Bengals playing catch-up with big problems to fix

Published 8:14 pm Monday, September 19, 2016

CINCINNATI (AP) – The Bengals are looking up at the standings, something they haven’t had to do for two years.

And the defending AFC North champions have some significant issues to fix in order to make up ground.

They couldn’t run the ball again during a 24-16 defeat in Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Bengals’ third loss in a row to their Ohio River rival.

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This one left them playing catch-up, something they haven’t had to do. Last season, they led the division the whole way after an 8-0 start.

Two games in, Cincinnati (1-1) trails both the Steelers (2-0) and the Ravens (2-0) with the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos – also 2-0 – coming to town for the Bengals’ home opener on Sunday.

One of their most glaring problems in the first two games was their inability to run. They managed only 57 yards – a 3.0 average per carry – during a 22-20 win at the Jets in their season opener.

Andy Dalton was able to get them through it, completing all but three of his passes in the last three quarters.

They were even worse on Sunday in Pittsburgh in the rain, managing only 46 yards for a 2.6-yard average. Through the first two games, their top running backs haven’t even combined on 100 yards total.

Jeremy Hill has 53 yards on 20 carries. Giovani Bernard has 42 yards on 10 carries. Their longest run of the season is only 12 yards.

They get to the line and go nowhere.

“I’ve got to break more tackles,” Bernard said on Monday. “I’ve got to make that guy miss. As a running back, you always try to not let that first one tackle me. I haven’t done that.”

Their inability to run was most glaring in the third quarter, when they drove for a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Hill lost 2 yards on a run up the middle, and Dalton threw a couple of incompletions, forcing Cincinnati to settle for a field goal.

Dalton got sacked a career-high seven times in the opener. He was sacked only once in Pittsburgh, but the running game was no better.

“One of those things got fixed this week,” offensive coordinator Ken Zampese said Monday, referring to the sacks. “This coming week, we’ll get the other one handled.”

Cincinnati’s running game ranked second-to-last in the league after two games. Only Minnesota – which lost Adrian Peterson to a knee injury on Sunday – was worse.

Notes: Coach Marvin Lewis explained his decision not to challenge a call that C.J. Uzomah was out of bounds on a catch at the back of the end zone. The tight end’s knee landed right by the back line, and the officials ruled it was an incomplete pass. The replays were inconclusive.

“First let’s clear one thing up: The coaches don’t get a view like you guys think they get,” Lewis said, referring to the various angles and stop-action views. “That’s such a fallacy of TV, of what they get upstairs. They don’t get them. Then it’s immediate, we’ve got to go to the next play.”

The Bengals thought that receiver Tyler Boyd’s fumble that essentially ended the game should have been reversed. After a review, the officials upheld the call. The Bengals thought he fumbled after he was down.

“Everybody on the field thought the opposite, and it didn’t work that way,” Lewis said.