The Cincinnati Bengals had a winning record for the first time under Zac Taylor for exactly one week.
As the Bengals went to Chicago, they seemed to forget what it was that helped them win against the Vikings.
When the Bengals took their foot off the gas in Week 1, they let a 21-7 lead slip away and had to rely on an overtime field goal to bail them out.
In Week 2, they didn’t put their foot on the gas until it was too late.
They say that you learn more from losing than from winning. So Zac Taylor, in his infinite wisdom, decided we needed to learn something this week. We learned three things this week:
The Bengals need to generate more big plays on offense
The Bengals ran a very conservative offense for most of the game, and got only three points out of it.
Zac Taylor has stockpiled weapons, so only getting a field goal in the first 55 minutes of the game is a criminal offense.
Bengals fans are familiar with lackadaisical offenses. But we didn’t sit through Ken Zampese and Bill Lazor and hire a Sean McVay disciple to have a bland game plan. The Bengals didn’t draft Joe Burrow to hand it off on 2nd-and-long. They didn’t pass up on a promising offensive lineman so they could throw quick slants based on pre-snap reads.
When the Bengals finally went for broke, they scored two touchdowns in a matter of minutes. Ja’Marr Chase was on to something; the Bengals waited too long to take deep shots.
The reason they drafted Burrow was to let him run the offense. Instead, Burrow was making short throws based on pre-snap reads that went to receivers that were covered up. The Bengals drafted Burrow to be a field general and sling the ball around.
The reason they drafted Chase was to fix their deep ball issues. What’s the point of fixing deep ball issues if you won’t even attempt to throw deep? Apart from Chase’s late 42-yard reception, the longest play of the game was a 22-yard reception to Tyler Boyd that only went about five yards through the air.
The play-calling for the Bengals was weak, and there’s absolutely no reason for it. The Bengals went out of their way to collect weapons; it’s time to use them.
The offensive line fixes haven’t worked
Burrow took nine hits and four sacks against the Bears. One of his interceptions was deflected immediately, due to pressure from the defensive line.
The Bengals are playing the Steelers next week, so if they think things are going to get easier, they are gravely mistaken.
Frank Pollack returns, but the line doesn’t appear to have improved much. Many of the hits and sacks Burrow has taken has been a result of missed assignments and bad communication. In those cases, it's not a question of talent, but of coaching.
The teams’ talent isn’t totally off the hook, though. The fixes the Bengals brought in to give more talent to the line haven’t exactly worked either. Xavier Su’a-Filo has not lived up to the Bengals’ expectations at right guard, which was a problem spot this offseason. The Bengals brought in Jackson Carman and D’Ante Smith, but they apparently can’t beat out Su’a-Filo. It's hard to imagine either rookie would play worse than Su’a-Filo, who graded out at 50.0, according to PFF.
Trey Hopkins has also been disappointing this season. This was an unexpected hiccup, as he was the Bengals’ most reliable lineman over the last five years. But whether it’s due to his recent knee injury or the fact that he practiced lightly this offseason, he hasn’t looked himself.
The least that the Bengals can do is to play out of fewer empty sets. Burrow loves those empty sets, but he might also like a little extra pass protection. The Bengals need to help the line by putting extra running backs or tight ends in the formation and helping the line plug some leaks.
The Defense is finally turning the corner
The one good thing from this game was the defense.
For as badly as the Bengals are misusing their new acquisitions on offense, the defensive additions are doing extremely well.
Trey Hendrickson, D.J. Reader, Larry Ogunjobi, and Chidobe Awuzie have been doing well. The defense is finally getting pressure on the quarterback and holding up in the passing game.
Over the last two games, the Bengals have faced two running backs that were 1,000-yard rushers in 2020. Dalvin Cook and David Montgomery had nearly identical production against the Bengals: 20 carries for 61 yards. That is a major improvement from a defense that could not stop the run even when they knew what was coming.
The highlight of the day was the fact that they only gave up 13 points off of turnovers. During the stretch where the Bengals had four straight turnovers on offense, the defense held firm. The only touchdown they gave up was on the pick-six, which the defense never had the opportunity to stop. The Bengals defense faced a short field three times, and gave up two field goals between them.
If the Bengals had even one less turnover, the result might have been different.