What a difference just a few weeks can make. After the first few games of the season, it looked like the Cincinnati Bengals were quickly headed for irrelevance in 2017. But now they sit just a game back in the AFC North at 2-3, with both the Ravens and the Steelers at 3-2 in the early goings.
Much of it has had to do with quarterback Andy Dalton playing better over the course of the past few games since the team let their previous offensive coordinator go. While he did throw two interceptions in Sunday to only one touchdown, he has been moving the ball much more efficiently, and has seven touchdown passes to two interceptions over the past three games.
While the ground game is still proving to be inefficient—their leading ball carrier, rookie Joe Mixon, averaged 3.4 yards per carry on 15 rushes—the passing offense has been much better, and a big reason why is because Pro Bowler A.J. Green has gotten more involved.
Through the first two games, Green had 10 receptions for 141 yards, but he has added 22 receptions for 363 yards over the course of the past three games. He exploded for 189 yards on seven receptions against the Bills, and he has a touchdown reception in each of the past three games.
He did have a significant fumble lost at the Bills’ 19-yard line about midway through the third quarter, produced a turnover that Buffalo would ultimately net a field goal out of on their subsequent drive, a giveaway that also took them out of field goal range and made the win much closer in the end at 20-16.
But Dalton has been averaging more than nine yards per pass attempt in each of the past two games. His accuracy dipped some on Sunday, but overall, his completion percentage has been on a significant upward trajectory.
It doesn’t seem, to me at least, that the offensive line has necessarily played all that much better—he has still been sacked seven times over the past three games, including three apiece in the two games preceding Sunday’s—so he is either getting used to it, or new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has just been allowing him to be more comfortable.
Dalton was even playing on a bothersome ankle that required taping up in the middle of the game, and has had to work without his star tight end, Tyler Eifert, as well as his new trinket at wide receiver, the first-round pick, John Ross, whose only touch of the season to date was a 12-yard end-around that produced a fumble.
The Bengals are showing signs of life—both on offense and defense—which is the last thing that the Steelers really need right now. Pittsburgh will be hosting them at Heinz Field in just two weeks, and they will be coming off their bye.