These are not your same old Cincinnati Bengals . Cincinnati has had an up-down last decade, with nine playoff appearances since 2000 and 11 losing seasons, It’s been a pretty turbulent start to the 2000s for the Bengals. However, now there’s a new King in the jungle and his name is Joe Burrow. With consecutive AFC North Titles and two straight Championship Game appearances (1-1) the past two seasons, Joe Cool and the Bengals have made quite a roar in the AFC and they look like they’re here to stay.
The Bengals finished the 2022 season ranked seventh in total offense and smashed their 9.5 wins over-under prop going 12-4, with one no-contest vs Buffalo in week 17 after that scary Damar Hamlin injury. After a rocky start to his tenure in Cincinnati 39 year-old HC Zac Taylor with back-to-back double-digit win seasons and 5 playoff wins in the past two seasons, proved he belongs. Taylor signed an extension through 2026 after last year’s Super Bowl and Cincy definitely has their man of the future.
Joe Burrow led one of the league’s pass-heaviest attacks this last season( ranking 6th in the NFL in total passing yards) and it definitely isn’t a fluke( they finished one spot higher in 2022 than the previous year). The Bengals paired Burrow with former LSU teammate and stud WR Ja’Marr Chase and they have already established themselves as the most prolific QB/WR duo in Bengals history ( No disrespect to Carson Palmer and Mr. Ocho Cinco Chad Johnson, but like Jay Z once said “Men lie, women lie, numbers DON’T). Burrow was good for 35 touchdowns through the air (tied for second with Josh Allen, who he got the absolute best of in their playoff matchup this season) and a completion percentage( 68.3) second to only CPOY Geno Smith, who had an unprecedented season at age 32 in his first year as a full-time starter for Seattle.
Despite the Bengals’ major success the last few seasons through the air, the ground game hasn’t kept pace. That may have been largely by design, mainly to keep the ball in their stud signal caller’s hands as much as possible. When you have a Quarterback of Joe’s caliber the run game is always going to take a back seat ( KC, BUF, and LAC for comparison all finished in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards and attempts as well) but when the weather gets ugly and come playoff time you’d always like to be able to grind out 4 or 5 yards on the ground.
The Bengals were a bottom-five rushing unit in total rushing attempts and yards on the ground and yards per carry. Running back Joe Mixon struggled mightily running the rock last season but did have 60 rec 441 yards through the air, both new career highs. After gaining a career-best 1519 yards from scrimmage and 16 TDs in a year where he made the Pro Bowl in ‘21 Mixon took a few steps back this previous season. There were always going to be growing pains with this offensive line, with O-line/run game coordinator Frank Pollack in year two and a revamped O-Line (added Ted Karras, La’el Collins, and Alex Cappa last off-season) there was a ton of adjusting for everyone that without a doubt affected the ground and Mixon’s relatively down year, totaling 1255 scrimmage yards ( 814 rushing and 441 receiving) with 9 TDs.
Now it wasn’t all bad for Joe Mixon this year, fantasy owners were definitely smiling after Mixon’s week 9 outing Vs Carolina where Joe exploded for 211 total yards and 5 touchdowns. With recent off-the-field issues and what draft experts are calling one of the deepest RB classes in this year’s upcoming draft and not to mention an upcoming extension for QB Joe Burrow, could Mixon end up being a cap casualty this off-season? It definitely seems like a possibility. Cincinnati would save just under $8 million if they chose to let Mixon go this off-season.
Joe Burrow is one gifted pass-thrower but it definitely helps when you have arguably the league’s best and most dynamic WR trio led by Ja’marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd and you can’t forget veteran TE Hayden Hurst. The Bengals absolutely torched teams through the air all year long. Even with top dog WR Chase missing multiple games after injuring his hip the Bengals were still almost a top 5 passing offense this season. It should come as no surprise though, number two WR Tee Higgins (and it almost feels downright disrespectful to call him that) would be the #1 on the majority of teams. In 16 games Higgins matched a career-high in receptions with 74 with 1029 yards. He was good for 20th in the league and 7 TDs, a new career best. Higgins, who is due a mere 2.9 million, and that number is only slightly elevated due to Higgins hitting a performance escalator in his deal, looks like he would be a number one receiver on the majority of teams if not all.
This is where super agent David Mulugheta steps into the mix. Mulugheta famously landed a five-year, $230 million deal for Deshaun Watson with divisional foe Cleveland Browns. Mulugheta also reps Tee Higgins, and there is no reason to believe he will look to give the Bengals a hometown discount. The Bengals would not be too happy letting Higgins walk away but when the man lined up opposite him is phenom Ja’Marr Chase, who set the league on fire in his rookie campaign in ‘20, you could understand their reasoning. Chase, who missed 5 games this past season due to a hip injury, made his second consecutive Pro Bowl and finished with over 1000 rec yards and 87 rec (15 in the league) just one spot behind AJ Brown. With veteran slot man Tyler Boyd filling in seamlessly whenever Chase or Higgins went down and playing over 70% of snaps for the fifth consecutive year, it remains to be seen how this WR group looks going forward, with Higgins, Burrow, and star signal caller Joe Burrow all up for extension in the next few seasons.
Now let’s dig into the trenches. As mentioned earlier there were three brand new starters for the Bengals upfront, some have the draft pedigree and name recognition ( La’el Collins) and some have had the team and personal success (Karras and Cappa both have Super Bowl wins on their resumes, Karras having 2 rings from his stint in New England). One thing they all have in common now is the tough task of protecting one of the league’s most rattled young QBs. The Bengals were third worst in the entire league in the 2021 season surrendering 55 sacks. That number drastically decreased this previous season (down to 44) this new and improved unit fared better in pass pro, although they still finished in the bottom third of the NFL in sacks allowed. There was, however, less emphasis on getting the run game going most weeks.
Cincy only topped the century mark running the rock in 6 regular season games this year. Their running numbers were very mediocre but in their defense, they weren’t too much better running the ball last season ( they finished 23rd in total rushing yards last season and 29th this year). Now obviously it takes time for all new parts to come together and work well as a whole. It doesn’t help when 3 key starters on the line miss time ( LT Jonah Williams T/G La’el Collins, and G Alex Cappa) all missed multiple games this season with various injuries. Besides starting LT Jonah Williams who’s been pretty average to put it nicely and is scheduled to become a UFA after next season, all the other starters on the line are signed beyond 2024 and it looks like Cincy will look to build on their improving foundation up front.
Led by their dynamic duo of Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase this Bengals offense looks like they’re here to stay. You have to believe that this is exactly what coach Zac Taylor and the Bengals brass envisioned when selecting these two in back to back first rounds. I’m sure even they can’t help but smile extra wide when looking at these two ball out. Now even though it’s been a bittersweet ending to the last two seasons, the beginning of this new era for Bengals hopeful has to feel good. There are of course going to be major decisions on the horizon, like extensions for Tee Higgins and Jonah Williams and whether or not one-time Pro Bowler Joe Mixon is part of this teams future but all in all you have to like Cincinnati’s chances to contend for a Lomardi for the foreseeable future.
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