This can’t start and end with quarterback Joe Burrow, but it should.
The Cincinnati Bengals hit a new low with only two wins last season. They missed their fourth consecutive postseason and haven’t put up a winning record since 2015 when they finished first in the AFC North and earned a wild-card berth. Cincinnati had a string of wild-card appearances leading up to the 2015 season but has not had a playoff win since 1990.
It’s not looking great. The Bengals’ lowly season, however, put them in a position to find the newest face of the franchise. Burrow is the one who should be able to turn things around and much, if not all, of Cincinnati’s 2020 success will hinge on his ability to perform well at the next level. If the Bengals are going to have a successful season, Burrow needs to be at his best.
There are a number of things that went wrong for Cincinnati last year, including an unsuccessful quarterback switch and an entire season without wide receiver A.J. Green. After veteran passer Andy Dalton went 0-8 to start the season, first-year head coach Zac Taylor gave then-rookie Ryan Finley a chance under center. Things were just as bad. Finley went 0-3 and Dalton returned as a starter in Week 13; the team’s first of two wins. The Bengals were able to get another win in Week 16 for some better momentum heading into the offseason.
Taylor will be in year two and can now bring Burrow into the fold. Taylor also needs to show he has the ability to turn this team around after coming from the Sean McVay coaching tree. The influx of young coaches has yet to see the quick success McVay did with the Los Angeles Rams except for Kyle Shanahan’s turnaround in San Francisco. I don’t think Taylor or the Bengals will get to a Super Bowl berth in 2020. They might not even make the postseason, but if he can get Burrow to be the player he was at LSU, Cincinnati can start building on its success.
Burrow will have a slew of green players to work with as well as veteran talent.
Rookie Tee Higgins will join Green in the receiving corps and we should see a bigger role from second-year tight end Drew Sample. Sample had a shortened rookie season after nursing an ankle injury but moves into the TE1 spot after Tyler Eifert’s departure. He can be a good blocker and protecting Burrow will be key.
The Bengals have been one of the worst pass-blocking teams in the league after ranking no better than 24th over the past three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. Cincinnati’s offensive line is projected to again be one of the worst in the league, per PFF, which doesn’t bode well for its success. Burrow will be put to the test with plenty of questions surrounding this offense. One thing to keep an eye on is just how well the new starters on the offensive line, the revamped receiving corps, and running back Joe Mixon—who is coming off back-to-back 1,000-plus yard seasons but has yet to have a true breakout campaign—will mesh.
The defense has got a new look too. In an effort to better stop the passing attack, the Bengals brought Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander into the secondary. Cincinnati was 21st against the pass last season and even worse stopping the run. The Bengals had the worst run defense in the league and gave up a whopping 2,382 rushing yards. They won’t climb up the ladder in one season, but the Bengals need to do a much, much, much better job at pressuring opponents.
Cincinnati lost a number of games last season that were within one possession; the Bengals lost four games by four points or less and eight total games by eight points or less. For as up-and-down, well down-and-down, as this team was, it remained somewhat competitive. The makeover on both sides of the ball was necessary. Now, the Bengals need to make sure they give Burrow what he needs to be successful. The only thing Cincinnati might come away with this upcoming season is an Offensive Rookie of the Year winner, and I would still chalk that up to being a success.