What’s next for this Cincinnati Bengals team that can’t find the right answers to their problems right now?
With a team that has made it to the last two AFC Championship games, their connection has since disconnected. Only losing a handful of players and adding a few more, this is the same team that played in those games. What happened?
Two years ago, when the Bengals made it to the Super Bowl, they were 7th in the league in points, averaging 355 yards per game (including postseason). Last year, making it to their second consecutive AFC Championship game, they were 7th in the league again in points, averaging 336 yards. This year, through four games, they are last in points, averaging just 236 yards.
Is Burrow’s injury the only issue in the offense?
Is Burrow’s injury affecting the offense?
There are a few different ways you have to look at their situation. They need to adapt to their reality. They have one of the best, if not the best, quarterbacks in the league who is not 100% healthy, and one of their key playmakers, Higgins, could be out for a period of time. You can’t run the same offense you have in the past. You will have to switch up your offensive scheme and change the plays. They have become way too predictable.
The only time the offense has been somewhat consistent was against the Rams on Monday Night Football when they constantly had Chase moving around on the field.
They need to find their book of tricks and disguising plays. You have to throw off defenses and make them completely blind on what play you’re going to run.
After the lopsided loss to the Titans, all you saw were people calling for Zac Taylor’s job. That’s a little drastic…okay, a lot drastic. Taylor is not a bad coach; he’s actually a great coach. Let’s remember: Cincinnati is his first head-coaching gig. He started off rough his first two seasons with the Bengals securing only six wins, but the following two seasons have been tremendously successful, with a miraculous turnaround in a matter of one season, and he has three-quarters of this season remaining.
Taylor has been able to rally his players and embed a winning attitude with confidence. He makes them believe in themselves, which is the first step to a winning team. One of his downfalls, at times, including now, is play calling. This is the second year in a row with a very slow start in which fans are calling for a Taylor to give up play calling to Brian Callahan. That could be good, though. There needs to be a fresh start, or a refresh if you will, on the season, and that might be a good first step.
It’s interesting to view everybody’s perspective on what the Bengals should do with Burrow’s injury. It seems like 99.9% of the fans want the team to sit Burrow for a few games to get healthy before playing him again. Let’s take a look at what could or should happen.
First off, let’s remind ourselves who we are talking about: Joe Burrow - National Champion, Heisman winner, No. 1 overall draft pick, multiple franchise records in just four seasons with two AFC Championship appearances and a Super Bowl appearance.
One of football’s biggest phenoms in the last decade, he’s one of the smartest players in the league. He studies every little part of the game, as he’s able to break down an entire defense in a matter of seconds to be able to decide whether or not to stick with a play or call an audible and recognize who he will throw to before it happens. And now he’s the highest-paid player in the NFL.
This is potentially a season-altering decision.
This week of practice for Joe is huge. Despite the decision to start Burrow in Arizona already in play, all eyes will be on him at practice.
If he practices anywhere near his normal self, I can see them sticking with their normal game plan and possibly attempting him to create their first explosive deep ball to Chase, which has become second nature to them. If he’s still nurturing the calf injury noticeably, they need to mix up the game plan to very quick passes to get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible or open up the holes in the line and go massively run heavy. Whichever they decide to go with, this will be a very big week of practice.
Let’s look at the alternative option. Worst-case scenario, after Arizona, they decide to sit Burrow and go with a backup quarterback. They have two options now in Jake Browning and AJ McCarron after they cut Reid Sinnett from the practice squad.
McCarron spent three seasons with the Bengals from 2014 to 2016, backing up Andy Dalton and starting a handful of games when Dalton got injured. He then went on to play for three other NFL teams before ultimately leaving and signing in the XFL. He led the league in three categories, including passer rating and passing touchdowns, as well as being the league MVP.
On the flip side, Browning was signed to the Vikings practice squad as an undrafted free agent, later being waived. Then he signed to the Bengals practice squad. He has just a handful of regular-season snaps as he entered a game in the final minutes.
Either way, the Bengals would be getting a massive downgrade if Burrow is replaced with one of these two guys.
The final disconnect is the defense. In 2021, they were 7th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game, 5th last season, but so far are 31st this season. Running the ball kills time, a lot of time.
This season, teams have run all over the Bengals’ defense, and it has killed them. On Sunday, one of the Titans' drives in the second half lasted over 10 minutes, which resulted in a touchdown. They need to be able to stop the run, and it starts on the front line.
Derrick Henry rushed for 122 yards. Two years ago, when the Bengals faced them in the Wild Card round, they held him to 66 yards. In that same game, it took two separate running backs to rack up nearly the same amount of yards as Henry collected on Sunday.
In the Bengals only win this season, they held Kyren Williams to just 38 yards. They held the entire Rams rush attack to just 71 yards.
The Bengals also need to blitz, blitz, blitz. They have barely even touched the quarterback in each of the three losses, yet they racked up two INTs and six sacks while they forced six punts and a .09 third-down efficiency against LA. These are very noticeable statistics. You make things happen when you blitz.
Is the season over?
However, the Bengals do need to fix some things and fix them fast. Or make some big decisions. Like I said, they have three-fourths of the season left, including a bye week. They have time to turn things around. They need momentum, and momentum comes after wins. They have two games left before the bye week. If they win these next two games and have some momentum going into the bye week, it's a whole new season.
Let’s try and be patient.