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Bengals’ continued ineffectiveness on offense breeds bigger questions

Cincinnati was in a close contest this past Sunday, but massive and continuous problems on offense call many things into question.

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When the Cincinnati Bengals made the move to hire Zac Taylor as their new head coach, it showed a major organizational shift. Not only was it a move from a defensive-minded coach to an offensive-minded one, but it showed a willingness towards NFL progressivism.

But, for a variety of factors we’ve been hearing about for over three months, this team’s offense has taken major steps backwards. As if it wasn’t already, this was painfully obvious during and after the Bengals’ Week 11 loss to the Raiders.

Cincinnati only scored 10 points this week, as the move to Ryan Finley at quarterback hasn’t brought the spark Taylor has been hoping for. The rookie has thrown for just 282 yards in his first two pro starts.

On Sunday, Finley went 13-of-31 for 115 yards and an interception. This was against a Raiders defense that is now ranked at No. 27 after Finley’s performance.

In his two starts, Finley has thrown just one touchdown, while committing four turnovers (two picks and two lost fumbles)—two of which were returned for touchdowns. Additionally, he is only averaging just 4.6 yards per attempt, has a 47.5 completion percentage and a 52.8 rating.

Making a huge, midseason decision like this and having these kind of results is how a young coach loses a locker room. Case in point is the recent, public complaints by Tyler Boyd.

“I feel like I’m the go-to guy with A.J. down,” Boyd told ESPN’s Bengals reporter Ben Baby. “I felt like [my] targets were not where they should have been. I feel that I’m a game-changer and I could have utilized my talents in any way to move the chains and nothing was coming my way.”

This is a stark contrast from Boyd’s outlook on the Taylor hiring when we spoke to him on the podcast this spring. In the eight games with Andy Dalton as the quarterback, Boyd averaged 10.3 targets, 67 receiving yards and 6.4 receptions per game. Conversely, with Finley under center, Boyd is averaging 5.5 targets, 31 yards and 3.5 receptions per game, respectively.

While things may have been more statistically productive in the passing game with Dalton, the wins weren’t coming then, either, though. Taylor showed creativity with play calls in the first week, but it has become dramatically more vanilla as the year moves forward.

The Arizona Cardinals provide an interesting focus group in this regard. They’re just 3-7-1, but they’re at least losing in an entertaining fashion, if there is such a thing. Under rookie Kyler Murray, the team is scoring 22.6 points per game in the regular season after being a completely inept offense last year.

The Bengals in 2019?

Not only are the Bengals losing, but they’re being defeated while making us all yawn. And, while Cincinnati’s defense has major flaws of its own, Sunday was another example of keeping the points allowed to a low count for a potential win. That’s happened a handful of times this year, only to see the offense trip over itself.

Of course, the injuries are a valid, embedded excuse. John Jerry wasn’t good enough to land a job as a backup guard in the NFL last season, and now he’s the team’s starting left tackle. He and Bobby Hart spearheaded a group that allowed five sacks to the Raiders on Sunday.

And, yes, we would be able to get a better handle on Finley’s abilities with A.J. Green and John Ross in the lineup. It’s also something that lingers in the corner of defense for Dalton.

Arm strength continues to be an issue

One of the big knocks on Finley in the pre-draft process was in his average arm—particularly for his size. A few weeks ago on an Orange and Black Insider podcast episode, we noted that any actual or potential interceptions thrown by Finley would largely come from predictable routes that NFL defenders could pounce—especially without his sporting of a rocket arm.

Dalton isn’t known for having one of the strongest arms in the league, but consensus opinions have it as above-average and more lively than Finley’s. While the deep ball issues with No. 14 sometimes coincided with under-throws, many of the other misses were due to poor mechanics and/or touch.

Even so, as the Bengals look to draft their next potential franchise guy in next year’s draft, they need someone who can make most of the NFL throws—especially those opposite hash “out routes” like the one above. Fortunately, the trio of LSU’s Joe Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert all have above-average to excellent arm strength.

Taylor and Brian Callahan having confidence in their quarterback’s arm will open up the playbook. As of now, they are greatly hindered for a variety of reasons and it’s showing on a weekly basis.

Other things we discussed on the postgame reactions episode:

  • What does the Tua Tagovailoa injury mean for the 2020 NFL Draft?
  • The Cincinnati Bengals’ defense had the team in position to get another win this Sunday, at least in terms of points allowed.
  • Should we expect coaching staff changes next offseason?

Thanks for those who tuned in to the broadcast, even though it was a little later than usual! Join us at the conclusion of each Bengals game as we break down the result and answer your questions/comments!

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