There really isn’t much to say to fully summarize how badly the Cincinnati Bengals played on Thursday night as a preface to our good, bad and ugly series. While there were some positives, the 0-2 start doesn’t bode well for the team’s hopes of a 2017 rebound.
Here are the best and worst from the Bengals from the Thursday night loss.
Special teams: If you thought the defense had played well with their backs constantly against the wall, multiple players on Darrin Simmons’ unit came up huge on Thursday. Kicker Randy Bullock nailed all three of his field goal attempts, while punter Kevin Huber pinned Houston inside of its own 20-yard line on six of his seven attempts.
Meanwhile, Alex Erickson and Adam Jones both contributed on their respective side of the ball and as return men. Erickson had 14 yards per punt return, to go with a 38-yard average on kickoffs, with big returns in each facet. Jones made some spectacular returns as well in his debut, including a 33-yard punt return.
Pass rush: Does Geno Atkins just get better with age? He had two more sacks on Thursday, bringing his total to three this year, and added another five tackles. Not many things are going right for the Bengals so far, but Atkins still remains an elite player in the NFL.
I mean, good Lord.
Meanwhile, preseason star, Chris Smith, notched a sack of his own. For the most part, the defense is doing what’s needed to at least keep the team in the game at this point.
Bengals’ defense on third down: While there might have been a couple of frustrating moments of allowing some big conversions to the Texans offense late, Cincinnati’s defense still allowed Houston to convert just 26 percent of their third-down tries (4-of-15).
Some semblance of accountability: Offensive coordinator Ken Zampese was fired after the game, which is rare for a team to do in Week 2 of a season, much less in just the coordinator’s second season in the role. Still, change was needed, and the Bengals responded much earlier than they have in other previous instances of needed change.
Run defense: For the second straight week, the Bengals were very stout against the pass, but a bit porous against the run. Also, in as many weeks, Cincinnati was playing from behind with their opposition attempting to grind out the clock on the ground.
Cincinnati was gashed for 168 rushing yards by the Texans, mostly from the nimble Deshaun Watson, who had 67 of them, including a 49-yard touchdown scamper. However, against the more traditional run styles of D’Onta Foreman and Lamar Miller, the Bengals defense held both of them under 4.0 yards per carry on 30 combined runs (101 combined yards).
John Ross’ fumble and subsequent handling of the situation: Let’s get this straight: you want speed and excitement on offense, use a top-10 pick on potentially the most explosive player in the draft and then bench him at the first sign of trouble? Ross’s fumble was ugly, but it was also a pretty square hit by Kareem Jackson right on the football.
Want to know the best way to quickly destroy a young player’s confidence on a struggling team? Bench him for the rest of the game on his very first mistake as a pro. Bad call here by Zampese and Marvin Lewis.
Grabbing a single scapegoat, when others are needed: Look, Zampese needed to go. You simply can’t start the season with two straight home games against familiar foes and put up a collective nine points. However, other coaches and players in high-profile positions also need to be called out on offense, and no suggestion for possible improvement should be off of the table for discussion.
The offense...again: The last time the Bengals’ offense scored a touchdown was in the 2016 season finale against Baltimore at the hands of Rex Burkhead—a player who isn’t even in The Queen City anymore. The pass protection is awful, Dalton looks completely rattled, and they are having problems getting the football to a supposedly-stacked arsenal of skill positions.
We’ll see if the promotion of Bill Lazor in the wake of Zampese’s firing makes a difference in these areas, but cynicism has to linger. There is so much to clean up, and obvious struggles up front makes a rebound by the Bengals seem unlikely.
The offensive line: It just keeps getting worse for the guys up front. Cincinnati’s supposed superstar trio of running backs, comprised of Joe Mixon, Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, could only muster 63 yards on 20 carries (3.2 yards per carry). The biggest run of the night was just 12 yards, coming from Ross.
Meanwhile, they let up three more sacks to the vaunted Texans front, while also having trouble opening up lanes on trick plays. The Bengals pushed their chips to the center of the table this offseason with a lot of unproven and/or underwhelming offensive linemen, and they’re coming up bust.
Letting another inexperienced and mobile quarterback get a victory: Sure, there are examples of the team getting the better of these types of signal-callers, i.e. dominating Johnny Manziel, but this just doesn’t seem to be a forte for Lewis and his defense. Watson didn’t light the world on fire, but a 39-yard touchdown run is inexcusable, as is allowing him to get his first career win in as many starts, while on your home turf.
Primetime: Some are on the fence about if the primetime stigma with the Bengals as a telling point of Lewis’ struggles, or if it is just a matter of coincidence, but the Bengals are absolutely abysmal on the big stage, for whatever reason one chooses to believe. It’s honestly getting to the point where seeing a primetime game on the team’s schedule is more eye-roll-inducing than it is exciting.
The aftermath: Whether it was cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick saying, “We suck,” A.J. Green airing out his postgame frustration along with veteran defensive end Carlos Dunlap, or Lewis apparently facing a “near mutiny,” it’s getting ugly in Cincinnati. If Lazor and Dalton don’t turn things around soon, this could start bordering on a dumpster fire.