So close, yet so far. The Cincinnati Bengals had a tough game to start their season under rookie head coach Zac Taylor, but didn’t blink.
Cincinnati nearly sneaked out an unlikely win this week, as the Seattle Seahawks looked shellshocked at the high-level output by the Bengals.
This week, I was in Seattle and had a more interesting perspective of the game than my usual sofa seat. And, being as close as we were, I was able to perceive some things that were not overly-visible throughout the preseason.
Here are some of the best and worst aspects of the Bengals’ 20-21 loss to the Seahawks in Week 1.
Andy Dalton: We were hoping to see a bit of a renaissance from Dalton under Zac Taylor and both delivered in the first week. Timing routes were the norm and on point, with many players getting involved in the action.
Folks were worried how Dalton would look without A.J. Green, but he is clearly comfortable with the concepts drawn up by Taylor and offensive coordinator, Brian Callahan. Dalton finished with a career-high 418 passing yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
John Ross: It was the breakout game we’ve been waiting for since April of 2017. Ross constantly outran defenders for two scores and 158 yards on seven catches.
What remains to be seen is if the consistency factor sticks as the weeks pass. Regardless, it was a huge boost for an offense that didn’t have A.J. Green on the field.
Coaches using many substitutions and hiding roster deficiencies: One of the things I noticed from the sideline was how frequently Taylor and Co. mixed players in and out of the lineup within a single series. I particularly noticed this facet with C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Eifert, who seemed to come on and off the field just about every other play.
From that standpoint, it really kept the Seattle defense on its heels and created mismatch problems. Additionally, Lou Anarumo hid potential issues at linebacker by largely running two out there, while concocting schemes conducive to an effective pass-rush.
The defense and Lou Anarumo: Speaking of the new defensive coordinator, he had this defense playing a much better brand of football than what we saw from Teryl Austin last year. Cincinnati had four sacks, allowed just 233 total yards and really cleaned up their run defense.
The defensive line was particularly effective. Carl Lawson and Geno Atkins combined for seven quarterback pressures, while Sam Hubbard had a breakout game with two sacks and Carlos Dunlap being an omnipresent force in the Seahawks’ backfield.
Zac Taylor: The Bengals went in without their two best offensive linemen (Cordy Glenn and Jonah Williams), were down their Hall of Fame receiver and lost Joe Mixon mid-game. It’s no wonder they were close to double-digit dogs this week.
However, Taylor has preached both patience and cool confidence in his team and the results translated the message. It’s just one game and we know Week 1 can be fool’s gold for some teams, but things look to be moving in a positive direction very quickly.
The running game: We’re giving the team a little bit of a pass in their lack of finding running room because of a number of variables. Cordy Glenn was out with a concussion, Joe Mixon left early in the contest and this is an offensive line that is still trying to gel as a unit.
Still, a paltry 34 yards on 14 carries (2.43 yards per carry) is a bad sign for a team that preached the run game all season. Our guess is that this should markedly improve as the season progresses, but they need this aspect to at least be at an average level, if they are to effectively use play-action.
Burning of timeouts: We get it: it’s CenturyLink Field. Still, the team burned early timeouts in each half, as they were obviously affected by the noise. Unfortunately, the one the Bengals burned early in the second half ended up biting them on their final drive.
Most of the special teams group: Kevin Huber had a solid day punting the football, but the rest of the special teams unit had some major mistakes. Alex Erickson’s uncharacteristic fumble was ugly, but fortunately didn’t cost the Bengals any points.
On the other hand, Randy Bullock again missed the chance to hit a big-time kick for the Bengals. It’s understandable that the weather wasn’t great before his 45-yard attempt, but the team also decided to go for it on a 4th-and-1 in Seahawks territory, pointing to their lack of faith in his leg. If that’s the case, why has he been a tenured veteran without any real sense of competition the past couple of offseasons?
The frustrating disparities and similarities of critical numbers: The Bengals turned the ball over three times, while the Seahawks committed just one. Yet, Cincinnati out-gained Seattle by 196 yards on their home field (429 to 233), including crazy, lopsided numbers in the passing game (395 to 161).
Cincinnati hogged the ball for almost 12 more minutes (35:50 to 24:10), but gave up five sacks, while grabbing four of their own. They also edged out the Seahawks in third down efficiency by seven percent (40 percent to 33 percent). Many of these seem to point to a hard-fought win on the road, but it also has some of us scratching our heads.
Questions surrounding the mistakes: Look, the Bengals and Zac Taylor showed a lot of positives this week. However, as it goes with teams in transition, “they need to learn how to win”.
Cincinnati was 2-5 in one-possession games last year, so they’re still learning to put their foot on the throat. Basically, Seattle let Cincinnati walk all over them, but waited for their mistakes. It was only then that the Seahawks seemed to be able to do anything notable. I suppose the question is just how close, or how far away is this team from being a contender? This first month with three road games out of the first four will tell us a lot.
The officiating: While it wasn’t a day where the yellow laundry littered the field, many questionable decisions by the referees were on display. Dre Kirkpatrick was flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty, though some saw the Seahawks players getting away with some of the same actions earlier in the contest.
There was a review of what should have been a John Ross catch that was continued to be ruled incomplete, as well as an inexplicably-long review of an obvious pass interference on Damion Willis that thankfully held up. I hate to use the ref excuse as the reason for a loss, but they certainly didn’t help the visitors’ cause.
Also, this wasn’t a fumble: