CINCINNATI (AP)After winning the AFC North in consecutive seasons and returning most of their starters, the Cincinnati Bengals were expected to make a deep run into the playoffs.
But a team that is fortunate to be 3-3 at its bye week hasn’t dazzled anyone. Joe Burrow has battled a calf injury that limited his mobility, but the blame can’t all be heaped on the NFL’s highest-paid player who didn’t get to practice until the week before the season started.
There is an under-performing offensive line and lack of production in both the pass and run games.
The Bengals are among the worst in the league in most offensive categories, including total yards per game, rushing yards per game and passing yards per play.
“We haven’t scored enough to really take the pressure off our team,” coach Zac Taylor said. “We know we’re capable of that. Fortunately, we’re in a decent spot here with our record 3-3. We can control our own destiny going forward. That’s the benefit of our defense having played really well, the chance to take a breath here in the bye week and come out and get the ball in the end zone.”
The bright spot has been receiver Ja’Marr Chase, whose best games this season have coincided with the return of Burrow’s mobility.
“I just think that there needs to be more production and offense in general for everybody not named Ja’Marr Chase,” offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said.
Tee Higgins, the No. 2 receiver who has shown he is capable of big plays, caught two short TD passes from Burrow in the Week 2 loss to the Ravens but hasn’t done much else. He suffered a cracked rib in the loss to Tennessee and missed the next game. He was back last week and had only two catches for 20 yards.
Irv Smith Jr. was acquired to replace pass-catching tight end Hayden Hurst, but Smith has been slowed by a hamstring injury and hasn’t been a major contributor. No. 1 running back Joe Mixon is averaging 3.8 yards per carry and has a single touchdown.
The Bengals dropped their first two games and have now won two in a row, the last one a 17-13 squeaker over Seattle that was preserved by two red zone stops by the Cincinnati defense in the final minutes.
“Good enough to be 3-3, but not good enough to be where we want to be at the end of the year, for a lot of reasons,” Callahan said this week. “But at this point, performance needs to be better all the way around – coaching, playing, the whole thing. So, yeah, happy we’re 3-3, but disappointed with the end results.
“Some of it is, we missed some throws. We’ve dropped some balls. We’ve given up some sacks. It’s kind of, you know, everyone’s had a moment in the barrel, if you will,” he said.
Burrow strained a calf muscle on July 27 and was sidelined for the entirely of training camp. He aggravated the injury in the Week 2 loss to the Ravens. He looked as close to normal last week as he has all season.
“It sure feels like he’s, if he’s not normal, he’s pretty close,” Callahan said. “Thankfully, that’s a good thing. And then, and obviously a handful of days off to rest too, should put him in a pretty good place coming out of the bye.”
Knowing it’s going to be harder to get to the playoffs for a third straight season, let alone win the division, the Bengals will try to reset. They still have to play division games against Cleveland and Baltimore again, and Pittsburgh twice.
They resume Oct. 29 at San Francisco to play the first-place 49ers, who are tied for the best record in the NFL.
“Bye week’s coming at a good time,” Burrow said. “Get some guys healthy, come back, and we’ve got a grind ahead of us, so we’ve got to get better.”
AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL