New lineup leaves Bengals’ passing game suffering

Published 1:58 am Wednesday, October 5, 2016

CINCINNATI (AP) — Andy Dalton has thrown only three touchdown passes in four games, a statistic that points to why the Bengals (2-2) are treading water.
The passing game is missing something important, and it’s not the quarterback.
Dalton’s new-look receiving group hasn’t kept up with the one from last season, the most glaring change from their 8-0 start in 2015.
A.J. Green has two touchdown catches, and running back Giovani Bernard has one. At this point last season, the Bengals already had nine touchdown passes.
Their scoring is way down as a result. Last season, the Bengals scored at least 24 points in each of their first four games with a total of 121. This season, they haven’t scored more than 23 in any game and have only 78 points overall.
Instead of touchdowns, they’re settling for field goals. That’s the main thing they’re trying to correct heading into games at Dallas (3-1) and New England (3-1), places where they haven’t won since the 1980s.
“We’ve got a lot of new faces in there offensively,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said.
“There’s a lot of guys that haven’t been leaned on to play that many snaps or have never played in the offense, so there’s going to be a growing part of the season. Now it’s time to really see guys take leaps and bounds forward.”
The Bengals knew there would be a break-in period with their new receivers . Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu left as free agents, taking away the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers from last season.
Plus, tight end Tyler Eifert — who set a club record for touchdown catches by a tight end with 13 — tore a ligament in his ankle during the Pro Bowl and hasn’t played yet.
The Bengals filled the receiver openings by signing Brandon LaFell and drafting Tyler Boyd from Pitt.
LaFell has 13 catches in four games for 208 yards without a touchdown. Boyd has 12 catches for 130 yards without a touchdown.
Green has bailed them out with a couple of big games. He caught 12 passes for 180 yards in an opening victory against the Jets, and he had 10 catches for 173 yards in a win last Thursday over Miami.
“Oh man, it’s just fun to be lining up across from him, getting plays alongside him, communicating with him,” Boyd said.
“Watching him make plays like that, it’s amazing. He’s a guy you know you can count on any given play at any given time.”
The Bengals are trying to get the rest of the receivers up to that level when they get close to the goal line. They’ve thrown for a lot of yards — their passing game ranks third in the NFL.
But they’ve struggled inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. They’ve converted only 31 percent of those chances into touchdowns, the worst in the NFL.
During the 4-0 start last season, Eifert had touchdown catches of 13, 8 and 9 yards; Green caught TDs of 16, 80 and 67 yards; Jones scored on catches of 45 and 16 yards; and Brandon Tate had a 55-yard touchdown catch.
“We should have more (touchdowns) than we have,” offensive coordinator Ken Zampese said. “We’ve put ourselves in bad situations on our own — self-inflicted. Regardless of who we have in there, we’re better than what we’ve shown and we’ll be better as we go forward. We’ll make sure.”
Notes: The Bengals are 1-5 all time in Dallas, with their only win in 1988. Overall, they’ve lost five of their past seven games against the Cowboys . … The following week, the Bengals visit New England , where they haven’t won since 1986, dropping their past six. … It’s unclear when Eifert will be back. He got his left ankle taped and participated in a light workout with the team on Monday. He’s practiced on a limited basis for the past two weeks.
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