The Cincinnati Bengals had a hard time finding their identity to start the season. After starting off 1-3 the team and the fans were trying to find out “Who Dey” truly were. An injured Joe Burrow, a lack of offensive production, and offensive predictability were the prime reasons for the lackluster start.
After their Super Bowl appearance two years ago, every year should hold the Super Bowl or bust mentality for this team. They’ve begun to bounce back, but did their window close after Week 4?
Who Dey? The Cincinnati Bengals, That’s Who.
Here We Go Again
The early portion of the 2023 season has been déjà vu for Bengals fans. Another year of slow starts and underperforming was the tale for this team through four games. When hope was lost and questions arose, Joe Burrow once again showed why you can never count out number nine.
This has been a completely different team over the last few weeks. They’re on a four-game winning streak and three of those wins came against playoff-bound opponents. Burrow has thrown for 10 touchdowns and two interceptions during the stretch. After Ja’Marr Chase‘s “7/11” comment, he’s back to showing why he’s one of the best wide receivers in football and Tee Higgins has finally arrived.
As they make their second-half push toward another Super Bowl appearance, they’re going to need their playmakers to show up big each week. The wide receivers and tight ends have played some well-rounded ball but they haven’t clicked on all aspects.
Balance, Find Your Balance
Burrow’s elite play has been able to cover up the inefficient ground game but how much longer will it last? In Week 2 against the Tennessee Titans, the blueprint was revealed for stopping this team. They were able to shut down the passing game, slow down Chase, and the offense was held to three points. During this second half of games, they have to find that run-pass balance and be unpredictable.
They rank at the bottom in rushing attempts, yards, and yards per game. Joe Mixon hasn’t rushed for more than 90 yards in a game and has a career-low of 3.5 yards per rush. The pressure shouldn’t fall all on Mixon, considering the options they have behind him.
Where’s Trayveon Williams? He only has 10 carries on the year and has not played a game with more than 30% of the offensive snaps. When your second-leading rusher is Burrow, who has 61 yards, that isn’t a winning recipe.
Looking Ahead For Cincy
On the bright side for the Bengals, they are starting to catch fire at the perfect time. Having your way with two teams loaded with talent is a huge momentum boost. The offense will get a lot of credit, but the defensive performance has been underrated. They’ve held two of the NFL’s best offenses to under 20 points in back-to-back weeks. It starts with the turnovers, seven of their 11 interceptions came during the win streak.
On the not-so-bright side, every team in the division is in the playoff hunt and they are last momentarily. With nine games left to play, there’s no need to panic but being perfect is hard and that’s what they’ll need to be. Not only do they have the toughest remaining schedule in the league, but four of those games come against divisional opponents. They dropped their first two against the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, so there’s no room for error.
It’ll be a tall task to win another division title, especially with the Ravens being just as hot but it’s not impossible. From the outside looking in, there’s expected slippage to come from both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Browns. If the Bengals can keep that momentum they’ll be able to make the Ravens sweat a little and be an extremely dangerous team in the postseason.
Main Image: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports