Are the Bengals An O-Line Away From Being A Perennial AFC Heavyweight?
By Andy Davies
It has been a week since the Cincinnati Bengals lost in Super Bowl 56 to the Los Angeles Rams at the SoFi Stadium.
In a close game, they lost 23-20 and led the game when the two-minute warning arrived in the fourth quarter – only for Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp to catch the winning touchdown pass and break Bengals hearts.
Despite a brilliant season that saw them perform way beyond expectations, the Bengals will hope they can repeat similar success in the years ahead. However, there was one narrative that dominated the post-match talk; the poor display from the offensive line that saw Joe Burrow tie Roger Staubach for the most sacked quarterback in a Super Bowl, with the Rams getting to him seven times.
So Near, Yet So Far
The Bengals put out a tweet saying they will be back. Try telling that to the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Dan Marino. Rodgers won the Super Bowl 45 back in the 2010 season and just like Burrow, Marino lost Super Bowl 19 in his 1984 sophomore season. Neither played in February since.
It was widely expected that the Miami Dolphins QB would eventually get a ring, such was his first two seasons and the quality he possessed. However, he never made it back – and only made the Conference Championship Game two more times after that 1984 season.
The Super Bowl is such a hard game to make it to, a fact bolstered when you consider only 21 of the 65 quarterbacks to have started such a game have played in more than one.
There is a plethora of great quarterbacks in the AFC, which only further puts doubt on their chances of getting back to the Super Bowl. They will have to battle with the likes of Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, potentially Aaron Rodgers if he switches conference, Justin Herbert, and Lamar Jackson. This is not to exclude the likes of Ryan Tannehill who would have likely won against the Bengals had Derrick Henry been fully healthy in order to properly use the play action.
Burrow is also in this elite QB list, but he will have to come up against some great teams. It is also not every day that Mahomes has a performance quite like the one he did against Cincinnati in the second half of the AFC Championship game.
Despite this, the Bengals should also take credit in the fact that they got all the way to the Super Bowl with an offensive line as bad as the one we saw all season. Burrow was sacked 51 times in the regular season, the most of any quarterback. With the exception of second place Ryan Tannehill (47), joint-fifth place Derek Carr (40) and joint-seventh placed Ben Roethlisberger, the rest of the top 15 sacked QB’s did not make the playoffs. This makes the achievement of Burrow and the Bengals even greater.
Burrow was also sacked 19 times in the playoffs, beating previous record holder Wade Wilson (14) to the title of most sacked quarterbacks in a postseason. He also tied Warren Moon for most sacked QB in a single playoff game after the Tennessee Titans got to him nine times.
He is already tied for 39th for most sacked quarterback in the history of the playoffs despite just three total postseason games. He is also tied for 209th for most sacked quarterback in NFL history. But this is the key. He won these games despite the amount of hits taken.
Addressing The O-Line
The Bengals showed a lot of fight this season. They won their first AFC North title since 2015, in what is a tough division. Burrow was a season removed from his 2020 rookie year that saw his campaign cut short due to an ACL injury. They beat the Chiefs twice in the same season. And they did all this with a bad offensive line. Just imagine what they could do with a good offensive line.
Andrew Luck retired prematurely in his NFL career, largely due to the amount of hits he took. The Bengals will want to avoid a repeat of this in Joe’s career.
There was a lot of talk about whether they should have taken an offensive lineman or Chase when the LSU wideout was selected fifth overall. Looking back, it was the right call to a certain extent. A good lineman would have potentially won the Bengals this game as they were excellent on defense.
However, not having Chase in the offense would have likely not seen the Bengals make it as far. This year however, offensive linemen should be their number one target and if it isn’t then they will learn to regret such a decision. As a result of their 2021 campaign, they have not got a high draft pick. They could look at Free Agency, considering they have the fourth biggest cap space in the league.
The Talent To Challenge
The Miami Dolphins are top of the cap space list, and their number one need is also offensive line. These two teams could bet set for a battle for the ages in this year’s Free Agency. Brandon Scherff, Terron Armstead and Ryan Jensen are the three highest profile linemen available this offseason. Getting all three, or even two of those three will indicate a sign of intent from the Bengals front office. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Riley Reiff and Eric Fisher are also honourable mentions.
Should they fix their offensive line, then the Bengals are a team to watch out for. They will be a scary proposition. Not only due to their exciting offense featuring Burrow, Chase, Tee Higgins, C.J. Uzomah, Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd but also their talented defense. Arguably, the best Free Agent signing this season was defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who finished fifth in the league for sacks (14), as well as cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, who was tied for 11th in the league for passes defended (14).
There is also defensive lineman Sam Hubbard and Larry Ogunjobi who combined for 14.5 sacks, linebacker Logan Wilson who had 100 total tackles and 4 interceptions as well as Mike Hilton who had two interceptions, one of which led to a touchdown.
Head coach Zac Taylor has been given an extension to his contract after their achievements this season. If they just fix their offensive line, they will be a contender for many years. If not, then they will be set for another 30 years of pain.
A current Sports Journalism masters student, Andy has been writing NFL articles since January 2020. Originally from Wales, Andy also writes for pro football mania and dolphins talk, as well as appearing on podcasts and videos for euro tripz. find him on twitter @andydaviessport.