CINCINNATI – Here are how my five takes before the Buffalo Bills' 20-16 loss against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday worked out:
1. Avoid a letdown. Nope. The Bills no doubt were flying as high as their fans after last week's victory at Atlanta. They were hearing all sorts of national and local media types (like this type) praising them for a 3-1 start and having the look of a contender. The Bills' defense, which had three takeaways, definitely gives them that look. Their offense? Abysmal.
And that is the primary reason the team ended up losing a game it should have won. It wasn't good when all of their pass-catchers were healthy and only got worse after Jordan Matthews' thumb surgery made him a scratch and tight end Charles Clay left the game early with an injured knee.
Tyrod Taylor was bad as well. And that can't all be chalked up to his lack of weapons. He was mostly off-target and repeatedly took way too much time to make decisions. That's a very dangerous thing to do against the Bengals' pass rush, which sacked him six times for minus-27 yards.
2. Run the ball with authority. Nope. The Bengals entered the game with the NFL's 17th-ranked run defense. Opportunities should have been there to exploit on the ground, and LeSean McCoy did have a 14-yard gain. He would have had one for 44 yards early in the fourth quarter, but it was called back for a holding penalty.
And that was the story of the day. Either McCoy's blockers made mistakes or they simply were overpowered by the Bengals' defensive front. The bottom line was that he finished with 63 yards on 19 carries, an average of only 3.3 yards per rush. As a team, the Bills had 3.4 yards per attempt.
The running game is in serious trouble. It found success in the season-opener against the New York Jets, and has basically disappeared since. The inability to run the ball was a key factor in the Bills' overall offensive futility.
3. Stop the run with authority. Check. The Bengals only had 65 yards on 27 carries for an average of 2.4 yards per rush.
Joe Mixon wasn't a whole lot better than McCoy, gaining 51 yards on 15 attempts (giving him an average of 3.4 yards per carry). Of course, the Bengals didn't need to lean too heavily on their running game on a day when Andy Dalton threw for 328 yards and a touchdown.
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4. Don't let the Bengals have success with their quick-passing game. Not even close. The Bengals had success in all phases of their passing game. Short. Intermediate. Long.
The problems were:
* They couldn't cover A.J. Green. He finished with seven catches for 189 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown. If he hadn't allowed two passes to deflect off his hands (although one was mostly due to a high throw) and avoided a fumble deep in Bengal territory, his numbers would have been even better.
* They couldn't get Dalton to the ground enough or make enough contact with him to cause him discomfort in the pocket. The Bills had only one sack for minus-5 yards and were credited with a mere four quarterback hits.
* Despite the two interceptions and fumble recovery, the defense left too much of a cushion that the Bengals were able to exploit in some key situations.
5. Keep moving Tyrod Taylor in the pocket and setting him up to find Charles Clay for big throws. Semi-check. Taylor did do some rollouts and threw from a moving pocket at various times, although very little was working in the passing game.
Except for his picture-perfect 12-yard touchdown strike to Brandon Tate in the back of the end zone late in the second quarter, Taylor didn't accomplish a whole lot with his passing arm. He threw for 166 yards and a score, and had his first interception – and first Bills turnover – since the pick he threw on the first possession of the season-opening victory against the New York Jets.
As for Clay, his knee injury ended what could have been a big day because it happened on a 24-yard reception.