‘It has to be much better than it has been’: Bengals searching for answers on offense

Kelsey Conway
Cincinnati Enquirer

The Cincinnati Bengals are realizing what it’s like to be the hunted instead of the hunters.

After the Week 2 loss to Dallas, Cincinnati falls to 0-2 on the year with a lot of questions to be answered, specifically on offense. Some of the issues that plagued the team in 2021 are still present. There’s also a new problem that surely Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and his staff knew would happen – opposing defensive coordinators are starting and ending their plan around limiting Ja’Marr Chase.

Yes, teams tried to do it as the 2021 season went on, but it’s different now. NFL teams have had an entire offseason to craft a plan, including adding new pieces via free agency and the NFL draft, to help limit playmakers like Chase.

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Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said the Cowboys’ game plan was executed at a high level. Dallas’ defensive coordinator wanted to make sure if the Bengals did beat his team, it wouldn’t be because of Chase.“They did a really nice job schematically,” Callahan said. “They doubled Ja'Marr and played man everywhere else. Ja'Marr got doubled probably six or seven times on critical downs.”

There are too many sacks on Burrow two weeks into the season. In Week 1, he was sacked seven times. In Week 2, it was six times. He shouldn’t be leading the league in sacks, again. Especially when the team invested what they did to try to ensure it didn’t happen.

The explosive plays just aren’t there like they were last year and there’s several layers as to why that’s the case. But at the end of the day, the NFL is a production-based business and there’s no room for excuses.

“There is plenty of blame to go around when you're 0-2 and haven't started the way that you've want to,” offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. “I just think everything we’ve done has to be better than it’s been.”

Sacks on Burrow remain the headline surrounding this Bengals team. The coaches and players get that until they start decreasing, it will continue to be a narrative.

But when you really dig deep into what’s gone wrong with the Bengals in the first two games, it’s the slow starts on offense. The Bengals are not an offense built to play from behind. And it’s the biggest point of emphasis Taylor is making to his team.

“I think the simplest way to put it is we’ve put ourselves down two scores right out of the gate in two games so far,” Taylor said. “We’re not that team, that’s not a good way to start. It is going to take away your opportunities to be as aggressive as you want to be because you give them a two-score lead now they can play exactly how they want to play. Those are things we have to rectify and be better at.”

The Bengals are No. 30 in the NFL in yards per play, averaging 4.3 yards per game. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans rank below Cincinnati in this metric. They’re averaging 18.5 points per game. Sure, this is only a two-week sample size, but the expectation is this Bengals’ offense is supposed to be among the league’s best with the weapons they have.

That hasn’t been the case and there plenty of blame, as Callahan said, to go around. In addition to starting faster, the Bengals’ offensive line needs to clean things up pre-snap. Specifically, La’el Collins who hasn’t performed to the level he was expected to when the Bengals signed him in free agency. He was responsible for several errors against the Cowboys and it was clear in Dallas’ plan, they were going to rush the Bengals’ tackles, Jonah Williams and Collins, until they could prove they could block them.

That didn’t happen enough.

Collins is a veteran in this league and when his offensive coordinator says he’d like to see him be more “dialed in” that’s not ideal. The Bengals are starting four new offensive linemen and they didn’t get to practice together with Burrow until the final week of training camp. The unit didn’t take one game snap together until Week 1.

It was expected it might take some time for the group to gel, but it shouldn’t look this disjointed considering all but rookie Cordell Volson have played in the NFL for several seasons.

By no means is it time to panic but the Bengals can’t afford to continue to lose games because of miscommunication and the veteran players they are relying on not playing at a high level.

The AFC is just too good this year.

“There’s really no way around it,” Callahan said. “We’ve got to be better, and we’ve got to be better fast.”