The 2021 NFL regular season has come to an end. The Cincinnati Bengals have more football ahead of them, but we can still take a look back on all this season had to offer as far as snaps go.
There are always things we can pick out game to game, but looking back at the total number of snaps over a season can show how some players shined briefly or carved out roles later in the year that ended up being permanent.
Bengals got out-snapped
As always, we start with total snaps on the season. The Bengals ran 1046 offensive plays. Their opponents ran 1075 plays. That on its own obviously doesn’t mean much since Cincinnati won their division and were often out-snapped. The bigger deal is that the Bengals averaged 5.9 yards per play, and their opponents only averaged 5.5 yards.
In 2021, Cincinnati was a far more efficient team. You can see that in Joe Burrow leading the league with 8.9 yards per passing attempts. The big-play ability of Ja’Marr Chase really changed the whole dynamic of an offense that would have killed for half of what Chase has done last season.
This is just a big illustration of the total number of snaps doesn’t equate to wins. It is — and always will be — what you do with those plays that determines who wins a game.
Only three Bengals played at least 90% of the snaps this season. Burrow was second only to left tackle Jonah Williams. Williams staying healthy has been a huge part of this offense’s success. He has been the best lineman this year while drawing some of the toughest assignments. Left guard Quinton Spain also came in at third. All three of these guys were healthy and productive after missing significant portions of the 2020 season (Spain was a midseason acquisition). It doesn’t seem like much of a coincidence that these guys leading the team in snaps helped Cincinnati turn things around.
Also, special shoutout to Chase playing 939 snaps, which was the most among any skill position player on the team. He did it as a rookie no less.
Auden Tate’s injury opened the door behind the Migos
Tate has been a fan-favorite since he was drafted. He has always had a ridiculous catch radius and great hands. However, his time with the Bengals has probably come to an end, as he’s set to become a free agent and will likely garner a better deal than Cincinnati would want to allocate to him.
Tate finished the year with three catches, but he was clearly getting the most snaps behind Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. After he went down, Michael Thomas initially was the one picking up the slack, but late in the season, Stanley Morgan Jr. carved out a niche in the offense as a blocker.
Thomas still finished the year with more snaps than Morgan, but if Morgan ever gets included in the passing game he could be a huge find as a fourth wide receiver.
C.J. Uzomah showed his importance
Uzomah has to be one of the best veterans on this team. He is one of the few remaining players to actually go to the playoffs with the Andy Dalton era crew, and he blossomed as this team bottomed out. Then an injury last season really put a damper on the production from that position.
This year, he played 802 snaps compared to Drew Sample's 459. Uzomah also had 49 catches for 493 yards with five touchdowns. Three of those scores came in a blowout win over the Baltimore Ravens in the first meeting, but he always seemed to show up in big moments by picking up crucial yards.
It’s hard not to notice that Uzomah is set to be a free agent this offseason, and the names behind him don’t strike confidence. Sample is probably one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL, but he just hasn’t developed as a pass catcher enough to play Uzomah’s role. If Cincinnati does decide to test the tight end waters for a replacement or let Uzomah walk, they will leave behind huge shoes to fill in their offense and leadership.
The Jackson Carman discussion
The Bengals turned heads when they moved back in the second round, despite having their pick of offensive linemen to take Jackson Carman. It was a heavily criticized move, and in all reality — while it is too early to say it was bad or good — Carman hasn’t had a great start to his career.
The former Clemson Tiger ended up playing 462 snaps, which includes filling in for Spain in Week 18. Carman didn’t win the starting job, and he was promptly benched for Hakeem Adeniji when he returned from injury. Adeniji ended up playing 556 plays this season. This is by no means saying Carman can’t improve into a key contributor, but it is very disappointing this team didn’t end up with someone who could have contributed earlier or could have kicked out to right tackle soon (where Zac Taylor and Duke Tobin see Carman eventually ending up), especially after Cincinnati lost Riley Reiff for the rest of the season.
Hopefully, Carman has a better 2022 and proves he was the right choice for the long-term.
Newbies dominate defense
Only three of the players who played 50% or more of the snaps have been here before the 2020 season (Jessie Bates, Sam Hubbard and Germaine Pratt). After the 2019 season, the front office made a clear effort to retool a defense that was one of the worst in the NFL. This defense hardly resembles that one.
Safety Vonn Bell led the defense as the only player with over 1,000 snaps played (1,004). Then surprisingly it was Eli Apple who played the second most snaps. Apple joined the team this offseason as a depth player, but Trae Waynes continuing to have issues with health cleared a path for Apple to redefine his career. He struggled early but has clearly become a solid starter as of late.
Cornerbacks Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie were second and third respectfully at the cornerback position. These two were acquired in place of bringing back William Jackson on a much bigger deal. That gamble has paid off as Awuzie has been one of the highest rated corners in the NFL, and Hilton has been good in the slot as well as bringing a mindset to the defense that can be infectious at times.
Linebacker competition brews
Germaine Pratt ended up becoming a bigger part of the defense after seemingly splitting time with Akeem Davis-Gaither early in the season. His return to a major player also coincided with the run defense and tackling getting back on track after a rough patch.
However, it was Logan Wilson emerging as the guy that really set the tone this season. After spending most of his rookie year as a rotational linebacker, Wilson ended up taking a majority of the first-team snaps in all the games he was healthy. He became the guy that relayed the plays to the defense and is making his case as a foundational piece for this defense.
What will be interesting to see in 2022 is how Markus Bailey’s strong finish filling in for a number of injured linebackers will impact the depth chart going into next season. Also, getting Joe Bachie proved to be a wise decision, as he played well before getting injured. This group used to be the weakest link on defense, but now they may end up being one of the team’s deeper positions next season.
Defensive line only rotates inside
Trey Hendrickson proved himself and this front office this season. He played 717 snaps, which was only outdone by Sam Hubbard’s 877. These two — the Bash Brothers — have been the biggest keys to this defense working. If they are able to rush the passer, it is a long day for the offense.
That means it makes sense they played so much more than Cameron Sample, Wyatt Ray and Khalid Kareem. None of them eclipsed 30% of the snaps (Sample came closest with roughly 27%). It will be interesting to see how Joseph Ossai’s return will impact these snaps when he returns from injury next season.
On the inside of the defensive line, we saw a pretty even split as D.J. Reader (590) and Josh Tupou (410) split time at nose tackle, while Larry Ogunjobi (724) and B.J. Hill (504) split time as the three technique and came on as a pair in obvious passing situations. It makes sense we saw a bigger split among the big, big guys and less on the edge.
It still would be wonderful to see a third dynamic pass-rusher be rotated in to keep guys fresh. There were games where you could tell Hendrickson and Hubbard had been worn down by playing too much of the game. Even if Ossai can come in and have Hubbard kick inside like he did earlier in his career, it could help mix things up as a pass rush.
What are your biggest takeaways from this season’s snap counts?
Bengals snaps in 2021
|Player||Position||Number of Snaps||Percent|
|Player||Position||Number of Snaps||Percent|
|Stanley Morgan Jr.||WR||135||12.28%|
|Jessie Bates III||FS||953||84.79%|
|Vernon Hargreaves III||CB||72||6.41%|