The Cincinnati Bengals are coming off one of their best seasons in franchise history. Most fans think the team is for real while detractors still call the team a “fluke” or “one year wonder” Here are some of the things the Bengals need—and don’t need—to be concerned with to make a return trip to the playoffs.
KEY: Keep Defense Innovative
Lou Anarumo’s schemes are a huge component of the success in Cincinnati. Most people are very aware of the Bengals offense featuring stars at every skill position, but few people have been talking about the impressive stuff happening on the other side of the ball. When talking about his formula for success last year Lou went on record saying:
“Corners and rushers, man. Corners and rushers. You have to be able to affect the quarterback…. Look at the successful defenses in the league and what do they do? They pressure the quarterback and that doesn’t mean blitzing…”Bengals.com
Lou’s brilliance was on display during both Kansas City games, where the Bengals were down by eleven at the half in weeks 17 and 14 (21 if not for a pivotal goal-line stand) in the AFC Championship game. In both cases, Lou and his defense contained the high-powered Chiefs’ offense to 3 points in the second half of each game. Some of the tools employed included rush 3, drop 8 defenses, exotic personnel packages, and well-timed QB spies.
A successful 2022 campaign may require similar performances, but to have continued success will require different tactics as teams have had an entire off-season to watch the film and adapt to Lou’s strategies.
NOT A CONCERN: The Offensive Line
The biggest hit pieces on the Bengals’ playoff run last season revolved around the offensive line’s lack of protection for Joe Burrow. This off-season, Cincinnati threw down money on three new linemen, Ted Karras, Alex Cappa, and La’el Collins. Burrow’s new bodyguards should be more than up to the task of giving Joe the time to work the ball downfield.
But what if there are a lot of injuries? What if the free agents don’t live up to expectations? Should Bengals fans be in full panic then? No. The Bengals line ranked 20 last season according to Pro Football Focus and 24 per olinestats.com.
While that’s not necessarily glowing reviews, it’s a far cry from the picture most Bengals fans have in their minds. The front half of the season had decent o line play. Things didn’t go off the rails until injuries forced starters off the field. Suffice it to say, the line should be improved, but even if the Bengals’ big guys get banged up, they’ll have access to the same lineman they had when they went to the Super Bowl; only with an extra year of experience behind them.
However, before moving on, I do want to issue a PSA:
JOE BURROW IS GOING TO BE HIT IN 2022!
Reading it with big, bold letters leaves you feeling uncomfortable, right? It’s just the way things are. The protection should be much better this year. Joe Burrow should have more time to move the ball downfield. The Cincinnati quarterback is a risk-taker and he thrives off cover zero. Joe has great pocket awareness, and he knows it. He’s not afraid to take a hit and sometimes even relishes it. No matter how well the men in the trenches in front of him play, Joe is going to do whatever he thinks is necessary to make a play. If that happens to involve looking out of his ear hole after a meet-and-greet with a free runner, he’s not going to think twice about it. The fans are going to hate it and we’ll be worried for him like everyone else, but not every sack will be the result of the offensive linemen in front of him. Don’t take it out on the big guys when Joe is being Joe and being special.