CINCINNATI -- Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor didn't want to hold anything back from his team when he got up to address the offense in its Monday morning meeting.
Its numbers were going in the wrong direction.
"This is a long season. There are ups and downs. What was important ... was to be real honest with the players," Lazor said. "Here are the facts."
The facts are that the team's points, yardage and time of possession aren't where the Bengals want those numbers to be. They declined from one of the best teams in the red zone to a team that could only put up 10 points against the Kansas City Chiefs in a blowout loss in Week 7.
It's not as if the Bengals didn't see what was happening after they scored only 10 points against the Chiefs, but to see it in plain data was sobering.
"Just lay it out to them," Lazor said. "Be honest and drag through it and get it back. It’s not the first time. It happens. No one is happy about it, and there’s only one way I know how to deal with it -- which is to work. Coaches work a certain way at it. Players work at it a certain way. It’s the only way getting out of a rut. It’s not easy, but it’s simple: Get to work.
The Bengals' numbers had been steadily declining by the week since they executed a last-minute drive to beat the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 30 to move to 3-1. They had 332 yards against the Miami Dolphins the following week, then only 275 against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 14 and, finally, a meager 239 yards of offense in a loss to the Chiefs.
Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd proudly proclaimed he felt the sky was the limit for this offense just a few weeks ago. Now he admits they need to find their way again.
"We've got to do a better job as players to get everything rolling," Boyd said. "Your pride gets affected when you say something and tell people what you're capable of -- and you can't do it. That hurts more than anything."
But what's the reason behind the decline? Injuries certainly are a part of it.
The offense hasn't been the same since losing tight end Tyler Eifert in the third quarter against the Falcons. In the Bengals' first 14 quarters of play, they were averaging 95 yards per quarter and 7.9 points. Eifert's injury could be the dividing line of the season so far. After Eifert went down, the Bengals' offensive averages dropped to 3.8 points per quarter and 72 yards.
That particular second half of football in Atlanta changed things for several reasons. Although the Bengals rallied to score a touchdown at the end of the game, it was clear the offense wasn't scoring as easily as it had been in the first half. Lazor said at the time that was because so many plays had been run in practice with Eifert in mind. But the trend didn't end in the next few weeks.
That's not to mention how they lost John Ross and Giovani Bernard in that same Sept. 30 contest. Their tight end position has been decimated, with Tyler Kroft and Mason Schreck going down in the following weeks.
"That's the NFL. You've just got to keep going," Lazor said. "Everyone has losses from injury at this point. So, our job is to keep going anyway, and I think that's what the really good teams do. And the other thing that really good teams in this league do is they improve. And we were very clear talking about that today with the players. And I think they're 100 percent on board. They agree. You're supposed to improve as the year goes on, you're supposed to see issues that you deal with in training camp and preseason, early in the season, and hope not to have those same mistakes come up. And that's not pointing at the players; that's coaching, that's as a team. So we just have to look long and hard about that."
But the Bengals' decline is due to more than injuries. Boyd said it was a matter of players not paying attention to details or assignments, which is something the defense also has used as a reason for a poor performance.
"Just the details, everybody missing assignments, not blocking the right leverage or guys not running enough depth in their routes. All the little things that matter to create explosive plays," Boyd said.
Tight end C.J. Uzomah put it all on the shoulders of the players.
"We kill ourselves. We kill ourselves with penalties. We kill ourselves with certain assignment errors. I know in particular that I didn't play my best game," Uzomah said of the Bengals' recent performances. "We just have to look ourselves in the mirror as an offense, because everyone had their turn on certain plays where we just didn't execute. One person does one thing wrong and it completely kills the play."
In theory, the Bengals should be able to take advantage this week of a Buccaneers defense that ranks 29th in total defense, 24th in total sacks and last in passing and scoring defense, although Tampa Bay has been stout against the run (sixth in the NFL). Quarterbacks have a passer rating of 125.8 against the Buccaneers.
However, the Bengals also should have taken advantage of a Kansas City unit that ranks last in total defense, but they came up drastically short.
"I don't want to make excuses. You've got to go with what you have, and personnel is a big part of that," Lazor said. "Defenses look at who you are. I think in the NFL they're very conscience of your personnel, and today they're dealing with who we have at the moment, so no excuses. We have plenty of good players to make yards and score points, and the other points, yards, first downs, I think is very telling. When you look at it, that's where we've hit our rut in the road right now, and we've got to dig out of it. That's the plan."