The Cincinnati Bengals‘ breakthrough run to the Super Bowl LVI is starting to look more like a mirage than a memorable turning point for a miserable franchise. After winning just six games in the first two years of the Zac Taylor era, the Bengals won 13 games (including the playoffs) last season. But the follow-up campaign to that inspiring underdog story has turned into an immediate nightmare for Cincinnati.
The Bengals haven’t won a game since January’s AFC Championship Game. Two games into Taylor’s fourth season, the Bengals have lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys. And while those legendary franchises have illustrious histories, the offenses were led by Mitchell Trubisky in Week 1 and Cooper Rush in Week 2, respectively.
Bengals’ listless start is more than just the typical Super Bowl hangover
Despite the Bengals’ promising playoff surge, there were some who felt Cincinnati significantly overachieved in the tournament. While Joe Burrow, last year’s NFL Comeback Player of the Year, is a dynamic QB, his supporting cast left a lot to be desired, especially on the offensive line.
So, the front office brought in the likes of Ted Karras, Alex Cappa, and La’el Collins to sure up the weaknesses in front of Burrow. The Bengals have four new starters on the offensive line, and their hope was that the changes would be for the better, but so far, the same issues with protection have lingered.
During Sunday’s 20-17 loss to the Cowboys, Burrow was repeatedly flushed out of the pocket. He was also hit eight times and sacked six times. The new veterans along the line have more notable names than their predecessors, but Burrow is still getting hit like a piñata behind them.
On the opposite side, the cornerbacks continued to give up big plays in coverage, much like they did during last season. Noah Brown, the Cowboys’ fourth wideout, caught 5 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown with Rush — filling in for an injured Dak Prescott — throwing him the ball.
On paper, the Bengals should have cleaned the clocks of the Steelers and Cowboys. Instead, Burrow’s supporting cast has continued to let him down, and the coaching staff hasn’t done much to mitigate the damage. Taylor’s offense, which greatly benefitted from the drafting of Ja’Marr Chase last year, seems completely unimaginative, and the offensive line’s struggles have only compounded the problems of a simplistic attack.
Taylor seemed headed for the chopping block before the Bengals broke out last year. And while he deserves the benefit of more than just two losses this season, it’s worth wondering if last year’s success was simply a flash in the pan. After all, Taylor’s first two seasons were forgettable at best.
Staring at an 0-2 record, Taylor and his staff need to hit the pause button and reevaluate their offense. Burrow, who threw 4 interceptions last week, needs to give Taylor feedback in order to rework their plans for a comeback.
If Burrow, Taylor, and company can’t find a quick solution, they’ll be buried in AFC standings quicksand. Instead of turning into a perennial playoff squad, they’ll just be an interesting footnote in the history of the Los Angeles Rams.