The Bengals are coming off a brutal loss to the Steelers, but they are still 4-2 on the season and remain in first place in the AFC North. There are plenty of teams that would kill to be in the same position as the Bengals, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things they can’t do better though, especially if they want to make a postseason run. Here are some things the Bengals should focus on improving if they want to keep hope alive this season.
More consistency from the right side of the offensive line
It isn’t totally fair to sit here and say right guard Alex Redmond and right tackle Bobby Hart don’t have any right being on a football field. Both players have shown an ability to play the position well. They were both responsible for some big runs by Joe Mixon on Sunday.
However, they both have a habit of giving up a big play to the defense. This happens more often when they are pass protecting. Redmond’s inconsistencies in pass protection have cots the Bengals several drives, and last week against the Steelers defense was no different. Hart has had trouble with allowing free rushers, but has been slightly more consistent than Redmond.
The only reason Andy Dalton has been better about avoiding sacks this year is because offensive coordinator Bill Lazor is allowing him to make quicker decisions, and Dalton can actually step up in the pocket because their former center Russell Bodine isn’t getting pushed back every play.
The fact the the Bengals haven’t tried guys like Jake Fisher or Christian Westerman out at tackle and guard respectively means they probably won’t at this point. It should be something the team considers though if these inconsistencies continue.
Playing to win
The Bengals took a step in the right direction when they went down the field after an Alex Erickson kick return and tied the game at 14 before the half last week, but if Erickson doesn’t have that return, is Cincinnati content to just go into the half down seven while getting the ball after halftime?
It’s hard to tell, but a better example of the Bengals playing to not lose rather than to win came in the second half. After another great return by Alex Erickson to start the second half, Cincinnati was faced with a fourth-and-one on Pittsburgh’s 40 yard line. They decided to punt the ball. Marvin Lewis defended the decision by saying “I’m not going to give them the ball there.”
It seems he trusted his defense and special teams unit too much as the punt netted 28 yards and the Steelers went down the field anyway and kicked a field goal to take the lead anyway.
There are people who will defend this line of thinking with something as cliche as “if you can’t convert in three downs then what makes you think you can get it on fourth down?” Well this is why.
Under Lewis, the Bengals have faced this situation 79 times since 2013. Marvin Lewis has gone for it just 13 times and kicked a FG once.— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) October 15, 2018
They've gained a first down on 9 of 13 attempts.
The league average is creeping closer to 50-50 since 2015, but CIN has punted last 9 times.
We are playing with a little bit of hindsight knowing that they gave up a field goal anyways, but those numbers are certainly favorable for the offense. Also, you should consider it more when you are facing your division rival that has seemed to find every which way to beat you over the past few seasons. Maybe a play like that could’ve swung things in your favor — We will never know now.
Having linebackers play more aggressively in pass coverage
The Bengals have lost Nick Vigil for around a month now, and even before he went down, the linebackers have been a major issue in pass coverage. It is hard to imagine any wholesale changes to the way they play at this point in the season, but it is disappointing to see them drop back in coverage and look like they are just waiting for someone in front of them to catch the ball so they can tackle them.
Of course the Bengals don’t really have the talent at linebacker for these guys to do much else in coverage. They don’t have a linebacker with a quick twitch or be able to break on the ball to stop moderate gains over the middle.
Honestly, outside of getting pressure on the quarterback, I’m not sure how they’d even fix this issue at this point of the season. It seems like Teryl Austin is more willing to blitz his linebackers that Paul Guenther was as a defensive coordinator, but that only masks so much of the issue.
Get pressure on the quarterback and turnovers
The Bengals have showed when they get pressure on the quarterback that good things happen. They are 4-0 when they have at least two sacks. In their two losses on the season they have one combined sack.
Turnovers have also been a huge reason for the Bengals win. The main reason why they beat Miami was because of the two turnovers that the defense turned into touchdowns. They also had turnovers that sealed their wins against the Colts and Ravens.
Austin being more aggressive as a defensive coordinator has really paid off most of the season. An issue that has come up though is Carl Lawson’s playing time. Despite him being the team’s third best pass rusher, he has had a hard time seeing the field as consistently as Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. Most of that probably has to do with the team worrying about opposing squads running at him, but at some point you just have to play your best players. Michael Johnson getting almost double the playing time as Lawson doesn’t look good when your team isn’t getting any pressure.
What do you think the Bengals need to work on the rest of the season?