The Cincinnati Bengals lost a nail biter in the final seconds to the Kansas City Chiefs, who will move on to the Super Bowl. It’s hard to reflect upon such an up-and-down game that was decided by inches (and arguably, a few strange calls). But the offseason is upon us. So what better time to use a loss as a learning tool? Let’s get into it.
The Bills game was a fluke performance by the o-line
The Bengals’ dominant performance against the Buffalo Bills o-line got a lot of people thinking we magically found a winning combination and that Jackson Carman and Max Scharping had bright futures. This isn’t to say they don’t, but they were not at all prepared for the onslaught in Kansas City.
Against the Chiefs, the replacement line looked about as good as last year’s o-line in the playoffs: entirely unreliable. Still, the fact they could give quarterback Joe Burrow enough time to complete some big third and fourth down throws says a lot, considering the starting left tackle, Jackson Carman, didn’t even know he’d be playing that position until the middle of this season.
Cincinnati needs another tight end
Hayden Hurst had some special moments, and it’d be great to keep him around. But Mitchell Wilcox is no gamebreaker. Meanwhile, on the other side, an injured Travis Kelce had a big impact on the game (seven receptions, 78 yards, one touchdown).
In these types of low-scoring affairs, deep into the playoffs, a quarterback (especially one with a subpar offensive line) can really benefit from reliable targets over the middle. Tyler Boyd usually plays that role, which is why his injury was a big factor in the game. Another tight end, preferably a more physical presence, would be huge.
The o-line needs to again be the focus of the offseason
Somehow, the Bengals ended up in the exact same situation as last postseason with Joe Burrow running for his life. But the run game was even worse this year against the Chiefs, as Joe Mixon could only muster 19 yards on eight carries, the sixth time (including the playoffs) the running back has been held under three yards a carry, after only totaling such low averages three times last season.
Looking back on last offseason, Alex Cappa and Ted Karras were brilliant signings, but La’el Collins turned out to be exactly what we feared: not entirely healthy. Still, as many pointed out before the season began, we barely put together a starting five and were still without depth. When injuries mounted, that became abundantly clear.
Meanwhile, Jonah Williams may or may not be the answer at left tackle. There’s no reason the Bengals shouldn’t explore their options, including potentially moving Williams to right tackle (or moving on, if he refuses or demands premiere left tackle money).
The front office may truly see something in Carman, who flashed against Buffalo. But they shouldn’t settle for good enough just because he’s on a rookie contract. They need to nail the left tackle position. Give Burrow time, and he wins these playoff games. Simple as that. Get the man the support he deserves.