CINCINNATI — The Bengals passed it off as an opening-game aberration when Andy Dalton was sacked a career-high seven times in a win over the Jets. It turned out to be the start of a trend.
Dalton has been sacked 17 times in five games, tied for second most in the NFL. Indianapolis has allowed 20 sacks.
Dalton has been sacked once every 12 pass attempts this season, which would be the worst rate of his career if it holds for a season. He was sacked a career-high 46 times in his second season of 2012. His best showing was 2014, when he went nearly 24 attempts between sacks.
Dalton was at 20 sacks last season before breaking his right thumb against Pittsburgh in the 13th game. He’s three sacks away from matching that total.
What’s surprising is that the line is virtually intact from last season and has been generally healthy. The only switch is Cedric Ogbuehi, a first-round draft pick in 2015, taking over at right tackle for Andre Smith, who went to Minnesota. Even when he’s not getting sacked, Dalton has been under steady pressure.
“I’ve got to get the ball out of my hands quicker,” said Dalton, who leads the AFC with 1,503 yards passing. “There are a lot of things that we could do to fix it up. There’s an importance on it, and we know that.”
The Cowboys got consistent pressure on Dalton last Sunday without blitzing much during a 28-14 win, which was surprising given the depth of experience on the offensive line. The Bengals fell to 2-3 for the first time in six years, and the sacks are one of the most glaring issues.
“You’ve seen teams win Super Bowls with makeshift offensive lines and figure out ways to get it done,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “The reality is it’s not just us, but we’re a big component of it.”
The Cowboys scored touchdowns on their first three drives and went after Dalton in the second half, knowing he’d have to throw after Cincinnati fell behind 28-0. Dalton was sacked three times in the second half.
“Inevitably, if you are down 20-something points and throwing it every play, people are going to beat the offensive line up because they are giving up sacks in the fourth quarter,” Whitworth said. “And all of a sudden it’s their fault they lost the game. That’s not the truth.”
Ogbuehi had a particularly tough time Sunday against the Cowboys’ pass rush.
“It’s his first year actually playing and starting,” Whitworth said. “He’s going to have ups and downs.”
The Bengals have a tough challenge against the Patriots (4-1) in New England, where Cincinnati hasn’t won since 1986. When the Bengals played there in 2014, they got drubbed 43-17 as the Patriots held the Bengals to 0 for 7 on third-down conversions.
“I can remember all the way back to my second or third year when we played them,” Whitworth said. “We prepared for them to be one thing the entire week and the first snap they were, the next 68 snaps they weren’t. I was just in shock. Never really seen that before. They have a great ability to do that.”
NOTES: Everyone except TE Tyler Eifert fully practiced Friday and is expected to play Sunday. Eifert didn’t practice all week and has been ruled out for his sixth game. He’s recovering from offseason ankle surgery and a back injury suffered this month while practicing. … The last time the Bengals fell to 2-4 was 2010, when they finished 4-12. They drafted Dalton and receiver A.J. Green the following year and started a run of five straight playoff appearances and first-round losses.