The Bengals fell to 1-1 this season following Sunday's 20-17 loss to the Bears. There was some good and plenty of bad in their first road game of the season.
Most of these takeaways could change after a second viewing (especially if I can look at the coaches' film). However, after watching the game there are some things that I wanted to write about because they really stuck out to me. Unlike most of my articles, there will not be any film in this one, because I have not had a chance to rewatch and clip certain plays.
Here are four instant takeaways from Sunday's loss in Chicago.
The first clear takeaway is that the team came out flat. Whether that was because they were riding high off of the Vikings win in Week 1 or something behind the scenes, it seemed like the Bengals were sleepwalking to start the game. The Bears' first drive featured Andy Dalton methodically marching down the field for an easy touchdown. Then on the ensuing kickoff, Brandon Wilson muffs the return. If not for a taunting penalty, the Bengals' offense would have started the game with a 3-and-out as well. All three phases of the game started very sluggish and that can't happen on the road in a close game.
My next takeaway should not come as a surprise for those following me on Twitter. The empty sets that the Bengals heavily utilized were not working. Spread empty is a tough way to live in the National Football League because there are only five guys to block. The ball has to come out quickly. This means 5-10 yard passes for the most part. Without the ability to realistically hit explosive plays, the quarterback and the offensive line need to be perfect. I think empty is something that Joe Burrow does well and should absolutely be a part of the Bengals offense going forward, but it is very tough to live in for more than a few plays per quarter.
More specifically with the empty sets this week, they clearly were not working. Multiple sacks were given up and there were not too many positives to take away about them. The coaching staff was very stubborn with their gameplan of heavily utilizing the empty sets and it came back to bite them. They did finally scrap the empty sets towards the end of the game and scored a pair of touchdowns which will hopefully let the coaching staff feel more confident in those plays. If the Bengals do want to play in empty still, they should leave a tight end attached to the line to help in pass protection. That way they can block with six and still play in empty.
Another takeaway is that the defense played about as well as could be expected of them. They were put in plenty of bad situations and they did what they could to limit those opportunities. They made a key stop on a fourth down to get the ball back in the first quarter and then pitched a shutout for the entire second and third quarters.
They gave up six points in the fourth quarter, but that was while the offense turned the ball over on four-straight possessions. That put the defense in terrible situations. They also set up the offense for their second touchdown with a key interception to flip field position and give the team a chance in the game. There were issues, mainly the missed tackle on Justin Fields on 3rd-and-9 late in the game, but the defense did their part on Sunday.
This takeaway is rough, but Burrow played terrible against Chicago. His first two interceptions were absolutely his fault. He stared down the stick route on the pick-six and then threw the ball right at a squatting corner for the next interception.
Burrow will have to show that he is better than this next week against the Steelers. If he comes out and gives a similar performance, the Bengals will be in for a long afternoon at Heinz field. The whole offense other than Tyler Boyd could be listed here, but I specifically wanted to talk about Burrow because he should be improving in his second year.
For my last takeaway we have the team not giving up. I saw the tweets (especially in my mentions) that the Bengals need to throw in the towel and make sure no one gets hurt. They were down 14 at the time with about eight minutes left in the game. A completely winnable game. Even when the Bears' made the field goal with seven minutes left, it is still a winnable game to be down 17 with seven minutes remaining.
Throwing in the towel when the team can still win is not a winning team's mentality. If the Chiefs pulled Mahomes in a three score game halfway through the fourth quarter everyone would laugh at them. If the Bengals want to be a winning franchise, they need to emulate that. If they're down 30 points with five minutes to go, maybe then they can pull their players and live to see another day. That is not a winnable game.
The Bengals kept their starters in and went for it. They almost won too! If one more thing goes the Bengals way during that stretch, it is possible they win that game. Whether that's one less second half turnover or Hendrickson making the tackle on Fields. While moral victories are not what this team should be going for, they have to feel better after coming back and making the game competitive, than they would have if they threw in the towel and lost by 20.
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