It was only game two last season in the middle of the third quarter against the Denver Broncos when Jordan Shipley grasped his left knee after catching a 5 yard pass from quarterback Andy Dalton. Bengals fans feared for the worst; and the worst happened. Shipley would be out for the rest of the season after tearing his ACL.
From that point on, the Bengals struggled on short to intermediate routes for the remainder of the season. Andre Caldwell filled in for Shipley in the slot position, but was an inconsistent target. He didn’t seem to be running his routes as precisely as the second year player, Shipley did. Caldwell never seemed to be on the same page with his rookie quarterback.
The other factor that hurt Cincinnati here was that they began to rely more on Jermaine Gresham for those short routes over the middle, which didn’t give him the opportunity to do what he does best and stretch the field over the middle by creating mismatches against linebackers and safeties.
Having Jerome Simpson at the number two position did not help matters being an inconsistent route runner himself (to put it gently). Simpson struggled through games which in turn allowed defenses to double cover rookie deep threat A.J. Green.
All of that being said, keep in mind the sub-par red-zone numbers that the Bengals posted last season. The Bengals were able to convert red-zone attempts into touchdowns 44.44% of the time last season. Good enough for 25th in the league. A big part of that was the lack of a consistent short to intermediate route runner who can catch in traffic. Not having Shipley in these situations allowed teams to focus more on Gresham and Green, which limited the options for quarterback Andy Dalton.