The Cincinnati Bengals did a lot of self-scouting over the bye week to try to figure out how they can improve as they seek their first win in the second half of the season.
They were hoping Pro-Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green would be back to help the offense turn a corner, but on Thursday, he said he is experiencing some swelling in his ankle and likely unable to play this week as expected.
That means rookie quarterback Ryan Finley will have the same weapons available to Andy Dalton in the first half as the fourth-round draft pick steps in as the new starter, so it’s up to the defense to step up as the AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens (6-2) come into Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday fresh off a stunning win over New England.
“I think guys have self-scouted and the coaches have self-scouted, and we’ve figured out what we did wrong, what we did well against,” linebacker Preston Brown said of the bye week. “I think we have a better understanding of our strengths and weaknesses, and that will be vital toward us making a run in the second half. We can’t let the same stuff happen because if you do that, you’re just going to lose a lot more games. It’s on us to turn this thing around.”
Cincinnati has played some historically bad defense this year, as things have only gotten worse on that side of the ball since 2018 when they became the first team in NFL history to allow 500 yards or more in three straight games. Now they have allowed 460 yards or more in four straight games for the first time in the NFL’s 100 years – a streak that began when they gave up 497 yards to Baltimore in a 23-17 loss in Week 6.
The Bengals are hoping the second time around facing Lamar Jackson will yield better results after he accounted for 159 of his team’s 269 yards rushing the first matchup.
“Once you see him in person, you see how fast he really is and how good the line they have in front of him,” Brown said. “That’s what makes it tough, those big guys open up a lot of holes for him. They do a good job of running and passing. I think seeing it live helps you having those game reps against it.”
“I haven’t seen many people capable of stopping him, from high school, college to now, so we just need to limit his opportunities. When he pulls the ball, make him have to go through reads so he has to give it to Ingram and those guys instead of letting him just do what he wants. It also could be a pass and he just runs too, so it’s just making sure the guys maintain the pocket, don’t let him get out and when he does, limit the yards as much as possible.”
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said the key is just not allowing the Ravens to get off to a quick start like they tend to do.
“You look at the starts of their games and they get on people quick,” Taylor said. “They had a 17-0 lead on New England, a 17-7 lead on us, and they got up on Seattle pretty quick as well. They’ve started fast. That’s been their trademark so far, and in these last few games particularly. That’s important for our guys to come out and approach it the right way and be ready for that. That’s what they’ve hung their hat on lately.”
Regarding Jackson, Taylor said he’s having an MVP-caliber year and playing with a lot of confidence, but so is the rest of the team.
“They’re coming off big wins — one on the road at Seattle, and one against New England, and the one over us three weeks ago,” Taylor said. “They present a tough challenge. Our guys are up for the opportunity. There’s no doubt about it. It’s a divisional game at home after the bye, and we’re healthy. Our guys are excited. This is a great way to start the second half of the season.”
The Bengals offense can help the defense by staying on the field longer, too, but it’s tough to imagine a rookie quarterback being able to sustain drives any better than Dalton could behind a struggling offensive line and without the presence of a dominant running game.
And without Green coming back to help the receiving corps.
Green said he pushed himself harder than he has previously during the bye week to make sure he would be ready to come back, but after a good practice Monday running routes, he experienced a flare-up with swelling that had popped up a couple weeks ago. He says he is days away, not weeks, but the setback has nothing to do with a holdout for a contract, as some speculated.
“I have to push it just to see what can it take and what it can’t take,” Green said. “That’s the only thing with the ankle. As I keep building, the threshold will keep getting higher. Right now we just hit the treshold again.
“I’ll maybe take a day off and then go from there. It’s just a process. For me, I can’t go out there when I’m not 100 percent. It makes no sense for me to put myself in that situation to where I can have another time hurting (it), just like I did my toe. It’s all about make sure I’m taking care of myself first. Everything else comes after that.”