The Bengals did it again.
They were behind all game, nearly made a comeback, but blew it in the end.
All five of the Bengals’ losses have been heartbreaking, either because it was such a bad beatdown or because they elevated our hopes, only to dash them on the ground moments later.
This one against the Cardinals seemed like the worst one. A winless team with a first team head coach and rookie quarterback seems like one of the few games the Bengals actually had a chance to win. But they looked so bad for most of the game, they ended up losing 26-23.
What did we learn from the loss?
Give the ball to Joe Mixon
Not surprisingly, the 0-5 Bengals have been trailing a lot this year. Under normal circumstances, the smart thing to do is to run less and pass more. But the Bengals tried that for four games and it really didn’t work.
Against the Cardinals, the Bengals handed the ball off to Joe Mixon 19 times, which was the most he has had all season. Oddly enough, it actually gave the Bengals enough juice to be able to mount a near-comeback in the fourth quarter.
We’ve known for a while that this offense flows through Mixon, but the extent is what is new. Running the ball while trailing shouldn’t work, but the way that the Bengals are built makes it necessary.
It’s also important to note that Mixon’s magic number is 20. The Bengals are 6-1 when when Mixon has a score of carries. The Bengals are winless in 2019, but haven’t reached the 20-carry mark yet.
Brandon Wilson is the return man now
After Alex Erickson had to go to the locker room, the Bengals were desperately thin at the kick and punt returning positions. As a result, they threw Brandon Wilson and Tyler Boyd out there.
Boyd wasn’t an electric returner, and really shouldn’t be returning punts as the teams’ new No. 1 receiver.
Wilson, on the other hand, should have earned the job from here on out. He was one of the teams’ best athletes to start with, so he fit perfectly in the position.
Wilson hasn’t returned kicks since he was at the University of Houston, averaging 25.5 yards a return in his career. He did an amazing job on Sunday, averaging 32.5 yards between his three kick returns with a long of 52.
He has never returned punts before, which is why Boyd was out there. Giovani Bernard would probably have been a safer option, since the Bengals seem to not want to use him on offense. But with Darius Phillips, Alex Erickson, and John Ross are all injured, the Bengals need another option. Why not let Wilson try returning punts too?
The offense can score, it just doesn’t
In the fourth quarter, Andy Dalton completed 12 of 13 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. The Bengals scored 14 of their 23 points in the fourth quarter, and tied the game late in the quarter. Why didn’t the Bengals do that in the previous three quarters?
Dalton could only muster 104 yards before the fourth quarter. If it wasn’t for Mixon’s spectacular game, the Bengals would have had basically no offense to speak of.
This has happened before. In Buffalo, the Bengals’ offense was limp the whole game, until late when they had the chance to tie the game.
How do the Bengals score so effectively so late in the game? Are they wearing down defenses? Partially, but that’s not the whole story.
When the Bengals are in crunch time, there is no room for fluff in the playbook. The Bengals have to take chances, lean on their playmakers, and run plays that work. Not only do the Bengals score when they play like that, they only score when they play like that.
This shows that Zac Taylor needs to strip down the playbook and stick to the plays that move the ball. They can do it, they just don’t for most of the time.
Nothing is changing
It’s kind of hard to keep pumping out these “What we learned” posts because the Bengals don’t appear to be learning anything. As a result, the same things keep happening loss after loss.
Every week, the Bengals are having trouble stopping the run, incapable of protecting Dalton, making tackles, and creating explosive plays. This has gone on all season, yet Taylor has done nothing to correct these mistakes.
It’s not time to bail on him yet, but would he still be coaching like this if he was on the hot seat? Probably not.