0-5. Not exactly the dream start to a new era of football, eh?
As with every week and passing loss, we attempt to pull out positives from a team in transition. This one provided far more than the Week 2 and 4 losses, but the results aren’t changing.
Here are the best and worst from the Bengals’ 26-23 loss to the Cardinals.
Fighting back: Through about 45 game minutes, this one appeared to be going the way of Weeks 2 and 4. And that’s saying something, given that the Cardinals were also winless coming into Paul Brown Stadium.
But, even when things looked the bleakest, Cincinnati charged back and tied up the contest with just over two minutes to play. After trailing throughout most of the game, the offense and defense both stepped up, with the former providing two touchdowns in a span of 2:08 of game clock.
Guys stepping up in the wake of injuries: This team is absolutely decimated by injuries. And, while inexperience is showing in some of the guys being called upon for playing time, many are embracing the “next man up” mantra.
Auden Tate had a touchdown catch late after two early drops, while John Jerry had a more steady presence at left tackle in relief of Andre Smith, who has struggled mightily throughout most of the season. Baby steps, guys.
Fourth quarter Andy: Dalton had a deplorable start to the game, but exploded for most of statistics in the final minutes of the game. Not coincidentally, it came when the play-calling was much more effective and when Arizona went to a prevent defense. Still, he made a number of nice throws, including the 42-yard beauty to Tyler Boyd for the tying score.
Andy Dalton earned a 77.4 (@PFF) passing grade vs AZ, his highest mark of the season (9th among QBs).— Evan McPhillips (@emcphil) October 7, 2019
Through the first 4 weeks, Dalton produced a 62.7 grade from a clean pocket.
Yesterday, he was 21-27 for 215 yards, 2 TDs & an 85.5 grade when clean.pic.twitter.com/n8RRDx9mCj
Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd: The Bengals’ two most talented skill position players who are actually healthy at the moment had big days in Week 5. Mixon carved up the Cardinals defense, particularly on the Bengals’ opening drives for each half, finishing with 93 rushing yards and a 4.9-yard per rush average.
Even without A.J. Green, John Ross and Alex Erickson to take attention off of him, Boyd shined in the passing game. Aside from grabbing the game-tying touchdown, he finished with 10 catches for 123 yards on 14 targets.
Pharoh Cooper: Call this one just pouring salt in the wound. Cincinnati made the questionable decision to claim Cooper off of waivers after final cuts, only to not play him and then release him a couple of weeks later. Many of us forgot that he landed with the Cardinals after the Bengals axed him from the roster.
Against his old team, Cooper had an insane 28-yard, diving reception to set up a critical Cardinals field goal at the end of the third quarter, as well as adding a 17-yard punt return and 30-yard kickoff return. Meanwhile, Cincinnati’s receiver group is a who’s who of low-round picks and undrafted free agents because of injury.
Dalton’s first three quarters: For how great Dalton was in the final quarter, he was awful in the first three. There were a umber of factors contributing to this, both in and outside of his control, but his career-low 22 passing yards in the first half didn’t do anything to quiet the “draft a quarterback in 2020” chorus.
Dalton was hit 14 times on the day, the play-calling was blase throughout most of the afternoon, and his receivers dropped some easy passes, but he also was a suspect in the problems. The most obvious was the missed touchdown to an open Tyler Eifert to open the third quarter.
Lack of urgency and usage of two-minute offense: Cincinnati’s offense was struggling throughout most of the afternoon and mostly settled for field goals instead of putting up touchdowns. With the effectiveness seen towards the end of the game, one has to wonder why more hurry-up calls weren’t being made to try and ignite the offense.
Furthermore, what was with the plodding pace on their first of two fourth quarter touchdown drives? Even Thom Brennaman and Chris Spielman noted the lack of urgency with about four minutes left in the contest.
The 2019 draft class: Stop us if you’ve heard this before: in a year where immediate impact players were needed to support the front office’s stance that this team could win now, Zac Taylor’s inaugural draft class has failed to net those kind of results. Jonah Williams is hurt, Drew Sample can’t see the field, even amid so many blocking issues, and the lone guy starting, Michael Jordan, seems in over his head.
The biggest disappointment has to be Germaine Pratt, though. He was viewed as the most ready-to-play guy at a position that lacks talent, and he can’t even see double-digit snaps on defense.
Play calls in crunch time decisions: We talked about this on our reactions post, but Taylor’s decisions in the team’s opening drive and in the third quarter are mind-boggling. You’re 0-4, you’re at home and don’t go for a touchdown early in the game from the also-winless opponent’s four-yard line?
And, after you make that decision, you go for it at your own 42-yard line with a play out of shotgun when needing a half-yard? These are the types of calls and subsequent failures that can lose games and a locker room. Sorry, coach, your inexperience is showing.
The fallout from 0-5: We’ve had impassioned pleas by Taylor to his team after losses, the obligatory “we’re so close” press conference rhetoric and now, you have players pleading the team to not engage in a fire sale. Cincinnati has become a headliner for trade talks, but veterans are talking about how that would gut the team—both physically (by losing talented players) and emotionally.
Dre Kirkpatrick, now the most vocal player in the Bengals’ locker room, spoke up about a possible trade of Green. “It (trading Green away) better not happen. It’s going to fall apart if you do that,” Kirkpatrick said. “That’s our best player on the team. He’s not even out there. We don’t know how the team really should look. They can’t do that. I’m a team player first. I rally around my guys. That would really hurt my spirit if he walked out this door.”
So, there’s that.
Red-zone inefficiency: The past two games have accentuated the team’s problems in this area. Two critical drops (Eifert against the Steelers and Tate versus Arizona) have killed early momentum, while other poor play-calls and missed throws by Dalton have resulted in further negative momentum. Struggling teams need to latch on to the minimal opportunities that present themselves and the Bengals simply aren’t doing that, hence their 0-5 start.