The Cincinnati Bengals shattered just about every expectation set for them going into the 2021 season. They went over their projected win total of 6.5, won the AFC North, won the AFC and came within three points of winning the Super Bowl. This came after a season in which their then rookie quarterback, Joe Burrow, tore his ACL and MCL, and they finished 4-11-1.
A key inflection point heading into their surprising season was the selection of Burrow’s LSU teammate, Ja’Marr Chase, at the top of the 2021 NFL Draft. That was scrutinized by some due to the Bengals’ offensive line struggles in 2020, and that the top offensive tackle prospect, Oregon tackle Penei Sewell, was still available when they selected Chase.
Bengals Offensive Line Total Points
|Pass Blocking Total Points||68 (26th)||85 (14th)|
|Run Blocking Total Points||65 (14th)||79 (25th)|
While the offensive line didn’t meaningfully improve, the Chase pick paid massive dividends in year one, as Burrow ranked first in yards per attempt among QBs with at least 100 pass attempts with 8.9. Additionally, Chase ranked eighth in yards per route run with 2.6 (among WRs with at least 50 targets).
Fixing the Offensive Line
After the Super Bowl loss, the Bengals used free agency to correct one issue that ultimately cost them that game—the offensive line. They have to protect a quarterback who has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long, and they allowed the second-highest sack rate at 8.7%.
The signings of guards Alex Cappa and Ted Karras and right tackle La’el Collins will help bolster their offensive line this season.
Additionally, the Bengals replaced tight end C.J. Uzomah, who signed with the Jets, with Hayden Hurst. Other than this change at tight end, the weapons around Burrow are predominantly the same.
Once again, Joe Mixon will be the backfield’s anchor. In 2021, Mixon had career highs in rushing yards (1,205) and rushing touchdowns (13), and was sixth in the NFL with 75.3 rushing yards per game (min. 100 carries). After the offensive line ranked 25th in Run Blocking Total Points a season ago, Mixon and the Bengals’ rushing attack should have a few more holes to run through behind the revamped group up front.
The Bengals also exceeded expectations on defense last season. They ranked eighth in the NFL in Pass Rush Total Points. A big reason why the Bengals succeeded in generating a consistent pass rush was thanks to Trey Hendrickson. Hendrickson ranked fifth in sacks with 14 and fourth in pressures with 73.
In addition to the pass rush, defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo was a major factor in the defense’s success. He made the proper adjustments in the second halves of every playoff game to get the Bengals close to winning the Super Bowl.
In the first two rounds of the draft, the Bengals added two secondary pieces in Michigan safety Daxton Hill and Nebraska cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt. They are joining a secondary that ranked 12th in EPA per play in pass coverage last season.
The consequence of going from worst to first in the division is having one of the higher jumps in strength of schedule. In 2022, the Bengals are projected to play the ninth-hardest schedule via the Total Points Team Strength Model from SIS.
With a target now squarely on their back in the AFC, head coach Zac Taylor and the Bengals will have to face a more difficult test to get back to the Super Bowl and win it this time.
James Weaver contributed to this report.