5 Things the Cincinnati Bengals Still Have to Fix Before Making the Playoffs
Despite how lopsided the score looks, the game was actually much closer and exposed some of the problems that the Bengals have on their way to a playoff run—one that starts in earnest next week when they visit the Pittsburgh Steelers in what amounts to a winner-takes-all matchup for the final wild-card spot in the AFC.
Even with a win against the Steelers, nothing is guaranteed for Cincinnati, as it will likely have to defeat Baltimore in Week 17 to really cinch the final playoff spot unless the New York Jets stumble at least once in their final four games of the season.
Whether Cincinnati makes it into the playoffs for the second consecutive season or not, there is plenty for this young team to work on prior to the playoffs.
Andy Dalton Has to Do a Better Job of Holding on to the Ball
Coming into the game against Philadelphia, Andy Dalton had 14 interceptions and two fumbles in 2012.
While he didn't throw the ball to the opposition against the Eagles, Dalton did struggle with turnovers, fumbling the ball twice against the Eagles and thus keeping them in the game through most of the first half.
That's a grand total of 18 turnovers on Dalton this season, which is not a good number heading into the playoffs.
Taking care of the football is one of the many responsibilities of the quarterback and has been one of the few areas where Dalton has struggled thus far. Last season, this hurt Cincinnati in its playoff game against the Texans, when Dalton threw for three interceptions en route to a 31-10 loss.
To avoid a repeat of that performance, Dalton will have to make better decisions in the pocket come playoff time and make sure that the ball stays with Cincinnati.
Bengals Defense Must Force More Turnovers
One might find it odd that, after a game where the Bengals forced five turnovers, I would suggest that the defense must do a better job in that department.
At least until you see that Cincinnati's turnover differential for the season is plus-three and you consider Philadelphia's turnover issues throughout 2012.
Coming into the game, the Bengals had a turnover differential of zero and part of that has been the defense's inability to force crucial turnovers along with the offense's problems holding onto the football. But as seen on Thursday, forcing key turnovers can turn a game around quickly.
The Bengals were flat for most of the game, but won thanks in part to the big plays that came as a result of the Eagles' miscues.
Forcing those miscues down the stretch will be key for the Bengals. It will be their best chance at defeating the Steelers and Ravens, as well as their best chance once they get to the big show.
More Production out of Receivers Not Named A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham
A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham have combined for 146 catches for 1,901 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.
You coudn't ask for better production out of your No. 1 receiver and your tight end. But how has the rest of the receiving unit done so far? You would expect good production considering the double-teams that A.J. Green would draw as well as the fact that every defense has to account for Gresham out of the tight end position.
Not quite. Combined, the rest of the Bengals' receivers have hauled in 150 catches for 1,755 yards and 11 touchdowns. Two receivers account for more than 50 percent of the Bengals' passing offense.
In the postseason, this ratio is unacceptable. Teams will key on Green and Gresham even more than during the regular season, and if those two are neutralized, where will the Bengals turn?
Based off of the 2012 season, they don't have any other consistent targets right now. That will have to change, and soon.
Better Offensive Line Play Is Enough
We mentioned earlier how Andy Dalton must do a better job of holding onto the football. However, this can be difficult considering the immense pressure Dalton faces when he drops back to pass.
The Bengals' offensive line has thus far given up 38 sacks on the season. The lack of protection for Dalton was evident again when they took on the Eagles, as they gave up six sacks, resulting in the loss of 35 yards on the evening.
The more pressure a quarterback is under, the harder it is to get a good throw off and the more likely a quarterback is to fumble the ball in the pocket.
The fact that Dalton has only four fumbles to his name is a testament to his own abilities in being able to take the sack and hold on to the ball, but one has to wonder how few fumbles he would have if he had protection from the offensive line (as well as how many times he'd be able to get off a good throw that doesn't get picked off).
Against the Steelers and Ravens, this line will have to do a better job in pass protection. It didn't do so well the first time around against both teams.
Cut Down on the Penalties
The Bengals beat Philadelphia thanks to the Eagles shooting themselves in the foot. But that doesn't mean that the Bengals didn't take their shots to themselves as well.
This is evident thanks to their 11 penalties for 94 yards. On the season, the Bengals were only averaging about six penalties per game prior to the contest with the Eagles.
Unacceptable is the best word I could think of to describe their discipline. This will have to change, just like everything else on the list.