I know, I know, any Bengals fan should be happy to be 4-2 right now. If you told any of us that the team would be at this point after six games, we would have been dancing in the streets and we might have even forgot about our hatred for Mike Brown for a moment (OK, maybe not.)
However, there are some glaring weaknesses with this team and there is no way to sugarcoat it. Heading into the contest this Sunday against the Chicago Bears at Paul Brown Stadium, suddenly there are more questions than answers.
For starters, Cincinnati lost arguably its best two defensive players due to injury in the loss to Houston last Sunday in DE Antwan Odom and DT Domata Peko. Odom’s injury was especially crushing since he will be out for the year with a ruptured Achilles tendon. He was tied for the NFL lead with eight sacks and was simply playing better than any Bengals’ defensive end in my lifetime.
Peko is only expected to miss a few weeks with his knee injury, but he’s been a force inside all year and he will be missed.
Beyond the injury front, there are several issues with this team that need to be addressed if they hope to be a playoff team in the brutal AFC North. Let’s take a close look at what they are.
At tight end, the Bengals are getting what they deserve. It’s not the team’s fault that they lost the top two tight ends – Reggie Kelly and Ben Utecht – for the year due to injuries suffered in the preseason.
However, a good team (think a franchise like the Patriots) would have gone out and tried to trade for a real tight end as soon as they lost their top two players at the position.
What do the Bengals do? They decide to put scrubs on the field and pray for the best. And how has that worked out for them? Well, Dan Coats is racking up dropped passes each game. J.P. Foschi has been a little bit better, but we’re still talking about a pair of undrafted free agents that the Bengals are trying to use as their top two tight ends. Coats wasn’t even a starter in college at BYU! Think about that: he couldn’t start at a program like BYU (we’re not exactly talking about USC; BYU is a solid program, but it’s still BYU) and he’s a starter in the NFL three years later? What a joke. And if the Bengals don’t address this problem soon, they will continue to receive arguably the worst play out of the tight end position than any team in the league.
In a related story, just how much of a “screw up” (I won’t use the phrase I was really thinking of) is rookie tight end Chase Coffman? He’s a third-round pick and he can’t even beat out guys like Coats and Foschi? Wow. I knew TE coach Jonathan Hayes wasn’t happy with Coffman judging by the F-bombs that were thrown his way throughout HBO’s HardKnocks during Bengals training camp. However, I thought by week five Coffman might be ready to do something other than make sure the bench doesn’t fly up in the air. (He is doing a fine job of sitting on the bench though.)
Another big problem is at kickoff returner. Andre Caldwell is developing into a very good No. 3 receiver in the NFL. However, he’s one of the worst kickoff returners I have ever seen. He actually runs half-speed when he returns kicks. He’s pathetic. Just how putrid? How about 19.6 yards per return. Seriously. An NFL kickoff returner averaging less than 20 yards per kickoff. We’ve now seen it all.
Caldwell couldn’t be doing much better as a receiver – he’s playing his role very well – but it’s time to see what rookie running back Bernard Scott can do as a kickoff returner.
The other major problem I see with this team is offensive play-calling. I have lost all hope in Bob Bratkowski as an offensive coordinator. He leaves me scratching my head (OK, yelling at the top of my lungs) each week with the questionable way he calls a game. Hey Bob, you have a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback; figure out a way to get more production out of this offense. And don’t be so damn predictable. (A Brat special is after an incomplete pass on first down, he almost always runs the ball on second down. If I know it’s coming, you better believe all of the Bengals’ opponents know it’s coming.)
A win over the Bears this Sunday would be huge because it would put Cincinnati at 5-2 going into their bye week. The team would have a lot of confidence and would be sitting pretty as far as the playoff picture. But after the way they played against a mediocre Texans team at home, there is the lingering feeling that the Bengals were a mirage during their four-game winning streak (where they won each game in the final minute). Then again, they also had a win taken away from them in week one against Denver (which is only a 6-0 team now) on that fluke touchdown to Brandon Stokley on the tipped ball.
So, this isn’t a bad Bengals team and I’m sure they will be in the playoff hunt all year. I’m just not nearly as confident about them as I was after the Ravens game. The Texans game left a very bad taste in my mouth and now they have to try and make due without Odom for the rest of the year, and Peko for a few weeks. A win over the Bears would be immense, let’s see if they can pull it off.