In eight games this season, the Bengals have essentially played six nail-biters. They’ve come out on top of four of them, which points to their never-give-up attitude. But, one could also argue that the team is on a high wire without a balancing pole.
Here are some things we can take away from the Bengals’ 37-34 win over the Buccaneers this week.
This team is and will continue to be feast-or-famine:
Spoiler alert: the Bengals are a very inconsistent team this year. Whether it’s game-to-game or even quarter-to-quarter, this year’s talented Cincinnati squad is a mixed bag.
As if it wasn’t on display enough through the first seven games, Sunday’s win against Tampa Bay should have been enough of an example. After roaring out to a 21-0 lead in the first half, Cincinnati decided to hit cruise control, or even neutral, as the Buccaneers nearly pulled off a crazy comeback.
The entrance of Ryan Fitzpatrick into the contest definitely gives the defense a bit of a pass, but still—21 points to a backup quarterback in just over a quarter, while defending your home turf?
Still, it wasn’t just on the defense. After all, Teryl Austin’s unit did gift the offense four interceptions (one being a pick-six) and five sacks on the afternoon. Bill Lazor and his crew have to take a bit of the blame for a near-disastrous outcome.
In what has become a bit of a theme this year, Cincinnati’s offense completely disappeared in the third quarter. After sitting on a 27-9 halftime lead, Andy Dalton and Co. responded with four straight three-and-out drives.
What’s the lesson here? I’m not totally sure, but this team has shown us times of completely dominant and explosive play and others where they look like high school junior varsity squad.
They’re still stuck in some of their ways and it hurts the team:
Tyler Eifert is out for the year, Tyler Kroft’s return is murky and John Ross will probably be battling his nagging groin injury throughout the year, as that’s how those ailments usually go. As they headed into the bye week, it would seem that a somewhat high-profile addition before the trade deadline would make sense on a few different levels.
Yet, as Tuesday’s trade deadline came and went, tumbleweeds floated through the halls of Paul Brown Stadium. Meanwhile, the rich got richer—the Rams grabbed Dante Fowler, Houston snagged Demaryius Thomas, while the Eagles, last year’s Super Bowl champs, grabbed Golden Tate.
Oh, you didn’t think the Bengals should part with one of their prized draft picks?
Well, how about a shuffling of certain personnel who have seemingly been somewhat-ineffective? Right side of the offensive line, anyone? Well, with rookie Billy Price apparently ready to come back to the lineup, he’ll be back at center. And, most indications have Trey Hopkins, who has filled in admirably for Price, heading back to the bench.
When Billy Price (foot) is healthy, Lewis said he’ll be the starting center when he returns and that looks like it’s for the Saints at Paul Brown Stadium on Nov. 11. But Trey Hopkins has drawn rave reviews at the spot and there are those wondering what might have been if they had turned to him last season at some point.
“He’s grown a lot in his first exposure to playing center in significant games,” Lewis said of Hopkins’ play. “He’s really done a nice job from the communication part of handling his own job, getting on the right person and being able to execute and block his guy. We have all been pleased with Trey. He was somewhat of an unknown (at center) when he played in the preseason there, but he has upheld his end of the bargain.”
But, he isn’t good enough to start at his natural position of right guard? Lewis and Co. have been that pleased with Alex Redmond to this point?
The point is that even though Lewis may have wrestled a little more power from Mike Brown in this round of contract negotiations back in January, some major organizational practices remain the same. With zero moves made before the trade deadline, the team giving yo-yo-like performances and suffering a bunch of injuries, why wouldn’t you push the chips to the center of the table to push for a Lombardi Trophy in 2018?
Sustainability lingers as the major problem for a playoff berth/run:
I’m hard-pressed to find a recent team to compare the 2018 Cincinnati Bengals to as an example of success. As mentioned above, the Bengals’ feast-or-famine ways don’t seem to provide a lot of confidence that this team can get to and/or through the postseason.
Maybe it’s the injuries. After all, many starters and rotational players have been lost for significant portions of the season.
Or is it the slew of new coaches and young players on the roster? It takes time for even the veterans to get acclimated to new coaching, and the young guys still might be in the middle of a learning curve.
Some can look back at the 2005 Bengals team as a barometer for success, while seeing many similarities to this year’s team. That defense grabbed turnovers with great frequency, but rarely stopped opposing offenses. They had a great offense that took advantage of those short fields at every turn.
Still, while the 2018 offense has spurts of where it can look like Carson Palmer’s old group, they, like the other facets of the team, remain very inconsistent. It’s in that adjective that has us wondering just how good this 5-3 team is at the moment.
In three major contests this year (Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Kansas City), the Bengals are 1-2, including an utter embarrassment against the Chiefs. After the bye, they have another huge litmus test against New Orleans and the result there will either shatter or cement preconceived notions about this team.
Cincinnati officially has their trio of offensive stars:
We already know that A.J. Green was paving his route to Canton and with Sunday’s performance, it just kept adding to his stellar resume. However, it’s been a breakout year for Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon.
We figured Mixon would be poised for a pretty outstanding season since Jeremy Hill left Cincinnati and No. 28’s role increased, but he’s even been a bit more than advertised. He had 124 yards on 21 carries with two touchdowns on Sunday, and is currently 8th in the league in rushing yards with 509.
Did we mention that he should be getting more carries?
Meanwhile, Boyd has become one of Andy Dalton’s favorite receivers this year. Sure, he will still target Green in the double-digit range every contest, but with Tyler Eifert on I.R., Tyler Kroft being shelved for the foreseeable future, along with Giovani Bernard, No. 14 has needed a security blanket.
We now see why Cincinnati was so sure in their decision to let Brandon LaFell go during training camp, as the former second round pick obviously showed he was ready for a big-time role. He has four more receptions than Green (49 to 45), and just one touchdown less than the team’s star receiver with five.
Bernard should be coming back after the bye with Kroft following shortly after, so Boyd may see a little dip in targets, but he’ll continue to be relied upon to move the chains and come up with clutch touchdowns down the stretch.