The perfect start for the Cincinnati Bengals ended in glaringly imperfect fashion under the Monday night lights as the offense had its worst performance since another primetime flop, the 24-3 loss to Cleveland last year.
Not only did the Bengals offense produce a season-low 256 total yards in the 10-6 home loss to Houston, it converted only 4 of 14 third downs, turned the ball over twice and dropped numerous passes, including three key ones by tight end Tyler Eifert.
All of it added up to waste a strong performance by a Cincinnati defense that has held opponents to 10 points in three consecutive games to take over the NFL lead for fewest points allowed
Here are the grades from the first loss of the season.
Rush offense: D-
The 73 yards were a season low, and 30 of them came from quarterback Andy Dalton. Jeremy Hill’s struggles continued with 21 yards on seven carries. He had a 15-yarder that would have equaled his longest run of the year negated by an illegal formation penalty. One game after Mohamed Sanu scored a 30-yard touchdown on a reverse, Marvin Jones got dropped for an 8-yard loss on the play. Giovani Bernard averaged a solid 4.5 yards per carry, but he only got the ball eight times.
Pass offense: D
The Bengals had just two gains of 20 yards or more. They had at least twice that many drops. Tight end Tyler Eifert had his worst game as a pro, dropping three passes, all of which would have produced first downs. The offensive line gave up a three sacks, and two of the Bengals nine penalties came on false starts by receivers. Dalton’s completion percentage (57.9), passing yards (197) and passer rating (61.0) were all season lows, and his 16 incompletions were a season high.
Rush defense: A-
The Bengals held the Texans to 82 yards on the ground, and 15 of them came on a scramble by quarterback Brian Hoyer. Take away that play, and Houston rushed for 67 yards on 24 carries, a 2.8 average. Only four of the Texans’ 16 first downs came on the ground.
Pass defense: A-
The Bengals logged three sacks and limited the Texans tandem of Brian Hoyer and T.J. Yates to 192 yards, a 51.5 completion percentage and a 66.7 passer rating. It took an amazing one-handed catch by Houston wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to produce the game’s only touchdown. Cincinnati also held Houston to 5 of 15 on third-down conversions, most of which were passing situations. It was the third consecutive game in which the pass defense did not give up a gain longer than 29 yards.
Special teams: C
The Bengals committed two penalties on special teams, one of which negated Adam Jones’ 27-yard punt return that would have set up the offense at the Houston 28 early in the game. Mike Nugent made both of his field goals, but none of this three kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Punter Kevin Huber had a rare off day, averaging just 41.1 yards on seven boots, including a 39.7-yard net. And the kick return unit managed a 17-yard average that was the lowest mark since the season opener.
It hardly looked like offensive coordinator Hue Jackson had 11 days to plan for a middling Houston defense, but on the other hand, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther appeared to have 11 weeks of preparation for the Houston offense. Then again, it was Brian Hoyer and T.J. Yates running the show for the Texans. It’s hard to blame the coaching staff for all of the dropped passes, interceptions and fumbles that plagued the offense from start to finish. But the sloppy, discombobulated start certainly reflects on some ineffective prep time, especially when more than usual was available.