The Bengals never make it easy, do they?
After jumping out to a 27-6 lead late in the second quarter, the Bengals let Ryan Fitzpatrick take his final revenge against his former team. The Bearded One led his team to an 18-point rally, tying up the score with about a minute to go.
Fortunately, the Bengals were able to find a way to get within field goal range and have Randy Bullock kick the game winning field goal as time expired. But wouldn’t it have been way easier just to hold on to the 21-point lead?
Even though it was a win, it was ugly. The Buccaneers quarterbacks passed for 470 yards despite throwing four interceptions and getting sacked six times. The Bengals scored four straight times, then punted five straight times to help FitzMagic mount the comeback. Everything seemed to go wrong in the second half.
But the Bengals ended up with more points, despite it all.
Other than the obvious things, like the Bengals need to give up less yards on defense, what did we learn from this emotional game?
The tight end position is in total disarray
It’s rough to lose a Pro Bowl tight end to a season ending injury. When healthy, Tyler Eifert is one of the best in the NFL, so its nearly impossible to replace him.
Its also rough to go without three out of the four tight ends on the opening day roster, after losing Mason Schreck to injured reserve and having Tyler Kroft miss several weeks to a foot injury as well.
So C.J. Uzomah is holding down the fort with the help of Jordan Franks and Matt Lengel, who the Bengals signed due to emergency. But Uzomah has gone strangely silent over the last four weeks.
In the 18 quarters without Eifert since Week 4, Uzomah has only managed to rack up six catches, 116 yards, and one touchdown. Kroft suffered an injury in Week 5, so Uzomah hasn’t even been competing with him for targets. Uzomah should be the only tight end targeted, since the only other options had been on practice squads as little as two weeks ago.
Someone has to step up and help this struggling offense. We thought it would be Uzomah, who wouldn’t be able to replace Eifert, but should do better than averaging one and a half catches a game.
Whether Uzomah is not doing his job or his coaches aren’t putting him in a position to succeed, something has to change in the tight end room.
The defensive line rotation is finally working
The Bengals played out of the nickel on defense for most of the game, which led to a different defensive line rotation than what we are used to. The strange part is that the defensive line had one of its best games all year.
After watching the defensive line put little to no pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and Patrick Mahomes the last two weeks, the Bengals racked up six sacks and nine quarterback hits. Part of the reason Jameis Winston had an off day was because he couldn’t get comfortable in the pocket.
Jordan Willis actually had the most snaps on the defensive line, beating Carlos Dunlap by two. In a strange turn of events, Sam Hubbard had 15 more snaps than Michael Johnson. Sadly, Carl Lawson had no significant playing time because he suffered a torn ACL early in the game, which is a huge blow to this already battle-worn defense.
But the Bengals were able to dial up the pressure and make some key plays at the line of scrimmage. Hubbard got in Winston’s face twice and forced him to throw a couple of lame ducks right to Shawn Williams and Preston Brown. Michael Johnson split a sack with Jordan Evans inside the two minute warning as that extra rest on the sidelines kept him fresh in the dying minutes of the game. Adolphus Washington, the Cincinnati native that was signed a few weeks ago to replace Ryan Glasgow, recorded his first sack as a Bengal. The Bengals’ defensive line was finally looking like what they should.
Teryl Austin probably didn’t do this on purpose. The Bengals played out the nickel more frequently, so that meant less snaps for Johnson and more for Hubbard, which is normally the case when the Bengals use that formation. Willis took all of Lawson’s snaps too, which are almost exclusively out of the nickel, so that probably helped skew the results. The Bengals had to play out of the nickel more because of injuries at linebacker and because they were ahead most of the game, so the Buccaneers were passing more than they were running.
No matter what the intentions were, the Bengals found something that finally worked. Let’s hope they stick to it.
Marvin Lewis is changing some things, but not others
The frustrating thing about Marvin Lewis is that he has done the same kinds of things over the last 16 years, and it has not always worked out so well. For instance, Lewis is very picky about when he goes for it on fourth down.
For example, in Week 7 against the Chiefs, Lewis sent out the field goal unit when the Bengals were down by three scores instead of going for a touchdown on the drive. Granted, the game was well over by that point and a touchdown probably would not have done any good, but Bengals fans are sick and tired of Lewis’ conservative approach.
Against the Buccaneers, the Bengals actually went for it on fourth down twice. Even though they were only successful on one of the attempts, it was great to see Lewis possibly turning over a new leaf. That is, until the team came out of the locker room for the third quarter.
Lewis has been documented as calling halftime adjustments “journalism jargon” and the stat sheet reflects his unbelief in their existence. Blown lead after blown lead suggests that halftime adjustments are in fact “truth.”
Take this game against the Buccaneers, for example. The offense scored 27 points in the first two quarters, keeping the Bucs to nine points. Yet, the Bengals failed to score a point on offense in the 29 minutes and 59 seconds of the second half, while the Bucs made up the entire deficit to tie the game at 34-34. How does a team give up 18 points in the fourth quarter, especially when the opposing starting quarterback is benched for throwing four interceptions? How is a team that scores at will in one half only able to gain 45 yards until they needed a game winning drive in the second half?
Changing one thing is better than changing nothing at all, but it still would be nice to see a total philosophical overhaul at some point. It just seems like the Bengals won’t get over the hump until they finally change all the things that need changing. Baby steps, I guess.