As a Bengals fan, if you’re wondering if you’ve time-warped back to 2002 somehow, you’re not going crazy. Issues abound for the 2019 squad, as it seemed the first year of the Zac Taylor era was doomed from the beginning.
Injuries, an inexperienced staff, front office shortcomings being shoved back into the spotlight have all provided a template for familiar failure. But, we’re not stating things you didn’t already know.
At least for sitting at 0-8, the Cincinnati Bengals have kept things interesting, right? Just before the bye week, the powers-that-be decided to bench quarterback Andy Dalton and his 132 starts (in as many games suited up, including the postseason) to go with rookie, Ryan Finley.
And, just when it seemed their roster was at its healthiest in months, star receiver A.J. Green suffered a setback this week while at full-go in practice. He won’t be suiting up against a Ravens team he has torched over the past eight seasons.
To the chagrin of many fans and pundits, neither Green nor Dalton were shipped for future draft capital at the trade deadline. It would be surprising developments for any other team in just about any other season than the that is the 2019 powder keg Bengals campaign.
Finley’s first start is a doozy, though. The team hosts the AFC North-leading Ravens this Sunday, as they are just about a month removed from a previous loss in Baltimore.
The Ravens are feeling pretty good about themselves after beating the unbeaten Patriots on national television. If someone from crab country wants to let us know what experiencing that kind of victory is like, feel free to share, as those aren’t overly-common in Queen City territory.
Baltimore boasts the No. 2-ranked defense against the run this year, likely pointing to their stifling of Cincinnati’s dead-last rushing attack. This obviously puts additional pressure on Cincinnati’s rookie quarterback to perform at a high level.
We’re not totally sure what it is that Finley could bring to the Bengals’ offense at a much greater level than Dalton, yet. There are a lot of similarities between the two passers, but the hope is that the rookie’s system fit and his potential lack of bad habit development that occurred with No. 14 behind the team’s borderline-abhorrent offensive line will be enough to right the ship.
For how stout the Ravens are against the run this year (which seems to be a near-annual accomplishment), they are struggling to defend the pass. In terms of yards allowed per game, Baltimore is 26th in the league through the air, potentially leaving the door cracked open for Finley to gain some much-needed rhythm.
Really, if Finley can show anything close to the potential Lamar Jackson has displayed in his year-and-a-half pro career to this point, it would be a Godsend for Cincinnati. With the exception of those clamoring for the team to draft a quarterback with a top pick in 2020, of course.
As it seems to be written every week when we pen these previews, the Bengals aren’t doing anything well this year. Zac Taylor couldn’t mine more production out of Dalton in his system, while the veteran quarterback was given too many roster holes to dodge for an effective campaign in a transitional year.
The defense is, well, statistically deplorable. They are last in the NFL in total defense, 22nd versus the pass and dead-last against the run. To boot, Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s unit is 31st in the league, in terms of quarterback sacks, and are 5th in the league in giving up plays of both 20 (38) and 40 (7) yards or more.
This is a unit that still deploys the two franchise leaders (since it became an official stat) in sacks via Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, respectively, along with a myriad of high-round picks in the secondary. Having fun, yet?
In getting back to Jackson, some may marvel at his progress in his second pro season. While he was an exciting rookie, many believed he was a one-trick pony who would fizzle out once teams had ample film on him.
But, much like the fictional character of Happy Gilmore, Jackson rounded out the rough edges of his game and has become one of the most feared offensive players in the league. What was once viewed as a quick-fad wildcat offense the Ravens would be forced to run with Jackson for the short-term, is now a well-rounded run-pass option attack that once again has the team atop the division.
Would you believe that the Ravens have the second-ranked offense in the league this year? In a predictable spin, both because of tradition and Jackson’s versatility, the Ravens have the top-rated rush offense in the league. However, their 20th-ranked passing attack isn’t anything to sneeze at, either.
If Baltimore is to come out victorious on Sunday, maybe the Bengals can take a lesson from their rivals. In a potential tough pill to swallow, Bengals owner Mike Brown could look at Jackson and realize he can both spend money to field a competitive team, while also moving up for an impact player (quarterback) in the draft.
Offseason maneuverability. What a freaking novel concept.
Even in their poor seasons in the recent past, Cincinnati has somehow mustered the gumption to put up a decent fight against the Ravens. In 2010, the Bengals grabbed a necessary Week 2 win en route to a 4-12 finish, while also going 3-3 versus Baltimore in the recent losing seasons from 2016-2018.
Regardless, with the negativity seemingly spiraling out of control for the Bengals this week and for most of this season, it’s difficult to see them pulling out a win this week—even with a new quarterback. It will probably be relatively tight because of it being a divisional contest and the Ravens having limited film on Finley, but we expect a very similar chapter to a laughable 2019 Bengals season.
We’re on the back nine (or eight, if you want to criss-cross analogies in sport) and the clubhouse can’t come into view soon enough.
Ravens 30, Bengals 18
AC — On an incessant bye.