A mutual parting of ways with offensive line coach Jim Turner headlined the Bengals’ coaching staff turnover this week. For many fans, the team’s 6-25-1 record over the last two seasons suggested this was not enough. Head coach Zac Taylor has been retained for his third season, as have all three of his coordinators.
Earlier in the week, franchise quarterback Joe Burrow expressed his support for Taylor, and he doubled-down on that support while speaking to Colin Cowherd on Thursday. This is a huge endorsement since Burrow is just as respected inside the locker room as he is outside of it, but it still doesn’t alleviate any and all concerns.
This is why when people talk about Taylor losing the locker room, I don't necessarily buy it.— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) January 7, 2021
Burrow moves the locker room. Already.
If you have him on board with a core of leadership, the rest falls into line just fine.
Obviously, there was a problem this season. The Bengals struggled to win games even prior to Burrow’s injury.
Many fingers have been pointed at the offensive line and the defense, and these are fair criticisms. The Bengals struggled to run the ball all season and Burrow took far too many hits. The defense had some major breakdowns. They had struggles in pass coverage that were exacerbated by an, at times, non-existent pass rush.
So what really happened to the 2020 season? I went back and reevaluated every loss. While there is rarely one single reason for a loss, I found the biggest factor in the outcome of each game.
Why did the Bengals lose to the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 1?
It’s really easy to blame this game on the officials for calling offensive pass interference on A.J. Green’s game-winning touchdown or to blame Randy Bullock for missing the field goal that could have sent the game into overtime, but the game could have been won earlier than that.
The Bengals were only able to score one touchdown. In the third quarter, Burrow missed Green on a potential touchdown pass that, in Burrow’s words, “a high-schooler can make.”
In addition to missed opportunities, the Bengals also lost the turnover battle 0-2 as Joe Mixon fumbled and Burrow threw an interception, both in the fourth quarter. Mixon’s fumble led to three points for the Chargers, which ended up being the difference in the game.
The clear culprits in this game are not being able to get in the end zone and losing the turnover battle; the most important factor being the former. They have got to be able to get in the end zone more than once.
Why did the Bengals lose to the Cleveland Browns in Week 2?
It was obvious coming into this game that the Bengals would struggle to stop the run without Geno Atkins or Mike Daniels on the field. For this reason, they really needed to play from ahead. Unfortunately, they were not able to do that.
After giving up 21 points in the first half, the Bengals defense allowed the Browns to move steadily downfield on the opening possession of the second half.
Finally, the Browns got to the one-yard-line where they faced first-and-goal and the Bengals defense made a stand. They held the Browns out of the end zone for four downs, getting off the field without giving up a point.
Lou Anarumo’s unit had struggled all day, but this goal line stand provided a huge potential momentum swing. Unfortunately, it didn’t go that way. A strip-sack a few plays later gave the ball back to the Browns on the goal line and this time the Bengals could not keep them out of the end zone.
The defense managed to come up with an interception on the following drive, but they had very little gas left in the tank. The Browns got the ball back with a five-point lead in the fourth quarter, hoping to take as much time off the clock as possible. Even knowing that the Browns would be keeping the ball on the ground, the Bengals defense could not stop the run. It took the Browns only six plays to go 75 yards and add to their lead.
The Bengals lost this game because they were out-manned in the run game defensively.
Why did the Bengals tie the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 3?
The Bengals kept the Eagles out of the end zone for the first 29 minutes of both the first and the second half only to allow a touchdown in the closing seconds of each. There was no singular reason for the collapse at the end of each half, although their failure to prevent Carson Wentz from scrambling at the end of regulation certainly didn’t help.
Late in overtime, Burrow threw a deep pass that Tee Higgins couldn’t quite haul in. If he could have pulled that ball in, they would have been at midfield. They would not have been in field goal range yet, but they would have significantly closer. It is likely that later in the season Higgins would have made that play and the Bengals may have gotten the win despite their defensive struggles.
Having said that, this tie definitely falls squarely on the shoulders of the defense.
Why did the Bengals lose to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5?
The Bengals’ defense really stepped up against the Ravens. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo came out in a 4-3 defense with all three linebackers in the box. This was a different look for the Ravens and they struggled to adjust to it.
Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ offense scored two touchdowns in the game. One came after a long-sustained drive and the other came on a two-play drive after an interception. The Bengals defense didn’t play a perfect game, but they kept a potent Ravens running game in check and allowed only 20 points.
Of course, the Ravens scored 27 points, but their defense accounted for the other touchdown with a fumble return. The Bengals struggled to do anything against Wink Martindale’s defense and the plethora of looks he threw at their rookie quarterback. The three turnovers only compounded these issues, as all three of them eventually resulted in touchdowns for the Ravens one way or the other.
The Bengals’ offense was outmatched in this one. They faced a top-level defense with a top-level coordinator and were not ready for either.
Why did the Bengals lose to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 6?
This one is obvious from the box score. The Bengals gave up zero points in the first quarter and 21 points in the second quarter. That is hard to overcome.
The Bengals were unable to generate any pressure on Colts quarterback Phillip Rivers, giving the veteran quarterback plenty of time to take advantage of their limited secondary. It was a perfect display of their two season-long defensive issues: Their lack of a pass rush, and the massive hole that Trae Waynes’ injury left in their secondary.
Of course, it might not have mattered if the offense was able to score a touchdown in the second half. The Bengals scored only three points after halftime and lost the game by four.
An offense scoring three points in a half and a defense giving up 21 points in a quarter are both ridiculous stats, each would be hard to overcome individually. With both happening to the same team in the same game, it is amazing that they lost by such a small margin.
The biggest factor in this loss was the defense giving up 21 points in the second quarter, but the offense definitely could have bailed them out with a touchdown in the second half.
Why did the Bengals lose to the Cleveland Browns in Week 7?
The Bengals went into halftime with the lead in this one, but they fell behind in the third quarter. The Browns scored a touchdown on every single possession in the second half, while the Bengals settled for a field goal on their first drive and that was the difference in the game. The Bengals’ defense needed one stop, but they couldn’t get it.
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt ran all over the Bengals’ defense in the first matchup, but this time it was the passing game that killed them. Their defensive backs struggled and Baker Mayfield threw five touchdowns.
Still, the Bengals had a chance on the last drive. They were up by three points as the Browns took possession. Mackensie Alexander blitzed and got his hands on Mayfield but couldn’t quite bring him down. The Browns had no timeouts! If Alexander made the sack the clock would have been running with less than a minute to play and the Browns would have had second-and-19 from their own 16. That would have been very hard to overcome. This one play could have saved the game, but Mayfield escaped and threw a first down.
Earlier in the game, Mayfield targeted Odell Beckham Jr. on a vertical route along the sideline. That ball was off target and Darius Phillips came up with the interception. On the game’s final drive Mayfield threw the same pass to Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones. Both of these passes were on the money, leading to 54 yards and a touchdown.
The pass defense was exposed in this game. Vonn Bell struggled as did the linebackers, but it was the lack of a true CB2 that really hurt the Bengals, particularly on the final drive.
Why did the Bengals lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 10?
The defense gave up 36 points, which is not going to win you many games, but honestly, they played pretty well early. The Bengals’ offense didn’t get a first down until their fourth drive, and they fumbled the ball on the very next play.
Thanks to a couple of fumbles and multiple three-and-outs, the Steelers got the ball six times in the first quarter. Teams usually get that many possessions in an entire half, not a quarter, so giving up only 12 points is actually pretty impressive.
Anarumo’s depleted defense held the Steelers to 20 yards or fewer on nine drives including five three-and-outs. Of course, due to field position, these short drives also led to 10 points. The defense did all of this despite being down to their fifth and sixth cornerbacks. They were out-gunned but fought as hard as they could.
Zac Taylor’s offense needed to do something in this game. Burrow struggled but his offensive line and receivers weren’t doing him any favors. He was sacked four times and far too many passes were dropped.
Similar to the Ravens game in Week 5, the offense could not get anything going which impacted both sides of the ball.
Why did the Bengals lose to the Washington Football Team in Week 11?
This was a tough matchup for the Bengals because Washington’s strength is their defensive line and the Bengals struggle to protect the quarterback. Somehow, Burrow was never sacked in this game, but a hit he took on an incomplete pass in the third quarter ended his rookie season.
At the time of Burrow’s injury, the Bengals were leading 9-7. This score is a bit deceptive because Randy Bullock missed an extra point and two field goals. One of the field goals was a 58-yarder at the end of the half, but the other was a chip shot so the score should have been at least 13-7.
Offensively, they were playing okay against a stout defensive unit up until Burrow went down. Once that happened, they were completely ineffective.
The defense held Washington to 20 points, but they did not have the same difficult matchup that the offense had. They also gave up a touchdown immediately following Burrow’s injury which only piled on to the negative momentum.
The Bengals had a good chance of winning this game until Burrow went down, and while that is the reason they lost, it cannot be an excuse. The offense has to have an answer when the quarterback goes down. They need to be able to run the ball and get competent play from their backup.
When tragedy happens on offense, the defense needs to step up as well. After the touchdown that followed Burrow’s injury, they held Washington to field goals, but that is not good enough. When the offense is struggling, the defense needs to create turnovers to flip the momentum and give the offense more opportunities.
Blame for this game has to focus however on the offense not being able to perform in any way without Burrow.
Why did the Bengals lose to the New York Giants in Week 12?
With Burrow down, everyone needs to step up. One unit did step up in a big way against the Giants: Special teams.
What’s the best thing to do for an offense that you know is going to struggle? Give them points before they step foot on the field. The Bengals did just that as Brandon Wilson took a kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown.
They also successfully faked a punt and gave the offense another chance. Unfortunately, an interception a few plays later took that opportunity away.
The defense again played well enough to win, holding the Giants’ limited offense to 19 points.
Trailing by nine points with less than four minutes in the game, Brandon Allen led the offense on a seven-play 72-yard drive that ended in a touchdown and took less than a minute and a half off the clock.
The defense stepped up with a three-and-out on the following drive.
Special teams came up big again as Alex Erickson had a great punt return that put the Bengals a first down away from field goal range.
This was huge! All three units stepped up at the end of the game and they were in a position to get the comeback win. Unfortunately, a strip-sack ended their comeback hopes on the very next play.
That was the story of the game. The Bengals lost another fumble earlier in the game along with the previously mentioned interception. They lost the turnover battler 3-1.
Why did the Bengals lose to the Miami Dolphins in Week 13?
The Dolphins are not world-beaters on offense, but they are better than what the defense had seen in recent weeks and were held to 19 points. The Bengals’ offense, however, could not do anything against a talented Miami defense.
This was the second week with Allen as the starting quarterback and they were still figuring out how to run a productive offense with him at the helm. Still, Allen’s passing yards and the team’s rushing yards combined were less than 200 and the Bengals only scored seven points on the day.
Any offense needs to find ways to win games when the other team is held to less than 20 points.
Why did the Bengals lose to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 14?
In a previous article, I broke down the key plays in this game. Although the Bengals still had a chance late in the game, it’s clear what the determining factor was in this game.
The Bengals fumbled on each of their first three drives, leading to 17 points for the Cowboys. Against the Giants, the Bengals’ special teams spotted the offense seven points before they even took a snap. In this game, the offense buried themselves before putting any points on the scoreboard.
The Cowboys only had to work for points after the third fumble, as the first put them in field goal range and the second was returned for a defensive score.
This was a ridiculous way to start a game. They cannot turn the ball over like that and expect to win.
Why did the Bengals lose to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17?
Following the Cowboys game, the Bengals won two games in a row.
The defense played an incredible game against the Steelers and the offense did what they needed to do to get the win. A week later, the defense struggled against the Houston Texans, but the offense stepped up big time, scoring a season-high 37 points.
This was exactly the type of complementary football they needed to be playing earlier in the season. When one side is down, the other needs to step up. Unfortunately, this streak would come to a screaming halt in Week 17.
The Bengals’ offense couldn’t do anything, They had one screen pass to Higgins on the first drive that went for 41 yards, but it got called back and Higgins left the game with an injury. If you are looking for a word to describe that moment, “foreboding” will do the trick.
The run defense actually didn’t start off too bad, but that would change. The Ravens adjusted to the Bengals’ loaded box by passing more and looking to get the ball on the edge quickly. The defense struggled containing Jackson’s arm and legs. Of course, Baltimore’s run game did eventually get going in a big way and they ran for over 400 yards on the day.
It’s really hard to point the blame in any specific place here. Neither side of the ball could really do anything right.
Even with Burrow at the helm, the Bengals’ offense struggled this season. They lost their early games to Baltimore and Pittsburgh because they could not do anything offensively and they lost to the Chargers because they could not put the ball in the end zone. The offense needs to have answers against teams like that. It would have been fun to see Burrow get another shot at them, but unfortunately, that will have to wait until next season.
The run defense should be blamed for the first loss to the Browns, while the pass defense including the pass rush is what cost them in their second matchup with the Browns and their game against the Colts. Those games show that they need to add pass-rushing talent and how badly they needed Waynes on the field.
Week 3’s tie with the Eagles was due to poor situational football as the defense gave up scores at the end of both halves.
When Burrow went down, the losses were largely due to a lack of offensive production and in a few cases, turning the ball over repetitively. The exception being the loss to Baltimore in Week 17, where they couldn’t do much of anything right on either side of the ball.
The Bengals need to improve on both offense and defense, but the defense is not as far off as it appears.
They had a chance to beat playoff teams in the Browns and Colts, but they lacked the pass rush and a true CB2. If Waynes and Geno Atkins were healthy, those games could have gone differently. They need to make sure they have the talent and depth they need on the defensive line and in the defensive backfield going into 2021. The Bengals have moved on from defensive line coach Nick Eason and defensive assistant Gerald Chatham (who also worked with the defensive line), which could have a positive impact on their ability to get after the quarterback next season.
With Burrow under center, the offense was productive in most games, but top defenses like Baltimore and Pittsburgh shut them down. They need to have answers in those games. Improving their protection and run game would go a long way and that is why they will have a new offensive line coach next season. Adding more talent to that group and the wide receiver position will also prove beneficial.
In short, a lot of work needs done, and it’s up to—mostly—the same coaching staff to accomplish it.