The Bengals are pretenders after brutal 0-2 start to season
The Cincinnati Bengals had high hopes for their 2022 campaign after making an unexpected run to Super Bowl LVI. With a dynamic offense led by Joe Burrow, and an underrated defense that always found ways to stifle their opponent, it was reasonable to expect big things in Cincy for the second straight season.
Instead, the Bengals have been arguably the most disappointing team in the entire league to start the season. They have lost a pair of winnable games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys at the last possible second, and have generally looked lethargic to start the season.
So what gives? Are the Bengals for real, or are they just another pretender that got hot at the right time last season? It’s hard to justify Cincinnati’s horrid start to the season as anything they can bounce back from, and it may be time to accept the fact that they are pretenders just one season after making it all the way to the Super Bowl.
The Cincinnati Bengals are pretenders
It’s one thing to lose your first two games of the season, but it’s another to lose them in the way the Bengals have. Cincinnati has come up short against a Steelers team led by the incompetent Mitch Trubisky, and a Cowboys team that was playing their backup quarterback Cooper Rush because Dak Prescott fractured his thumb in Week 1.
The problems have popped up all over the place for Cincinnati. Let’s start on offense, which is supposed to be their biggest strength. Burrow has weapons all over the place in Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Joe Mixon. Yet he has never really looked comfortable in the pocket to start the season, and the offense has suffered as a result.
Against the Steelers, Burrow fired four interceptions and committed another fumble to practically gift Pittsburgh a free win. Even if Burrow commits just four turnovers rather than five, the Bengals probably win this game. Burrow cut down on his turnovers against Dallas, but he still looked out of his element under center.
The biggest problem on offense is the same as it was for Cincy last season; their offensive line. Despite spending a lot of money in free agency to upgrade this group throughout the offseason, Burrow is still constantly under pressure, and has been sacked 13 times through two games. That’s an unbelievably high total for a team that wants to be as good as the Bengals.
That has constantly hampered their passing game, and their ground game, led by Mixon, hasn’t really been able to get off the ground. The only starter on the offensive line from last season is Jonah Williams at left tackle, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But free agent signings in Ted Karras, Alex Cappa, and La’el Collins have struggled mightily in the early going.
Defensively, things haven’t been as bad. Still, in the two games to open the season, the defense has allowed the opposing team to lead their offense down the field for the game-winning drives. Again, this has happened at the hands of Trubisky and Rush, two quarterbacks who many folks would not consider to be good at what they do. The defense shouldn’t have to do much to slow these guys down.
Of course, the Steelers game had a lot of different things that went wrong for Cincinnati, with their field goal unit missing two chances to win the game along the way. Their defense folded right at the end of overtime, but the game probably shouldn’t have made it to overtime in the first place.
Moving forward, it’s tough to really know what to expect from Cincinnati. They haven’t necessarily been horrible, but Burrow is getting no protection under center, and the defense isn’t holding up their end of the bargain when they need to. They have the talent to improve, but with each loss, it’s looking more and more likely that the Bengals got hot at the right time last season rather than them being a legitimate Super Bowl contender with each passing season now.
The Bengals should be favored to beat the New York Jets in Week 3, but even that doesn’t seem as likely to happen considering the Jets just pulled off a stunning comeback against the Cleveland Browns. The Jets defense has some talent that could become very familiar with Burrow, and the Bengals defense has allowed quarterbacks worse than Joe Flacco to take advantage of them early on in the season.
There’s still time for the Bengals to turn things around, but the AFC North is only going to get more competitive as the season progresses, and they are losing games against opponents that they should be beating. Cincinnati has put themselves in a huge 0-2 hole to start the season, and while they have the talent to turn things around, it remains to be seen whether they will be able to do so.