The Cincinnati Bengals gave up seven sacks in their Week 1 victory over the New York Jets. Never in his five-plus professional seasons had quarterback Andy Dalton been sacked that much, and it was one of the worst performances from a Cincinnati offensive line since Dalton was drafted back in 2011.
Somehow, the Bengals walked away from that game with a narrow 23-22 victory and, even more importantly, Dalton walked away from the game injury-free despite all the hits he took.
If the offensive line plays like that in Week 2 in Pittsburgh though, the team won’t be as lucky.
Ultimately, last Sunday’s game against the Jets could just be an anomaly for a typically stellar offensive line. Last year, Dalton was sacked only 20 times all season because of incredible pass protection, and in 2014, opponents recorded just 21 sacks on him all season. So Dalton has had the luxury of some unbelievable protection.
But just one game into the 2016 season, the Bengals have already given up over a third of the sacks they gave up last season.
Beyond just the sack numbers though, the Jets caused a lot of confusion, which forced the Bengals to change their game plan. After several negative plays, Cincinnati was forced to switch to a quick passing game, but even that still didn’t help much.
“It was good,” tackle Andrew Whitworth said of the quick passing game. “They tried to do everything they could to get those first downs to be negative plays, big pressures, moving around. Lot of that type of stuff to keep us out of our tempos and keep it rolling. Really in that first half, that is what held us back the most. We kept having negative downs there and end up in third and 15, you can’t play football from there. Once we were able to get out of that and move in to tempos and keep it moving around, they seemed to have trouble with it.”
The switch clearly impacted the team and threw their offense off. With them attempting to change on the fly, the Bengals could manage just three points in the fourth quarter, and that didn’t come until the game-winning field that Mike Nugent hit with 54 seconds left.
Cleary the Bengals have had better days on the offensive front, and everyone in the Cincinnati locker room knows that they must improve from it.
“Even if you felt like you lost, you don’t apologize for it,” Whitworth said. “You look at it, you take it, break it down. This group has played great over the last couple years, and we will rise to the occasion again.”
Now here is the bigger question. Was this just a one-time occurrence, or the beginning of a very rough season for the Bengals and Dalton?
At this point, it is easy to point to all the talent the Jets have on the defensive line and say that the Bengals’ offensive line was just beaten by a very strong unit.
And that would be a very valid argument considering the Jets boast All-Pro Muhammad Wilkerson and the 2015 third-overall pick, Leonard Williams, on their defensive front. The Bengals even got lucky with their timing of playing the Jets because Pro Bowl defensive end and the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year, Sheldon Richardson, was out of the game serving a suspension. One can only imagine how bad it would have been with him in there.
But that same front that played the Bengals, plus the addition of Richardson, certainly didn’t look like world-beaters on Thursday night against the Bills. The Jets finished with zero sacks against Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor in the game.
Which means the Bills offensive line is either exponentially better than the Bengals, or the Cincinnati line needs to drastically improve.
The Bills fired their offensive coordinator on Friday after the game, so it’s definitely the Bills expertise on offense.
So it’s safe to say the Bengals need to be better or it’s going to be a long year for everyone in Cincinnati.