CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bengals' redesigned offense had quite an opening month, putting up yards and points at a far better rate than in the past two seasons.
With opponents getting a better idea of what they're doing, Andy Dalton and Co. have sputtered in the past three games.
It's more than just familiarity. Running back Giovani Bernard is sidelined by a knee injury, receiver John Ross has been limited by a groin injury, and the tight end position has been decimated by injuries. What's left hasn't been able to do much.
The Bengals (4-3) head into a game Sunday against Tampa Bay (3-3) looking to stop the slide as they reach the season's midpoint and their bye week.
"We did some things early on in the season that were really good," quarterback Andy Dalton said Wednesday.
In the first four games, Cincinnati's offense averaged 24.5 first downs and 376.5 total yards. In the past three, it has managed only 17 first downs per game and 282 yards, both significant drops.
Dalton's numbers reflect the trend. He threw for 1,197 yards with 11 touchdowns in the first four games. In the past three, he's thrown for 625 yards with four touchdowns.
Their worst showing by far came Sunday night during a 45-10 loss in Kansas City. The Bengals had a season-low 15 first downs and 239 yards against a defense that was last in the league. Dalton threw for only 148 yards and had an interception returned for a touchdown.
The offense was shockingly limited in the first half. A.J. Green had six catches for 110 yards. The rest of the receivers combined for four catches for 8 yards. Green accounted for 110 of Cincinnati's 139 yards as the Chiefs took control.
"A couple of us had quiet games in the first half," said receiver Tyler Boyd, who had three catches for 27 yards overall. "I definitely wanted to make more plays in the first half to ease off A.J. I know he was tired at times, and he made a ton of plays."
The Chiefs adjusted their coverage on Green in the second half and nobody else was able to take advantage.
"We have to be able to react and adjust in-game and get back on track," Dalton said. "Our goal is to get back to the way we were playing and the way we know we can play."
The most glaring drop-off has been at the tight end spot with Tyler Eifert done for the season with a broken ankle and Tyler Kroft sidelined by a foot injury. C.J. Uzomah had two catches for 13 yards.
Coordinator Bill Lazor told the offense this week that good teams improve as the season goes along, and it's time to get out of the recent rut.
"We're always mentioning that the sky's the limit for this offense, and Bill was pointing out we're declining," Boyd said.
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict has repeatedly missed tackles since returning from his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancers. He also was fined $112,000 for several egregious plays during a loss to the Steelers, including hitting Antonio Brown in the head again.
In his three games, Burfict has a total of 17 tackles, no sacks, no interceptions and two passes broken up. He landed on his hip during Sunday's game and was held out of practice on Wednesday.
"He hasn't played as well as he has in the past," coach Marvin Lewis said. Asked to elaborate, Lewis said, "I don't want to talk about Vontaze. It's not relevant."
Burfict was one of 10 players held out of practice, along with CB Darqueze Dennard (shoulder), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Achilles), LB Nick Vigil (knee), long snapper Clark Harris (concussion), RB Giovani Bernard (knee), OT Jake Fisher (back), OT Bobby Hart (back), Kroft and Ross.
Rookie center Billy Price returned to practice on a limited basis. He's been sidelined for five weeks by a partially torn ligament in his right foot. DT Adolphus Washington was limited by a tailbone injury.