ANALYSIS: Sorting out what we know about winless Bengals, unbeaten Buckeyes

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

My 50,000-foot view of the plight of Cincinnati’s professional football team through two weeks isn’t much different than it was through zero weeks.

This season is about the Bengals finally being able to outscore people regularly with Joe Burrow and his trio of receivers rather than miraculously winning with defense because the ‘D’ isn’t going to be as good without Vonn Bell and Jesse Bates. That makes Burrow’s calf injury that much more unfortunate to start season.

The offense predictably no-showed in Week 1, and the defense wasn’t good enough to save them.

The offense showed up late in Week 2 (also predictable unless you thought they’d scuffle the whole afternoon again), and the defense was dominated (be afraid, be very afraid).

Now what?

Some thoughts on that and the state of the Ohio State football squadron heading into its biggest game of the early season:

  • Still a lot of season left and I expect them to recover, so these losses are more about The Narrative than anything. Those stats about starting 0-2 being a disaster for most NFL teams don’t really mean that much. Most teams that start 0-2 don’t make the playoffs because they are bad teams who were never going to make the playoffs anyway. Any number of other variables might exist, so that part doesn’t really matter.
  • Unlike a year ago, head coach Zac Taylor and his staff have earned the right to feel confident they can work through the issues on both sides of the ball because they did so last year, and that didn’t feel like a fluke. They made smart schematic changes, especially on offense, to maximize their talent so it’s fair to expect they can do that again.
  • Burrow’s lingering calf injury obviously is a major variable. I ignored Ja’Marr Chase saying Burrow could skip the first few weeks of the season if necessary to make sure he got back to 100 percent, but he might have been on to something. I just sort of assumed based on the initial timeline and the attitude Burrow and Taylor gave off he was going to be healthy a week or two before the season started and only have rust to fight. If not, then he should have given it extra time because they were going to lose the first two games anyway against good teams that know them so well. Hindsight is 20/20, but that was a gamble not worth taking if there were any appreciable risk of re-injury that could have been avoided in a relatively short period of time.
  • The good news for the Bengals is their schedule is pretty thin until they have to go to San Francisco on Oct. 29. Overall, their schedules is remarkably weak for a division winner, thanks in part to Minnesota actually being a bad team and Seattle being nothing to write home about, either.
  • A big difference in being 0-2 overall and in the division from last year: Cleveland underachieved, which doesn’t look like it’s going to happen again, and so did beaten-up Baltimore in 2022. The Ravens added some key weapons for Lamar Jackson, and he’s still Lamar Jackson, so they are a much more formidable challenge than last year when they almost beat the Bengals in a playoff game anyway without Jackson.
  • The bad news is whether or not Burrow can get back to full strength this season is now in question. Not only that, it would stand to reason he could not only be bothered by his calf injury but hurt it more severely if a tear already exists in that muscle. They are really in double Jeopardy now because Burrow needs reps to get back to form, but what if he needs rest even more?
  • With Ohio State, the first three weeks have been choose your own adventure as far as what to believe. Showing incremental improvement is nice for narrative purposes, but nothing really matters once the ball goes in the air on Saturday night at Notre Dame.
  • The coaching staff seemed to find more ways to get Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka the ball with room to run Saturday, and the running backs continue to look good when they get a crack, so again it all comes down to the offensive line. They obviously did some good things against Western Kentucky, but the Hilltoppers had struggled mightily to stop the run in the first two weeks. Of course, Notre Dame presents a much greater challenge up front
  • Kyle McCord seems to get better the more situations he faces, which makes a lot of sense. Can he be close to C.J. Stroud or Justin Fields? Only time will tell, but he’s go the basic tools to succeed in this offense, which is still a significant box to check if you look around the Big Ten and see how many teams are trying to rely on quarterbacks who don’t.
  • What about the defense? They were active and opportunistic against Western Kentucky, which is supposed to be good on offense. The Hilltoppers had one drive and a handful of plays, but 10 points are 10 points. With how few havoc plays and turnovers Ohio State forced last season, there is an increased margin for error if they can just get those to be more frequent.
  • More than anything, Ohio State-Notre Dame should tell us a lot about the Buckeyes in the trenches, McCord’s moxie and Jim Knowles’ belief in his newfound pragmatism when it comes to calling a game.

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