The Cincinnati Bengals' Offense Has Been Truly Awful
Just how bad has 2017 been for the Cincinnati Bengals offense?
Well, I could attempt to illustrate it by conjuring up some imagery of tires on fire, or a hot landfill, or something bathroom related, but since we are numberFire, I’ll give you some numbers instead.
In Thursday’s 13-9 home loss to Houston, the Bengals gained 295 yards of total offense, averaged 4.8 yards per play, lost a turnover, and went just 5-for-17 on third and fourth downs. And it looked a little something like this.
Thursday Night Football! pic.twitter.com/1EAlfclYZA
— Jeff Eisenband (@JeffEisenband) September 15, 2017
Here’s where it gets really bad: each figure marked a noticeable improvement from their 20-0 loss to Baltimore last Sunday.
Against the Ravens, Cincinnati mustered just 221 yards on 58 plays (3.8 yards per play), turned the ball over five times, and was 4-for-14 on third and fourth down. The effort cost the Bengals 28.56 Net Expected Points (NEP), which measures the value of each play’s impact on a team’s scoreline. For more about NEP, visit our glossary.
Per numberFire Live, the Bengals produced a Passing NEP of -3.39, while its rushing attack "produced" a Rushing NEP of -9.04. Even if we exclude John Ross’ fumble, the Bengals rushers still cost the team 2.23 Rushing NEP and averaged just 3.0 yards per carry. Only five offenses this century have had a worse start to the season by NEP.
If we combine these figures with those from Week 1, the Bengals offense has been worth -41.11 NEP, the sixth-worst through two weeks since 2000. Granted, Cincinnati has played a pair of above-average defenses -- but neither of them are going to be mentioned alongside the 1985 Chicago Bears.
Problems Through the Air, Problems on the Ground
Andy Dalton was the least valuable quarterback of Week 1 by both total NEP and Passing NEP per drop back, and this was not solely due to his four interceptions or five sacks, though they were hugely problematic.
Dalton was not just weighed down by high-impact bad plays, but also infrequently produced any good ones. Only Scott Tolzien posted a lower Success Rate -- which measures the rate of drop backs that produce a positive NEP -- than Dalton’s 30.56% mark.
On Thursday, Dalton’s Success Rate was actually worse than that of Week 1, yielding a positive play on just 11 of 38 drop backs for 28.9%. He completed 62.5% of his passes, but this is misleading, since many of them failed to give the Bengals the yardage they needed. Dalton had nine “failed completions” compared to his 11 successful ones.
He was also sacked three times, bringing his season total up to eight. While the Bengals had problems against the Houston defensive front, this may not all be the fault of the Cincinnati offensive line.
Against the Ravens, Dalton was actually pressured less than the average team, per Sports Info Solutions charting data at Football Outsiders, continuing a pattern that has been evident in recent seasons.
Last year, Dalton had the seventh-highest sack rate in the league despite being one of the 10 least-pressured quarterbacks, according to Football Outsiders charting. This split was also evident in 2015, when he was the least-pressured quarterback but was still tied for 13th in sack rate.
Dalton was in the middle of the pack with regard to both Success Rate and Passing NEP last season and has a track record of playing at a roughly average level, so we should be careful not to overstate two bad games. Still, it's hard not to be at least a little bit concerned, given how dismal they both were.
Speaking of dismal, the Bengals running game has only averaged 3.5 yards per carry, a number that is actually slightly propped up by runs from Dalton and his receivers. The team’s trio of running backs has only managed 3.4 yards per carry.
Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, and Jeremy Hill have just 11 successful runs on 41 carries, good for just a 26.8% Success Rate. For context, last season, the average running back’s Success Rate was 40.00%.
The Bengals’ offensive line probably deserves some of the blame here, as these backs have not had many opportunities to get to the next level -- of these 41 carries, just 29.3% have gained at least five yards.
Last season, 33.5% of all runs in the league gained at least five yards, while only three teams had a rate lower than 29% (the Bengals ranked 19th at 32.7%).
For all the problems that have plagued the Bengals offense thus far, there is a silver lining: it is probably not actually this bad.
The Bengals already have six turnovers but for all their importance, turnovers are relatively rare and often random events. Cincy players have put the ball on the turf twice this season, while their defense also forced a fumble. All three cough-ups were recovered by the opposition, while we would generally expect a team to recover them half the time.
As for the interceptions, Dalton has thrown 4 picks on 66 pass attempts, good for a 6.0% interception rate. He came into the season with a 2.6% interception rate that was right around the league average. Given what we know about the volatility of interception rates, it's pretty unlikely his ability to avoid interceptions got twice as bad during the offseason.
The turnover rates should regress over the next few weeks, which would help get the Bengals away from their historically awful pace.
Still, if they cannot move the ball considerably better than they have so far, and avoid doing stuff like this...
I don't want to spend the whole night picking on Andy Dalton, but this 3rd & 3 miss of Brandon LaFell is horrendous. #TNF #HOUvsCIN pic.twitter.com/WYP9AfSP91
— Jeff Eisenband (@JeffEisenband) September 15, 2017
...the pending turnover regression will not be nearly enough.