Sports Today: 2 keys to success for the Bengals tonight and beyond

Well, the Reds have remembered how to be competitive. Will the Bengals follow suit tonight, or do their problems trump their strengths? 

There were no surprising positives in the loss to the Cincinnati Bengals’ loss to the Baltimore Ravens, but there were negatives I didn't see coming. 

Of course, Andy Dalton tops the latter list. 

The young players on the front seven didn't really do anything. 

Everything else was more or less expected. 

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Those two areas are probably going to be the most important on which success and failure will hinge this season. 

The offensive line is what it is (bad). 

The skill players are what they are (good with the potential to get better). 

The youngsters on defense need to have an impact or that unit won't be anything more than average. 

And of course Dalton has the ball in his hands, so when he loses it the team really suffers. 

Aside from turning the ball over five times, Dalton left points and yards out there last Sunday when he missed throws he has to make at this point in his career. 

I picked the Bengals to win 10 games, but that was more about their schedule than my confidence in them. 

I don't expect the Ravens or Texans to be very good, though they should hover around .500. If the Bengals can't beat either of them — at home, no less — how likely is it they will have a winning record themselves? 

But they can chase away some of those demons starting tonight against the Texans, who were whipped even worse on opening day than the Bengals were. 

This will be another big challenge for the offensive line, but they shouldn’t need a lot of points to win this one… 

Speaking of the Reds, they are 10-9 over the past three weeks. 

That's much, but it's something. 

The same can be said of Tyler Mahle’s start last night: Not good enough for the long haul but something to build on. 

In his fourth major-league start, Mahle struck out four and walked three while allowing no runs. He got his first win in the big leagues but lasted only five innings. 

That is what was reasonable to expect out of the young pitchers and the team as a whole back in April, but it’s not what they were getting very often until the end of last month. 

Finally the Reds look like a team that has figured some things out they need to know to continue to get better... 

Sticking with baseball, I was surprised all of the Facebook responses to my story about changes coming next year were negative

I didn't think the reaction to anything was ever universal on the internet! 

For the record, I love baseball, including the timelessness of it. 

I don’t want it to be more like the other sports, although the pace of play issues here exist in various forms in football and baseball, too. 

I see these changes being proposed as things that will bring it back to balance. 

Length of games doesn't bother me, but the stoppages have increased and stretched out nearly to the point of absurdity over the past 10-20 years. 

I like being able to have some time to think between pitches but not to make a grocery list. 

So I don't see these things so much as modernizing the game as restoring it. 

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Ironically, almost all of the changes Bud Selig made were for the worse. 

Adding the wild cards I think was a necessity, but the All-Star Game counting was dumb. 

Interleague play was interesting at first but not anymore — especially if it ultimately leads to the monstrosity that is the designated hitter coming to the National League. 

Instant replay is good overall but could use some tweaks. 

The rules about blocking the plate are problematic at best. 

The strike zone should be called the way it is defined in the rule book. 

Etc., etc…. 

Anyway, I can assure you I’m more traditionalist than heretic when it comes to sports, especially baseball. 

But let’s pep things up, shall we? 

It’s good to have more people to share the love of the game with after all… 

Finally, what would a story this week be without mention of the Ohio State offense’s spiral into the abyss? 

Veteran Buckeye beat writer Jim Naveau of the Lima News took a look back at one of J.T. Barrett’s best games from 2014 (at Michigan State) to try to remember what is missing from the current vintage of the OSU signal-caller. 

I won’t give them all away because you should click through to the story, but his observations included Barrett had more help and he was faster and more decisive. 

These all seem quite valid. 

RELATED: The Ohio State offense has to figure out what it wants to be

I would add that more and more the MSU game looks like a bit of a fluke. 

Afterward, highly regarded Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said he saw Barrett make some out-of-character throws. 

I found that surprising at the time, but it turns out the coach was onto something. 

Looking back, Barrett made 2-3 excellent, tight, touch throws that ended up being huge, including a rainbow touchdown pass to Devin Smith and a beautiful teardrop throw on a key third-and-long. 

The rest of the night was mostly easy throws and runs that exploited the weaknesses in Michigan State’s vaunted quarters defense (all schemes have those), weaknesses that were exacerbated by a decline in personnel and resulted in that 2014 MSU defense getting torched by the three good offenses it faced while continuing to shut down everyone else. 

Of course, executing some of the easier parts of the playbook hasn’t look as much second-nature recently as it did then for Barrett. 

That probably goes back to the point about his physical state after taking a lot of hits in Ohio State’s scheme. 

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