Can last year tell us anything about this year? In this series, we’ll look at the Bengals’ schedule game by game, analyzing the good and bad from each week.
Now that it has been almost 10 months since the beginning of last season, we have forgotten a lot of the storylines from last year’s team. Reviewing the box scores, game flows, and workload distributions from last season should provide some context for the projections for this upcoming year. Each article will deal with one week from the 2017 season. This pilot article will focus on Week 1, which was the Bengals’ first game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Week 1 was certainly a poor omen for the Bengals’ season. In a game that was never close, the Ravens beat the Bengals 20-0. After a frustrating first quarter, the Bengals were still in the game, but the tide turned quickly in the second quarter. Down 3-0, Andy Dalton led the offense all the way to the Baltimore 9 yard line before throwing a brutal interception in the end zone. Shortly thereafter, the Ravens scored a touchdown to go up 10-0 at halftime. Dalton threw another two picks in the second half, and the Ravens tacked on another 10 points in the third quarter. The Bengals never threatened to come back after halftime.
The biggest takeaway from this game was Andy Dalton’s brutal performance. His final stat line for the game was 16/31 for 170 yards and no touchdowns. That alone is a really poor performance, but Dalton made it much worse by turning the ball over five times. He threw four interceptions – including the game-changing red zone pick – and fumbled once. Dalton’s stat line told the story of his game, too. His passes were not on target at all, sometimes missing receivers by several feet. He also struggled to complete any balls downfield, leading to a dismal average passing yardage of only 4 yards per attempt. This was quite possibly the worst game of Dalton’s career.
The running game for the Bengals wasn’t much better. To start the year, the team utilized a running back by committee approach, which did not work against Baltimore. Giovani Bernard led the team with 40 yards on just 7 attempts. Jeremy Hill (6 carries for 26 yard) and Joe Mixon (8 carries for 9 yards) also got work, but were much less effective. Mixon’s production in particular lacked efficiency, and reinforced Marvin Lewis’ decision not to let him be the bell cow. While this was likely not the right decision, it was clear that Mixon was still adjusting to the NFL. Overall, the by committee approach did not work for the Bengals in any respect in this game, making the offense as a whole horrific.
On that note, the terrible offensive production was another big takeaway from the Ravens game. Former offensive coordinator Ken Zampese was already on the hot seat entering the 2017 season, and this game did nothing to assure his job security. As we know now, Zampese only lasted one more game (we’ll get to that in the Week 2 article), but it was this awful Week 1 performance that did him in.
The biggest issue with the offense was that it lacked creativity. The Bengals ran a lot of simple between-the-tackles runs and two wide receiver sets on pass plays. Zampese did not utilize the elite pass catching ability of the Bengals’ running backs or the ability to run two tight end sets at all. Certainly, no Bengals offensive player had a good game, but that blame falls on Ken Zampese’s shoulders.
Not every Bengals player had a bad week. There were a couple guys who showed out despite the outcome. On the offensive side, AJ Green was the lone bright spot. He caught 5 passes for 74 yards, keeping the passing game afloat. Green did what elite WR1s are supposed to do when the team is struggling; it just wasn’t enough.
On the defensive side of the ball, there were some good performances as well. The team recorded one interception, awarded to Nick Vigil. Vigil, in his first career start, notched 9 total tackles and a pick in what amounted to a very solid performance. Geno Atkins also played very well, recording 7 total tackles and the team’s only sack. Lastly, Vincent Rey had a really good game filing in for the suspended Vontaze Burfict. Per usual, Rey played well, leading the team in total tackles with 11. The defense actually played okay, holding the Ravens to 20 points. However, the offense was not nearly good enough to take advantage of the defense’s performance.
Overall, Week 1 was an unmitigated disaster. It got the team off on the wrong foot and set a poor tone for the Bengals’ season. Unfortunately, the season did not turn around for them.