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The good, the bad and the ugly in Bengals’ 17-20 loss to the Cowboys

The Cincinnati Bengals fell to 0-2 this past Sunday, dropping a winnable one in Dallas. We comb over the best and worst facets of the loss.

An 0-2 start in the NFL is typically the beginning of a lost season. The Cincinnati Bengals are undoubtedly in a hole entering Week 3 of the year, but they’ve grown accustomed to starting slow. And with everything that went down this past Sunday, there seems to be an infinite number of ways 2022 can go for this team.

The good

Evan McPherson:

The second-year kicker had a couple of struggles at the end of Week 1 without a true long snapper, but made three big kicks (on as many attempts) in this one against the Cowboys. “Money Mac” hit yet another 50-yard kick and remains the saving grace in the Bengals’ recent, massive inability to get into the end zone with regularity.

Bengals’ pass-catchers:

Even though the offense is broken in a number of ways, the receivers are running solid routes, getting open and making plays when the ball is actually allowed to come their way. Dave Lapham gushed over Tee Higgins’ touchdown route, while Tyler Boyd’s two-point conversion play was a thing of beauty.

Others like Hayden Hurst also continued to make plays when able and with high effort. These guys aren’t the reason for Cincinnati’s anemic offense.

Coming back...again:

Cincinnati didn’t play well, neither did their quarterback, yet there was Joe Burrow putting them in position to pull out a potential victory. Burrow connected with Tee Higgins and, subsequently, Tyler Boyd, on a respective touchdown and two-point conversion with under four minutes to play.

Despite all the negatives by the Bengals the first two weeks (and there are plenty), they’ve had opportunities to win at the end. It’s not on par with the level of expectations for 2022, but it is probably a sign that a turning of the corner is coming.

An eerily similar start to 2021:

It’s easy to be negative. However, we sometimes try to find silver linings to hard losses. Case in point is when comparing this 0-2 start to the team’s 1-1 beginning of last year.

Cincinnati eked out a win over a Minnesota team that eventually finished under .500 and lost to a Bears team the following week that eventually went 6-11. They strung together other nail-biters with occasional blowouts sprinkled in and marched their way to the Super Bowl (oh, by the way, another loss by just a field goal).

And, that’s the theme with this team—even when playing extremely poorly, they find a way to be in the game (or win it) towards the end. The first two losses this year were essentially determined by an extra point and a last-second field goal.

Sure, there are A LOT of kinks to be ironed out, but Cincinnati is a couple of plays and a fluke long snapper injury away from 2-0.

The bad

The offensive line:

Another week, more complaints about the big boys up front. Micah Parsons had his way with both tackles, while Joe Burrow was sacked six times and hit nine in total.

Cincinnati once again fell under the four-yards-per-carry threshold (3.6), with Joe Mixon netting just 3.0 yards per tote. There have been missed cutback lanes and the quarterback has run into some sacks, but the rebuilt offensive line isn’t netting any better results than than what we saw last postseason.

Lack of big plays on defense and a big day from Cooper Rush:

It can be argued that Lou Anarumo’s unit is the biggest reason as to why Cincinnati has even had an opportunity to sniff a 2-0 start. Holding opponents to an average of 4.8 points per quarter and 21.5 per game despite being minus -four in the turnover margin for the season is a slight miracle.

Still, Cincinnati’s defense has just two sacks total in as many games played to go with just one turnover netted. They’re getting off of the field frequently, but not making those game-changing plays and playing “complementary football”, as was on display so often last year.

And, oh those backup quarterbacks. There were many villains in the previous era (T.J. Yates, anyone?) and that has somehow continued in the Zac Taylor regime.

Cooper Rush was confident and efficient, posting a 95.5 rating on 19-of-31 passing for 235 yards. He was turnover-less in holding the baton in Dak Prescott’s absence, which was disappointing, to say the least.

The run game:

We mentioned it earlier, but the big gains aren’t there, nor is anything coming close to resembling consistency. With Burrow and the offense facing two deep looks at a high rate, the Bengals absolutely need to make hay in the run game somehow to open things up, play more to their biggest strengths and get things back on track.

The ugly

The offensive scheme:

Look, it’s hard to create an effective game plan when the afflictions mentioned above are plentiful. Still, there have been a handful of true palms-to-the-heavens-shrug moments in the first two weeks.

Whether it was placing a tight end one-on-one against a defensive end, or failing to provide regular assistance against Micah Parsons, questions on the approach continue to emerge with an 0-2 start to the season.

The hits, absurd amount of sacks and, ultimately, the impact on Joe Burrow:

In the first two weeks, the Bengals have accumuluated 13 sacks, 20 quarterback hits and five total turnovers on offense. What’s worse is the seemingly resulting effects from their star quarterback.

Burrow has seemingly bailed out of the rare clean pocket earlier than usual and isn’t using his trademark “keep the eyes upfield” trait as frequently. Some view it as growing “happy feet”, while in truth, it seems to be more of a by-product of impatience.

Defenses have adjusted from those the Bengals saw throughout the first half of 2021 and impatience has been prevalent. Still, the 115 career sacks in 32 career games is an absolutely staggering statistic and isn’t sustainable for neither the longevity of Burrow’s career, nor long-term team success.