CINCINNATI -- Late in the second quarter of the Cincinnati Bengals' 13-9 loss to the Houston Texans, someone in the Paul Brown Stadium press box yelled out a question.
“Who was Andy even trying to throw to there?”
Nobody around seemed to have the answer.
Once again, the Texans had the Bengals' number Thursday night, extending their record against quarterback Andy Dalton to 6-1. And Dalton once again faltered on the national stage, as his record in prime time fell to 5-12. He completed 19 of 34 passes for 216 yards and no touchdowns.
There are few answers in sight for the Bengals (0-2) and their offense, starting with Dalton and working down the list. The Bengals travel to Lambeau Field next week to face Green Bay, with an 0-3 start a real possibility. Since 1990, only three teams have made the playoffs after starting 0-3, which means the Bengals could be facing their second consecutive season without a playoff berth.
The Bengals' offense left when Hue Jackson took the head-coaching job in Cleveland last year, and it doesn’t look like it’s coming back anytime soon.
It took 76 minutes, 16 seconds for the Bengals to score their first points of the season, a 29-yard field goal by Randy Bullock that the Bengals elected to go for with six seconds left on the clock in the first half and a timeout in their pocket.
They’re setting records for the wrong reasons. They’re the first team since the 2009 Rams not to score a point in their first five quarters of a season (they were shut out by the Ravens 20-0 in Week 1). The Rams went 1-15 that year with a roster that had running back Steven Jackson but not much else.
The Bengals should be more talented than that, especially after spending their first two draft picks on wide receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon. They have one of the best wide receivers in the league in A.J. Green. Tight end Tyler Eifert is Pro Bowl caliber. Dalton should be in the prime of his career.
So what’s the problem?
It would be easy to blame all of the problems on the offensive line after the Bengals’ two best linemen left in free agency. It’s a patchwork product at best now after right guard Trey Hopkins was injured and replaced by T.J. Johnson.
But the offensive line's issues would be too easy of a solution, and not an easily fixable one anyway. There aren’t any tackles on the roster who can unseat the two starters.
The Dalton problem is just as concerning. A quarterback who was playing as well as anyone prior to his thumb injury in 2015 seems to have regressed this season, looking rattled for two straight weeks.
He overthrew receivers, aside from one perfect pass into triple coverage to Green, who made it look easy. (Like last year, Green has been one of the few bright spots on offense.) His short passes weren’t connecting. One to Green required the receiver to extend to grab it with his fingertips. Another to Brandon LaFell was so far out of his reach, he had to practically dive to grab it.
This wasn’t the Dalton who threw four interceptions last week, but it wasn’t the old Dalton either. He had four clear throwaway passes in the first half, tied for his career high.
There's clearly no savior coming to lift the Bengals' offense from its doldrums. If they can't figure it out, saving their season might be even less likely.