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Who/what is to blame for the Bengals’ disastrous start?

With the season on the brink, what led to things going so badly for Cincinnati?

Let me be honest with you. This is not the story I expected to be posting today.

The Cincinnati Bengals. Super Bowl favorites. Everyone’s darlings. One of the best lineups, top to bottom, in the league. The time is now.


Against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, our hometown team packed it in. They got beat in every phase of the game. And not just beat. Embarrassed.

So, what exactly has caused a seemingly strong Super Bowl contender to suddenly look like a bottom-five team in the NFL?

Joe Burrow Calf Injury

I don’t care how good of a quarterback Burrow is. He can’t move. And the rest of the league knows it. The Titans came in as the No. 4 defense in the league at rushing the passer. They may have come out No. 1.

Burrow was pedestrian, to say the least. Sure, he managed to find Ja’Marr Chase. But that was about it. Burrow got sacked three times, and the Titans racked up an unacceptable nine QB hits.

It’s time to move on to Jake Browning. Or A.J. McCarron. At least they can move. Let Burrow sit until his thigh is back to 100 percent. What do we have to lose? The fat lady is about to sing. There is no sense risking the franchise quarterback over a lost cause.

Tee Higgins

Look, I love the guy. But he is just not himself. Maybe he is feeling disrespected because he was not offered a contract extension, and all the talk is that he will not be back next year. Be that as it may, Higgins has had one good game this year. The rest of the time? No comment.

To make matters worse, Higgins went out with a rib injury he suffered in the first half vs. Tennessee and did not return.

If Higgins can’t get back to his pre-2023 self, the Bengals offense won’t come close to reaching its potential.

The whole offensive line

The Bengals’ revamped offensive line has been a major disappointment this season, and there’s no excuse for it being this bad. They have four good starters in Orlando Brown Jr., Jonah Williams, Ted Karras, and Alex Cappa, while Cordell Volson showed promise as a fourth-round rookie in 2022.

Despite all of this, Burrow is still getting hit far too often. Here’s how his first four weeks have gone:

  • Browns in Week 1: Two sacks and 10 QB hits.
  • Ravens in Week 2: One sack and five QB hits.
  • Rams in Week 3: Two sacks and six QB hits.
  • Titans in Week 4: Three sacks and nine QB hits.

That’s getting your QB far too often, especially when the offense is going with so many quick passes to protect his calf.

Zac Taylor/Brian Callahan

Your team is sitting at 1-2, and your offense has not looked good. But you moved the ball right down the field on the opening possession, and running back Joe Mixon is averaging nearly seven yards per carry. You are facing 4th and goal from the 2-yard line. What do you do? Kick a field goal.

Come on, man. Go for the touchdown. When Tennessee was facing 4th and 2 around the Bengals’ 45-yard line, the Titans went for it and made it. The Titans were aggressive. The Bengals were not.

Then, late in the first half, Cincinnati is facing a fourth and three from near midfield, already trailing by a count of 14-3. The Bengals have a chance to get back in to it, and the offense needs a spark. So Taylor calls for a punt. Tennessee tacks on another touchdown.

Game over.

And after going so conservative, Taylor made a highly questionable decision to keep Burrow in at the end of the game and tack on more unnecessary hits.

What are we doing?

Frank Pollack

This is supposed to be the Bengals’ best offensive line since the Andrew Whitworth days. Remember him?

Orlando Brown, Jr. is one of the better left tackles in the league. Right tackle Jonah Williams graded out at 100% in pass protection against the Rams. Center Ted Karras and Right guard Alex Kappa both have Super Bowl rings. Cordell Volson, in his second year at left guard, may be the only weak link.

Or so it would seem. Four games into the season, these guys still can’t get it together. Either they are a lot worse than the rest of the league gives them credit for, or there is a coaching problem that needs to be fixed.

At what point do the excuses run out for Pollack?


How do you go from absolute dominance to sieve in one week’s time? Good question, but that is exactly what happened against the Titans on Sunday.

One minute, it is a hard-fought 3-3 ballgame, the next, Cincinnati is down by a count of 24-3.

All it took were eight straight explosive plays: 38 yards, 24 yards, 13 yards, touchdown; 26 yards, 22 yards, 29 yards, touchdown; 16 yards, 44 yards. The Titans were 1st and 10 at the Cincinnati 20-yard-line before the Bengals defense finally started to play again. But this drive also resulted in a touchdown.

Feels like the season is effectively over if the Bengals don’t beat the Cardinals next week.