Sometimes the Cincinnati Bengals provide a double-edged sword when it comes to this weekly, in-season feature. They make it immensely difficult to write up anything positive in such a jarring loss, but they also provide a lot of easy content when discussing the negatives.
Unfortunately, this week, the Bengals provided plenty of discussion topics for the latter. Cincinnati was completely overmatched on their home field against the 49ers, as a harsh reality check set in on Sunday.
Here are the best and worst aspects of the Bengals’ 41-17 loss to the 49ers in Week 2.
Tyler Boyd and John Ross III: in two contests without A.J. Green, the two other top wideouts have come to play. Boyd has a 10-catch, 122-yard day and is producing at a very high level after signing an offseason contract extension.
Meanwhile, Ross also keeps making big plays. Sure, his 66-yard touchdown came in “garbage time” and we seem to have to deal with a weekly dropped pass, but he’s looking more like a top-10 pick in Zac Taylor’s offense than ever before. Ross finished with four catches for 112 yards and a score, while already amassing more receiving yards in two games than he had in all of 2018.
Geno Atkins: Barely anyone on the defense came to play on Sunday, showing deficiencies in coaching, schemes and overall talent on that side of the ball. However, Atkins remained a one man wrecking crew.
Though his four total tackles won’t tell the whole story, Atkins caused holding penalties and was frequently in the San Francisco backfield disrupting plays. Unfortunately, no linebackers or other tacklers helped him finish up some of those plays.
Getting a bad blowout out of the way early in the season: In losses like these, we try to cling to any kind of positive, even if it means grasping at straws. This may be construed as such, but basically a game like this provides a massive learning opportunity for Taylor, his staff and the team.
All offseason, the team’s star players talked about how they will surprise people this year. After Week 1, that appeared to be a solid prediction with a one-point loss in Seattle.
However, this 24-point demolition on their home turf brought everyone back to reality. Questions definitely remain to be answered, but if this truly was an aberration, as Carlos Dunlap recently put it, then it’s best to get it out of the way in Week 2. Maybe this is one of those “don’t even go back and watch the film” games.
Because of the inexperience on the staff, players getting used to the system, stars getting healthier and more home games late in the year, it’s quite possible we see a markedly-improved team in December than what we’ve witnessed these first two weeks. We’ll see.
Jekyll meets Hyde: A tale of two weeks. Ironically, Cincinnati looked far more prepared and in sync on the road at the hostile confines of CenturyLink Field than they did after having accrued in-game experience and being on their home turf.
We’ll discuss this more in-depth a little later, but two completely different-looking teams took the field in back-to-back weeks. Which one is the real 2019 Bengals team? Have we even seen them yet?
The linebackers: This position group was the worst on the day, but the entire defense was putrid. Preston Brown was pirouetting while trying to keep up with the 49ers backup running backs, who gouged the defense on the ground and through the air.
Nick Vigil didn’t have anywhere near the impact that he showed against Seattle, while Germaine Pratt still can’t crack the lineup. We knew that this group was one of the weakest areas of the team, but the unit’s inability to move laterally and make plays really popped off the screen this week.
The offensive line: Quite honestly, this was one of the worst performances by an NFL offensive line I have seen in a long time. Because of poor drafting, unfortunate injuries and slow free agency operations, the Bengals are starting players at critical spots, who may not even make many other rosters around the league.
Andre Smith continued to get roughed up at left tackle in relief of Cordy Glenn and was benched in the second quarter for John Jerry. The veteran guard also struggled against Nick Bosa, while Billy Price looked terrible late in the game and Bobby Hart has one of his trademark days on the right side.
To add insult to injury (pun intended), Michael Jordan, the team’s promising rookie, went down with a knee injury when the game was completely in the 49ers’ control.
The running game: Lets just keep the lambasting of the offensive line going, shall we? We knew that the passing game would be improved under Taylor, but the utter inability for talented running backs to get anything going because of poor blocking is immensely frustrating to witness.
Joe Mixon was constantly fighting off tacklers in the backfield, as the complete imbalance on offense made things predictable. Taylor preached the importance of the run game all offseason, but it’s difficult to sell play-action when it’s an utter struggle to gain two yards.
The defense: We already mentioned the linebacker play, which was poor, but the entire unit reeked of 2018 this past Sunday. After racking up four sacks last week, the pass-rush came up empty in the statistic, while they only had one tackle-for-loss.
FOX’s color commentator for the game, Chris Spielman, summed it up nicely when he said that Bengals defenders looked like they had velcro on them when engaging San Francisco blockers. Poor angles, confusion, inability to shed blocks and questionable effort at times on that side of the ball were all on display in the home opener.
The most distressing part has to be in the perceived regression of certain players, who had previously been quite reliable. Jessie Bates III doesn’t look like the same game who was in the DROY conversation in 2018, while others continue to show maddening inconsistency.
Randy Bullock: Last week, the veteran kicker missed a critical 45-yard attempt in a game that resulted in a one-point loss. Tough venue, longer kick, shortly after rain...fine.
This week, Bullock had a critical 52-yard attempt early in the contest that he pulled right. Simply put, Bullock is unreliable from any attempt 45 yards and beyond.
This spotlights two major issues. First, these misses become incredibly maddening when we witness the Bears rookie kicker, Eddy Piniero, nail a deep one on the road to win the contest (yes, I realize he was aided by it being in Mike High). Second, and more importantly, why haven’t the Bengals even given Bullock any semblance of competition in recent offseasons?
Coaching: Last week, Seattle decided to run plays, particularly on the ground, in a more north-south fashion. It played to the Bengals’ defensive strengths and we lauded Lou Anarumo for their stifling of the Seahawks’ ground attack.
Kyle Shanahan watched film and wanted to attack the perimeters, particularly with their running backs. It led to a 572-yard day on offense by San Francisco.
Meanwhile, Taylor wasn’t as innovative on offense this week. Sure, he was handcuffed because of injuries along the offensive line, but there seemed to be a lot of plays akin to continually banging one’s head against the wall. In short, it was an afternoon where the inexperience of the staff showed in a big way.
Lingering questions on the roster, coaching and operational methods: Losses like these cause folks to re-evaluate any preconceived notions about a team. Ironically, many 49ers fans sounded off on the above-embedded video, talking about how they think the Bengals are headed in the right direction, despite the beatdown that was served.
It’s far too early to call for the heads of any coaches, but the staff’s collective inexperience showed on Sunday. Furthermore, the decision-making process and organizational practices come sharply into focus after losses like these.
In a year where the front office supposedly received the message of unrest by the fan base, why weren’t they more proactive in free agency to prop up the new staff as much as possible? Why do they continue to have one of the smallest scouting staffs in the league, while touting the draft as their lifeline?
Why do they continue to invest high picks in players in whom they don’t have immediate trust (Pratt)? In a year where the Bengals needed immediate impact players out of their draft class, you have to go all the way to their sixth selection of the class (third pick in the fourth round) to find a starter and/or player with a significant role at this moment in time (Michael Jordan).
Cincinnati has told us they believe that 2019 isn’t a rebuilding year, but they didn’t operate much like a team in “win-now” mode. For those in the “get rid of Andy Dalton camp”, continuing their sluggish approach in March, and maintaining rigidity in the April festivities will only set up their next signal-caller for another uphill climb.