For those of us following the team closely, it feels like most of the football-watching world is at least a few weeks behind, if not almost a year. Bengals fans saw something special in this team late last year. Everything was coming together.
Outsiders called it a fluke not aware of the massive change that has occurred in recent years. The reality is this: the Bengals just don’t miss.
From NFL Draft picks to free agent pickups to coaching hires to fan engagement... they’ve taken a turn for the very best.
So what happened? How did one of the most inept franchises in professional sports become a model organization?
There are so many factors at play here.
Katie and Troy Blackburn have been more involved in managing the team, which seems to be why the Bengals are less stuck in their old ways in terms of moving on from players and coaches and spending on outside free agents. And somehow, they’ve still done things the Mike Brown way and came out looking like geniuses. The structure of their deals and the tier of free agents they’ve targeted for the most part, are not much of a departure from the Marvin Lewis days. But their work in identifying talent on other rosters has been magnificent. The Blackburns have also increased fan engagement by empowering their daughter, Elizabeth, who has proved to be an innovative and energetic director of strategy and engagement.
Zac Taylor brought in an inexperienced staff that he believed in. And they, in turn, brought in players that they believed in through the Draft and free agency. It seems the vast majority of those players have far exceeded expectations. But their exceptional performance on the field is also due to the camaraderie that Taylor has helped build; players are playing for each other and thriving on account of filling their roles perfectly.
Duke Tobin is the de facto GM who has helped the Bengals hit a lot of the aforementioned homeruns in free agency and the NFL Draft. The GMs that make their teams consistent contenders are effective at both, and Tobin has proven his place among those talented executives with the signings of D.J. Reader, Trey Hendrickson, Chidobe Awuzie, Ted Karras, Alex Cappa, and Vonn Bell among others while also nailing Draft picks like second-rounder Tee Higgins, fourth-rounder Cordell Volson, third-rounder Sam Hubbard, second-rounder Jessie Bates, fifth-rounder Evan McPherson, third-rounder Germaine Pratt, and third-rounder Logan Wilson.
Lou Anarumo has been [chef’s kiss]. There’s really no other way of saying it. The man got Patrick Mahomes out of rhythm for a third straight time despite being forced to send borderline starting-caliber cornerbacks out there. He’s been able to generate a pass rush out of Trey Hendrickson, a man considered a product of his environment before arriving in Cincinnati, and guys like Sam Hubbard, who was not considered a major pass rush threat early in his career. Anarumo’s defense was the star of the Bengals’ magical run to the Super Bowl last year, and his job this regular season has been even more impressive.
Joe Burrow is the offense. Taylor has massively improved as a play-caller this year. But it’s Burrow’s execution that saves this team time and time again in critical stretches of games. And it’s his understanding of the game that makes stars out of just about any receiver. Remember when people thought C.J. Uzomah took a big leap in year seven? Well, that’s happening to Hayden Hurst in year five. Did anyone ever see Trenton Irwin making amazing grabs? The common factor in all of these is: Burrow.
Ja’Marr Chase helped elevate Cincinnati’s offense and gave them a chance in every game on account of his ability to leave defensive backs in the dust. Were it not for Chase’s innumerable big plays last year, Burrow may have been left to force things behind a terrible line and not developed as quickly. And if Taylor’s offense weren’t able to get the easy points facilitated by Chase’s presence, the head coach may not have made it past year three. Of course, the Bengals learned early this season that they can’t simply rely on Chase running go routes. The Tampa 2 defense stifled the passing game (and, in turn, run game) for a few weeks. But then Burrow and Taylor adjusted beautifully. In fact, they used the time Chase missed due to a hip injury to make the passing game quicker, shorter, and more evenly-distributed. Still, it was Chase who made everything easy and gave Burrow and Taylor the confidence they needed to acclimate themselves to the league.
Okay, so now it’s your turn:
Who deserves the most credit for the Bengals’ rise?
This poll is closed
Katie and Troy Blackburn
Other (share in comments)
We discussed this topic and more in our recent recap of the Chiefs game, which is followed by a preview of the upcoming game against the Cleveland Browns:
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