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4 things we learned about the Bengals from their first 8 games of 2018

The Bengals are 5-3 and are still in prime position to make the playoffs. What have we learned about the Bengals so far this season?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

Even though the Bengals would make the playoffs if the season ended today, there is still a weird feeling about the team. Their latest win against the Buccaneers felt more like a loss, and the Bengals are coming off of a stretch of three bad games in a row.

But there are some good things about the team to write home about. The Bengals entered their bye week with a record of 5-3 and could still win the division. There are only three games left on the schedule against winning opponents, so the Bengals should get to nine or 10 wins, which is what we predicted before the season began.

Still, if the Bengals want to get back to the playoffs, there are some things they need to change. But what do we know about the Bengals eight games into the season? What have we learned?

The offense has missed Tyler Eifert and John Ross

Coming into Week 1, the Bengals offense looked unstoppable. Andy Dalton had plenty of targets, and defenses were having to worry about covering A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, and Tyler Eifert. For the latter two, the plaguing injuries were gone and reports from training camp were all positive.

So what happened?

The Bengals beat the Colts in Indianapolis during Andrew Luck’s first game in over a year. Then, they stomped the Ravens on Thursday night and put up 34 points on that defense. They lost to the Panthers on the first leg of their next road trip, but then turned things around in Atlanta on a 37-point outing from the offense.

But then things started to go downhill.

The Bengals hosted the Dolphins, but only scored 13 points on offense. Then they hosted the Steelers and only put up 21 points, and then scored only 10 points against the Chiefs the next week—putting together 31 points against two of the worst defenses in the NFL. In Week 8, the Bengals started out strong in the first half against the Buccaneers, but were held to zero points until the last second of regulation.

So what changed? Eifert and Ross were both injured in Week 4 and have not been a part of this offense since. Even though Ross did return in Week 7, he had to leave early because he aggravated his injury; so for all intents and purposes, he has not really returned.

Before Ross and Eifert were injured, the Bengals’ offense was putting up nearly 30 points a game. Since (including Week 7, when Ross started but barely played), the Bengals have only scored 18 points a game. Sure, there have been other offensive injuries, like Billy Price and Giovani Bernard. But the difference is that these two players have serviceable replacements. No one has been able to fill the holes that Ross and Eifert left.

What happened to the depth that we heard about during the preseason?

Alex Erickson has been Ross’ replacement, but only has six catches for 36 yards in those four games. Cody Core has also gotten some extra playing time in that stretch, but only has three catches—all of them in garbage time against the Chiefs in Week 7. Josh Malone, who seems like the best fit to replace Ross given his deep play ability, has fallen off the face of the earth. Auden Tate has was relegated to the practice squad after Week 7.

Meanwhile, at tight end, Tyler Kroft has also been hurt, and Mason Schreck has been placed on injured reserve, so C.J. Uzomah is the only tight end left who was on the opening day roster. Now the Bengals are fielding Jordan Franks, who started the year on the Bengals’ practice squad and Matt Lengel, who started the year on the Texans’ practice squad.

While injuries happen all the time in football, which is always a shame, the Bengals have two gaping holes in their offense. C.J. Uzomah has played fairly well, but is nowhere the threat that Eifert was. And there is no one stepping up in Ross’ place.

If the Bengals want to keep pushing to win the division, they need to either find a replacement or find a way to work around the injuries, since we still are not sure when Ross will return.

Jessie Bates is a star in the making

The former second-round pick out of Wake Forest has been a machine on the back end of the defense. In the first half of the season, Bates already has 60 combined tackles (first on the team and 16th in the NFL), three interceptions (tied for most on the team and second in the NFL), and a touchdown. He has been a showstopper, only allowing a passer rating of 21.7 when targeted (per Pro Football Focus) and helping create huge stops in the running game.

Pro Football Focus has been all about Bates, naming him their AFC Defensive Rookie of the Month and adding him to their Midseason All-Pro team.

Bengals’ Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin had Bates in mind when he traded picks with the Chiefs this season, and used their 54th overall pick to grab him. Now, that seems like a very smart move.

Right now, Bates seems like one of the few bright spots on defense.

Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins are worth every cent of their contract extensions

What happens when you sign two defensive linemen to multi-year contract extensions that will take them into their mid-thirties? They combine for 13 sacks and 26 QB hits in eight games. That’s money well spent.

Even though Geno Atkins was the highest paid interior defensive lineman in the NFL for only about a day, he’s keeping pace with the man that surpassed him, Aaron Donald. Donald and Atkins are the two best at their position and are showing it this season with more than just their bank accounts.

As good as Atkins has been, Carlos Dunlap has probably been better. He has more one more sack than his teammate, which puts him at eight in the league.

It would be difficult to find a better pass-rush duo in the league right now. In fact, no other duo has more sacks than these two after eight weeks, and they are tied with Donald and Ndamukong Suh for the most in the NFL. That’s great company.

The Defense needs to make some improvements right now

While Bates has been magnificent and the defensive line’s dynamic duo have been worth every penny, there is still a lot of bad on the defense.

The defense just looked flat out ugly in the last two games. Sure, Patrick Mahomes is going to put up points, but the way he dismantled the Bengals’ was just embarrassing.

One week later, the Bengals gave up 470 passing yards to a combination of Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Winston, who was benched for throwing too many interceptions, still racked up 276 yards. Then, the Bucs brought in Fitzpatrick who had been benched earlier in the season, and he went nine of his 13 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. So the Bengals took advantage of Winston’s mistakes, but they allowed another the latest case of FitzMagic as a result and squandered an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter.

While Teryl Austin cares more about wins than stats, he should keep in mind that two of the last three wins came off of last-minute offensive drives, so the Bengals could be 3-5 right now if the offense didn’t bail him out. He would probably care more about his defense in that scenario.

But since wins and turnovers are the only thing he cares about, it’s probably better for his mental health that he doesn’t think about yards or points. In terms of yards, the Bengals’ defense is ranked 26th in the run and dead last in the pass. His defense is also 29th in scoring, so he’d better hope that the offense finds a replacement for Ross and Eifert is he wants “the W’s,” which he said is the only stat that counts.

If the Bengals don’t want to have the worst defense in NFL history, which they are on pace to do, they’d better figure out something quick before the season gets out of hand.