Early in the 2022 season, it was beginning to look like the Bengals would be unable to recapture the magic of their run to the Super Bowl from the previous season. They opened with a pair of losses and sat at 5-4 heading into their bye week. Cincinnati had beaten one team with a winning record. The Bengals' offense came out of the bye week firing on all cylinders and the defense took their game up a notch as well. They won seven straight games to close the regular season, securing their second consecutive AFC North crown in the process. The Bengals made it past Baltimore and Buffalo in the playoffs but were unable to defeat the Chiefs this time around. Kansas City ended their run with a walk-off field goal in the AFC Championship.
Key Offensive Stats
- Points per game: 26.1 (7th)
- EPA per play: 0.08 (5th)
- Dropback EPA per play: 0.15 (5th)
- Passing yards per game: 265 (5th)
- Rush EPA per play: -0.06 (16th)
- Rush yards per game: 95.5 (29th)
Coming off an otherworldly 2021 season that saw him lead the NFL in completion rate and yards per attempt, there was no way Joe Burrow's numbers would be able to hold into 2022. And they didn't. He performed worse in both of those metrics and in EPA per play. However, he greatly cushioned the blow by taking sacks at a lower rate and throwing interceptions less often. Ja'Marr Chase missed five games but still topped 1,000 yards. He managed to up his per-game average by a little over a yard. Tee Higgins remained a strong No. 2 receiver, crossing 1,000 yards again and scoring seven times. The Bengals' only shortcoming was their ground game. Joe Mixon ranked 28th in rushing yards over expected per carry. It was also his worst season by missed tackles forced per attempt and yards after contact per carry since he was a rookie.
Key Defensive Stats
- Points per game: 20.1 (6th)
- EPA per play: -0.04 (8th)
- Dropback EPA per play: -0.02 (7th)
- Passing yards per game: 229.1 (23rd)
- Rush EPA per play: -0.08 (13th)
- Rush yards per game: 106.6 (7th)
The Bengals' defense was possibly the worst in the league in 2018, and they have been clawing their way out of that pit in every subsequent year. The defense has improved its rank in EPA per play each year, culminating in their first top-10 season since 2015 last year. Pass-rusher Trey Hendrickson led the team with eight sacks and ESPN charted him with their fourth-highest pass rush win rate among EDGE players. The Bengals posted the 13th-highest pressure rate despite blitzing at the 22nd-highest clip. This let them drop extra players into coverage to blanket opposing receivers. Safeties Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates both broke up eight passes and intercepted four throws.
Draft Picks (Top-150)
28th, 60th, 92nd, and 131st
Notable Free Agents
S Vonn Bell, S Jessie Bates, CB Eli Apple, LB Germaine Pratt, and TE Hayden Hurst
Joe Mixon ($7.3 million in savings), RT La'el Collins ($6.1 million), and WR Tyler Boyd ($8.9 million)
Rumors of a Tee Higgins traded were bandied about once the season ended, but de facto GM Duke Tobin silenced them at the combine. He did not, however, rule out the idea of cutting Mixon.
Unless the market values Jessie Bates is significantly lower than expected, the Bengals appear to be willing to let him walk. The most likely outcome is Cincinnati re-signing Vonn Bell and letting second-year safety Dax Hill replace Bates.
Eli Apple is a free agent and Chidobe Awuzie has one year left on his deal. The Bengals can elevate Cameron Taylor-Britt to a starting role in 2023, but they will still be in need of depth options and an eventual replacement for Awuzie.
Hayden Hurst produced well in his first season with the Bengals but is a free agent. His production also left fans wondering what Burrow could do with an elite talent at tight end.
A few position coaches were shuffled on defense and Zac Taylor bolstered the ranks with some extra assistants after the season ended. Otherwise, the staff will be the same as it was in 2022. This means, shockingly, defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan are returning. Both coaches interviewed for head coaching gigs in the offseason but neither landed a promotion.
The Bengals are nearing the end of Joe Burrow's rookie contract. He will be in the final year of his deal in 2023 and then on the fifth-year option in 2024. He could be extended as early as this offseason, though the Bengals may push it out another year. Either way, they are now tasked with managing their cap more tightly and with a long-term outlook in mind. Planning for a future with a pricey (but elite) quarterback means making some hard decisions, like cutting Mixon, but the payoff is keeping a nucleus of Burrow, Chase, and Higgins on the team for years to come.