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Cincinnati Bengals 2023 NFL Season Preview: Running Game Must Improve

Predictions for Bengals vs. Patriots

As teams head to training camp and the NFL season approaches, The 33rd Team asks its experts to preview every team’s outlook for the 2023 season. In this installment, Chuck Pagano takes a deep dive into the Cincinnati Bengals

>> READ: Bengals Fantasy Football Preview

Bengals Team Preview

Joe MixonWhat To Know: Offense

We know they have QB Joe Burrow and WRs Tee Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd. But it’s about the run game to me. We know that they can sling it all over the yard. They’re going to get their yards through the air. They’re going to put their points up through the air.

But at some point, you need to run the football. They were 29th in the National Football League in 2022, rushing the football at 95 yards per game, and they had only 3.8 yards per attempt a season ago. Being 29th in the league this year is not going to cut it.

They have Joe Mixon. They’ve got Trayveon Williams as a backup, and then they drafted Chase Brown. They need to figure out how to run the football a little more effectively.

What To Know: Defense

The Bengals lost starting safeties Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell in free agency. Last year, this team only intercepted the ball 13 times, and Bates and Bell combined for eight of those 13.

So they can plug in Daxton Hill, their 2022 first-round pick out of Michigan, and then Nick Scott comes over (from the Rams) and is the other starter, at least going into training camp. Chidobe Awuzie is one of the corners. Mike Hilton is a nice nickel.

We know how important takeaways are. If you’re plus-one in the National Football League on the turnover margin, you win 66 percent of the time. That number goes into the low 80s, like 83 percent, if you’re plus-two. So how are they going to generate takeaways?

Biggest Off-Field Storyline

It’s the contract extension for Burrow. He’s only going into his fourth year. The Bengals picked up his fifth-year option, so he’s got guaranteed money going into 2024 if it gets to that.

But we know there are ongoing discussions between Burrow’s camp, his agent, his family and the Bengals’ camp. This is one of the things you try to get done before training camp and certainly, before the start of the season so it doesn’t become a distraction.

It will be a massive contract, and rightfully so. He deserves every penny he’s earned. But the Bengals must get this done and then guys like Higgins and Chase will come up here in the next couple of years, and they can figure that out as you go salary cap–wise.

Breakout Player Prediction

It’s their fourth-round draft pick Charlie Jones, a.k.a. Chuck Sizzle, the wide receiver from Purdue.

I don’t know how much action he will get with the likes of Higgins, Chase and Boyd. But he’s a return specialist, as well — punt and kick returns — so he’s going to add a bunch of value as far as a special teams player right out of the chute for the Bengals.

Move Bengals Should Make

You’ve got some veteran running backs who are on the street, including Dalvin Cook and Ezekiel Elliott.

Mixon had 840 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Samaje Perine had almost 400 yards rushing and is with the Broncos. So there’s really no depth there for Cincinnati. If I’m looking at the Bengals offense and want to improve their run game, I’d try to sign a veteran running back on the street right now.

2023 Season Expectations

This team is looking for a Super Bowl. They’re loaded on offense. They’ve got the quarterback.

Defensively, they need to get things shored up and bring those newbies in the secondary up to speed. They’ll have Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson rushing the quarterback on the defensive line and Wyoming’s finest, Logan Wilson, at middle linebacker calling the defensive signals for that Bengals defense.

They’re trying to get into the playoffs and make a huge run. If they have to go on the road, the Bengals have shown that they can go into Kansas City and upset the Chiefs; they did it two years ago and made the Super Bowl.

Other Previews

NFC East: DAL | NYG  | PHI | WAS

AFC East: BUF | MIA | NE  | NYJ

NFC North: GB | CHI | DET | MIN

AFC North: PIT | CLE | BAL 

AFC West: KC | LAC | LV | DEN 

NFC West: SF | SEA | LAR | ARI

NFC South: TB | CAR | NO | ATL   

AFC South: JAX | TEN | HOU | IND  

Chuck Pagano is a former NFL head coach and assistant. He is best known for his tenure with the Indianapolis Colts where he won two straight AFC South titles.