Is it too early to determine whether or not the Cincinnati Bengals will make the playoffs or go far if they do? Absolutely. But if the 24-21 loss to the Chicago Bears tells us anything about this year’s Bengals, it’s that this team isn’t ready yet.
Now, in all fairness, the Bengals are still going to win their fair share of games, and if I were to predict which team in the AFC North will win the division, it would be the Bengals.
Don’t get too excited, because this year’s AFC North isn’t as strong as it was two years ago. Both the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are old, skeletal remains of the teams that dominated the league for nearly a decade. The Steelers offensive line is even more porous now that Maurkice Pouncey is out with a torn knee. Its defense is a mix of NFL newborns and players ready to collect retirement pensions – it’s not a good mix.
The Ravens gave up just about every player from last season’s Super Bowl roster to help pay the king’s ransom for Joe Flacco.
All this means that the Bengals’ chances of making the playoffs are good, and that will be more clear this Monday if they can wipe the floor with the Steelers at home. But this team just doesn’t look as good as the hype that’s surrounded them this season.
After week 1, here’s why:
The defense did an okay job at stopping Jay Cutler and the Bear’s offense until it mattered. Silly penalties by Dre Kirkpatrick and Rey Maualuga killed any momentum at the end of each half. Kirkpatrick’s penalty gave Bear’s kicker Robbie Gould his shot at the 58-yard field goal that he made.
Maualuga gave the Bear’s a fresh set of downs at the end of the fourth that would otherwise have given the Bengals a shot to tie the game with just over a minute left.
Besides those two miscues, the Bengals’ defense did an average job on the day against an average offense. The Bears have the potential to be a potent offense, but last Sunday it was anything but good.
Cutler was good enough for the win, completing 21 of 33 passes with two touchdowns and a 93.2 quarterback rating. Both touchdowns came after a Bengal’s turnover, and if you take away those drives Cutler’s numbers weren’t impressive until the fourth quarter.
The defense was unable to put much pressure on Cutler and that is with the Bear’s very green offensive line made up of two rookies and two new additions to the team this year.
If the Bengal’s want to make a run at the playoffs and beyond this year, the defensive line is going to have to produce like it did in 2012 and put pressure on the quarterbacks.
It was discussed before Sunday’s game that the turnover battle would determine the outcome of the game. Well, the Bears mustered three turnovers out of the Bengals on two interceptions and a fumble. The Bengals eked out one interception.
Andy Dalton played a very good game on Sunday and only one interception could be considered his fault with the other coming off a tipped ball by A.J. Green. Also, the Bengals went into Sundays’ game knowing the Bears are ball-stripping specialists with 26 forced fumbles in 2012 (second in NFL) – Mohamed Sanu should have displayed better ball control.
The biggest concern going forward is the Bengals’ defense’s ability to force turnovers. The offense looks to be on par with last year’s team, if not better, so the Bengals’ secondary that finished with 14 interceptions in 2012 (16th in the NFL) is going to have to swing the turnover pendulum in their direction.
You would think after being head coach in the NFL for the same team for more than a decade that whoever he may be would have a grasp on in-game management and personnel management. Somehow these things seem to have eluded Marvin Lewis all these years, and last Sunday was no exception.
With close to nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Bengals used their second time out on a crucial fourth down because they didn’t have enough defensive players on the field.
As if this lesson wasn’t good enough, on the very next play after giving up the conversion, the Bengals are flagged for having too many players on the field. Of course the obvious solution to this would be use the final time out with more than eight minutes left in the game.
These errors proved very costly when the team couldn’t stop the clock late in the fourth quarter to get the ball back and attempt to tie.
This isn’t the first time some oddball decisions have been made by Lewis and it certainly won’t be the last. I’m surprised the Bengals haven’t created a specific position with the only requirement being to tell Lewis when, and when not to use a time out.
The Bengals have the talent to be champions, but they have yet to display the character and aptitude to be champions. It’s often the smartest team, not just the most physical that makes it to the Super Bowl.
In order to set the bar beyond a ticket to the playoffs, the Bengals will need to play with more refinement and this Monday is a perfect opportunity.