We are now in the middle of the week following the Pittsburgh Steelers’ victory over the AFC North division rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals. The post-game press conferences have been given, and we have had time to decompress and to evaluate and take stock of the implications of the first division match of the season.
The Bengals were the first of the really viable teams in the division to drop a game, as both the Steelers and Ravens are 2-0, and, courtesy of Pittsburgh, the Bengals are now 1-1—the increasingly irrelevant Browns are 0-2 and preparing to start their third quarterback in three games.
While quarterback Andy Dalton and the Bengals’ offense certainly were able to put up a good deal of yardage against the Steelers, as well as the Jets the week before—Dalton leads the league in passing yardage—they have only scored 39 points through two games, ranking 21st in the NFL.
Part of the reason for that is because they have struggled in situational football. They have done poorly both in terms of converting on third down as well as in turning red-zone opportunities into touchdowns rather than field goals.
The Bengals have converted just seven of 27 third-down attempts through two games, which is a conversion rate of just 26 percent. They went 4-for-16 against the Steelers. In the red zone, they have only scored one touchdown in six trips, including 0-for-3 on Sunday. This has all led to questions about the development of the offense, which has undergone some significant changes since last season.
For starters, Cincinnati lost offensive coordinator Hue Jackson to the Browns, who took over their head-coaching job. They also lost wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, their top wide receiver last year behind A.J. Green. Meanwhile, Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert remains out.
Yet Dalton was not ready on Tuesday to concede that their offense is a work in progress. “I wouldn’t say [that]”, he told reporters yesterday. “We hope guys improve and guys get more comfortable in our offense as time goes on”.
“It’s not a work in progress”, he added, “because these are the guys we have and the guys that we’re going to try to win games with. I’m confident with everybody we have here. I definitely wouldn’t say it’s a work in progress”.
That may not be an entirely unfair assessment, as new wide receivers Brandon LaFell and rookie Tyler Boyd have done reasonably well. LaFell has caught seven passes for 130 yards, averaging 18.6 yards per catch, while Boyd has caught eight passes for 102 yards. The absence of tight end Eifert is certainly felt, however.
In truth, Dalton has certainly born his share of the blame, particularly in the loss to the Steelers, as his inaccuracy was an issue in the game. But there does seem to be more than a bit of truth in the idea that the Bengals are ‘a work in progress’, whether Dalton accepts it or not.