The tide is turning for Bengals fans
By: Andy Davies
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.