“We’re going to make sure everyone’s pulling in the same direction because right now, you’ve got two choices: you can quit, start complaining and pointing fingers at everybody, or take ownership.” Quite the speech from under-fire Cincinnati Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor. It’s only Week 7 and we’re already trying to stop the whole circus from falling apart. The hapless and seemingly helpless Bengals are now three games away from equalling their worst-ever start (0-10) and with the Rams, Ravens and Raiders to come, that unwanted record is well within our grasp.
Can’t just sit on defense
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Cincinnati defense did their best to hold this week’s opposition, the Jacksonsville Jaguars, to a reasonable score but the offense failed to turn up again. By the end of the first quarter, the Jags had outgained the home side by 110 yards to 11, which included -6 yards from Cincy’s four running plays. By the half, we’d allowed the Jaguars 309 total yards.
The Jags ended up with 82 offensive plays and 38 minutes of possession yet the exhausted Cincy defense held strong; Jax only notched a couple of Josh Lambo field goals from their three red-zone excursions in the first half. Most impressively, linebacker Preston Brown stuffed Leonard Fournette on a goal-line 4th and 1 to gain a turnover on downs on the Jaguars’ first possession and Geno Atkins sacked rookie QB Gardner Minshew twice. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard played well on his first game back after knee surgery and fellow corner BW Webb should have had two interceptions. Maybe he would have if he wasn’t wearing a cast on his broken hand?
Somehow, the Bengals went in 7-6 ahead at the break, despite being about 300 yards behind and punting away their first five possessions, three of which were three-and-outs. Punter Kevin Huber was a big part of why the Bengals were even in the game at halftime, with three punts inside the 10-yard line helping to flip the field. Cincinnati finally got something going just before the break, with six of quarterback Andy Dalton’s seven first-half passes going to Alex Erickson for 110 yards and the other was a two-yard TD toss to Joe Mixon.
Hung, drawn and final quartered
In the second half, the wheels started to wobble. A drop by Erickson was closely followed by a Tyler Boyd fumble and interception, which began a drive that finished with a third Lambo FG. Yet one in response by Randy Bullock meant the Bengals actually led as they went into the final quarter.
But in that final 15 minutes, Cincinnati self-destructed. The Jags marched downfield, Keelan Cole got free in the end zone for a score, and Chris Conley caught a two-point conversion – both leaving stand-in safety Tony McRae stranded. The Bengals responded and got back to the Jaguars’ 15-yard line, only for Dalton to underthrow a ball that linebacker Myles Jack gratefully snaffled.
Even then, the defense held strong without conceding any more points. That job turned out to be the offense’s responsibility. First, from well within his own half, Dalton threw a short lob over his O-line to absolutely no one. With no intended recipient in sight, the ball plopped into the hands of defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who ran it back untouched for the easiest 23-yard TD anyone will ever score.
Even from the kick-off, 24-10 down, all was not lost when Brandon Wilson (three returns, 98 yards) registered a 61-yard response, setting put Bengals in great field position. But Dalton threw the next ball to a Jags player, a turnover that eventually led to another three points from Lambo. Three interceptions in five plays from Dalton – woeful. Even in the prezzers afterwards, Jags players admitted to knowing what play was coming based on the Bengals personnel.
Turnover-machine Dalton did run in a garbage-time touchdown (he’s still the only Bengal with a running TD this season) to give the final score 27-17 a flattering tint, but the offense remains one-dimensional. The receivers were again patchy, with Alex Erickson (eight catches for 137 yards) having a career game, Auden Tate hauling in three for 65 and Tyler Boyd’s 55 yards countered with drops and a fumbled turnover. And again, only three catches for our tight ends.
UK blog writer equals running back contribution
But the run game… oh boy, that hit a new low. Sunday’s effort might yet go down as the worst in the history of the game, let alone the franchise, with Joe Mixon (2 yards), Giovani Bernard (0 yards) and Alex Erickson (-2 yards) combining for the sum total of zero yards. Yep – literally nothing. Statistically, I had the same impact on the game while following it from my sofa in Cambridgeshire. Dalton’s 33 yards of scrambling was the sum total of our ground gains, which is a tad embarrassing. No wonder Mixon departed the game before the end and left the stadium before the media gathered.
In stark contrast, Fournette alone rushed 29 times for 131 yards, leaving the Bengals about 1,000 yards behind their opponents on rushing yards after seven games. I’m fast running out of adjectives to describe how inept we are but let’s put it this way: we’re on track to rack up about 850 yards, about 100 less than our worst-ever season. And that was in 1982, a strike-affected year in which we only played nine games.
Dalton’s line (27-of-43, 276 yards, one TD, three INTs) definitely represents one of his worst ever, and despite Gardner Minshew’s sub-50% completion rate, the Red Rifle made the rookie QB look quietly competent. Understandably, with the boos ringing round a half-empty Paul Brown Stadium, the knives seem to be coming out for Average Andy.
There’s a case for letting his understudy, Ryan Finley, start in London against the LA Rams (the 12-point favourites). We have half an already-lost season left to see what others can do and the fourth-round 2019 draft pick can’t be any worse than Dalton, surely. But there’s an equally strong argument for saying that behind our porous offensive line, we would just be throwing Finley to the wolves. A tough call either way for the winless HC against his former employers.
So what next for the Bengals? Forget the results – we’re bound to lose the next three games, and we’re only safe in Week 9 because we’re on a bye. As we’re not known for wheeling and dealing, the looming trade deadline probably won’t affect anything either. But with Dalton on borrowed time and Taylor on thin ice – even in a franchise that’s notoriously patient with their coaches – the clock is ticking in other ways.
Featured Picture – Credit: Sam Greene