The NFL as a whole saw a noticeable increase in fourth-down aggressiveness during the last two season, and 2020 has been no different.
Despite their overall struggles, the Cincinnati Bengals have not only been a part of this increase, they’ve been extremely successful in doing so. And that success could end up putting them in the history books.
Bo Wulf of The Athletic wrote about 10 NFL records that could be broken this season and included how the Bengals are closing in on the 24-year old record for most fourth down conversions in a single season.
This dates to only 1991, but the record for most fourth-down conversions in a single season is 20, by the 1996 Chicago Bears. The Bengals and Colts lead the league with 15 and 14 fourth-down conversions, respectively, thus far. The Bengals have converted 15-of-19 fourth downs thus far, and they’ll probably continue to play from behind, which should increase the necessity to go for it.
Cincinnati’s success at avoiding fourth-down failures is seen by their conversion rate of 78.9%, which is the second-highest in the league only behind the Buffalo Bills, who’ve only tried three fourth down attempts and have converted all three of them.
The Bengals have had 19 fourth-down attempts and, as Wulf writes, 15 of them have produced first downs. With just five games to go, the Bengals need five more fourth-down conversions to tie the record of 20 set by the ‘96 Bears and six to break it.
It’s going to be tough to get those five or six without Joe Burrow. The Bengals’ rookie quarterback converted 12 of their 15 fourth downs this season, and 10 of them were passes. They have gotten a boost from a couple of successful fake punts recently, but those plays can’t be expected to work every time.
Whether or not the Bengals eclipse 20 conversions and break the record, their aggressiveness and success on fourth down should be commended now and at year’s end.