Just like that, the Bengals’ season has crumbled.
After starting out 4-1 and holding onto first place in the AFC North for most of the first half of the season, the Bengals have now dropped four of their last five games and fallen out of the playoff picture. The Bengals lost to a team they beat soundly in Week 2.
This Week 11 game was a game of firsts. First career start for Lamar Jackson at quarterback. First game with Marvin Lewis calling the plays on defense. First game with Hue Jackson back on the Bengals sideline.
Bengals must stop trusting guys who’ve failed to prove themselves
There’s a difference between someone who has not proven themselves and someone who has failed to prove themselves. The Bengals have plenty of both, but should focus more on the former than the latter.
With the game on the line on fourth and three inside the two-minute warning (and following a timeout), Andy Dalton threw the ball to Cody Core, who dropped it.
Every other eligible receiver on that play would have been a better choice to pass it to in that situation. In fact, Core never should have been on the field. He has failed to prove himself, despite having ample opportunity to do so. So, after having zero catches earlier in the game, the Bengals thought they would hedge their bets on him of all people.
Then there’s Hardy Nickerson, who has looked terrible every time he has gone out there. But on Sunday, he was wearing the green dot on his helmet. So not only was he starting, but he was the quarterback of the defense.
Then there’s the starting offensive line duo, right guard Alex Redmond and right tackle Bobby Hart. They have consistently proved that they are not capable of holding down the line, but keep getting chances. Even when interior lineman Trey Hopkins has shown some flashes this season and tackle Jake Fisher has been consistent as an extra blocker in jumbo packages, they cannot unseat the starting duo that has been so terrible this year.
As bad as these players are, is there no one better on the bench? Are Alex Erickson and Josh Malone really so bad that he can’t see the field behind Core? Is Vincent Rey so bad that he can’t start at middle linebacker? Are Fisher and Hopkins that bad?
Another question that comes to mind is, are there no better free agents than what the Bengals are trotting on to the field? Are there no better players on other rosters that the Bengals could try to trade for before the trade deadline?
The offense still needs someone to step up
A.J. Green has been dearly missed as the Bengals have only been able to come up with 35 points in the last two weeks.
Without Green, Dalton has only completed 55 percent of his passes and thrown for a 1.5 touchdown to interception ratio and a 78.3 quarterback rating. This season with Green, Dalton has completed 61 percent of his passes with a 2.1 TD/INT ratio and a rating of 89.9.
But numbers aren’t necessary when any human with eyeballs can see the offense looks terrible. Just terrible.
The Bengals have had three drives longer than 50 yards in the last two games; two of them were 75-yard touchdown drives against the Saints in Week 10. The offense did well to capitalize off of an interception and turnover on downs against the Ravens, but those drives only amounted to 77 yards combined. So basically, unless the Bengals get the ball right around midfield, they’re not scoring.
The problem is that there are no options for the offense without Green. He was such a threat that he drew the focus off of other parts of the offense, and now that he’s out the Bengals are really missing that misdirection. Now, Tyler Boyd and John Ross can’t get open as the two were targeted 18 times but connected with only six times. Dalton threw the ball 36 times, so Boyd and Ross accounted for half of his targets, but only six of his completions.
Without Green, the Bengals offense has only rushed for 158 yards. Green’s absence even affects the running game, as defenders are able to put more defenders in the box without worry about a Pro Bowl wide receiver breaking out down the field. Of course, it doesn’t help that the offense ran the ball with irritating predictability.
If Green is still out in Week 12, it will be tough sledding unless someone else can finally step up. The receivers on this team have missed out on a golden opportunity to, and will keep missing out until Green comes back.
The defense is technically better...
But then again, it would be nearly impossible for the defense to be worse.
Even though the defense did give up 265 rushing yards, they kept the Ravens to only 24 points, which was enough to keep the Bengals in the game until the last minute of the fourth quarter. Considering how bad the injuries on defense are right now, there is some reason for positivity. The problems can be fixed. They probably won’t be, but they could be.
This doesn’t mean the Bengals can stop improving. They still need to work on their play-calling and stopping the run when they know Lamar Jackson is almost certainly going to tuck and go.
But as they are going to play the Browns, Broncos, and Raiders later on this season — team with struggling offenses — the Bengals are going to need to keep fixing their historically bad defense if they want to be able to win any more games.