Entering Week 15, the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense ranks just 30th in the league with a mere 14.5 points scored per game. In its first year under new head coach Zac Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, the unit has been unable to generate much momentum on the ground and through the air — ranking near the bottom of the NFL in both categories, no matter which numbers are looked at. Needless to say that the Bengals have not been a good offensive team.
However, not all is as bad as the raw numbers might suggest as Cincy Jungle editor Patrick Judis pointed out when talking to Pats Pulpit earlier this week. One player in particular can be categorized as a bright spot for the Bengals: third-year running back Joe Mixon, who has proven himself a dual-threat option in the Cincinnati offense and leads the team both in touchdowns with six and yards from scrimmage with a combined 1,019.
“Mixon has had a huge turnaround after the bye week. His success has a lot to do with the offense changing up its blocking scheme from the start of the season, but it just allows him to show off his power and speed better. If he can get into the open field he should be able to make a few plays,” said Patrick before pointing out that stopping the 23-year-old has to be the number one priority for New England’s defense heading into Sunday’s game.
Successfully slowing Mixon and the Bengals’ running game down would create a trickle-down effect that does not favor the home team: it would put the game in the hands of quarterback Andy Dalton and the passing attack — one that has been wildly inconsistent so far this season and ranks just 29th in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ DVOA statistic (-13.7%) that evaluates and compares plays based on the situations in which they take place.
“You force Dalton to beat you and you have a serious chance,” said Patrick about the 32-year-old who has led the Bengals offense since getting drafted in the second round in 2011 but could very well be replaced next offseason. “He lost quite a bit of that magic he had when he was inserted back into the starting lineup. He was inaccurate on some throws, and his biggest target, wide receiver Auden Tate, was just put on injured reserve.”
Dalton is not per se a bad quarterback, but one that struggled to open the season. After turning the football over 11 times during the first eight games, Taylor had seen enough from the veteran passer and decided to bench him in favor of Ryan Finley. The fourth-round rookie, however, did not prove to be much of an upgrade and after three games was back on the bench with Dalton leading the Bengals to their only win of the season in his return.
“Dalton is a good enough quarterback to give this offense a chance to move the ball. The same couldn’t be said for rookie quarterback Ryan Finley who not only didn’t have the arm strength but was also consistently late on his throws,” said Patrick about the Bengals’s quarterback situation so far this season. “Dalton’s veteran experience at least means if his first read is there he can throw a catchable ball.”
“Honestly, Dalton is as good as his supporting cast, and with it not looking like A.J. Green will be stepping on that field his abilities are limited,” he added. “After years of being rushed at a crazy rate for years, Dalton’s internal clock is going off quicker and quicker, and he also lacks a lot of pocket awareness that you’d expect from a veteran like him. What does this all add up to? A huge amount of inconsistency. When Dalton is hot he can have the offense moving right down the field. He is just as likely to look lost on a quick three-and-out.”
The supporting cast Patrick mentioned has also been a problem for Cincinnati. While Mixon has been solid albeit unspectacular as the team’s lead back, the receiver situation was at times ugly with the aforementioned Green being out since injuring his ankle on the first day of training camp and none of the other receivers being able to fill the void and consistently step up — with the exception of fourth-year wide receiver Tyler Boyd.
“Boyd is really the only receiver left who sees consistent targets who can make contested throws,” says Patrick about the Bengals’ leader in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. However, he acknowledges that it will be hard for the 25-year-old alone to tip the scales in Cincinnati’s favor on Sunday. “It doesn’t seem like it’d be hard for New England’s defense to focus up on Boyd and make Dalton and the rest of the receivers beat them.”