In the immortal words of poodle-permed warbler Jon Bon Jovi, “Woah, we’re halfway there…” After a 24-10 loss to the now 5-3 Los Angeles Rams at London’s Wembley Stadium, the Cincinnati Bengals are 50% of the way to achieving the ‘perfect’ imperfect season. Cincy fans now have a much-needed bye week to lick their wounds before we start living on a prayer again in Week 10.
Although he was sat on a different continent this week, Zac Taylor dished out the same old platitudes and soundbites to the press after Sunday’s defeat: “We were in the game. We played with energy. We need to make those big plays. We gave ourselves a chance. We’re doing everything we can to win.” And yet we’re 0-8. Let’s dig a little deeper and see if our latest loss shed any light on the usual questions.
Why can’t we run the ball?
The O-line still can’t create any channels but at least Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon smashed their combined two yards(!) from last week, as I predicted. Early on, the Bengals used their league-worst rushing attack with some success. Mixon (17 carries, 66 yards) also corralled a one-yard TD catch while Gio’s 10.3 yards per carry (three carries, 31 yards) was boosted by a nice 25-yard cut-and-run. They also combined for six catches for 25 yards so there are signs of life here.
Where art thou, wide receivers?
No Bengals wide receivers scored any points this week, although Auden Tate had a touchdown overturned with four seconds left. Despite the ongoing absence of AJ Green (hopefully back in Week 10) and John Ross to stretch the field, our wideouts did make a few plays. Tate (65 yards) added more outstanding grabs to his portfolio but five catches from 13 targets is a worry. Alex Erickson (six catches, 97 yards) nailed a 52-yarder late in the game and Tyler Boyd (six catches, 65 yards) was also efficient.
Who stole our tight ends?
Hallelujah, they’re back! We finally used multiple TEs on a variety of plays, with Tyler Eifert (six catches, 74 yards) the main beneficiary. While there’s still so much more we could do here, it’s a start.
Is Average Andy the guy to lead us?
No. Now the first NFL quarterback to start seasons 8-0 and 0-8, Dalton didn’t turn the ball over this week, so they were plus points. But it now seems like the Red Rifle’s era at the Bengals could be coming to an end; on Tuesday, Head Coach Zac Taylor announced that Dalton is being benched in favour of 2019 fourth-round pick Ryan Finley. Dalton is not the issue – he has the fourth-most passing yards in the league behind a non-existent O-line and with half his receiving corps missing – but he’s also not the long-term solution. Finley may not be the answer either but it’s high time we at least found out what he can offer while we have literally nothing to lose.
Who put the ‘oh’ in O-line?
Dalton was sacked five times on Sunday, with Dante Fowler and Aaron Donald inevitably grabbing one apiece. Tackles John Jerry and Bobby Hart failed to protect him, and served up some familiar false starts to boot, while Billy Price (a former first-round pick) got a PFF rating for pass blocking of 1.6 out of 100. That’s like getting a point in an exam for writing your name at the top of the page.
Can we stop the run?
Our league-worst rushing defense (there’s a theme here, people) limited Todd Gurley, Robert Woods and rookie Darrell Henderson to under 100 yards on the ground, so that counts as a small step forward. But Gurley did run in the only score of the second half, and we also – inexplicably and inexcusably – allowed him to crack out a 21-yard burst on a third-and-10 from his own 1-yard line.
Where’s our pass defense?
Missing in action again, I’m afraid. Unphased by the Rams’ stuttering run game, QB Jared Goff took to the air. He threw for 372 yards and two TDs, thanks largely to chunk plays to wide receiver Cooper Kupp. Finding acres of room in the middle of the field thanks to poor zonal coverage, Kupp notched 165 yards on five catches by half-time, and two more for 55 yards after the break.
On one play, cornerback BW Webb was caught between two receivers after a double-reverse flea flicker. Goff eventually threw the ball to Kupp on the sidelines, Webb slipped and fell flat on his face, and the WR sped away for a 65-yard TD. Even after the break, when Kupp was finally double-covered, Goff still managed to thread a 40-yard needle to him on a third-and-10. Wideout Josh Reynolds also busted coverage for a 31-yard touchdown throw, but whose brainwave was it to have rookie linebacker Germaine Pratt ‘covering’ him? File that under the trials and tribulations of Defensive Coordinator Lou Anarumo.
Then there were the failed interceptions. Shawn Willams dropped one and there was also a play in which three Bengals juggled the ball before it plopped to the ground. In years to come, this will form a series of jokes, based on the “how many Bengals does it take to change a lightbulb?” concept. No wonder we’re on course to bag only four interceptions, equalling the fewest ever in a season.
Can we at least rely on Special Teams?
Probably. Alas, there were no opportunities for Brandon Wilson’s kick return fireworks this week but punter Kevin Huber had another cracking game. Two of his five punts landed inside the Rams’ 10-yard line, of which one forced the Rams to start on their own 1-yard line.
Are we going to lose again next week?
A definitive no! (Thanks to our bye, we get a week off from losing.) But in Week 10, the Bengals host AFC North rivals the Baltimore Ravens and their crazy-legged QB Lamar Jackson. That signals a return to being burned by the running game, I guess…
So that’s where we are – a little progress here and a little regression there but it’s all much of a muchness. And we’ll stay firmly camped in the NFL basement for some time to come unless we change our approach to trades, the coaching staff or the playing personnel.
Unfortunately, history tells us the Bengals won’t do any of those things. So other than throwing a rookie QB in for a few games behind the same old leaky offensive line, we can expect the same old answers to the same old questions for the rest of this god-forsaken campaign – and probably next season too.
Feature Picture – Credit: Getty Images