The Cincinnati Bengals still have no solutions for their continuing struggles, but head coach Zac Taylor still believes they are just a few plays away from turning the corner.
He insists the staff and players aren’t leaving any stone unturned in trying to figure out how to get over the hump.
Cincinnati managed just 33 yards rushing and gave up 269 yards rushing in a 23-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, as the Bengals fell to 0-6 with four losses decided by a touchdown or less. They remain one of just two teams in the league without a win this season. The Miami Dolphins are winless through five games.
“We’ve had good meetings in response to the loss to Baltimore,” Taylor said during his press conference Monday at Paul Brown Stadium. “It was another frustrating loss. Certainly, there were things we think we could have done better to give ourselves a better chance to win. There were some plays we feel we left on the field on both sides of the ball that would have given us that opportunity, but we didn’t make them and that’s where we are right now. Our guys are excited and encouraged to get back to work and keep finding a way to get that first win so we can get some momentum going in our direction. We’ve given ourselves a chance in the fourth quarter. Someone has to step up and make that one play.”
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While the Bengals have been “close,” they haven’t been nearly good enough statistically and all too have not put themselves in a good position early in games to be successful.
They rank last in both run defense and offense, allowing 184.5 yards per game on the ground while managing just 56.5 yards rushing. Cincinnati was only marginally better defending against the run last year, ranking 29th while allowing 137.8 yards rushing, but running back Joe Mixon led the AFC in rushing yards with 1,168 yards last year and has just 252 yards on 74 carries through six games this season.
On Sunday, Mixon had 10 yards on eight carries, coming off a 93-yard effort against Arizona the week before when he accounted for 60 of those yards on the first drive.
Taylor might never be able to get his offense going the way he wants with the offensive line struggling as it has, though. The line, which has seen injuries at left tackle and both guard spots, has cut down on blown assignments leading to sacks the last two weeks but still hasn’t done enough in the run game, and the Bengals average just 16.2 points per game.
“We’re still working to find that chemistry up front,” Taylor said. “These guys need reps side-by-side, and it hasn’t happened. They are not miss-targeted. In the protections, there’s not just guys running free. … I think overall, the last two games, especially in the protections, they’ve been targeted, they’ve done a nice job. Andy gets hit occasionally, but they’ve prevented the sacks. It’s just we’ve got to get the run game going. We talk about it every day. We are trying to find the best answers. We are trying to find the best rhythm for the five guys that are up there. It’s an ongoing conversation.”
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Defensively, the Bengals didn’t give up a touchdown after the first quarter Sunday, but the Ravens got three field goals over the final three quarters to stretch their lead to 23-10 with 3:46 left.
With Lamar Jackson racking up 152 yards rushing on 19 carries and Mark Ingram adding 52 yards on 13 attempts, Baltimore had possession almost 40 minutes of the game. The Bengals were missing defensive linemen Carlos Dunlap, Kerry Wynn and Ryan Glasgow, and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was carted off with a knee injury. Cornerback Will Jackson and safety Shawn Williams also were off the field for portions of the game because of injuries or fatigue.
“We’ve faced really four quarterbacks — Russell Wilson, Josh Allen, Kyler Murray and now Lamar Jackson — that extend plays as well as anybody in the league, and that’s been a real challenge for our guys up front,” Taylor said Monday. “It’s not as good as we want to be in any area, in any phase of the team right now, but we’ve given ourselves a chance in the fourth quarter. We’ve had some really rough games, especially in the first half, and the team keeps fighting to give themselves a chance in the second half. Again, someone has to step up and make that one play that changes the game for us.”
On the bright side, reinforcements could be on the way. Wide receiver A.J. Green put on pads last week for the first time since suffering an ankle injury on Day 1 of training camp, and Taylor said he continues to show progress. The hope was for him to be able to go through full practices this week, but Taylor said he didn’t want to make any promises.
Cornerback Darqueze Dennard also is eligible to come off the Physically Unable to Perform list this week, and the Bengals have a 21-day window to take a look at him and see if he is ready to contribute.
In the meantime, Taylor will keep analyzing everything the team does to find ways to improve what they are doing with the personnel they have now.
“We’re just trying to do what we can to win,” he said. “We are trying to find any formula we can to consistently score points. We analyze everything that happens throughout the course of the week to try to find improvement so we can score points and take pressure off our defense.”
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