How to fix Bengals' struggling offense? Start in the red zone

6:00 AM ET

  • Ben BabyESPN Staff Writer

CINCINNATI -- The first drive of the Cincinnati Bengals' most recent loss showed a reason they are still winless.
On Cincinnati's opening series against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, the Bengals' moved the ball with ease until they were four yards away from the goal line. That's when it became tricky.

After a 1-yard loss and an incomplete pass on third down, Cincinnati was forced to settle for a field goal. And in what has turned into a theme in 2019, the Bengals couldn't end a red zone drive in a touchdown.

Five weeks into the season, the Bengals are 31st in red zone efficiency and have the second-most turnovers in that part of the field. Cincinnati's 14 trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line have yielded only four touchdowns. Only the Miami Dolphins, one of the other four winless teams in the NFL, are worse.

Ahead of Sunday's game at the Baltimore Ravens (3-2), figuring out how to convert from close range could do wonders for fixing an offense ranked 28th in points per game.

"When we get down there, we need to score seven points," Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. "That's really not something we can afford to miss on."

Cincinnati (0-5) has plenty of tape that shows how much settling for field goals can hurt. In the opener against Seattle, the Bengals had almost 200 more total yards than the Seahawks but failed to convert those into touchdowns in a 21-20 loss.

The trend persisted last week against the Cardinals. On the Bengals' first drive of the game, they used the rushing attack to get down to the Cardinals' 4-yard line before the offense stalled out. On third-and-goal, a pass deflected off wide receiver Auden Tate's hands and the Bengals settled for a field goal.

The drive was similar to one in the Bengals' Week 4 loss at Pittsburgh. A potential touchdown pass bounced off tight end Tyler Eifert's hands, his first drop since 2015, according to ESPN Stats and Info. The Bengals kicked a field goal, their only points in the 27-3 defeat.

First-year coach Zac Taylor said curing the red zone woes isn't as complex as it may seem.

"We feel like there's opportunity there," Taylor said. "We just gotta step up and make the play."

Cincinnati's 14 red zone trips are just shy of the league average of 15.6. But the efficiency of 28.6 percent is much lower than the league's median (55.2 percent).

To compound the problem, those point-starved drives have occurred at the beginning of the last two games. Callahan said while the timing can impact some teams, he believes that hasn't been the case with Cincinnati.

"I don't think our team necessarily is struggles with it," Callahan said. "I haven't sensed a letdown in any sense."

However, missed opportunities tend to linger in the mind. Tate, who's started the past three weeks, said one never fully puts those types of plays behind them. But it's a necessity for an offense that needs to score more touchdowns.

"You just kind of stash it where it doesn't affect you too much," Tate said. "Either way it goes, you've got another ball coming your way pretty soon, so you've gotta take it out of your head fast."