(Editor’s note: This feature was once known as “The good, the bad and the ugly,” but we’ve decided to shake it up a bit. It will still have many resemblances to the previous post, but with a bit of a different spin. We hope you enjoy it!)
Remember the 2015 game against the Seattle Seahawks? How about the 2009 thrillers against Pittsburgh and Baltimore? As far as banner wins in the Marvin Lewis era, Cincinnati’s Week 4 come-from-behind victory against the high-flying Falcons on their home turf has to be one of the better ones in recent memory.
The comeback win brought up a lot of discussion points about the future of this team in 2018. A 3-1 start is pretty much what the doctor ordered for a team that started 1-3 last season, but if they are to make the leap should another postseason berth arise, they have some major work to do.
Andy Dalton, the comeback king:
Unfortunately for Dalton and Bengals fans, he is one of the most polarizing players in the league. However, through the first quarter of the schedule, he’s shown quite a different side to himself.
One of the major demons he has slain so far, at least for the time being, is playing excellent and getting a win on the primetime stage. Dalton was superb for most of the Week 2 demolition of the rival Ravens—a stark contrast to many other Thursday night performances.
The come-from-behind wins at Indianapolis and Atlanta showed major resiliency. Unfortunately, national perception and a cynical fan base would believe that this is an outlier, but it’s not.
With the comeback against the Falcons, Dalton cemented his 19th fourth-quarter comeback and 22nd game-winning drive. That’s more fourth-quarter comebacks than Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason had with the club, while being just behind Carson Palmer in both categories.
Also, of note, Bruce Arians and Trent Green on the Sunday CBS telecast constantly complimented Dalton’s progress this year—particularly on the move. Comfortability in Bill Lazor’s scheme is a factor, but let’s not overlook what Alex Van Pelt has done for No. 14 this year.
Most of the “Dalton haters” will readily point to the surrounding talent he’s had in his time here for the comebacks, but “The Red Rifle” definitely keeps the team in games late — and often gets them the win.
I’m pretty sure Joe Mixon will be ready to go next week… pic.twitter.com/wJbXOumNgU— Brian Calkins (@CincyFit) October 1, 2018
A new trifecta of effective wide receivers:
Back in the 2012-2015 seasons, Cincinnati began to build around Dalton to create a truly potent offense. Sure, they had A.J. Green, who was a budding superstar right away, but the brain trust knew they needed to add more firepower.
Mohamed Sanu, now with the Falcons, along with Marvin Jones were drafted in 2012, while the team bolstered the unit further in 2013 with Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard. Finally, in 2015, all five major passing options in the offense were healthy at the same time, and Dalton was giddy.
He rode those exciting options to a near-MVP campaign that season, but the gang broke up the following offseason. The fallout? Two straight losing seasons from the Bengals.
Last week, John Ross was nearly every Bengals’ fan Goat of the Week. But, he atoned well on Sunday, grabbing a 39-yard touchdown where his speed split the defense and another pretty toe-tap catch on the sideline.
Tyler Boyd has emerged big-time through the first four games this season. So much so, in fact, that he currently leads the team in both receptions and yards through the first four games.
Could the Green/Ross/Boyd triad surpass the Green/Sanu/Jones group? It’s early, and Ross still has some growing up to do, but man this offense is pretty fun.
Oy—this offensive line:
Cordy Glenn was arguably the steal of the offseason through the first two games of the year with his anchoring of the left side of the offensive line. But, the past two weeks, Glenn has had some major troubles against speed rushers—this week it was with Vic Beasley.
And, of course, the right side of the line continues to be an issue. Alex Redmond and Bobby Hart combined for three critical penalties on the afternoon, along with allowed pressures.
#Bengals' Cordy Glenn (6), Alex Redmond (4) and Bobby Hart (3) allowed 13 total pressures against the #Falcons on Sunday.— PFF CIN Bengals (@PFF_Bengals) October 1, 2018
Redmond has now allowed the third-most pressures (16) of any guard in the NFL, and Glenn has allowed the sixth-most of any offensive tackle.
Trey Hopkins has filled in admirably at center, so with Billy Price coming back in the very near future, one has to wonder if both guys should be starting at the interior linemen spots going forward. Also, Jake Fisher has to be getting antsy for his potential shot.
Officiating is having more of an impact on games than ever:
Ever since the dawn of organized sports, referees have been the scapegoats for the losing team. It’s easy to pass the buck when it comes to blame.
However, this year in the NFL has been a banner year for poor officiating. Ironically, it’s not all on the guys in stripes, as the league’s competition committee has made things immensely difficult on them.
Bengals fans had legitimate gripes on the illegal use of hands penalty against Hart to negate a would-be go-ahead touchdown to Green, as well as what should have been a Carl Lawson sack. I mean, come on:
This was roughing the passer on Carl Lawson. Seriously. pic.twitter.com/EbxvgusJR0— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 30, 2018
These type of calls come on the heels of other questionable roughing the passer penalties that have made national headlines from Clay Matthews, as well as those we’ve seen from Carlos Dunlap locally.
Yes, this is a micro-gripe, when it comes to the Bengals, and what transpired Sunday, but it’s plaguing the league. Even the Cleveland Browns have felt the effects on Sunday.
How's this not a first down pic.twitter.com/4nJjREqPky— kent borough (@kbjbouncebball) October 1, 2018
Thoughts on Tyler Eifert:
My heart breaks for this Bengals generation’s No. 85. Naturally, the previous wearer of the jersey number, Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson was personally in attendance for this matchup, and witnessed a gruesome ankle injury to Eifert.
I’m not going to post the video of the injury for obvious reasons. However, aside from the sadness Bengals fans should feel with the probability that we’ve seen the last of Eifert in a Cincinnati uniform, you’ve got to feel for the guy who has worked so hard to come back from a myriad of injuries and surgeries.
I don’t want to fully go down memory lane, as we don’t definitively know what’s ahead for “Eif”. However, the guy has given it all to the Bengals since arriving in 2013.
Pro Bowl berth and red-zone machine aside, I want to talk about the guy. Though the market was slow on Eifert, there was a possibility that he could have gone elsewhere instead of signing a one-year prove-it deal with the Bengals this offseason. He wanted to be here.
But, I have a specific memory from about three years ago. Most of my family went to Arizona for a big Sunday Night Football game between the Bengals and Cardinals. While the 34-31 Cincinnati loss was a great one to watch, there were other memories that stick out more prominently.
One was in the night before meeting players in the lobby with my brother and then-nine-year-old nephew. Eifert was one of his favorite players, but he was too shy to talk to him.
Well, guess what kind of a guy Eifert ended up being?
Returns of some Bengals in Week 5—optimistically mixed opinions:
Cincinnati received some good news this week, as Bernard, Michael Johnson and Preston Brown all returned for action against the Falcons. Now, as the team gets to the meat of their schedule, linebacker Vontaze Burfict will be easing himself back into the lineup after a four-game suspension, while Joe Mixon is chomping at the bit to go (see the video above), and rookie center Billy Price should also be ready to start in Week 5.
The Bengals may have to look at some things here, though. First, is Burfict enough of an addition to make this defense viable (more on that in a second)?
Other queries also reside in the effectiveness of Bernard and Trey Hopkins as fill-in guys. We know Mixon is a guy who gets better with touches, but Bernard has been borderline-excellent in all three facets to a running back’s game: rushing, receiving and blocking.
The only reason we bring up Bernard in this vein is because of Week 1. Yes, Mixon was excellent in the contest, but Bernard had just two touches in the opener. Feed Mixon most definitely, but Bill Lazor needs to continue to make sure Bernard is a significant part of the plan as well—especially now that Eifert is done for the year.
The starting corners:
Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson had incredibly tough outings against the Falcons’ aerial attack. Kirkpatrick has been made a public enemy in fan circles this season, but Jackson is looking as if he may have been overhyped by Pro Football Focus and other outlets this offseason.
Speaking of PFF, yikes on this one:
William Jackson had a PFF coverage grade (if you buy into such things), below 28. He was responsible for seven receptions for 111 yards, a TD and opposing QB rating of 140.0. Dre had a better grade -- he supposedly allowed one reception (a 30-yard TD).— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) October 1, 2018
We’ll talk about the defense on a more macro scale in a second, but we thought these two would be a decent bridge to some major turnover on the defensive unit. Darqueze Dennard isn’t immune to criticism, either.
However, zero interceptions by your starting trio of first round corners through the first four games is the very definition of underachievement.
The questionable sustainability on this path to winning:
Yes, the offense is putting up a massive amount of points to carry this team, but Teryl Austin’s defense is allowing over 28 points per game so far. Additionally, heading into Sunday, Austin’s defense was the worst in the league at getting off of the field on third down.
How did they remedy those issues against the Falcons? Only by allowing Matt Ryan and Co. 11 first downs on 15 third-down tries for a deplorable 73% conversion rate.
The other troubling trend by Austin’s defense is their lack of creating turnovers the past two weeks. They were plus-three heading into Carolina last week, but four interceptions put them in the minus category. Another interception by Dalton and a lack of netting a turnover on defense on Sunday has them in a hole, statistically-speaking.
In short, Cincinnati can’t expect to continue their path to the playoffs if this continues. In 2005, the Bengals’ defense had their limitations, but with their allowance of yards and points came an immense amount of turnovers.
It once looked like this was the route Austin was going to take with this group, but it has since slowed immensely. He better right this ship soon, otherwise we’re looking at a Chuck Bresnahan-type of unit, and we’re not talking 2005.
The guy who presented the most problems for the Bengals so far this year has been Cam Newton. Down the pike, the Bengals face quarterbacks who are evasive and/or scramblers to present similar major matchup issues.
Case Keenum, Patrick Mahomes, Ben Roethlisberger, Baker Mayfield and even Ryan Tannehill can extend plays and breed frustration. If the Bengals aren’t going to stop the run or get off of the field on third down, the turnovers must come once again.