The 2022 NFL season marked the second consecutive AFC North title for the 12-4 Bengals. Admit it: You didn’t think that was possible.
These Bengals are still owned by the 21st century’s stand-in for Frank Capra’s miserly Mr. Potter in Mike Brown, whose demonstrated acumen for cheapskating rosters into oblivion precludes most thinking that the Bengals would ever have consistent success under his stewardship. A winning record here or there, maybe even the occasional division title or wild card playoff appearance, sure. But an immovable foundation of excellence for an extended period? Unheard of with this ownership group.
But that appears to be what’s happening in the wake of a fearsome offense and young, talented players to inhabit it, seemingly set for the foreseeable future. Fans and foes alike know this could turn sideways at any moment if Brown wishes to cinch the purse strings, especially when team stalwarts like QB Joe Burrow begin to come off their rookie deals and inevitably look to break the proverbial bank in exchange for their services.
My advice to Bengals fans: Sit back and enjoy it. Fretting about the future while experiencing success takes all the fun out of these playoff runs and credible stabs at a title.
Go easy, man.
QB Joe Burrow may have established himself as one of the game’s elite quarterbacks after again playing all 17 (16?) games and nearly topping his own single-season passing franchise record, set in 2021. Burrow’s start was a bit rocky the first couple of months, as the team posted a 4-4 record with three divisional losses, but he managed to close the season with eight consecutive wins, not counting the “no-contest” season-ending game against the Bills. RBs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine combined to give the Bengals a solid rushing attack, with the multipurpose Perine playing a large third down role. WRs Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd again comprised the most dangerous trio of pass catchers in the NFL currently, posting roughly 2,800 yards between them and pulling in 21 of Burrow’s 35 TD passes. TE Hayden Hurst provided a nice outlet for Burrow with 52 catches, including several key third- and fourth-down conversions. The oft-maligned and supposedly rebuilt offensive line gave up 41 regular season sacks this year; while not great, it represents significant improvement over 2021’s ghastly 71 sacks allowed.
As a unit, the 2022 Bengals defense was reasonably effective, allowing just 19.6 PPG, yet also giving up 337 YPG, good for #6 and #17 in the NFL respectively and essentially defining the “bend but don’t break” defensive axiom. DTs D.J. Reader and B.J. Hill were solid against the run, holding opposing RBs to 4.1 YPC, and DEs Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson played off that to add 14.5 sacks between them. Rotation DE Joseph Ossai, last seen getting injured after an ill-advised penalty in the team’s playoff loss to the Chiefs, contributed 3.5 sacks in a part-time role. MLB Germaine Pratt was adequate with 90 tackles, and he may see some draft pick competition in training camp. OLBs Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaither were very good overall, especially Wilson, whose occasional shifts to the middle added significantly to his 135 tackles. CBs Eli Apple, Cam Taylor-Britt, Mike Hilton and Dax Hill filled out a defensive backfield rotation that disappointed at times, and relied far too much on the tackling merits of safeties Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell. It’s widely assumed the Bengals will again be scanning draft boards for their next great CB in 2023.
While K Evan McPherson’s 82.8 FG% looks a little ugly by modern standards, his 5 for 5 record on kicks beyond 50 yards is what stands out and most likely ensures a continued run with the Bengals. Rookie P Drue Chrisman was roughly around the league average for punt longevity (47.8 yards) and provided some decent inside-the-red-zone punts when needed. Veteran PR Trent Taylor was steady if unspectacular, which is also an apt description of KR Trayveon Williams. The team may be looking for possible upgrades at both return spots in 2023.
Bright, at least until contract negotiations begin. Give it a couple more years of double-digit records and playoff appearances, and this bunch may be difficult to retain. Stay tuned.