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Bengals Midseason Report: Good, Bad, Ugly; MVP; Marvin Meter; second half prediction

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - The Bengals have reached the midway point of the 2017 season with a 3-5 record and many more questions than answers. Here is a good, bad and ugly look (three of each) of the first half, the team's MVP and most disappointing player at this point, where things are heading for head coach Marvin Lewis' future, three keys to the second half of the season and a second half record prediction:

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: WR A.J. Green.

The Skinny: Even in a down year statistically thanks to coverage rolled his way more often and less time for quarterback Andy Dalton to throw, Green is still on pace to catch 78 passes for 1,156 yards and eight touchdowns. It would mark the sixth time in seven seasons he would eclipse 1,000 yards receiving. Last year he finished with 964 yards because a Grade II hamstring tear kept him out of almost seven full games.

MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: LT Cedric Ogbuehi.

The Skinny: I realize many would select first-round pick John Ross, but I can't blame him for the injuries that set him back. Truth be told I could probably name the entire offensive line (and I do in one of the categories below), but after flopping in 11 starts at right tackle last season, Ogbuehi was supposed to be more comfortable at left tackle and perform more like the reason he was a first-round draft pick in 2015. He has instead shown that he can't perform at a high level at left tackle and is only starting because the team doesn't have any other options.

THE GOOD

  • 1. Aside from Ross, the 2017 rookie class.
  • 2. Vontaze Burfict hasn't been called for unnecessary roughness.
  • 3. Tight end Tyler Kroft has done just fine in place of injured Tyler Eifert.

The Skinny: Second-round pick Joe Mixon has looked exceptional at times, and who knows how good he might be with even an adequate offensive line? Third-round pick Jordan Willis has been a contributor and recorded a sack and a blocked punt. Fourth-round pick Carl Lawson has wowed as a pass-rusher at times and has 4.5 sacks, while tackle Ryan Glasgow (another fourth-round pick) has been a solid rotation performer and Josh Malone (another fourth-round pick) caught a touchdown pass two weeks ago.

Burfict has been called for unnecessary roughness 13 times in his career (which is one of the reasons he was suspended multiple games to start each of the last two seasons) and had at least one such penalty in each of his first five seasons, but so far this season he hasn't had one penalty of that time called on him. He was called for roughing the passer against Cleveland, but even what he did to receive that penalty was benign.

As I wrote in a column a few weeks ago when it was announced that Eifert was done for the season due to needing back surgery again that the way Kroft was playing at the time would soften that blow significantly. His solid performance has since continued. Kroft is tied for second on the team in receptions (25), receiving yards (287) and touchdown receptions (three) with all but one catch for five yards coming in the last six games - all without Eifert. If you take Kroft's six-game stats in Eifert's place and extrapolate them to a 16-game season, he would be on pace to finished with 64 receptions for 752 yards and eight touchdowns. In Eifert's best season (2015) he finished with 52 receptions for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns.

THE BAD

  • 1. Wide receivers other than Green.
  • 2. Trying to rotate three running backs.
  • 3. The inability to create turnovers.

The Skinny: While Green has 39 receptions for 578 yards and four touchdowns, the other Bengals wide receivers (not tight ends or running backs) have combined for 40 receptions for 395 yards and two touchdowns. Those other guys simply don't win one-on-one matchups enough, which is why Green is seeing more and more coverage consistently rolled his way.

The three-headed monster at running back was a disaster from the start. First the Bengals tried to rotate them equally a series at a time. Then they tried to create some roles for them where Hill would start, play a series and then be relieved by Mixon. Then he would start the second half, play a series and be relieved by Mixon. Bernard has been the odd-man out of late, being used mostly as a third-down back. The end result is the trio has combined to rush for 503 yards and average only 3.1 yards per carry.

The Bengals defense has played well, for the most part (it ranks sixth in the NFL in fewest yards allowed per game and tied for 11th in points allowed). However, it had just six takeaways in the first eight games (five interceptions and one fumble recovery). Keep in mind Baltimore had five takeaways against the Bengals in the opener (although in fairness quarterback Andy Dalton had a little something to do with that).

THE UGLY

  • 1. The offensive line.
  • 2. Ross' inability to play more than 11 snaps in three games he was healthy.
  • 3. Green losing his mind at Jacksonville.

The Skinny: In a word, the offensive line has been atrocious. The offense ranks last in the NFL in yards per game (269.8), rushing yards per game (72.2) and yards per carry (3.1). Morever, Dalton has been sacked 24 times, which would be far more if he wasn't adept at scrambling enough to throw the ball away. Dalton is on pace to be sacked a career high 48 times.

Injuries have limited Ross, but he has been healthy for three games and played in only two as he was a healthy scratch in Jacksonville. Fans are already labeling him a bust, which is unfair. Yet being a healthy scratch in the eighth game of the season doesn't speak highly of the team's 2017 first-round draft pick.

Green's choke hold and flurry of punches thrown at Jacksonville cornerback Jalen Ramsey was so out of character that it's fair to wonder how much of this season's poor performance of the offense played a role in his pent up anger?

THE MARVIN METER

The Skinny: For those screaming for head coach Marvin Lewis to be fired, I get it. But the Bengals just aren't going to do that until the season is over, and because his contract only runs through the 2017 season, unless his team puts a miracle turnaround together and makes the playoffs his tenure will have run out gas in Cincinnati after a season in which his motto was, "Run on your own gas." Sorry, but the tank is pointing close to empty.

3 KEYS TO THE SECOND HALF

  • 1. Get Ross on the field.
  • 2. Get back in the I-formation and try to run downhill more.
  • 3. Take a few more chances on defense.

The Skinny: Even if all Ross can do is run deep, and even if he has a hard time getting off jams at the line of scrimmage to do that, the one or two times a game he is successful at it should put some level of fear in opposing defensive coordinators that they can't constantly double-team Green. It also gives the Bengals a chance to hit a big play now and again, something they rarely did in the first eight games.

I know the I-formation is old school and the preference is to use three and four wide receiver sets to spread the field and then run the ball out of the shotgun thanks to less defenders in the box. But the Bengals don't have receivers other than Green that can win one-on-one battles anyway and this line isn't good enough to hold blocks long enough for running plays from the shotgun to work. Line up in the "I" and use more power running plays. It can't be any worse than what they are trying, and if it's successful it will open up some level of play-action passes.

It's hard to argue with what the defense has done to this point, because it has held up its end of things pretty well and it has done so primarily with four-man pressures. That's been effective enough for the unit to record 22 sacks despite rarely playing with a lead late in games. Still. defensive coordinator Paul Guenther may need to blitz more often, which is risky, but could lead to more turnovers being created. That could help the offense with some short fields to negotiate.

SECOND HALF RECORD PREDICTION: 3-5

The Skinny: There are probably only two games the Bengals will be favored (unless things turn around quickly) - Cleveland (Nov. 26) and Chicago (Dec. 10) at home. There are winnable games at Denver (Nov. 19) and at Baltimore (Dec. 31) and home against Detroit (Dec. 24), but there are three games that will be extremely difficult to win - this Sunday at Tennessee, Pittsburgh at home (Dec. 4) and at Minnesota (Dec. 17).

I will give them wins over Cleveland and Chicago and somehow they will win one more, but it's hard to see them winning more than unless some things change drastically from the first half of the season.

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