The Cincinnati Bengals were oh so close to being world champions. They were a few penalties and less than two minutes away from defeating the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl 56, but their inability to keep Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp out of the end zone or protect Joe Burrow from the relentless pursuit of Aaron Donald resulted in a 23-20 loss. Sure, the Bengals were underdogs and few analysts predicted they’d actually upset the Rams and win the game. So, the fact they were just a handful of plays away from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy is, in a way, an incredible accomplishment. That said, there are no moral victories with a championship on the line, and the most effective way for Cincinnati to rid itself of the bitter taste of defeat is by going to work this offseason and improving the areas on the roster that ultimately cost them the Super Bowl. It isn’t challenging to figure out what the focus should be for the Bengals’ front office over the next few months. The offensive line is, by far, the team’s biggest weakness, which was magnified when Burrow nearly suffered another catastrophic leg injury against the Rams during one of the seven sacks Cincinnati surrendered. https://twitter.com/DocFlynnNFL/status/1493048789153857538 Fortunately, Burrow managed to stay in the game. But the images that immediately followed his knee injury should be plastered on the walls of the Bengals’ draft room. This isn’t a face they should ever want to see from their franchise quarterback again: https://twitter.com/espn/status/1493048067460722690 Cincinnati’s first opportunity to level up the offensive line will come in free agency. The Bengals should back up the Brinks truck for Brandon Scherff. Overpay for an offensive tackle like Cam Robinson. Terron Armstead? Come on down. Trent Brown? There’s a spot for you. At this point, Jonah Williams is the only player who’s earned the right to be back as a starter in 2022. If there’s an established veteran free agent who wants a nice paycheck and an opportunity to play for a ring with Burrow, Cincinnati should welcome them with open arms. Don’t be picky. The 2022 free-agent class of offensive linemen isn’t overflowing with top-shelf talent, but the players who are expected to be available are superior to the dudes lining up as first-teamers with the Bengals. If Cincinnati can give Burrow even one tick longer to find an open target and rip a throw, the results will be remarkable. They’ll be able to find linemen who can provide that tick on the open market. The 2022 NFL Draft will provide Cincinnati with a second swing at improving their offensive line. Now armed with the 31st overall pick, the Bengals will be in the sweet spot for some of this year’s quality interior offensive line prospects. A player like Boston College’s Zion Johnson would look awfully good in orange and black, wouldn’t he? Johnson was one of the best players at the 2022 Senior Bowl. It solidified his standing as a player who warrants consideration in the middle-to-late first round—if he’s still on the board after the 20th pick, he’s the kind of prospect the Bengals should consider moving up for. Cincinnati’s offensive line needs help… everywhere, and that’s why Johnson would be a great target. He took reps at center during the Senior Bowl and has experience starting at both tackle and guard at Boston College. The Bengals can simply draft him and figure out where he plays later. And regardless of where that is, he’ll immediately become the most talented offensive lineman on the roster. The Bengals and their fans are experiencing the ultimate agony of defeat. It’s painful, it stings, and it won’t get better anytime soon, unfortunately. The clips of Burrow getting pounded into the turf at SoFi Stadium will be replayed throughout the offseason and will haunt the franchise until there’s a concerted effort to rebuild the offensive line. The decision to draft wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase instead of offensive tackle Penei Sewell in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft seems, for now, like it was the right move. But the pressure is officially on Cincinnati to get the offensive line fixed… quickly. Otherwise, it won’t matter who’s catching passes from Burrow if he isn’t upright long enough to throw the ball. Cincinnati enters the 2022 offseason as the reigning AFC champions. They have one of the best young quarterbacks in the league and a cast of exciting offensive skill players. The defense punched above its weight class during the playoffs but there are some encouraging pieces on that side of the ball, too. Get the offensive line corrected and the Who Dey Nation is going to be a problem for the rest of the NFL for a very long time.
- Aug 15, 2022
- Jul 25, 2022