The Cincinnati Bengals has three times this century done something that all Bengals Fans are familiar with, start a season 0-5. The frustration we fans feel is also familiar as each of these teams we believed were talented enough to compete for playoff spot. But after the third week of the season, the realization that this is not the case slaps us in the face like a bucket of ice cold water. But is this team really better than those previous two, as everyone believes?
This year’s version of the futile Bengals would lead one to think this maybe the worst team this franchise has ever put on the field, with their inability to score points and prevent the opponent from scoring too many. With that in mind, I will try and give you a look at the how closely matched each team is to each other and maybe provide a look into the furture. So, let’s look at the talent level of each of these teams using returning Pro Bowlers as the guide.
The 2000 team had 2 returning Pro Bowlers from the 1999 season, finishing 4-12. But the 2002 team, which sports the worst record in franchise history at 2-14, had one returning Pro Bowler, Corey Dillon, who also was selected to the 2000 Pro Bowl. This season, the team has 2 returning pro bowlers from last season, Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and a third from the 2006 season in Carson Palmer. A forth, also from the 2006 season, would be on the team but the Bengals saw fit to release Willie Anderson before the season started. The talent level for this season’s team can be considered at a higher level than the previous 2 dismal seasons based on the number of returning Pro Bowlers.
This seasons offensive and defensive units appear to be the atypical lot in which neither are capable of doing what is needed to achieve success. Currently, the offense, the much feared high powered offense of the recent past, is ranked 31st overall averaging 236 yards per game and 14 points a game. The only team with an offense that is worse than the Bengals is the Cleveland Browns, who ironically beat the Bengals 20-12. The 2000 version did not fare much better as they finished 29th overall averaging 266 yard per game scoring just under 12 points a game. They were held pointless for two of the first 3 games and were only able to muster a game high 16 points during the first 5 loses. Fortunately, that is not the case this season as the Bengals have not been shut out and were able to score a season high 23 points against the New York Giants.
The 2002 Bengals offense, considered the worst team in franchise history, finished with a better total offense ranking 18th overall averaging 279 yards per game and scoring just over 17 points a game. Despite the increase in yardage output and average scoring, it did not translate on the scoreboard early in the season as they were held to 7 or less points 5 of the first 6 games of the season. The offense was able to muster 21 points against the Indianapolis Colts in week 5 to break up the string.
Throughout the years of frustration, including the previous decade prior to this, the defense has been considered the biggest problem. They seem to never be able to perform up to expectation and somehow find a way to lose a game that should be winnable. And this season seems to be no different after allowing the New York Giants to complete two big passes in overtime setting up the game winning field goal and letting the Dallas Cowboys score to go up 9 points with less than two minutes go. But is this season’s defense better than the scores indicate and the previous seasons mentioned earlier?
This year’s defense is currently ranked 19th overall, which is a higher ranking than the defense that participated in the Bengals last playoff game. Currently, opponents are scoring at a rate of nearly 24 points a game, which is 21st in the league. The 2000 defense, which finished the season ranked 22nd giving up nearly 343 yard per game, allowed less than 23 points a game. The 2002 defense, part of the worst team in franchise history, actually improved over the 2000 defense to finish the season 17th yielding 329 yards per game. Despite the improvement in overall defense, they finished last in scoring defense letting opponents score 28 points a game setting the second highest points total allowed for the franchise.
What does all this mean? The season is only 5 weeks old, allowing for teams to continue to improve and potentially make an unprecedented runs towards playoff spots. However, no team has ever started a season 0-5 and made the playoffs, and based on recent history, this year will not be the exception. With the talent this Bengals team has, one could imagine that this will not become part of the recent miserable history and they will work to finish respectable. But if history is an indicator of the future, be prepared for a continuation of the same.