Bengals' defense has tough challenges ahead after bye week

CINCINNATI – The Bengals made it to the midpoint of the season. Barely.

Their injury list has been eye-popping. They’ve already lost Tyler Eifert, Ryan Glasgow and Carl Lawson for the season. Giovani Bernard, Vontaze Burfict, Darqueze Dennard, Tyler Kroft, John Ross, Billy Price and Nick Vigil have missed a combined 21 games due to injury (not including Burfict’s three missed games due to suspension).

A.J. Green was also spotted in a walking boot following the Buccaneers win last week, although he said his toe injury would be fine.

While it is cliché to say the bye week comes at the right time, this team needed it more than ever, especially with some difficult games still on deck. Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd said the second half of the season sure looks brighter at 5-3 vs. 4-4, which almost happened after the Bengals allowed the Buccaneers to come back last week and almost take them to overtime.

“That would have been a horror (show)," Boyd said after the game. "That would have stung. None of us would have wanted to go home on a loss. I think it’s great momentum for this team to come back and win and continue to win. Us not carrying any negative energy around helps a lot.”

The Bengals have their issues, certainly. Their offense has been inconsistent and their defense has trended downward with every game, allowing more than 480 yards in each of the last three games to the Buccaneers, Chiefs and Steelers, which rank as the Nos. 1, 3 and 4 offenses in yards-per-game, respectively.

The players have put the blame on their shoulders for some of the mistakes they've made lately. If they can correct them, they're set up in a good position to move forward in the second half of the season.

“We’re very happy. It could be a lot worse, and it could be a lot better," safety Jessie Bates said. "Being 5-3 going into the bye week, guys are going to be able to go home and see their families and kind of press the restart button and get this thing going. The second part of the season will be very special for us.”

Next up: The Saints, who rank No. 2 in scoring offense. That's followed by a divisional game in Baltimore, and eventually a visit to the Chargers, who rank sixth in the league with 402.7 yards per game. There's also the possibility that the Bengals' playoff berth comes down to a Week 17 trip to Pittsburgh, which has now Cincinnati seven straight times.

Considering the Bengals are on pace to break the 2012 Saints' record for most yards allowed in a season, those matchups don't bode well.

However, it all depends on what Bengals' team shows up that week. If Bengals could correct some of their issues and get some players healthy, they could use the momentum going into the bye as a springboard to the rest of the season. They have four very winnable games on the schedule with the floundering Browns, who just fired coach Hue Jackson, up twice.

It’s possible the Browns could get some sort of boost with a new coach at the helm, but considering the Bengals have beaten them the last seven tries, the scales aren’t in Cleveland’s favor. The Broncos and Raiders are a combined 4-11, and the Bengals get them both at home.

The other four games are a bit trickier.

The Saints game looks like the most challenging matchup, and even the added bye week might not be enough time to get players such as Vigil back. Vigil was expected to be out about a month with an MCL sprain that occurred on Nov. 14 against the Steelers. The Saints game is on Nov. 11.

Price, who has been out with a foot injury since the Ravens game in Week 2, looks almost certain to be back, while Dennard, whose shoulder was still in a sling last week, remains more ambiguous about his return. If the Bengals are still missing all those players when they return for the bye against the Saints, they'll have to play a lot better than they did against the Buccaneers to beat them.