Somewhat lost in the euphoria of Sunday’s win against previously unbeaten New England and the snapping of Tom Brady’s 52-game touchdown pass streak was the fact the Cincinnati Bengals offense continued to show signs of struggle.
While 13 points were good enough to win that game thanks to a superior defensive effort, on most Sundays it’s a total that will get a team beat.
One area where the offense has been especially deficient, other than consistency, is creating explosive plays.
Using the Stats, LLC definition of an explosive play (15 yards or more on a run and 25 yards or more on a pass), the Bengals have had nine since the first half of the season opener against Chicago.
A.J. Green caught passes of 42 and 45 yards in that first half against the Bears, but since then his longest reception has been for 20.
“I just have to be patient,” said Green, who has 31 catches for 361 yards this season compared to 36 receptions for 493 yards through the first five games last year
“The season’s still young,” Green added. “I can’t get frustrated.”
Since the pair of 40-yarders in the opener, the Bengals have had one play cover more than 32 yards, and that was a short pass that rookie tight end Tyler Eifert converted into a gain of 61 against the Steelers.
Marvin Jones, the fastest and most likely target other than Green for a deep ball, has a season-long catch of 28 yards. Mohamed Sanu’s is 32. And tight end Jermaine Gresham’s is 26.
‘We’ve got to take our chances with some of these other guys,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “(Green) is not the only guy who can go deep for us. We’ve got other guys who can make plays.”
Of the 11 explosive plays the Bengals have recorded, two have come in the running game. Rookie Giovani Bernard had a 17-yard gain in the Green Bay game and a 28-yarder Sunday against the Patriots.
And both of those runs illustrated how important those chunk plays are to offensive success as neither resulted in a touchdown, but both came on touchdown drives.
In fact, nine of the 11 explosive plays the offense has created this year have come on touchdown drives, while another led to a field goal. And only one of them — Green’s 45-yarder at Chicago — has been the finishing play on a scoring drive.
“We’ve got to find more ways to get some of these drives that aren’t taking a huge amount of plays to score,” Dalton said. “We’ve got to find ways to get some explosive plays, big plays, big chunks that will get us down there. We’re trying to find those.”
The encouraging news for the Bengals is they haven’t been completely reliant on the big play. The offense has eight scoring drives of 10 plays or more this year, including each of its last five.
But because of the lack of explosive plays, the Bengals are averaging 4.88 yards per snap, which ranks 19th in the NFL.
And in terms of total offense, they are tied for 22nd, behind the 0-5 New York Giants, 0-4 Pittsburgh and 1-3 Minnesota.
“With the talent that we have on offense, we’ve got to do a lot better,” offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. “We’ve got a good unit, a good, talented group. We haven’t come close to our standards yet, but brighter days are ahead. We can get there quickly.”