Bengals’ Troubles: How Much Are Injuries to Blame?

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Sep 7, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Cincinnati Bengals medical staff tends to tight end Tyler Eifert (85) as he lays on the ground injured during the first quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals have been plagued by injuries throughout 2014.  Injuries can be difficult to overcome especially when playing in the highly competitive AFC North.  It can really bring down a talented team and make them simply average.  But is this really the case with the Bengals?

This season, the Bengals’ offense has lost several players due to injury.  Marvin Jones has missed the entire year while, other than a single quarter, Tyler Eifert has missed every game and may be out for the remainder of the year.

The offense has also been without A.J. Green often as he’s dealt with a nagging toe injury.  While he’s returned from this injury in recent games, Green has admitted that he won’t likely be entirely healthy this year.

"“It’s (toe) probably not gonna be 100 percent, but I hope it’s just manageable.  I can get through the season and play at a high level.”"

Running back Giovani Bernard has missed the last two games while Andre Smith missed the Browns game as well.  The offensive line has also been without arguably their best blocker in Kevin Zeitler for much of the year due to a calf injury.

On the defensive side of the ball, Bengals star defensive tackle Geno Atkins has only recently looked like his old self as he continues to regain his form following last year’s ACL injury; Atkins missed the entire preseason, so these games have basically been his training camp.  To make matters worse in the middle of the line, Brandon Thompson has also been missing for much of the season due to a knee injury of his own.  It’s made the Bengals very thin along the line.

At linebacker, Vontaze Burfict has been in-and-out of the lineup due to concussions and an arthroscopic knee procedure.  His absence is a big deal to a defense that he leads.  The Bengals best run-stopping linebacker, Rey Maualuga, has also been missing the last four games due to a hamstring injury.

To really round things out on defense, Leon Hall missed the game against the Browns due to a concussion; the timetable for his return is unknown at this point.

The Bengals’ injury report for the season has clearly been a daunting one.  Losing this many key players and starters would impact any team and would make forming an identity difficult.  Consistency would also be an issue as “gelling” within units would be effected.  The suggestion that injuries have taken it’s toll on this team does hold some legitimacy, but hardly tells the whole story.

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The “next man up” concept is one the Bengals should be able to employ effectively.  They’ve done well to acquire great depth within the roster over the past few years; it’s been one of the bright spots one could point to when discussing the Bengals.  This should enable the Bengals to deal with at least some of their injuries effectively.

More than this though is the manner in which the Bengals lost their three contests against the Patriots, Colts, and Browns.  With regards to each of these games, it’s incredibly difficult to make the claim that the addition of some players would’ve changed the outcome.  The Bengals were thoroughly dismantled in each game: 43-17, 27-0, and 24-3 respectively.  These types of results show the Bengals have bigger issues than simply injuries.

First, it seems the Bengals simply can’t win games against quality opponents.  Despite beating the Ravens twice, the Bengals’ three losses came against opponents with a combined 19-8 record while each opponent stands atop their respective division.  Meanwhile, the Bengals five wins and one tie have come against opponents with a combined 21-35-1 record.  Those wins have come against the Ravens (last in the AFC North), Jacksonville (last in the AFC South), Tennessee (third in the AFC South), and Atlanta (third in the NFC South) while their lone tie came against Carolina (2nd in the NFC South).  None of these teams have proven themselves to be quality opponents thus far, and the AFC and NFC South may be the worst divisions in football.

Beyond their issue against quality teams, the Bengals have also continued to struggle during “big games.”  The Bengals have consistently faltered when playing “under the lights” or during prime time for several years now.  So much so that safety George Iloka had this to say following the Bengals most recent loss (per Paul Dehner of the Cincinnati Enquirer).

"“I think when it’s a prime time game we want to win so bad, when one thing goes wrong then some guys fold up and some guys are like (shoot), like damn. We put too much emphasis on it. When it’s not a prime time game and we get down we’re not nervous it’s like (alright) let’s fight our way back in it.”"

Even if the Bengals manage to make the playoffs this year, it’s really hard to believe in this team.  When seeing such a substantial difference in the team’s play, depending on the circumstances game, most “realists” would have a hard time believing that the Bengals would suddenly turn things around if they are still playing come January.

There’s little argument over the fact that injuries have clearly impacted this team.  This amount of key injuries would impact any team.  But the Bengals’ issues outside of health are far to big to use health as an all-encompassing argument for this team’s struggles.  Until the Bengals can find a way to be both confident and consistent during these big moments, the health of this team will matter little.