Marvin Lewis puts a major emphasis on third down – whether it’s converting on offense or getting off of the field on defense. It was a big factor in Sunday’s loss in Cleveland as the Bengals went 4-for-14 on offense (29%) while allowing the Browns to convert 50% (9-for-18).
“We didn’t convert good enough on third down and that ended up being the difference in the day,” said Lewis.
But it wasn’t just inefficiency on third down; first down was equally troubling.
Entering the game, Cincinnati ranked 5th in the NFL by averaging 6.1 yards on first down plays. Against the Browns, the Bengals gained 99 yards on 25 first down plays – an average of 3.96 per play. Take away a 29-yard-pass to Tyler Eifert and that average drops to 2.92 per play. Through four weeks, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay are the only teams in the NFL averaging fewer than four yards on first down plays. It’s no coincidence that they are a combined 0-and-8.
“We have way too much talent to be this bad offensively,” said Andrew Whitworth.
The Bengals were particularly ineffective when they attempted to pass on first down. In the first half, Andy Dalton was 0-for-3 with one sack on first down passing attempts. In the second half, Dalton was 6-for-12 for 64 yards with nearly half of those yards coming on the pass to Eifert.
“I thought we had a good scheme put together so it’s disappointing when we go out there and don’t play as well as we’re capable of,” said Eifert.
The Browns defense certainly deserves much of the credit. Through four games, Ray Horton’s unit ranks first in the NFL in fewest yards allowed per play.
“They kicked our butt,” said A.J. Green.
“I think they’re good, but I think it had more to do with how terrible we played than how good they were,” said Andrew Whitworth.
The Bengals left tackle provided some troubling insight into the Bengals offensive woes in a postgame interview with Dave Lapham while describing a two-yard loss on 4th-and-1 at the Browns’ 7-yard-line.
“I think half of the people knew the play and half of the people didn’t,” said Whitworth. “It’s one of those things that you can’t let happen.”
After failing to score an offensive touchdown in two of their last three games last year, the Bengals appeared to have added the necessary firepower to fix the problem with the additions of Eifert and Giovani Bernard and the return of a healthy Mohamed Sanu. But after four games, Cincinnati ranks 22nd in the NFL in both total yards and points scored.
“We’re just not clicking,” said Green. “I don’t know man. It’s tough, it’s frustrating, but it’s a long season. We’ve got to grind it out and eventually we’ll get it.”
“We have to figure out how to be a lot better than this,” said Whitworth. “There’s not a position on the offensive side of the football where we don’t have the ability to be good. An outing like this is embarrassing, and we have to do something about it.”
And it has to start on first down.
After one incompletion to A.J. Green on Sunday, I remarked on the radio broadcast that a taunting punching gesture by Browns cornerback Joe Haden was reminiscent of this iconic photograph of Muhammed Ali standing over a fallen Sonny Liston.
I was amazed by how similar Haden’s gesture was when I saw this photo on Monday.
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