The absolute worst possible emotion any true sports fan can experience is apathy. Franchises generally strive to be successful, because in nearly every corresponding situation, it assures the fanbase will be excited, happy, proud, engaged, proactive, and—most importantly for the teams—willing to spend their hard-earned cash in support of the club. In both macro and micro instances, happy fans are the ultimate goal, one way or another. Angry or unhappy fans aren’t ideal, obviously, but they’re also not the worst-case scenario. At the very least, it’s evidence that the fans are still engaged, still care enough to get upset, still showing a willingness to spend that cash if things improve. I would venture to say that fan outrage or input even impacts decision-making by organizations on a regular basis (see: SEC football).
Fan indifference is the true worst-case scenario. Once someone stops caring about a sport or a team—or on a smaller scale, a specific game or season—that’s when all of the potential benefits disappear. That’s what the Bengals accomplished on Sunday with their 27-0 abomination at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts. It wasn’t on a macro level—the team is still 3-2-1 on the season, and Lord knows Bengals fans have suffered through A LOT worse—but for one Sunday afternoon, most fans completely checked out on this game early in the second half. Some kept watching out of dispirited obligation, some flipped over to the RedZone channel, some mowed the grass or went to Target with their wife or whatever. But at some point during the Week 7 contest, a large percentage of Bengals fans stopped getting angry after yet another three-and-out or stopped screaming at the television every time the Colts picked up 12 yards on another inside handoff. They didn’t give up on the season or the team or their love of football in general. But they gave up on this particular game. And for the Bengals, as Marvin Lewis would say, “That is not a good thing.”
“It was bad.” —offensive coordinator Hue Jackson with a succinct yet accurate game recap
1. A.J. Green
Where art thou, AJ? After a Week 6 tie where Green’s absence wasn’t overly detrimental, the Green-less dumpster that was the Bengals Week 7 offense was roaring with flames from the moment the team stepped foot on the field. You’ve heard the numbers all week: eight-straight three-and-outs to start the game, zero first-downs until the waning moments of the first half, 27 yards on 28 first-half plays, a total of 135 yards on the day, a 2.5 yard-per-play average, and there are rumors of Marvin Lewis kicking a puppy during halftime. It was painfully obvious just how important Green is to the Bengals operation, not to mention a few of the other weapons (Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert) the team was banking on for this season. But you also have to give the Colts credit for a perfect gameplan under the circumstances. They knew they could stack the box on runs and blitz Andy Dalton like crazy on passes due to the lack of competent receiving options. They keyed in on Giovani Bernard any time he snuck out for a screen and made an effort to keep Mohamed Sanu covered while hardly glancing at the other wideouts. They knew that regardless of how many mistakes or turnovers their offense made or how well the Bengals defense played, as long as they kept Cincinnati from making big plays on offense, Andrew Luck would put up enough points to win. They probably weren’t banking on holding the Bengals to 135 yards and a shutout, but they realized that without someone like AJ Green on the field, the Bengals offensive options were incredibly limited, and the Colts made sure to exploit it. Andy Dalton sure as hell didn’t play well, but he didn’t really have a chance to, either.
2. First Downs
None in the initial 29 minutes of the first half. Eight total on the day, five of which came in the fourth quarter after falling behind 24-0. Only 1 of 13 on third downs.
3. Kevin Huber
Eleven punts for 558 yards and a 50.7 average, a long of 63, three punts downed inside the 20, and a touchback that should have been downed inside the 5. It’s not good if your punter is forced into action 11 times, but at least he performed well.
4. Hue Jackson
The good news is, he volunteered to take all of the heat in the wake of the Indianapolis turd sandwich. But the question going forward is how he handles those games (like Sunday) when the team has a few empty chambers. I don’t think anyone is expecting this team to put up 37 points and 500-plus yards every week without Green (which hopefully won’t be the case much longer), Jones, and Eifert. But he also has to construct a gameplan that yields a return better than 135 yards and zero points. (If Dan Fouts were writing this, he’d remind you that points are important.) And on a broader scale, on those weeks when Dalton is off or others are hurt or AJ is getting triple-teamed or the run game is going nowhere, will Jackson be able to adapt? Sunday could either be a wake-up call or a bad harbinger.
5. Mike Nugent
Honorable Mention: points (or lack thereof), a slightly improved pass rush, Pacman on kickoff returns, Andy Dalton
Andy Dalton vs The Blitz
On 13 dropbacks, Dalton was 6/13 (46.2%) for 63 yards (4.8 ypa), 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 0 sacks, a QB rating of 60.7, and a PFF grade of 0.5. Improbably, of the four passing categories tracked by PFF (No Pressure, Plays Under Pressure, When Not Blitzed, When Blitzed), Dalton’s PFF grade against the blitz was his highest of the four.
After three weeks of lockdown defending, the Bengals have slipped waaaaayyyy down the statistical leaderboard. The unit is currently 20th in the league in terms of Football Outsiders DVOA rankings and 31st in total yards allowed per game. There are 32 teams in the NFL, by the way.
This week’s Madden GIFerator creation
Paul Guenther says he’s trying to get Vontaze Burfict to tackle with his head up, “But it’s like trying to get a dog not to eat red meat.”
— Dan Hoard (@Dan_Hoard) October 22, 2014
For as awful as the last three weeks have been for the Bengals (blowout loss, terrible tie, blowout loss), they could right the ship with a win at home this weekend over the Baltimore Ravens, which would hoist them into first place in the AFC North. A loss, however, would only swell the talk of a full-on tailspin. Uh, should be fun…