a first down in crunch time.
Dalton didn’t turn the ball over this week and had some solid passes, such as a 50-yard jump-ball bomb to A.J. Green. It was nice to see that LaFell Tyler Eifert and were way more involved in the passing game this week over last. Though the offense even scored points, it is still a weak-looking group and a hopefully-improved Dalton going forward will lift an enormous burden off of everyone else.
The defense is almost really good
While the offense is potentially the worst the Bengals have seen from the unit in a decade, the defense might be one of the better groups the Bengals have had in that span.
A team that has a defense that gives up an average of 16.5 points per contest in two consecutive home games should be 2-0. Yes, the offenses they played were not the greatest, but both the Ravens and Texans have some decent weapons.
However, the 2017 Bengals’ defense has the potential to be historically great. Geno Atkins’ name was called on almost every play, as he notched two sacks and five total tackles. Adam Jones returned from his suspension and played as well as he could hope for against DeAndre Hopkins, letting up just 73 yards to the Pro Bowler. Youngsters like Chris Smith and Carl Lawson were also able to exploit weaknesses on the Texans offensive line.
This defense won’t be elite until they can figure out to limit opponents’ big plays—especially in crunch time. Cincinnati’s defense only allowed a 26 percent conversion rate on third down (4-of-15), but a couple of big ones came in the fourth quarter.
When the offense is scoring on less than half of their red zone possessions, giving up big plays is deadly. In both games so far this season, the opposing quarterback has scored his only touchdown off of a broken play on defense.
On Thursday, Watson’s 39-yard rumble turned out to be the difference in the game. Paul Guenther and the defense need to figure out how to stop this if they are to help the struggling offense win games.
We don’t miss Vontaze Burfict as much as we thought we would
Linebacker Vincent Rey was the only player on either team to record double-digit tackles. Burfict’s replacement was on fire, running around all over the field. Even though Rey is not a regular starter, he is an invaluable leader on the team and showed it on Thursday.
Do we still want to see Burfict return? Of course. Burfict gives the defense a little something extra that few in the NFL can, be it in the form of big plays or swagger. Still, the defense without Burfict looks good, but could be great upon his return.
The Bengals still think they can turn this season around
Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis are known for being conservative and loyal—even to a fault. Even though Zampese was in over his head, the M.O. would dictate that the Bengals stick with him, in hopes that he would find his groove and gets the offense churning close to expectation.
However, the situation in Cincinnati is so urgent that they could not wait any longer. The Bengals think they can win now with Lazor and plan on doing so immediately. This move may also explain the strange treatment young players John Ross, Tyler Boyd and Cody Core have received recently.
It would have been much more beneficial for Ross to come back out and keep getting touches after his fumble (and try to pull a Kareem Hunt). The Bengals tried to get Core involved last Sunday, but he had no such opportunities on Thursday.
Perhaps they preferred to rely on proven veterans in an important game in order to try to win. They didn’t want any unknown, preferring to go with what they were comfortable. Or, perhaps, they just want more time to develop them.
All in all, this could be due to dysfunctional coaching. This is grounds for Zampese’s firing, again due to the Bengals’ and Lewis’ need to win now.