Why The Bengals Fans Can Be Excited

The tide is turning for Bengals fans

By: Andy Davies

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. 

This quote from Thomas A Edison best describes how fortune has favoured the Cincinnati Bengals in recent history. Their last playoff win was on January 6, 1991 against the Houston Oilers in the Wildcard Round, a thirty-year streak that remains the longest in the NFL.  

For many Bengals fans, it does not seem long ago that they reached two Super Bowls. Their most recent visit to the big game during the 1988 season saw their offense filled with players such as quarterback Boomer Esiason, fullback Ickey Woods, running back James Brooks and wide receiver Eddie Brown.  

Esiason threw for 28 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and 3,572 yards. Woods ran for 1,066 yards and 15 touchdowns. Brooks recorded 931 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns. Brown caught for 1,273 yards and 9 touchdowns. On defense, the 1988 season saw defensive end Jim Skow get 9.5 sacks, cornerback Eric Thomas have 7 interceptions and nose tackle Jim Krumrie record 152 total tackles.  

Since their loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 23, the Bengals have seen a continuous decline, with only 8 winning seasons across the following 32 seasons

False dawns appeared for the franchise, when they had five straight winning seasons between the years of 2011 and 2015. They lost all five playoff games and have failed to make the postseason ever since.  

However, there appears to be a new exciting era in franchise era. After the comeback 24-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, here is why there is room for genuine optimism in Cincinnati. 

A Tough Schedule  

Their next five games will allow the world to see the true Bengals team, with games against the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns in this time period. Games against the Detroit Lions and New York Jets allow them to pick up two extra wins.  

At worst, they will be 5-3. They have the personnel to earn some surprise victories. Their final eight games see them once again play the Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers and Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders. Six of their remaining opponents currently have a 3-1 record. They face a hard task, especially considering it is normally the team who wins the division that has a hard schedule.  

On paper, this run of fixtures will likely see Cincinnati miss out on the playoffs. Despite this, the goal for this franchise is not the present, it is the future. They have a young and exciting roster that gives them hope for years to come, one that could see them break this postseason win duck. 

Exciting Weapons On Offense  

There is of course, quarterback and 2020 first overall pick Joe Burrow. He had an encouraging rookie year before his season was cut short in Week 10. He has started 2021 in the same vein, with some brilliant performances. He has so far thrown for 9 touchdowns, 988 yards and 4 interceptions. He showed tremendous composure when driving the Bengals down the field in the second half against Jacksonville as they scored 17 unanswered third quarter point, with 348 yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in the Week Four win. 

He was reunited with former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase, who was taken fifth overall by Cincinnati in this year’s draft. The argument can be made that they should have taken an offensive tackle, considering Burrow was the ninth most sacked quarterback in 2020 despite playing five or six games less than most starting quarterbacks in the league. Nevertheless, head coach Zac Taylor and general manager Duke Tobin went with Chase and so far, it appears to be working out for them.  

Penei Sewell, who eventually ended up with the Lions seventh overall, was seen by many to be the player that the Bengals needed. He has so far been far from the player people expected, whilst Chase has been exactly as advertised. In his first four games, he has caught for 297 yards and four touchdowns from 25 targets and 17 receptions, giving him an average of 74.3 yards per game and 17.5 yards per reception. Burrow does not just have Chase to throw to. Tyler Boyd has recorded 259 yards so far. Tight end C.J.Uzomah had 95 yards and 2 touchdowns in the win over Jacksonville. This shows the plethora of offensive talent that surround Burrow in the passing game.  

The ground game is also an area that can excite fans. Running back Joe Mixon so far has 353 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns from 89 attempts. Depth may be an issue for the Bengals if Mixon was to go down with an injury, with Samaje Perine the next best rusher with a measly 28 yards from 9 carries and Burrow the third best rusher to date this campaign. Should Mixon stay health along with Chase and Boyd in particular, then the franchise is in a good place offensively. These are game changers on offense that can help the team produce big results. 

Improvement On Defense

Defense has seen a massive improvement under defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. They finished their 2020 campaign ranking 26th in total yards allowed (6,227) and yards allowed per game (389.2), 19th in passing yards allowed (3,859), 29th in rushing yards allowed (2,368) and 22nd in total points allowed (424).  

In the four games they have played so far in 2021, they rank 7th in total yards given up (1,292) and yards allowed per game (323), 13th in passing yards allowed (918), 9th in rushing yards allowed (374) and 8th in total points allowed (75).  

Defensive end Trey Hendrickson was one of the Bengals’ biggest offseason moves, signing a $60 million four-year deal after an impressive 2020 campaign. This acquisition was met with hesitancy, some believing he was playing his best because he was in a contract year. His 2020 season saw him record 13.5 sacks and 25 quarterback hits, both being more than his previous three years in the NFL. He has started 2021 in good form, with 2.5 sacks and 6 quarterback hits. This has him projected to finish the season with just over 10 sacks and 24 quarterback hits, reaching similar numbers to those of his previous campaign.  

Linebacker Logan Wilson is joint-sixth in the NFL for total tackles (4) and only the Dallas Cowboy’s Trevon Diggs (5) has more interceptions than the 3 recorded by Wilson. Offseason addition Larry Ogunjobi has recorded 4 tackles for loss, with the defensive tackle tied for eleventh across the league. 

The Bengals are giving their head coach the best chance to succeed with the start they have made, with Taylor seen as someone on the hotseat during the offseason. Taylor will be as keen as anyone to point out that it was never the aim to challenge for Super Bowls this year. They have shown enough encouragement that with a few more additions here and there along with the chance for their young talent to develop, they can once again be challenging for playoff spots and maybe more.

Why Trey Hendrickson is a serious Dark Horse DPOY candidate

Bengals Trey Hendrickson may win DPOY in 2021

By: Will Baptist

Trey Hendrickson will shoulder a lot of responsibilities after signing a 4 year $60 million contract with the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason. He will be the most talented pass rusher on the roster, and the Bengals need his presence to be felt immediately. After tying Aaron Donald for second in the NFL in sacks with 13.5 last season, he has become a force for opposing tackles to deal with.

Hendrickson has shown drastic improvement over the past two seasons and has blossomed into a dominant edge rusher. He has slowly started to take the field more often on early downs as he continues to develop as a run stopper. He played 53% of the Saints defensive snaps last year and if that number continues to grow, he can put up gaudy sack numbers. If he can successfully build on his breakout 2020 season, Hendrickson has a legitimate chance to compete for the Defensive Player of the Year award.

He will have his fair share of competition with Aaron Donald, T.J. Watt, Jalen Ramsey and so on. Aaron Donald won the award last year while also racking up 13.5 sacks, and has clearly been the best defensive player in the NFL over the last few seasons. Donald played 85% of the Rams snaps, while Watt played 83% of the Steelers snaps last season and finished with 15 sacks.

Watt, Donald and Hendrickson all racked up similar sack numbers, but Hendrickson played about 300 fewer snaps than both of them. That amount of production in only 53% of the snaps is extraordinary and will push him to develop the rest of his game in order to stay on the field more. If he can play up to at least 70% of the Bengals defensive snaps this year, he could potentially hit 20 sacks on the season.

There have only been 12 instances where a player has racked up 20 or more sacks in a season since sacks have become an official stat. With the additional game this season, it could become slightly more common, but it still will be extremely rare. Hendrickson would be in an elite company if he could get to 20 sacks but it is not out of the realm of possibility.

He has to play close to 800 snaps and remain healthy, but he also needs the players around him to be dominant at their position. If he is constantly getting double-teamed due to his teammates struggling, then it will be tough for him to win the award.

Talent surrounding him

Hendrickson had a terrific defense around him with the Saints, and Cam Jordan on the opposite side of the line to wreak havoc. Jordan drew most of the attention throughout the year and finished with 7.5 sacks, but Hendrickson has now made a name for himself. For Hendrickson to win the Defensive Player of the Year award, he needs a lot of talent around him such as he did last year.

One dominant defensive lineman can only do so much, but luckily for Hendrickson, the Bengals defense is much improved heading into the season. The line should take a massive leap forward with the return of D.J. Reader clogging up the middle and stopping the run. Sam Hubbard will be the other starting edge rusher and he just inked a new contract and is poised for a stellar season.

Hubbard had a somewhat disappointing 2020 season with only two sacks, but he excelled at stopping the run. He can work his way back to being a great pass rusher like he was in 2019 when he racked up 8.5 sacks in his second season in the NFL.

The secondary will be much better with the additions of Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie, along with Trae Waynes returning from injury. Hendrickson can tally up coverage sacks as he did with the Saints if the secondary can play up to their potential in Cincinnati.

The Saints were an excellent team last year and finished the regular season at 12-4. Opposing teams were often losing and forced to throw the ball considering how good the Saints offense was. This helped Hendrickson with the ability to constantly rush the passer due to the Saints leading in most of their games.

The Bengals will need similar offensive production to get early leads and give Hendrickson the opportunity to get after the quarterback. If the Bengals do not improve much from their 4-11-1 record, the opposing teams will be run-heavy, and this will not play to Hendrickson’s strengths. With Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon healthy, the offense should not have an issue jumping out to early leads. Which should also lead to winning a lot more games for the Bengals.

Hendrickson will have his work cut out for him in the stacked AFC North and the firepower on the offensive side of the ball in that division. Chasing around Lamar Jackson will be a daunting task, but he showed how great he can be last year, and this franchise clearly believes in his talents and ability to grow.

The Bengals will need to be much better in order for Hendrickson to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. All the stars are aligning for the Bengals, and Hendrickson has the best chance of any player on the team to secure the award. His knack for getting after the quarterback and his extremely high motor are traits that translate to any franchise and system.

The 26-year old can prove that he can be one of the best defensive players in the NFL, and make the Bengals fans forget about losing Carl Lawson in free agency. If he can accomplish winning this award, or even be in the discussion for it, then the Bengals hit the lottery with this signing. He has all of the tools to win the award, it is simply a matter of remaining healthy and growing as an all-around defensive end to stay on the field more often.

Why San Francisco 49ers should consider signing Geno Atkins

Former Bengals DT Geno Atkins signing with 49ers?

By: Jeremy Trottier

The 2021 offseason has been relatively interesting so far, with a huge deal of the free agents gone at this point.  With that said, there are still some quality signings out there to be made, and will likely happen as we get closer to training camps in the coming weeks.  Geno Atkins is one of the remaining free agents who is intriguing, as his landing spot is almost completely up in the air, and just depends on team needs come September.  In this article, I will be going over three reasons as to why the San Francisco 49ers should sign Geno.

Defensive Line Rotation

The 49ers have an extremely strong defensive line right now; however, they do lack a true force starting alongside the potential of Javon Kinlaw.  D.J. Jones is solid but does not bring much in terms of production throughout the season.  If the 49ers were able to accrue a line of Nick Bosa, Javon Kinlaw, Geno Atkins, and Arik Armstead, they would definitely be in a great place to really bulk up their rotation.  

This would also allow them to keep Dee Ford, D.J. Jones, and Kentavius Street as backups and after last season, it seems pretty clear they need to be focused on “next man up” football if players go down again.  Even if they do not have as many injuries as last season, keeping quality backups for later weeks so you can rest your starters is a solid plan.

Geno is Still a Productive Player

One of the biggest things people tend to forget about Geno is he really had one bad season to date, and that being 2020 with his shoulder surgery.  Prior to that, he made six consecutive pro bowls and an all-pro team, as well as two pro bowls in the three seasons before that.  The last season he played all 16 games (2019) he had the following stats:

  • 4.5 sacks, 47 total tackles, 4 tackles for loss
  • 10 QB hits, 10 hurries, 20 pressures, and only 6 missed tackles

It is also worth noting that 2019 was his first season playing defensive end instead of the interior, which really is not his strong suit.  If he is placed back at IDL he should regain his productivity of years past.

Scheme Fit

Personally, looking at how this defense was run under Robert Saleh, I believe Geno would absolutely thrive in this 49ers defense.  Things will likely stay relatively stable with DeMeco Ryan taking over as defensive coordinator, as he worked under Robert Saleh so he will likely continue to use the scheme they have in years past. 

This would allow their 4-3 scheme to stay intact, and them to run Geno as a “pass-rushing IDL” of sorts due to his hugely productive sack numbers over the years.  The 49ers are also extremely blitz-heavy on late downs, having the 3rd highest blitz rate on 3rd downs in 2020, and 19th on earlier downs. 

This would also allow Geno to either produce his own sacks on those late downs or take on two O-linemen and allow the other three previously mentioned players around him to rack up some more sacks as well.  Working inside Nick Bosa would be an absolute dream for the 49ers, and an absolute nightmare for any opposing quarterbacks. 

Three reasons why the Steelers could repeat as AFC North champs

The Pittsburgh Steelers offseason needs high goals

By: Noah Nichols

Everyone knows the story. The Steelers began the 2020 NFL season with an impressive 11-0 record. They would then go 1-4 and be eliminated in the first round the by the Cleveland Browns. However, that first round loss has really brought down people’s expectations for the Steelers. It is a popular opinion to believe that the Steelers will not make the playoffs in 2021. To be sure, the end of 2020 left a bad taste in the mouth of both fans and critics. The Steelers flaws really came to the surface at the end of the season.

But that does not mean that the Steelers won’t win the division, like they did last year. Even when they were predicted to finish third in the division. Yeah, the Steelers did not look good at the end of the season. But they have changed some things to fix the flaws that were apparent at the end of the 2020. Like their running backs and offensive line.

The AFC North is not so different from 2020. Some new players here, same players there, talent lost, and talent gained. That’s what happens in free agency and the draft. And while the critics are quick to point out the Steelers flaws, and praise the rest of the division for players acquired, they forget the Steelers. They have everything that they need to win the division. And they plan to. They wont say it, but they don’t have to, they will let their play do the talking, and let the rest of the division take the spotlight. Like the Browns, who are now expected to win the division, something that they have not done since 2002.

The Steelers have a running game

It is not early to say that the Steelers will have a better run game in 2021 than in 2020, where they finished dead last in the NFL in rushing yards per game.

Najee Harris will make sure that doesn’t happen again.

After being drafted in the first round at 24 overall, he instantly improves the Steelers run game from worst, to average. At least. I can’t say, well he improves the running game, here, here, and here. Oh wait, I can. He’s smarter, bigger, more fluid, a better pass catcher, stronger, and more athletic than any other running back on the Steelers roster. By far.

It’s not just the influx of talent, it’s the amount of times that he will touch the football. 300 times this season is probably too low of a mark. 340 is closer. And that threat, will force the division to do something that they have not had to do in a long time.

Focus on stopping the run against the Steelers. The division has been able to key in on the pass for the past two-three years and largely ignore the running game except when James Conner was playing, when he was healthy. Now, they cannot ignore Harris. A great example is the second Bengals game from 2020 where JuJu Smith-Schuster caught a dump-off pass over the middle and was clocked by Vonn Bell. Bell knew that the Steelers weren’t going to run the ball, because they were so bad at it, so he keyed in on JuJu.

Harris will force teams to respect the running game, which also opens up the passing game even more. Essentially, Harris ensures that the division cannot focus on one aspect of the Steelers offense. And that’s something that they are not used to doing, not since the days of Le’veon Bell.

The Steelers defense is still elite

The offseason losses to the Steelers defense are a little overblown. First, Bud Dupree is a big loss. But Alex Highsmith, who took his place last year when Dupree tore his ACL, proved that he is a worthy starter. Highsmith will ease the loss of Dupree. The loss of Mike Hilton is more of a pass rush loss than a coverage loss. Hilton, being 5″8 and never the fastest player on the field, was never great in coverage. His bread and butter was defending the run and blitzing.

While Hilton was great at what he did, it’s not that hard to find someone who can blitz. And the Steelers are replacing Hilton with Cameron Sutton, who was much, much better in coverage. And even though Steven Nelson is no longer on the team, he was cut. Clearly the Steelers are confident in what they have behind him.

The Steelers still have an insane pass rush, probably the best interior defensive line in the NFL. They have the best edge rusher in the NFL to pair alongside that defensive line. And they have arguably the best safety tandem in the league. The defense is not going anywhere, and will be a pain to play against for the division.

The Steelers know the division, and how to win it

I wanted to put these statistics in the above column, but it made more sense here. Lamar Jackson has played the Steelers as a starting quarterback twice. He has been sacked nine times, thrown five interceptions, thrown 24 incompletions, compared to three touchdowns and 369 yards passing in two games. Not so great. Jackson lost both those games. (Fun fact, Jackson has never beaten the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger as the opposing quarterback.)

Baker Mayfield has a passer rating of 80.4 with 884 yards, 7 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in 5 games versus the Steelers in his career, much better than Lamar. However, Mayfield has been sacked 16 times in those five games. And one of those games was against the Steelers backups to end the 2020 season. Joe Burrow has not fared much better, going 21 of 40 for 213 yards, one touchdown, 4 sacks, and a passer rating of 76.4. Burrow has only played on game though, so that information cannot be taken as 100% accurate.

However, the division clearly struggles at quarterback when playing the Steelers defense. Ben Roethlisberger is 63-20 versus the AFC North, and half of those losses belong to the Ravens. Eight belong the the Bengals. Ben Roethlisberger has lost to the Browns only twice in his 18-year career. He knows how to beat the rest of the division. The Steelers know how to win the division. Yeah, the division got a little tougher in some areas, but it got weaker in others. Like the pass rush, outside of Myles Garret, not a single player on the rest of the division’s front seven would start on the Steelers front seven. And that’s not even because of how good their front seven is, but how bad the rest of the division’s is.

Bill Cowher said it best in a interview on First Take.

“I think they will, they’ll be the hunt,” Bill Cowher said when asked on First Take recently if the Steelers will make the playoffs in 2021. “When you look at them, yes the division’s got tougher, but I love the pick of Najee Harris…” “Defensively they get Devin Bush back and that’s a top-tier defense. So, yes the division’s gotten better, but they’ve got a lot of veterans in that locker room that know how to win close games. And that’s what it’s going to come down to, and they got a great kicker in (the) kicking game. So, I think they’ll be in the hunt, and yes, I will say they will make the playoffs.”

The Steelers have a running game, they have a great defense, and they know how to win the division. Oh, and their receivers are still pretty darn good. They have everything they need to win the division. Just because no one in the national media is predicting it, does not mean it won’t happen. Don’t be surprised when it does. Don’t sleep on the Steelers. I guarantee the rest of the division isn’t.

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