We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the NFL’s most successful teams don’t settle for field goals when they drive into the red zone right?
Uh…maybe not. The 10-3 San Francisco 49ers rank dead last in that category this year, scoring touchdowns a mere 33.6% of the time.
But the Niners have overcome their anemic red zone performance by allowing the fewest points in the NFL. You can settle for field goals when your defense only gives up 14 points a game. The Bengals don’t have that luxury.
Cincinnati currently ranks 20th in the NFL in touchdown percentage inside the red zone at 48.7%, scoring 19 TDs in 39 trips. But those numbers only tell part of the story.
Here’s a stat that will floor you: The last six times the Bengals have had a “first-and-goal” they have failed to score a touchdown.
Here’s the breakdown:
Nov. 20 at Baltimore: 1st-goal-at-7 (end of the game needing TD to tie) – 0 points.
Nov. 27 vs. Cleveland: 1st-goal-at-2 – Settled for FG after false start. 1st-goal-at-9 – Stopped on 4th down at one yard line.
Dec. 4 at Pittsburgh: 1st-goal-at-8 – TD nullified by penalty and field goal blocked.
Dec. 11 vs. Houston: 1st-goal-at-1 – Settled for FG after false start. 1st-goal-at-9 – Kicked FG.
That means the Bengals have scored 9 of a possible 42 points in those situations. It’s enough to make an offensive coordinator…
“Jump off a bridge,” said Jay Gruden. “It’s just a nightmare. We just have to get back to the drawing board and fix what ails us. You don’t get down there very often and you have to take advantage.”
The Bengals have scored on 87.2% of their red zone trips (19 TD, 15 FG in 34 trips) to rank 12th in the NFL, but the lack of touchdowns last week proved costly against Houston.
“On the first down run that we called, our tight ends didn’t go to the safety and they let the guy run right through the gap and make a tackle for a loss of two,” said Gruden. “You can’t have that happen in pro football. The false start on first-and-goal at the one was probably 90% my fault for getting the play in a little late, and then Andy should have taken a time out because we were running against the clock. So we tried to hurry and we jumped. You can’t have those kinds of mistakes and that falls on me. I have to do a better job of getting the plays out there early and calling better plays that work.”
Here’s another stat that might floor you: Since the start of training camp, the St. Louis Rams have placed 10 cornerbacks on injured reserve including their top three going into the season.
“They make up for it with a great pass rush,” said Gruden. “They play really hard on the defensive front and their linebackers are playing well. Unfortunately for them, their offense has struggled quite a bit, so they’ve been on the field so much that they’ve given up chunks of yards at the end of games. But for the most part, their defense has played pretty well.”
Still, is A.J. Green licking his chops to face the injury-ravaged Rams secondary this Sunday?
“This is the NFL man,” said Green. “There are no slackers out there – they’re all great corners. I’m going to approach it like I do in every other game with the mindset of trying to make a play whenever my number is called.”
Last week, Green was matched up with Houston’s Johnathan Joseph and finished with 5 catches for 59 yards.
“He’s getting the best corner every week,” said Gruden. “Last week it was J-Jo and he’s going to get that every week. They’ll going to roll coverage toward him and cloud him and he just has to figure out zone coverages and find holes. He has a great feel right now, but he can get even better in that regard.”
“I like that,” said Green when asked about drawing the opponent’s best corner. “That’s when you know that you’re making plays and I’m trying to be that great receiver.”
Despite missing a game and a half with a knee injury, A.J. leads NFL rookies in receptions (55), receiving yards (891), and TD catches (7). He’s on a pace to finish with 67 catches for 1096 yards.
I asked the rookie from Georgia to rate his performance on a scale from 1 to 10.
“I’d give myself about a six,” said Green. “I still have a lot of room for improvement, but I’m doing OK. It’s been a great experience. A lot of success has come my way and I’m blessed to be in this situation.”
I’ll be on the road with the UC basketball team on Wednesday night, but I hope you’ll join Dave Lapham and Wayne “Box” Miller for “Bengals Gameplan” from 6 to 8. On Friday, I’ll join Artrell Hawkins for “Bengals Pep Rally” from 3 to 6 at the Firehouse Grill in Blue Ash. The tentative guest list includes Mike Nugent (4:00), Michael Johnson (4:30), Andre Smith (5:00), and Andy Dalton (5:30). Both shows can be heard on ESPN 1530.
I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net
If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard
And I’m on Facebook. Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.
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