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Evaluating the Bengals’ 2-0 start

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Being undefeated feels good, but the NFL season is a gauntlet and the Bengals have only just entered it.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals are undefeated.

There are only 6 other teams in the NFL who can say the same (ties are losses that don’t get placed in the loss column).

None of those six other teams play in the AFC North.

In conclusion: the Bengals are the current leaders of their division.

That is something that couldn’t have been said about the Bengals in more than two years since they won the division in 2015. Everything is perfect?

No, it’s still September, and the Bengals’ two wins have been promising, not flawless. Let’s review what we’ve seen in the first eight quarters of (winning) Bengals football:

The passing game is lethal with room to improve

Looking back at this time last year, the Bengals offense could be found in the dumpster. They lacked explosiveness from their weapons, their scheme looked stale, and they couldn’t sustain drives.

The biggest difference has been offensive coordinator Bill Lazor marrying his scheme with the strengths of his quarterback Andy Dalton.

Lazor was just the quarterbacks coach in the first two games last season before supplanting Ken Zampese after he was fired just over a year ago, and while his impact on the offense was noticeable at times last season, the full implementation of his vision this year has been wonderful.

Even with John Ross only hauling in one of his four targets through two games, the passing game has produced explosive plays and Dalton has gotten the ball out his hands very quickly. Tyler Eifert has been limited as head coach Marvin Lewis had alluded to, and yet scoring in the red zone hasn’t been an issue. And running backs Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard have also seen appropriate usage as pass-catchers.

Things are looking up for the offense, and they can get even better. Dalton has been sharp, but his occasional fickleness in the pocket has also reared his ugly head. Luckily, he’s had more time to survey the field because...

Additions on the offensive line look like we thought they would

Simply put, Cordy Glenn and Billy Price have both proven to be the upgrades at left tackle and center that we expected them to be. Their presence has made the left side and middle of the offensive line an asset. It’s the right side that still is up in the air on a weekly basis.

Right tackle Bobby Hart looked like he didn’t belong on a roster against Indianapolis, and then found his footing and hands against Baltimore. To call him inconsistent at this juncture is about as good as it’s going to get, and the same can be said about the position as a whole, because Hart was the answer for change at the position, and that bed has been made.

Alex Redmond has been serviceable at right guard, and the hope is he takes the leap as the season goes on similar to what Trey Hopkins did last year. Personally, I didn’t know how much Redmond slimmed down over the course of the offseason, and his leaner frame has done him favors in pass protection, though he could be more a lot better.

The offensive line is still the weak link at the moment of this team because of the play-to-play instability from Hart and Redmond, but offensive line play has been down on a league-wide scale. The offense hasn’t been held back from this group of five yet, and they’ve showed they can move the ball behind them.

Will it keep up? The season is still a baby.

Paying your great players is still a good thing to do

The defensive line for the Bengals has looked strong thus far, and their best two players continue to lead the way, as they always have.

Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap have accounted for four of the defense’s six sacks and nearly half of the pressures in the team’s undefeated start. Atkins himself has three of those sacks, and while Dunlap hasn’t matched him in that regard, he’s been just as efficient at getting to the quarterback and has three batted balls already. His hit on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco caused a bad throw and led to an easy Shawn Williams interception, and a crucial sack on Colts quarterback Andrew Luck led to a long missed field goal. His impact has been as prevalent as ever.

The main goal from a personnel standpoint for the Bengals this offseason was to make sure both Atkins and Dunlap were signed to contract extensions before the season began. Between the third and fourth preseason games, both players agreed to new contracts just minutes apart from one another.

It was the right decision to keep Atkins and Dunlap on the books for the foreseeable future. If there was any doubt that the two would continue to be dominant entering the back half of their careers, they completely erased it this past week.

Teryl Austin has backed up his talk of turnovers

The Bengals defense has new life in an improved pass rush around Atkins and Dunlap, and now they’re making more impact plays while still limiting explosive plays.

If you win the turnover battle, you likely win the game. The defense has forced five turnovers in two games. It took them five games to get to that mark last season.

Each game this year essentially ended with a forced fumble by a Bengals safety. When Shawn Williams was ejected in the first quarter of the Colts game, Clayton Fejedelem came in and forced a fourth-quarter fumble and returned it for a game-sealing touchdown. Williams strip-sacked Joe Flacco in the fourth-quarter of the Ravens game and the Bengals made it a two-possession game with a Randy Bullock field goal on the next drive.

Along with Williams’ interception, Jessie Bates also intercepted Flacco earlier in the game. Adding Bates as the starting free safety has given the secondary a weapon that they haven’t had since Reggie Nelson and his 23 career interceptions with the Bengals. Bates isn’t even 22 years old yet, and he already looks like a future cornerstone piece for what now looks like a much more aggressive defense.

The talk with Austin coming in as defensive coordinator was forcing more turnovers, and he has kept his word so far, and they haven’t even played with Vontaze Burfict yet. It was just one of many talking points surrounding a potential resurgence of this team, and with a 2-0 start under their belts, the talk is turning into results.

Now with a two-week road stretch against the Panthers and Falcons on the docket, the Bengals can extend their lead in the AFC North before they return home and potentially get their starting running back Mixon back along with Burfict. The start has been great, but greater things are on the horizon.