Bengals offense a 2-man show, defense an enigma in season’s 1st quarter

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Carlos Dunlap #96 of the Cincinnati Bengals and Domata Peko #94 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrate after making a defensive stop during the third quarter of the game against the Denver Broncos at Paul Brown Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Carlos Dunlap #96 of the Cincinnati Bengals and Domata Peko #94 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrate after making a defensive stop during the third quarter of the game against the Denver Broncos at Paul Brown Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Before the Bengals take on the Dallas Cowboys, here is a look at five reasons for Cincinnati’s 2-2 start.

1. Andy Dalton is still good (so is A.J. Green, but nobody questioned that).

After by far the best season of his career, Dalton entered 2016 facing an obvious question: Has he turned the corner from inconsistent up-and-comer to franchise quarterback, or was 2015 a fluke?

So far, his QB rating of 93.8 is below last season’s stellar 106.3, but it is higher than his career mark 88.7.

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Dalton’s done it with a mostly new cast around him and despite pass protection leaving something to be desired.

Of course, having A.J. Green to throw to is a major benefit. Green is No. 1 in the league with 32 catches and third in yardage (468).

2. They miss Tyler Eifert.

That said, the Bengals have been flat-out terrible in the red zone so far. With four touchdowns in 13 trips, their conversion percentage is worst in the NFL.

Getting back injured tight end Tyler Eifert would likely help this significantly, but when that happens remains to be seen.

Offensive coordinator Ken Zampese said this week they can't simply wait for Eifert to come back and save the day.

3. The offensive line hasn’t been great yet.

A more consistent effort by the offensive line would probably help in the red zone, too.

No matter where they are on the field, the Bengals haven’t yet shown the ability to run it simply because they feel like it, and they are averaging only 3.1 yards per carry as a team, worse than all but two teams in the league.

Cincinnati is also near the bottom of the league rankings in sacks allowed, although seven of the 13 came in the opener against the Jets.

4. What about the defense?

This is a tough unit to get a read on.

Aside from one play, it was stellar the last time against the Dolphins. Miami's offense is terrible, though, and that one play — a 74-yard touchdown pass — is part of a big play epidemic.

The Bengals struggled to stop the run in Weeks 1 and 2 but contained the passing games of the Jets and Steelers before getting torched by first-year Denver starter Trevor Siemian.

ExploreMarvin Lewis said the Bengals will need their big-boy pants this week to stop Dallas rookie Ezekiel Elliott.

5. Don’t blame the defensive line.

Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins have spearheaded a great start to the season for the Bengals front while the back seven has been short-handed much of the time because of injuries and Vontaze Burfict’s three-game suspension.

Reserve Will Clarke has also been active, notching three sacks of his own, while Domata Peko continues to hold down the middle and Margus Hunt looks to take advantage of extensive playing time.

The most time-tested way to short-circuit a passing game is to put the quarterback on his back, so this is a good foundation to build on the rest of the way.

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