The Bengals offense has been under a lot of scrutiny lately. After starting the season 3-1, hopes in the Queen City have quickly diminished. The Bengals have dropped the last the two games to the Browns and Steelers and now find themselves heading into week nine with a record of 3-4. If that isn’t bad enough, their AFC North opponents have been surging, leaving the team in third place in the division. Just one spot and one win better than the Browns.
Early in the season, everyone praised the offense and discounted the defense. The tides have definitely changed now that the season has progressed. As the defense is settling in, and they aren’t perfect yet by any means, they are finding their groove and have been able to make some more plays. The offense, however, has taken a turn for the worst.
The rushing game has been lackluster, at best. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has had decent games here and there, but he definitely hasn’t been the star the Bengals were hoping for. He is still a sturdy back, but seems to lack the elusiveness needed at the position. The offensive issues don’t stop with the running game, though.
The attention has now shifted to the passing game, led by second year quarterback Andy Dalton. Last year, Dalton threw just 13 interceptions in 16 games. This year, he has already racked up 10 interceptions in just 7 games. He is on pace for 20 interceptions this season and has already earned the honor of being only the second Bengals quarterback ever to throw at least one interception in the first seven games of the season.
The fans aren’t the only ones taking notice of this downhill slide of the young quarterback, either. In a press conference after Monday’s practice head coach Marvin Lewis was asked what stood out about his team. Without hesitation, Lewis stated,
“You have to play (well) at quarterback in order to win. That stands out if you look at each and every game. Look at the Dallas-Giants game. Offensively Dallas didn’t get off to a great start (because of) who ever. You have to take care of the ball on offense. You have to play efficiently at quarterback. That’s the way it is when you look at the games across the league…Turnovers beat you.”
It is nice to know that Lewis sees the issue. Now he needs to find a solution to stop the quarterback from sliding down this slippery slope of the sophomore slump. Not only has Dalton become turnover prone, he also possesses the AFC’s worst quarterback rating on third down with a 62.3 passer rating. This comes after Dalton was rated in the top five overall earlier in the season.
He definitely has many weapons at his disposal in the receivers. Obviously there is A.J. Green, but then there is Hawkins, Tate, Binns, Gresham, and the newcomer Sanu. These guys have been reliable all season. So it seems to someone sitting in the stands, that it really boils down to decision making once the ball leaves the quarterback’s hands.
However, after looking back at some games, there were some interesting points that I was able to pull out about Dalton’s interception issues. First of all, Dalton does not seem to turn the ball over in the air when he is on his opponent’s side of the field. All of his interceptions occurred on the Bengals side of the field. This is a good thing for scoring drives. Four of his ten interceptions fall directly on his shoulders. However, the other six can be blamed on him too. He just shares the blame with misfortune and bad route running or tipped balls. It is most notable though that 46 of the Bengals 187 points allowed have come from the quarterback’s interceptions. So looking at the scores the Bengals have been beaten by, the wins and losses are a direct result of his interceptions.
That goes right back to what Lewis said in his press conference. If the team wants to win, the turnovers are at least going to have to lessen, if not cease all together. How easy is that to fix, though? Decision making isn’t a physical skill, it is mental. So, mentally, can Dalton pull it together to help the Bengals get back to the playoffs?
Hopefully, the bye week will aid in clearing the offenses heads to get back to the grind. With the rest of the AFC being so muddled, the time to act is now. If Dalton can find a way to mentally get back into the game, he has the skills and the weapons to lead Cincinnati to the postseason.