Welcome back to another edition of ‘The Super Bowl Race In The Perspective Of Chase’, a close to daily NFL article previewing your favorite teams season! The Cincinnati Bengals burst on to the scene in 2021, winning a surprising 10 games and finding themselves in the Super Bowl before a slight loss to the Los Angeles Rams. And last season, they were one field goal away from a second straight season as AFC champions.
But, with Cincinnati losing Von Bell, Jessie Bates and Eli Apple in the secondary, and a very competitive AFC, will Cincinnati continue to see success come their way? Or will they give up their AFC North crown and find themselves a team with an early postseason exit? Here is everything you need to know about Cincinnati Bengals going into the 2023 season!
It has to be answered: Will Cincinnati’s defense take a step back after losing key players in the secondary?
The Bengals did not disappoint coming off a very impressive 2021 campaign. Despite an 0-2 start, Cincinnati went 12-4 and kept their crown in the AFC North. Despite being just the third seed, Cincinnati returned a fumble to the end zone to beat Baltimore, humiliated Buffalo in the northern part of New York, and lost by just three points to Kansas City, who they held to 23 points; Kansas City scored less than 23 points just three times in 2022. So it was a very successful season, and it all starts with Joe Burrow.
Burrow, to me, is the second best quarterback in the game. 4,475 yards, 35 touchdowns, just 12 interceptions, 68.3% completion percentage, 10th in QBR, 6th in passer rating and 7th in AV (Approximate Value). Burrow was an absolute DAWG. He scored the second most total touchdowns by a QB in 2022, and was one of four quarterbacks to throw to two 1,000 yard receivers, proving how much Burrow elevates his teammates.
Those two 1,000 yard receivers were Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. Chase—while not playing at the same level he did in his 2021 rookie campaign, which was mainly due to the fact that he only played 12 games—still had a good year. In fact, the LSU standout had more receptions despite less time, was on pace for more touchdowns and had more yards per game. In his absence, Higgins proved himself as a primary option, as he had 347 yards with 14.3 yards per reception (92.8 yards per game). For the season, he totaled 1,029 yards and seven touchdowns. Their third option, Tyler Boyd, also had a nice season with 762 yards and 5 touchdowns for the season.
Trenton Irwin really emerged as a nice option in the slot in the later portion of the season, as he averaged 50 yards per game in the two games he started, and had four touchdowns in the final seven games of the season. Hayden Hurst was also a nice option at tight end with a season totaling over 400 yards despite not being a primary option whatsoever.
In the rushing game, Joe Mixon had a nice season, rushing for 814 yards and seven touchdowns, and also added 441 yards and two scores on the ground. However, I feel like Mixon has plateaued. We know what we’re going to be getting out of him, which is a decent runner despite not many yards per carry who can get in the end zone, stay relatively healthy, add value in the passing game. And that’s fine. But we need to realize Mixon isn’t getting better than this. Samaje Perine, who has now departed, piled up 681 total yards and 6 total touchdowns, 394 of those yards and two touchdowns of it coming on the ground.
Defensively, Trey Hendrickson may have not had the 14 sack season he had in 2021, but he still made the Pro Bowl with eight sacks, 24 QB hits and three forced fumbles. His fellow defensive lineman Sam Hubbard, had 6.5 sacks, and one of the biggest plays of the year for Cincy when he returned a 98 yard fumble on Tyler Huntley to the end zone to send Cincinnati to the divisional round. The guy who forced the fumble, Logan Wilson, had 123 tackles and seven QB hits in 2022.
But one of if not the largest strong suit of this Cincinnati defense was their secondary. Von Bell and Jessie Bates were one of the best secondary duos in football last year, each totaling four sacks and 8 passes defended, and combining for 148 tackles. They really helped this Cincinnati limit big plays for their opponent. And while some like to make fun of Eli Apple for his defense against Cooper Kupp in Super Bowl 56, Apple was one of Cincinnati’s best cornerbacks last season, as he totaled 8 passes defended and was the CB1 on this Cincinnati team. The only problem…they’re all gone.
Cincinnati did not re-sign any of there three defensive backs. Von Bell went to Carolina, Jessie Bates went to Atlanta, and Eli Apple went to Miami. And they didn’t replace them either. They made other good moves this offseason, like signing Orlando Brown Jr. to a four year contract, finally putting a bow on improving this offensive line significantly. They signed Irv Smith to replace Hurst at tight end; he can average a solid 30 yards per game and add some good blocking. They signed Logan Wilson to a four year extension. They drafted Myles Murphy in the draft to improve the pass rush, and drafted cornerback DJ Turner in the late second round. So some good moves, but very little of them actually benefiting to the teams biggest need.
So will that hurt Cincinnati? Their secondary now consists of Chidobe Awuzie, Nick Scott, Dax Hill and Cam Taylor-Britt. Not the greatest. With that, will they keep their division title? A lack of defensive backs may hurt against teams in their division. Baltimore signed and drafted several new pass catchers this offseason. Kenny Pickett and George Pickens are going to have a whole other offseason to develop. And Deshaun Watson is going to have a full offseason to get used to being back in the league; the last time he played a full season in the NFL back in 2020, he led the NFL in passing yards. So Cincinnati has some competition.
I doubt Cincinnati will miss the playoffs. The team is just too good. And they still are the division favorites for obvious reasons. My point is, things have seemed to come pretty easy for Cincinnati these past few years. In year one, you played Derrick Carr and Ryan Tannehill in the first two rounds, and a Tyler Huntley led Baltimore team in the Wild Card round. I’m not making excuses, this team has been amazing, and that’s part of why it’s been an easy road for them.
All I’m saying is, even with an improved offensive line, things may not come as easy for the 2x reigning AFC North champs. The AFC is very competitive this year, and an AFC North crown is not a lock. Overall, even with some weaknesses, Cincinnati should still be fine. Joe Burrow may go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. With him under center, Cincinnati should have very little issues in 2023!
Prediction: Cincinnati goes toe-to-toe with Baltimore for the division title, but doesn’t make it past the divisional round for the first time since 2020!
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