Bengals' pass-rushers proving they should use potential top pick on a QB

CINCINNATI -- The drives before and after halftime of Cincinnati Bengals' 34-13 loss to the New England Patriots showed how a productive pass rush can change games.

Before the half, Cincinnati’s defensive line tallied two sacks that kept the Bengals’ hopes of a victory alive. In the first possession of the second half, the line couldn’t generate any pass rush as the Patriots scored a touchdown.

As the Bengals look toward 2020 and beyond, they need young edge rushers Sam Hubbard and Carl Lawson to aid veterans Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins in the pursuit of opposing quarterbacks.

It’s unclear if Hubbard and Lawson will turn into elite pass-rushers, but they’ve arguably done enough to show the Bengals should pass on Ohio State’s Chase Young and draft a QB, if Cincinnati has the first overall pick in the 2020 draft.

On Sunday against the Patriots (11-3), Hubbard and Lawson showed glimpses of their potential. In his first game back from a knee injury, Hubbard notched his sixth sack of the season, his third in as many appearances. Lawson, who has battled a hamstring issue all season, tallied two quarterback hits.

When healthy, both players have been effective for Cincinnati (1-13). And given their relative youth -- Lawson was drafted in 2017 and Hubbard in 2018 -- there’s reason for optimism about their development.

Young is arguably the best player in college football. The Ohio State junior had 16.5 sacks in 11 games this season.

But as Sunday’s game and virtually the entire 2019 season has shown, the Bengals are in dire need of a quarterback. Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton threw four interceptions against the Patriots, tying a career high. The Bengals already used rookie Ryan Finley for three starts this season before going back to Dalton.

The Bengals’ pass rush has looked much better in recent weeks. Cincinnati has 14 sacks in the last six contests. And when the game was in question, the Bengals gave Patriots quarterback Tom Brady problems.

It wasn’t a lot, but it should be enough for the Bengals to remove any doubts about how to spend the first pick in the upcoming draft.

Describe the game in two words: Painful mistakes. Cincinnati committed five turnovers that the Patriots used to score 13 points, including 10 during the middle of the game that served as the catalyst for the blowout.

QB Breakdown: Dalton did not help his case to be a starting quarterback for an NFL team next season. He was 17 of 31 passing for 151 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. Three of those interceptions occurred in the third quarter and helped the Patriots pull away, including a 64-yard pick-six by New England’s Stephon Gilmore. Dalton’s status as Cincinnati’s starter in 2020 was a longshot before Sunday’s game, and those odds tilted further against his favor after his latest outing.

Turning point: The Bengals did a good job early in the game of putting pressure on Brady. But on third-and-goal on New England’s first possession of the third quarter, Brady handled Cincinnati’s four-man rush and found N’Keal Harry for a 7-yard touchdown. That gave New England a 20-10 lead. According to NFL Next Gen, Brady held the ball for 5.71 seconds before the throw.