The Cincinnati Bengals are one of the most depressing teams in all of American sports. As a Cincinnati Reds fan I have some experience with what things are like in Ohio, but the Bengals were once again just kind of there.
They weren’t good, they weren’t bad enough to land themselves a very high pick, they continued their life in NFL purgatory. They finished with a 7-9 record and Marvin Lewis somehow managed to keep his job, as their attempts to get Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson both failed.
The Bengals did make some moves this summer and they had a solid draft, so we will look at their prospects for the upcoming season, and whether they can take advantage of the uncertainty surrounding the Ravens and the Steelers.
2017 Season Review:
The Bengals underwent the most embarrassing start in their history as they were shut out on the road in Baltimore in Week One. Offensive coordinator Ken Zampese’s seat was absolutely on fire after that defeat, and it blew into smithereens after the Bengals lost at home to the Deshaun Watson led Houston Texans on a dismal Thursday night football. Zampese was replaced by Bill Lazor, and his debut saw the Bengals get very close to winning in Lambeau.
The Bengals did claw themselves to a 3-4 record by Week Eight. But Bengals fans still weren’t that impressed as their wins came against DeShone Kizer, Tyrod Taylor and Jacoby Brissett. The Bengals pretty much lost to every good team they faced bar the Detroit Lions in Week Sixteen. By then it was too late, and their two late wins against Detroit and Cleveland simply just harmed their draft position and kept them away from the top of the draft.
Defensively the Bengals did have a few bright spots, notably William Jackson. The Bengals have taken hit after hit from the Steelers in the 21st century but taking William Jackson and forcing them to take Artie Burns is the biggest win they’ve had over them. Jackson has all of the tools to become an all-pro corner, which means the Bengals should embrace more man coverage.
The Bengals were characterized by an offense that just fell apart too often. Their offensive line was the worst unit in the NFL for long spells, and it meant that the Bengals were not consistently moving the chains. Despite these clear problems and a fractured locker room, Marvin Lewis managed to keep his job. Many are too harsh on Lewis for the early years, he turned a dismal franchise into one that consistently competed in a tough division. In recent years though, he has become a laughing stock.
The key thing the Bengals attempted to do, was fix their problems in the trenches. They didn’t necessarily have a problem on their defensive line, but they added enough players to shed any doubt. They got a steal with Sam Hubbard in the third round, and he joins a talented line alongside Carl Lawson, Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and Jordan Willis. They also signed former Redskins and Buccaneers interior player Chris Baker who will provide some extra depth.
On the offensive line, the Bengals moved down nine positions in order to acquire Cordy Glenn from the Buffalo Bills. He has been hit by injury in recent years but he is still a far better option than Jake Fisher or Cedric Ogbuehi, who both look like busts. He will protect Andy Dalton’s blind-side, and they will have at least one above average starter on the offensive line.
They also moved on from Russell Bodine, who generated no push in the run game or any kind of sturdiness in pass protection. They replaced him by using their first-round pick on Billy Price from Ohio State. Price looks to be a solid player, but I question whether he becomes a fully efficient run blocker. The Bengals want to feed Joe Mixon and they will use a lot of outside zone concepts, so they will need a jump from Billy Price very quickly.
The Bengals also overhauled a key part of their secondary. They selected Jessie Bates out of Wake Forest with their second-round pick, and he projects to be a high safety which makes him a great fit in Teryl Austin’s defensive scheme. Because of this, the Bengals decided to move on from George Iloka who had been a long-term piece. Iloka is easily an NFL-level safety, but he doesn’t really fit with what Teryl Austin likes to do. His inconsistency in run support was a big reason he departed.
The Bengals pass rush is absolutely loaded, and is living proof that Marvin Lewis still knows how to evaluate talent even if he cannot control a locker room anymore. They will get pressure from everywhere and when you combine that with the fact they have an all-pro level corner in William Jackson, this defensive unit could be really good.
The receiving corps is also relatively good, AJ Green is a top tier WR1 and he is paired with a solid route runner in the form of Tyler Boyd. John Ross hasn’t shown much to date, but he will be an absolute winner in best ball fantasy formats as he has the potential to make big plays.
I still don’t buy this Bengals offensive line. The left-side of the line is good, as Cordy Glenn is an excellent pass protector and Clint Boling is very steady, but the right-side of the line scares me. Trey Hopkins showed some signs in pre-season but he still got beaten on a regular basis, and Bobby Hart had a rough time in pass protection. Having a lopsided line means that the run game can become predictable.
Best Case Scenario:
The Bengals have quite a good roster even if their QB has a clear ceiling in terms of how far he can lead it. But in honesty, a 10-6 record with a 1st or 2nd placed finish in the division is not completely out of the question. The defense will keep them in games and they have enough playmakers on the offensive side of the ball.
Worst Case Scenario:
The Bengals went 7-9 last year and I don’t think the worst case scenario is much worse than that. They had two free wins against the Browns last year though and I think Cleveland will be more competitive in the near future. A 5-11 record with a third or fourth placed finish could happen for the Bengals if Andy Dalton falls apart because of the right side of his offensive line.
I like the Bengals heading into this year, so I am comfortable predicting that they will go 9-7 and be very close to landing a wild card spot.