At this stage, it’s tough to get a read on the Cincinnati Bengals.
On one hand, the Bengals split their first two games against teams who won double-digit games last year. Were it not for a disputable fumble ruling, the Bengals could well be sitting pretty at 2-0, and this is without two soon-to-return Pro Bowlers in Vontaze Burfict and Tyler Eifert.
On the other hand, the Bengals could also be winless were it not for an ill-advised Ryan Fitzpatrick interception. Along with that, Bengals fans might not need to blame an officiating gaffe for costing them the game had Cincinnati not started off so flat against Pittsburgh.
A case can be made in either direction, but the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. That’s why, though they had opportunities to be undefeated and/or winless, the Bengals split the difference and are sitting at 1-1. But, no matter which side of that coin you fall on, there’s one thing all can agree on.
The Bengals can’t run the ball.
Cincinnati can get by without an elite rushing attack, but the absence of an average one will be detrimental to its offense. And right now, Cincinnati’s run game is a ways away from average. Through two weeks, the Bengals are 31st in the league with 37 total carries for just 103 yards (2.8) yards per rush.
Jeremy Hill “leads” the way for Cincinnati with 20 carries for all of 53 yards. Teammate Giovani Bernard trails him with 10 for 42. What’s curious about their struggles is the fact that, with much of the same personnel, the Bengals have been a strong running team in recent years.
Cincinnati was 13th in the league in rushing in 2015 and sixth in the league in rushing the season prior. Hill and Bernard were the team’s primary runners each year. Both runners are still quite young so it’s foolish to think that they’ve declined to such a degree. Instead, much of Cincinnati’s struggles fall at the feet of the offensive line.
Of course, that was fairly obvious after Andy Dalton was taken down seven times in Cincinnati’s opener against the Jets. But the Bengals’ struggles don’t start and end with pass protection. As you’ll see in Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) grades for Cincinnati’s meeting with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati’s pass protection was much improved in Week 2.
Even still, Cincinnati’s offensive line came out of that matchup with issues to correct. PFF notes that Cincinnati struggled to get much of a push up front and, in turn, there was rarely any space for the Bengals’ tailbacks to operate. The Bengals lost arguably their best run-blocker, Andre Smith in free agency. His departure could be playing a part in their struggles.
Unfortunately for Cincinnati, the sledding doesn’t get any easier this week with the Denver Broncos on deck. Denver was a top-five run defense last season. Not even Emmitt Smith and “The Great Wall of Dallas,” could excel against that murderer’s row of run defenses. Still, the extent to which Cincinnati has struggled is a sign that it could be a season-long problem.
The effects on the Bengals’ offense have been obvious. Andy Dalton is still able to move the ball downfield, as evidenced by his 732 passing yards after just two games. But opponents are content to give up that yardage, confident that their defense can clamp down in the red zone. Thus far, they’ve been proven right. In spite of the gaudy passing numbers, Cincinnati’s averaging just 19.5 points a game.
If ever there were a week break the trend, this one isn’t it. But it’d still be a good week for Cincinnati to insert some new wrinkles on offense and try to get something going on the ground. They may not be playing dominating run defenses all year long, but come playoff time they certainly will be.