Pro Football Focus has gained the credibility of the analytic crowd that follows football because of the time they put into analyzing the game focusing on individual stats. So when they came out and ranked all 32 NFL team’s rosters before the 2022 season, it has a little more weight to it than someone with general knowledge of the league.
In a move that would shock more casual fans, Pro Football focus ranked the Cincinnati Bengals as the eighth-best roster in football.
8. CINCINNATI BENGALS
Biggest strength: Cincinnati’s passing game blossomed after reuniting Joe Burrow with his former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase. Vertical plays were Burrow’s Achilles’ heel as a rookie, as he completed just nine of 48 attempts thrown 20-plus yards downfield for just one touchdown. Throwing to Chase alone in 2021, Burrow completed 15 of 34 attempts thrown 20-plus yards downfield with eight touchdown passes. That connection torched NFL defenses in the same way it did SEC defenses in 2019.
Biggest weakness: The Bengals’ primary focus this offseason was on improving the offensive line, bringing in Ted Karras, Alex Cappa and La’el Collins to start from center to right tackle. However, left guard remains a potential weak point. Jackson Carman is the favorite to step into that role after earning a 54.2 PFF grade in 501 offensive snaps as a rookie. The last time he saw the field, Carman allowed six quarterback pressures in 20 pass-blocking snaps against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. Quality play at that position requires some projection entering 2022, whether it ends up being Carman or rookie Cordell Volson.
The consensus among the national media and casual fans is that Cincinnati over achieved last year on their way to a Super Bowl appearance, and that this year we will see them fall back down to earth. That notion is a bit flawed, but it is rooted in a place of truth.
The 2021 Bengals did achieve more than anyone expected outside of the building. Prior to the year, head coach Zac Taylor was on the hot seat, we didn’t know how quickly Joe Burrow would return to form after a serious knee injury and the defense was one of the worst in football the two years prior. It even seemed like the storybook finish wasn’t much more than a possible playoff appearance and ending the drought. To see this team go to the Super Bowl after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs twice and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs isn’t something anyone expected.
The idea that everything went right for the Bengals is just not true, though. Burrow was sacked 70 times including the playoffs, and the offense succeeded despite their offensive line struggles in the passing and running game. The team went out and fixed that issue by bringing in Karras, Cappa and Collins to start. As Pro Football Focus mentioned, the left guard position remains the weak point on the line, but it is no longer a matter of expecting this line to give up free rushers or Joe Mixon having to make defenders miss behind the line of scrimmage.
Even with all that working against them last season, the Bengals and Burrow were one of the most explosive offense in football with 15 passing plays over 40 yards. Now that the quarterback can actually feel comfortable in the pocket, there is no reason to expect that number to take any significant dip.
It also helps that neither side of the ball last any crucial pieces this offseason, and the team is still relatively in check from 2021. One of the biggest names to leave was tight end C.J. Uzomah, but Cincinnati went out and acquired Hayden Hurst in free agency to replace what he added to a loaded passing attack. Not to mention a defense that already looked dominant adds Joseph Ossai back into the pass rush after missing last season with an injury. They also added defensive backs Daxton Hill, Cam Taylor-Britt and another pass rusher in Zachary Carter.
This team is better. This team is deeper. This team is ready to play like a contender after its first taste of success.