Bengals' Offense Declawed Against In-State Rival
After four weeks of the 2013 NFL season, the AFC North has to be the strangest division in football. Heading into the weekend, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens were tied for the division lead, each with a record of 2-1. The Pittsburgh Steelers were still winless and the Cleveland Browns were playing like the Cleveland Browns of the past few seasons. After the Ravens lost to the Buffalo Bills, the opportunity was there for the Bengals to take first place in the division. However, a 17-6 loss in Cleveland changed the whole shape of the division.
The game was considered out of reach after the first quarter. Browns QB Brian Hoyer (269 yards and two touchdowns), who was making his second start of the season, threw a lob to TE Jordan Cameron (10 catches, 91 yards and a touchdown). Cameron has now caught four touchdowns in the past two weeks since Hoyer became the starting quarterback. While Hoyer did throw another touchdown to RB Chris Ogbonnaya in the fourth quarter, the game was out of reach by that point.
The problem with the Bengals does not lie all on the defense, which ranks 11th in the league in points per game allowed (20.2). Unfortunately, the offense ranks only 22nd in points scored per game (20.2). A running attack that ranked 23rd in the league and middle-of-the-road passing game will not win many games.
This game against the Browns showed no change in the offensive game plan. RBs BenJarvus Green-Ellis (six carries, 13 yards) and rookie Giovani Bernard (10 carries, 37 yards) were not utilized enough to help Dalton and open up the passing game. One thing that was learned from this game is that Bernard is starting to be utilized more than Green-Ellis. Bernard was featured more in the passing game and ended the game with six catches for 38 yards. Green-Ellis may be taking a back seat to Bernard in the next couple weeks.
One thing that can be seen as positive this week is the consistent production from Pro-Bowl WR A.J. Green (seven catches, 51 yards). At this pace, Green is set to finish the season with 104 catches, 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns. Again, this production will only be possible if the running game or another receiver begins to produce. QB Andy Dalton (206 yards and an interception) will have to develop a consistent relationship with another receiver in order to help Green and the offense produce and put points on the board.
Looking ahead, the Bengals return home next week to take on Tom Brady and the undefeated New England Patriots (4-0). A current three-way tie with the Ravens and Browns for the division lead puts pressure on the Bengals to maintain pace each and every week. The Browns have the Bills. The Ravens have the Miami Dolphins (3-1). Unless Cincinnati begins to score more points – especially against a strong New England defense – it is likely the Browns could be sitting alone at the top of the division after next weekend.