The Cincinnati Bengals are overdue. After losing back-to-back prime time battles, the Bengals are only two games ahead of the surging Pittsburgh Steelers. The AFC North could get pretty interesting if the Rams waltz into Paul Brown Stadium and hand the Bengals another loss. The Men in Black haven’t lost three in a row since the 2012 season. It’s now Week 12 and the playoffs are around the corner. This is a must-win game and the Bengals need to rediscover who they are.
Through the franchise record 8-0 start, the Bengals were a team that attacked the opponent and made adjustments at halftime. During the two-game losing streak, the team has played well enough to win but either lacked one key play to take the game or committed costly mistakes. Against the Texans, there was a total of 70 yards worth of penalties. That’s way too many for a team cruising towards the postseason.
In the shootout against the Cardinals, the Bengals were hit with a whopping 10 flags for 108 yards. To be honest, the Cardinals and Texans didn’t beat the Bengals. They did a marvelous job of giving the games away. Almost 200 yards worth of penalties in two games is unacceptable.
But beyond that, the Bengals have encountered an identity crisis. Are they a team that has suddenly fallen in love with the pass, or are they a physical team with a punishing offensive line? Bengals fans and analysts are wondering the same thing. Hue Jackson gave an explanation per ESPN.
“It’s not 2014.”
“Everybody’s comparing it to last year and then there’s the fantasy stats and all that,” Jackson explained. “I don’t get caught up in that. Our head coach doesn’t get caught up in that. It’s about winning. It’s not any of that other stuff.”
If it’s not about that other stuff, what is it about? The Bengals seemed to fall off in the running game. That’s what defines the AFC North style of play. There are always big bruising running backs, with the speed and power of semi-trucks. The luxury of having an elite quarterback took a back seat to gritty defense and 1,000-yard rushers. Andy Dalton seems to have come of age and is being asked to drop back almost 40 times a game. That seems to be the fad with coordinators around the league.
When the Bengals play a balanced game, the result is a “W.” There’s only one game that stands out as an anomaly. That blip was the game at Heinz Field against division rival Pittsburgh. Dalton dropped back to pass 38 times and the ground game was used 17 times. The defense played a monster game, and a heroic fourth quarter drive from Dalton saved the day. A lot can be said for emotion.
Emotion is a grand thing. Football is an angry, violent chess game with sudden stops and starts that are controlled by coaches with attitudes. It demands an understanding that many don’t see and refuse to learn. But when executed perfectly, it’s as graceful as ballet.
The Bengals are a perfect blend of talent. There’s speed, agility, and brute strength. The players have the desire to move forward and forget the past. That shows pride and determination. But it all must come together and blend into a unit that has the ability to adjust and win. The perfect season is gone. Moving forward, there has to be a renewing of poise and purpose.
The Bengals are going to make the playoffs. That’s just a matter of winning three of the remaining six games. But backing into the postseason isn’t pretty. The Steelers are around the bend and they still have a chip on their shoulder.
The Bengals need to rediscover who they are, before the rest of the league tries to tell them.
[Feature Photo by Christian Petersen / Getty Images]