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Maturity and inexperience are villains in the Bengals’ 2018 story

The Bengals are headed to Atlanta this weekend and need to stabilize inconsistent trends to beat the Falcons.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Here we are, trying to figure a narrative on this Bengals season.

Autumn leaves invade the landscape and our senses are overwhelmed with pumpkin-flavored lattes, pies, yogurt, cheesecake, ice cream, pretzels, caramel corn, cookies, and bread, and we’re still trying to identify these Bengals.

Despite low expectations — which is NOT an antagonistic narrative; we just didn’t know how this young team would produce — the Bengals opened 2-0. This team seems talented; their potential appears significant and ready to breach.

Maybe their time is now.

Maybe. But what defines them?

After staging a comeback against Indianapolis and hanging on by a thread against Baltimore, Cincinnati submitted to Carolina’s stoic rushing attack, coupled with . mental errors leading to a 10-point defeat. Their Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde persona articulated inconsistency against Carolina, but it’s also cumulated into an unfocused narrative so far. Produce in one half, struggle in the next. How they start is rarely how they finish.

The Bengals faced a 13-point third quarter deficit against the Colts, and won 34-23. Cincinnati exploded for a 21-0 lead early against Baltimore. They nearly blew the lead when the deficit was reduced to five points before a pair of Randy Bullock field goals nervously sealed the game. Cincinnati came out strong against Carolina in the first possession of Week 3, turned it over on the second, and pieced together another amazing drive on the third. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Who are we going to see next?

Their loss against to Carolina knocked folks down a peg. Talent isn’t an issue, that much is clear. Maturity and inexperience appear to be villains in Cincinnati’s storyline this year.

In their defense, figuring out the NFL is impossible — Minnesota was destroyed by Buffalo; New England is down 1-2 for the first time since 2012; the Steelers are a verifiable joke off the field (eliciting tears of joy); the Browns won a game; Oakland is more of a disaster with Jon Gruden right now; what you think you know now, will not apply later.

Sunday generated generic questions that need specific answers, notably why the rushing defense allowed 230 yards against the Panthers. Were they doomed from the start without linebackers like Vontaze Burfict and Preston Brown in the lineup? Is Cincinnati hanging on by a thread until that duo returns? (Brown is expected back this week and Burfict in Week 5.) And how will John Ross and Dre Kirkpatrick rebound after taking a few shots on the chin after last week’s outing.

Their loss Sunday stung, but the impact should be minimal if they recover. Granted, Sunday’s loss could have an impact as a common opponents tiebreaker, but sometimes young players need humbling moments. If it that means sacrificing a game against an NFC team in mid-September, as opposed to a division game in December, so be it.

Cincinnati’s path isn’t easy.

They play in Atlanta this weekend, and host the undefeated Miami Dolphins and their biggest foil, Pittsburgh, after that. The Bengals visit Kansas City to face story-of-the-year candidate Patrick Mahomes, and then host the rejuvenated Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints.

Still, the loss against Carolina was tough, because it felt more like the Bengals lost the game than Carolina won it. Maybe that’s an inspiring moment. And naturally, any Bengals fan would say that. Mistakes piled up leading to Sunday’s 10-point loss when a significant point-swing could have occurred at any moment in the second half. Holding penalties, missed blocks, missed tackles, and turnovers are adversaries to any team with obvious desires to win.

Those mistakes and mental lapses need to be corrected with the gauntlet of first-place teams and long-term villains coming. There’s no reason to think they won’t, but talk is meaningless until they do it.

Bengals that need a big game:

Dre Kirkpatrick: Cincinnati’s seventh-year cornerback is facing old mates in Atlanta, including former Alabama teammates Julio Jones — they played together in 2009 and 2010, along with former Bengals quarterbacks Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron. Kirkpatrick notably struggled last week against Carolina; a reversal from a solid start against the Colts and Ravens. Now, he’s dealing with back and groin injuries and it’s possible he doesn’t play on Sunday. But let’s assume he does.

Squaring off against Jones, former Bengals teammate Mohahed Sanu, and fellow Alabama alum Calvin Ridley, Kirkpatrick is looking to ratchet things.

“That stuff is personal this week,” Kirkpatrick said told ESPN’s Katherine Terrell. “I already know it, they ain’t going to say it. For me. I played with Sanu, I played with Julio. Calvin played at Bama. I know the buzz going around down there because that’s where we’re from. I already know I’ve got to have my s--- together. It’s going to be real. I already know it.”

Looking forward to it... but a little scared too.

The truth is, all of Cincinnati’s cornerbacks need improvement. William Jackson was trailing a lot, and failed to challenge Devin Funchess, nearly five yards off the receiver, who easily secured a touchdown pass from Cam Newton. A vague move gave Funchess significant separation with 7:03 remaining in the first (bottom). Luckily, it was still incomplete.

With Matt Ryan, Jones, and Sanu, it’s critical Cincinnati’s corners challenge Atlanta receivers.

John Ross: What needs to be said that hasn’t been said? Ross, a former top-ten pick, has struggled to produce. Now he needs to produce. If you need more on the subject, close this story and look at the stories throughout the week on this website.

Cordy Glenn: Through three games this year, Glenn has been a role model of inconsistency. Against the Carolina Panthers, Glenn allowed eight pressures — had only allowed two against Indianapolis and Baltimore combined.

His Pro Football Focus run blocking grade, if you buy into such things, has ranged from 26 to 52, but never higher than 53. Though his 26.6 run block score against Carolina is low, their scoring system and the compilation of those grades is mysterious.

During our review of the game, we noted that Glenn was directly responsible for Giovani Bernard’s four-yard loss with 9:17 remaining in the fourth (the Bengals recovered with Tyler Boyd’s 49-yard reception) and an offensive hold. On the other hand, Glenn had a kick-out block early in the first that helped Bernard gain a first down and aided in another Bernard four-yard run that generated a new set of downs around the Panthers’ three-yard line. Of the six Bernard runs that went toward the left side, Glenn’s guy was ineffective on four (excluding the two mentioned in the previous paragraph).

Grades are good for baseline understanding of a player over a period of time — however, they are inherently flawed in that the grades to not accurately represent the player’s assignment. No one can boast that unless they’re listening to the calls and translating the cryptic terminology.

We’re not here to promote Glenn as a Pro Bowler and I continue to question how these grades are generated. That being said, Glenn needs a strong performance this Sunday in Atlanta, especially as a pass protector to reverse last week’s struggles.