I can’t lie—that one stung.
The Cincinnati Bengals had yet another golden opportunity to get a quality win and turn around their tailspinning 2020 campaign. Instead, the downward spiral continued, as Baker Mayfield got the better in the duel of the No. 1 quarterbacks.
Here are the best and worst facets to the Bengals’ 34-37 loss to the Browns in Week 7:
They can score...often:
Last year, the Bengals scored more than 20 points in just four contests. This year, they’ve done it in five of seven contests, with three of those garnering 30-plus points.
Week 7 was one of those latter performances, with Joe Burrow quickly ascending as one of the better passers in the league. Tee Higgins, A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd are putting up big stats and Burrow is routinely distributing the ball to an average of 7-8 different targets per game.
In short, it’s a much more watchable brand of football than the team’s 2019 offensive output. Even if it isn’t translating to more wins.
The pass-catchers and their growing comfort level with Joe Burrow:
As mentioned above, the trio of top wideouts are becoming extremely productive. Higgins leads the team with three touchdown catches and could conceivably sniff the 1,000-yard mark as a rookie.
Meanwhile, Boyd continues to make plays and is en route to his own 1,000-yard season and Green has close to 180 receiving yards in the past two games alone. Throw in Mike Thomas contributing occasionally and some continued growth from Drew Sample and this could morph into quite a formidable offense by year’s end.
Speaking of Burrow—he’s pretty good:
Burrow is on pace to set the rookie single-season passing yards mark and is one of the front-runners for Offensive Rookie of the Year. His 66.6% completion rate is pretty solid for a first-year guy and he has almost twice as many passing touchdowns (nine) to interceptions (five) at this point. Throw in 121 rushing yards and three more scores on the ground and he’s showing well-rounded play through just seven games and without a preseason.
There are two really impressive facets to Burrow’s game that he is carrying over from LSU, though. The first is in his ability to shrug off a mistake easily and continue to be highly-effective.
The other is in his play during crunch-time situations. In three of the Bengals’ losses this year (Chargers, Eagles and Browns), Burrow drove the team for what was or could/should/would have been the game-winning score.
Backup offensive linemen stepping up:
At one point in the fourth quarter, the Bengals had four reserve linemen playing at one time for them up front. On the final drive, only Michael Jordan was a day one starter still deployed to protect Burrow.
Billy Price and Fred Johnson played well for being thrown into somewhat-unfamiliar roles in the blink of an eye (yes, we know both have had pro snaps at each respective position, but it’s been incredibly infrequent and they’ve been moved around a lot), while Alex Redmond continued to provide a little bit of steadiness at right guard.
Hakeem Adeniji had some decent moments in relief of Bobby Hart, who also played really well before exiting with an injury. It sounds like some combination of Hart, Trey Hopkins, and Jonah Williams will be missing this week against the Titans, so we’ll really see what they’re made of.
Continuing lack of a pass-rush:
If you can’t stop the run and/or get to the passer, you aren’t going to win many football games. Unfortunately for the Bengals’ defense, they haven’t been able to do either very well for about 3-4 years.
Cincinnati has become the weekly “get right game” for the opposition, as quarterbacks routinely find rhythms because of an excess of time in the pocket. Baker Mayfield struggled early on in this one, but credit Cleveland for making adjustments and exploiting a depleted Bengals pass-rush crew.
Geno Atkins remains on a “pitch count”, as does Carlos Dunlap, who is forcing his way out of Cincinnati. Mike Daniels is just returning to the lineup, while Sam Hubbard is nursing an elbow issue.
Both Lou Anarumo and Al Golden are to blame here. I’m not sure how these guys articulate these plans as effective to the group when the results, or lack thereof, speak for themselves.
Inability to run the football and find balance:
The Bengals have run for just 692 yards in seven games—with or without Joe Mixon and the aforementioned offensive linemen. While Burrow is picking up the slack with his right arm and both legs, Cincinnati’s offense craves balance.
Some will point to Burrow’s great stats and grit to get them to near-wins as evidence that a strong run game isn’t needed. Fair. But, that heavy reliance on the rookie quarterback has netted them just 1.5 wins this year and their banged-up defense also needs extended breaks given by grinding some clock at points in the game with the run.
It’s also just a painfully obvious disparate stat when they’ve allowed the opposition to rush for 936 yards on the ground.
Familiar mistakes from a young team:
Whether it was Burrow’s red zone interception, his lack of awareness on a couple of sacks, or inexperienced players just missing opportunities for big plays, the Bengals remain a team that is “trying to learn how to win”.
While a lot of it is roster youth and guys getting extended playing time for the first time in their respective careers, the inexperience of the major coaches on the staff also comes under scrutiny. Some offensive play-calls have recently improved under Zac Taylor, but both he and his subordinates have shown serious flaws in their job performances over the past year and a half.
The ongoing Carlos Dunlap situation coming to a head on Sunday:
What more is there to say about this? It’s just ugly.
I love Tyler Boyd seemingly coming to the defense of the franchise with a comment on Dunlap’s social media post, but in fairness to No. 96, he has had to put up with six additional years of Bengals’ management than Boyd has in his five-year career. Still, it’s just a bad look for everyone involved.
A lack of “complementary football”:
In watching Monday Night
Football Snooze-fest between the Rams and Bears, Louis Riddick came up with a phrase I liked that summed up some things I’ve been saying about the Bengals in recent weeks.
Basically, “complementary football” refers to other units supporting or providing positive plays to aid another unit that just stepped up. I.e., if the defense gets a turnover, the offense goes for the throat and scores a touchdown, etc.
This week, Burrow and the offense had a win in grasp again and the defense let them down repeatedly. I definitely credit Mayfield for some of the throws he made, but it was absolutely ridiculous in how the defense allowed these last two losses to occur.
More coaching staff questions:
Taylor is infamously 1-12-1 in one score games as the Bengals’ head coach. On one hand, the team has been close in most of their games they’ve played under him. On the other, they absolutely cannot close.
Is that a skill they’ll learn at the end of 2020, or in 2021, or is it something innate?
Taylor and Co. have had to navigate through two of the most difficult offseasons imaginable for any coach—much less first-timers at their respective jobs. Still, familiar teams and high-profile players are succeeding.
How much leeway do they get?
Cincinnati is riddled with injuries once again—largely to many high-profile free agency acquisitions. It’s a theme carrying over from last year and it’s affecting this roster’s potential. Still, every team deals with injuries and the Bengals have routinely used the injury excuse to point to next year being their year.
Viable reason, or complacent excuse?
If you ask any Bengals fan, they truly want this staff to succeed. It’s just so hard to get a barometer on things and we’re getting close to the “I think we know by now” territory, isn’t it?