Down, but Not Dead - Yet
Uh oh. There’s that familiar feeling. The feeling Bengals fans thought they left behind last year. The one where you just know the opposing team’s backup quarterback is going to have a career day. That sense of dread that sets in every drop back and handoff; the impending disaster that’s about to unfold in front of your eyes.
Super Bowl hangover strikes again, but instead of Mitchell Trubisky, this time it was Cooper Rush who gutted the Bengals. Quarterback Joe Burrow and the Bengals offense was utterly stymied by a Dallas Cowboys defense that was flying around the field all day. It was another offensive meltdown - a performance that’s starting to rightfully raise concerns. Burrow took six more sacks today, making that thirteen through two games. At this rate, he's going to be ground turkey before Thanksgiving!
The offensive line, again, looked helpless in the passing game. Right tackle La’el Collins, in particular, was a turnstile for Cowboys edge rusher Micah Parsons. Another day, another defender making a run for Defensive Player of the Year. The Steelers’ T.J. Watt threw his hat in the ring last week with a sack, an interception and three tackles for a loss. This week, Parsons made his case: two sacks, two tackles for a loss, and countless pressures.
It was a pitiful affair. Now, things start to look very sketchy for the Bengals moving forward. The beginning of their schedule was supposed to be the easy part. With a 0 - 2 start, they’ve dug themselves a mighty hole. Up next are the New York Jets, who start their own backup QB in Joe Flacco. If this sounds like a game the Bengals should win, stop and immediately put that thought out of your head. This Bengals team does not deserve that kind of confidence. Not after this start.
While the offense continued to stink though two games, the defense, once again, stepped up to keep things within reach. Cowboys QB Cooper Rush, who was starting in place of the injured Dak Prescott, didn’t quite have a Mike-White-caliber game, but he made huge throws in big spots, particularly to backup receiver Noah Brown, and for the most part avoided any major mistakes.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Week One versus the Steelers was supposed to be the wake-up call. The Bengals overslept, spilled coffee on their shirt on the way to their car and got t-boned trying to run a red light a mile from their office. Not the way you want to start a new year after getting a shiny new promotion.
There’s still reason to believe this team can turn things around. It’s a seventeen-game schedule and a lot can happen between now and the end of the year. The Bengals have so far avoided any significant injuries to key players, although second-string tight end Drew Sample did leave the game with a knee injury. The offensive line was miserable again, but with four new starters, there was always going to be a learning curve, and Micah Parsons and T.J. Watt are two of the toughest edge rushing tests imaginable for a raw group of pass protectors.
Most importantly, though, this Bengals team continues to show resilience in the face of chaos. Time after time, the defense made a huge stop. And despite falling short in the end, the offense made plays to climb from a 17 - 3 deficit at halftime. Hope remains, but if you want to start panicking, I can’t really argue.
If you want to point fingers, there were two main culprits today: Collins, and cornerback Eli Apple. After two weeks, Collins has looked like a disastrous addition at right tackle. Somehow, it feels like he’s a downgrade from what backup tackle Isaiah Prince gave the Bengals in the postseason last year. He was beaten over and over again by Parsons, and the Cowboys second-year superstar had Collins so spooked that the eight-year vet was called for two false starts.
As for Apple, I’ve been a big defender of his play in the past, but this was a rough week for the former Ohio State Buckeye. Fellow Buckeye Noah Brown befuddled Apple all day, beating him downfield for several big gains and drawing back-breaking holding calls. After being such a reliable presence for the team last year, Apple was back to being a punchline.
It’s back to the drawing board for the Bengals. The one reprieve the Bengals got was the rest of the AFC North lost today as well, with the Steelers falling to the New England Patriots, and the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens both losing heartbreakers to the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins, respectively. They’re down, but not dead - but if they fall to the Jets next week, you can start writing those obituaries.