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.
Heading into Week 3, the Bengals needed a win badly. Starting the season off 0-2, especially with two bad home losses, was a poor start. Going down 0-3 would be nothing less than a death knell. Having to play Green Bay inside Lambeau was a tall order, though, and it was too much for the Bengals. However, Week 3 was the first week the Bengals showed signs of life as a unit. Even though they dropped to Rodgers and the Pack, Week 3 was very encouraging.
Once the game kicked off, the Bengals seemed determined to show they had turned a page. The team converted their first drive of the game into a touchdown, their first of the season. The Packers quickly responded, but the Bengals scored again in the early second quarter. The momentum seriously shifted to Cincinnati when William Jackson III intercepted Rodgers and returned it for a touchdown.
The Bengals went into the half up 21-7, playing better than they had all season. The Packers methodically worked their way back to 21-17, but the Bengals answered late in the fourth with a field goal. Unfortunately, the Packers tied the game late then won in overtime, but the Bengals played valiantly.
The biggest storyline, obviously, was the offense’s drastic improvement. After flailing in the first two games, the Bengals sacked offensive coordinator Ken Zampese and turned controls to Bill Lazor. Lazor’s more creative style had an immediate impact, as the Bengals doubled their season output of points. The offense averaged almost a full yard more per play against Green Bay than against Houston. With just a few tweaks, the offense regained its confidence and played much more efficiently.
Individually, it was Andy Dalton who had the biggest turnaround. After looking lost the first two weeks, Dalton played great in Green Bay. He completed 21/27 passes for 212 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions. His depth of target increased drastically to almost 8 yards per attempt, showing he had gained confidence. One of the biggest reasons for this turnaround was the heavy reliance on number one receiver AJ Green. Green exploded for 10 catches, 111 yards, and a touchdown. Focusing on Green allowed Green to put more the offensive burden on his shoulders, which is good, and it opened the field up for the Bengals;’ secondary players.
The running game still wasn’t quite up to par, but Mixon did improve. Still operating in a running-back-by-committee approach, the coaching staff hesitated to unleash Mixon completely. Regardless, Mixon took 18 carries for 62 yards and caught 3 passes for 39 yards. The 3.4 yards per carry isn’t ideal, but Mixon at least showed he could be effective with a larger workload. Also, the pass catching was nice to see. Bernard was by far the most efficient back, taking only 5 touches for 39 yards and a touchdown.
On the defensive side, there was plenty of reason for excitement as well. The young talent had a breakout game, which boded well for the rest of the season. Linebacker Carl Lawson exploded for 2.5 sacks, which would jumpstart his incredible rookie season. William Jackson III also had his first big game, which included 3 tackles and a game-breaking pick six of Aaron Rodgers. Jackson showing out like that gave the coaching staff the confidence to play him later in the season.
There were a couple veterans who stood out as well. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap had a slow start to the season, but picked up his first sack of the season against Green Bay. Darqueze Dennard also had a big game at corner, leading the team with 10 tackles and a sack of his own. As a whole, the Bengals defense sacked Aaron Rodgers 6 times – an extremely impressive number against an elite QB. Through three games, it was clear the defense was not the issue with the Bengals.
Even though the Bengals fell 27-24 in overtime to the Packers, this game left fans with more positives than negatives. The offense finally rebounded, and the defense started to settle into a groove. Challenging a perennial playoff team like Green Bay in their own stadium is no small feat, so the bleeding was temporarily stopped. Unfortunately, the Bengals still fell to 0-3 on the season.