Cincinnati Bengals 2021 Season Preview
Head Coach: Zac Taylor
General Manager: Duke Tobin
2020 Regular Season Record: 4-11-1
2020 Result: Missed Playoffs
Head coach Zac Taylor heads into his third year as Bengals head coach. The 38 year-old has amassed just 6 wins in his two seasons at the helm. The injury to Joe Burrow last season certainly bought him some time with management. With Burrow back on the field this is an important season for the Cincinnati Bengals in one of the NFL’s toughest divisions.
Let’s start with the offensive line. The decision not to draft Penei Sewell with their 1st round pick was perplexing. Especially so considering the success of Tee Higgins in year 1. The team opted to address the tackle spot in the second round with Jackson Carman out of Clemson. The former Tiger has struggled in camp and is pretty well locked into a back-up role for 2021. They spent two more picks in the most recent draft on their offensive line, selecting D’Ante Smith and Trey Hill in the fourth and sixth round.
Jonah Williams is the leader of the group at left tackle, at 23 years-old he’s projecting to be a solid pass protector for years to come. Riley Reiff is in on a one-year deal to fill in at right tackle. The issue is in the interior where Trey Hopkins returns with a grade of 63.8 from PFF. The team is also looking to veterans Xaiver Su’a-Filo and Quinton Spain to fill in. This offensive line is heading in the right direction but is still going to be a bottom 10 unit in the league. With Joe Burrow returning from an ACL tear it would have made sense to invest a more premium pick on this position group.
Speaking of Burrow, the start of training camp for Joe had been shaky. But his play has started to pick up in camp and he’s been lobbying to get on the field in preseason. It’s unlikely to happen but those intangible leadership qualities he displayed at LSU are starting to show up at the NFL level. The reason for concern stems from how his instincts will take over on the field. He’s been willing to scramble and grind for extra yardage even without the speed of a Jalen Hurts or Russell WIlson. Are we going to see that moving forward? There is going to be a feeling out process early on but Burrow has proven capable of rising to the ocassion.
Running back Joe Mixon looks to get things back on track after playing just 6 games last season. His stat line was not pretty in those appearances either a he averaged just 3.6 yards per carry. With Giovani Bernard in Tampa Bay he’s in for a heavy workload in 2021. The team trusts his versatility as a pass catcher to fill out a 3 down role.
The pass catchers are as strong as any Bengals team in recent memory. Tee Higgins earned over 900 receiving yards and saw 107 targets in his first NFL season. Tyler Boyd has been consistent target for Bengals QBs in the slot. We can’t forget about Ja’Marr Chase, he has struggled in camp with drops but profiles as a superstar NFL wide receiver. With his opt out in 2020 he’s well removed from being in a competitive football environment. It may take some time but his chemistry with Joe Burrow cannot be denied.
The Bengals lost a stallwart in their secondary when William Jackson III left in free agency. The team brought in Chidobe Awuzie to fill in when the team is in nickel packages. Jesse Bates is now the man to lead the defensive back group. Vonn Bell was also brought in to join Bates in the second safety spot. This is a strong tandem that will be key to keeping this offense into games early on as Burrow looks to get reaquainted on the other side of the ball.
The defense has played tough in training camp and has certainly gotten the best of the offense. But make no mistake, this defense ranked in the bottom 10 in pretty well all major defensive categories in 2020. Including opponent 3rd-down conversion percentage, opponent points per game and opponent red zone scoring percentage.
Up front, the addition of Trey Hendrickson from the Saints came at a cost of Carl Lawson. Hendrickson had a big 2020 seaosn in New Orleans with 13.5 sacks. Joseph Ossai out of Texas was a steal in the third round. This defense couldn’t get after the quarterback in 2020, they had the leagues worst sack rate of 3.1%. Ossai had 5.5 sacks for Texas last season and led the BIG12 in 2020 with 16 tackles for loss.
Getting outside of leagues bottom 10 defenses would be a win for this group. The front office spent a lot of draft capital on the offense this off-season and it may keep this defense from taking a step in the right direction in 2021.
Cincinnati Bengals 2021 Record: 6-11
There are some great pieces in place for this team. Burrow is the answer at quarterback, Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase are cornerstone pass catchers for Cincinatti as well. The issue is in the trenches and dirty areas. The front 4 on offense and defense are the foundation to success. That is where this team has major question marks. In such a competitive division the Steelers, Ravens and Browns will give their best efforts knowing how essential divisional wins will be. I can’t get this team past the 6 win threshold.