CINCINNATI -- There was a lot of talk about all the weapons the Bengals offense had going into this season.
The club drafted speedster receiver John Ross in the first round and running back Joe Mixon in the second. Add them to A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Brandon LaFell, a healthy Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill and Tyler Boyd and you’d have a regular scoring machine.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way -- not by a long stretch. The Bengals have scored two touchdowns and a total of 33 points in the first three weeks.
Not coincidentally, they are 0-3 going into Sunday’s game with the Browns in Cleveland.
A big part of the offensive malaise has been the absence of big plays.
Green caught a 50-yard pass in a week 2 loss to Houston. That’s the offense's only play of 40 or more yards this season.
“It’s part of what we’re trying to do now,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “We need some bigger plays. One thing is some of the play designs could change. Another thing is guys make guys miss. When you got the ball in your hands and you make guys miss, especially in man coverage, you can turn short gains into bigger gains.
“We’ve got to find a way to get more chunk plays and get the ball down the field.”
The Bengals should get an opportunity to do that this week against the Browns. Last year, the Bengals broke off plays of 74, 48 and 46 yards in a 31-17 win over Cleveland at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Browns are a different and seemingly better team this year.
But the Bengals have to get the offense to where it works no matter the opponent, or this is going to be a long, long season. The two first-half touchdowns Sunday against Green Bay were a positive sign. Being held to a field goal in the second half was a negative sign.
In order to get the ball downfield, a quarterback needs a modicum of time. Dalton has rarely gotten it. The team's best-rated offensive lineman by Pro Football Focus is Clint Boling at 67.3, which is below average. The other four fall into the poor range. Andre Smith did rate 72.9 in his 26 snaps against Green Bay.
We could stop here and wonder why Bengals didn’t address the offensive line until their eighth pick in the draft.
“Everybody plays a part in it,” Dalton said. “For me, I’ve got to be accurate. The receivers have to run the route the right way and the protection has to hold up.”
He could have added the receivers have to be on the field. Ross has been active for only one game. He has one touch and it was on a run. Eifert missed the Green Bay game with a back injury.
Ross says he feels good, but he has to be cleared by the doctor to play.
The go route to Green has been a huge part of the offense since he and Dalton arrived together. It’s been mostly absent this year.
“We haven’t taken very many shots at it is one thing,” Dalton said. “And there are different looks with the way they’ve been playing. When we get opportunities, we need to hit them.”
The running game, or lack thereof, has allowed opponents to overload the pass defense. The Bengals are averaging 3.53 yards per carry.
“Any time you can run the ball, the defense has to change a little,” Dalton said. “The defense has to change a little bit and add somebody else in the box. It leaves you with one-on-ones on the outside.”
Ross was brought in to force those one-on-ones on Green.
“I would love to be that guy,” Ross said. “But it’s going to take time.”
Again, his injury has increased the time it’s taken. Ross practiced on a limited basis one day last week.
Whether Ross or Eifert play or not, the Bengals have to score. Big play, little play or in-between play, the offense hasn’t made enough of them this year.
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Dalton said. “We have to find a way to get that changed. At the end of day, you have to make the play. Whenever the play’s called and you have the ball in your hands, you’ve got to get it done.
“That’s all it comes down to.”
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.