Fay: 9 things we've learned about the Bengals a quarter of the way through the season

CINCINNATI -- The Bengals are at the quarter pole of the season. Four games down, 12 to go. The only numbers that really matter are 1-3.

That makes a playoff run difficult but not impossible given that the rest of division and American Football Conference in general doesn’t look overly imposing.

Sunday’s game with Buffalo (1 p.m. kickoff, Paul Brown Stadium) is critical. There’s a huge difference between being 2-3 and 1-4 going into a bye week.

The Bills, by the way, are good. Their defense is allowing an NFL-low 13.5 points per game.

We don’t know how the rest of the season will turn out for Bengals, but we have been able to draw some conclusions in the first four weeks of the season. Here are nine of them:

RUSHER’S EDGE 

Fourth-round pick Carl Lawson looks like the steal of the draft. How good is Lawson at rushing the passer? The Browns gave all-pro tackle Joe Thomas help in blocking him last week and Lawson still put pressure on the quarterback. 

Lawson is converting from down lineman to linebacker, although the Bengals are primarily using him to rush the passer from the edge.

"He told me, ‘I don’t know anything about playing stand-up linebacker. But I know how to rush the passer,'" Vontaze Burfict said.

EIFERT OUT -- AGAIN

Tyler Eifert continues to struggle with injuries. He’s been on the inactive list the last two games. He has a total of four catches and no touchdowns.

The current ailment is a back injury. Injuries/rehab limited him to eight gams last year. He’s missed 27 games due to injury in his four-plus years in the NFL.

His contract is up after this year. At this point, it would be surprising if the Bengals extend him, especially the way Tyler Kroft played against Cleveland. 

DALTON’S DALTON

Andy Dalton’s season started with one of his worst games as a pro -- four interceptions, no touchdowns -- in the 20-0 loss to Baltimore. 

But he’s since shown he still has it. 

Dalton’s quarterback rating is 90.6, 14th in the NFL, and he hasn’t thrown a pick since Week 1. 

OH NO, O-LINE

The offensive line has been a tick below awful. Tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher rate among the worst in the NFL in their position.

Working Andre Smith into the rotation has helped a bit. Smith played the majority of snaps against the Browns. He was used at both tackle spots and guard. 

Coach Marvin Lewis downplayed the struggles.

“We had a 'struggle' play or two, but I thought they played a better football game,” Lewis said. “And they're going to have to continue to do that.”

Yes, they are. The overall line play has to get better for the Bengals to go on any kind of run. 

ROSS A LOSS?

No. 1 pick John Ross has been active for one game because of a knee injury suffered in the final preseason game. He has one touch -- on a run. 

It’s way too early to label the pick a bust. But it’s not too early to start looking at this as a lost year for Ross. 

RUNNING GAME, WHAT RUNNING GAME?

The running game has been pretty bad. The Bengals are ranked 23rd in the NFL at 88.8 yards per game and 28th in yards per rush at 3.3. 

They seemed to have second-round pick Joe Mixon as the lead back. He ran it 17 times for 29 yards against Cleveland. It’s hard to blame that on Mixon. He was getting hit five yards behind the line of scrimmage at times. 

PLAY CALLING

The firing of offensive coordinator Ken Zampese seems to be warranted. The play-calling and execution has been better since Bill Lazor was promoted from quarterback coach to coordinator. 

PLAYMAKER MAKING PLAYS

The idea in drafting Ross was to take pressure off A.J. Green. Ditto re-signing Brandon LaFell. Ditto drafting Tyler Boyd in 2016. But none of it has worked. 

Still, Green is being Green. Despite the double teams, he is seventh in NFL with 315 receiving yards and fifth in catches with 25. LaFell is tied for 151st in the NFL with 76 receiving yards. 

DENNARD HITS HARD

Former No. 1 pick Darqueze Dennard finally seems to have come into his own at cornerback. This is the first year Dennard has been fully healthy. 

He is third on the team with 21 tackles. He also has two sacks. Pro Football Focus rated him as the 17th best corner overall and fourth best against the run.

“Tackling is a lost art,” he said. “But if you want to play at Michigan State, you’ve got to be able to tackle.”

John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at johnfayman@aol.com.

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