While the Cincinnati Bengals running game has been one of the biggest disappointments through the first two weeks, there is another area where the team is eager to improve the numbers.
The Bengals have scored one touchdown in six red-zone possessions, and their 0-for-3 performance Sunday in Pittsburgh was a big reason they absorbed a 24-16 loss.
“It’s a small sample size, but results are results and we’re 1 for 6,” offensive coordinator Ken Zampese said. “We’ll make sure we can find some plays we can execute better and get those ones called.”
Looking at the larger sample size of the 2015 season, the Bengals scored touchdowns on 37 of their 56 red-zone trips. That 66.1 percent success rate was the fourth best in the NFL.
This year’s 16.7-percent success rate ranks 30th, although the Bengals have come away with field goals on the five red-zone possessions that didn’t finish in the end zone.
“At the end of the day, we haven’t made the plays we need to make,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “You have to do that once you’re down there. You have to score touchdowns and you can’t kick field goals. We understand that.”
Dalton is 7 of 14 for 59 yards and no touchdowns in the red zone. And a big reason for the struggles has been the absence of tight end Tyler Eifert, who missed the first two games while still working his way back from May ankle surgery.
Last year Dalton targeted Eifert 16 times in the red zone with 12 completions, 11 of which were touchdowns.
In addition to missing Eifert, who returned to practice this week but is probably a longshot to play Sunday, the ineffective running game also has played a role in the lack of red-zone success.
While the lone red-zone touchdown came on Jeremy Hill’s 12-yard run in the opener at New York, the other four rushes the Bengals have had inside the 20-yard line have produced a total of five yards.
“We’ve done a good job of taking care of the ball down there,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “We’d like to continue to press and make touchdowns plays. You do that by working the football in and continuing to execute well and do a good job. Whether it be the running game or passing game, we’ve got to be efficient and score touchdowns.”
Green practices: Receiver A.J. Green was back at practice Thursday after missing Wednesday to witness the birth of his first child.
Green said earlier this month he would not play if the baby was born on a game day, but the midweek delivery means he is good to go for Sunday’s home opener against Denver despite being a bit bleary-eyed.
“I got maybe like two hours (of sleep),” Green said.
Injury update: In addition to Green, tackle Andrew Whitworth (vet day) and tight end C.J. Uzomah (ribs) returned to full participation after missing Wednesday’s practice. Cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard (hamstring) and Dre Kirkpatrick (hamstring) also were full go after being limited Wednesday.
Defensive tackle Pat Sims (heel) and Eifert (ankle) were limited for the second in a row, while tackle Eric Winston (back) missed his second straight practice.
Receiver James Wright (knee) also sat out, as he has done each Thursday thus far as part of his continuing recovery from 2014 microfracture surgery.