After a 2-14 2019 season and an 0-2-1 start to 2020, it is clear that the Bengals need to learn how to win.
They have had opportunities in these early games, but have not need able to finish.
So, how can Week 4 be different?
Here are 5 keys to winning this weekend against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Win the Middle 8
The middle 8 is the last 4 minutes of the 1st half and the 1st 4 minutes of the 2nd half. The basic idea is that you want to be the last team to score before halftime and the 1st team to score after. Obviously, it helps if you win the toss and defer so you can start the 2nd half with the ball.
Last wee, the Bengals gave up a touchdown to the Eagles on the 2-minute drive before halftime. This was made worse by the fact that the Eagles got the ball to start the 2nd half. The end result was a 4-point lead with less than 2-minutes to play in the 1st half turning into a 6-point deficit before they saw the ball for the first time in the 2nd half.
Keep the Chains Moving
The Bengals were 3 /13 converting 3rd Downs against the Eagles, their worst performance of the year in that category.
Failing to covert on 3rd down not only takes away the offense’s chance to score, it gives the other team’s offense more chances. The Bengals’ defense played 91 snaps against the Eagles. That is a lot of opportunities for the Eagles offense to try to make something happen.
One way the Bengals helped themselves out was by limiting their 2nd and long runs.
When faced with 2nd and 7 or more yards, they passed the ball 80% of the time. They had 12 2nd-and-long pass attempts and earned a 1st down on 6 of them. That is 6 3rd downs they avoided by passing the ball on 2nd and long. Every 2nd and long run eventually resulted in punt.
They get themselves in trouble when sacks or penalties result in plus-yardage situations where they face more than 10 yards to go for the 1st down. They need to avoid penalties and sacks that put them in these situations.
Don’t settle for 3 points in the Red Zone
The Bengals scored a touchdown on just 2 of their 4 red-zone appearances last week and have scored on less than 50% of their red-zone trips this season.
To make matters worse, the 2 times the Bengals settled for field goals in the red zone came in the 4th quarter. A touchdown on the final trip would have made it a 2-score game with just over 3 minutes to play.
They need to scheme touchdown opportunities. This would be a great chance to get Joe Mixon involved. He is pretty good at running option routes out of the backfield. This is a big part of the red zone scheme that the Saints employ with Alvin Kamara, and could help the Bengals as well.
Make Big Plays on Offense
The Bengals have not been able to consistently connect on deep passing plays. Joe Burrow is a special player, but for the Bengals to overcome their deficiencies in other areas, he needs to make more explosive plays through the air.
And it is not just about adding positive plays, it’s about overcoming negative ones.
Giovani Bernard’s 42-yard screen was an incredible play.
It kept the drive alive for the Bengals when they were in one of those plus-yardage situations mentioned above. In this case, 3rd and 15.
They had another opportunity in overtime. After Burrow was sacked on 1st Down, they faced 2nd and 16 deep in their own territory. Burrow threw a deep ball to Tee Higgins which could have given them the 1st down and drastically improved their field position, but Higgins was not able to pull it in.
They have got to be able to make more of these plays to get themselves out of bad situations.
Contain the QB
Last week the Bengals’ pass rush showed improvement over previous weeks. They need to show continued progress this week and prove that they have what it takes to get to the quarterback week in and week out.
But while they are rushing the passer, they need to keep him contained. Carson Wentz hurt them by tucking the ball and running on multiple occasions last week.
Gardner Minshew II can move as well, but unlike Wentz he will look to extend the play until he finds a throw downfield instead of just running.
They have to pressure Minshew without letting him escape the pocket.
Most of the keys listed above have nothing to do with the opponent and everything to do with the Bengals. That’s the reality of the situation. They have not done the little things they need to do to win. They have had opportunities to win, but a missed tackle here, a dropped pass there, or a leg cramp at an inopportune time have prevented it from happening.
They need to put together a complete game on offense, defense, and special teams to win their first game.