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Cincinnati Bengals News: Reason for Panic at 0-2?

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The heft of hype and the strain of a calf are making this year's 0-2 start for the Cincinnati Bengals feel a lot more problematic than last year's.

September 17, 2023 | 7:30 PM EDT

CINCINNATI — The light switch the Cincinnati Bengals expected to flip when the regular season started appears to have been vandalized with super glue.

Entering the season as one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl while employing the highest-paid player in NFL history, the Bengals were going to shrug off the lack of work in OTAs and preseason games and quarterback Joe Burrow’s calf injury and the departure of both starting safeties and the heft of hype and just explode from the starting gate.

Yet, here they are again at 0-2.


And fixing that in 2023 looks as though it’s going to be a lot harder than it was in 2022.


How Did the Cincinnati Bengals Get To 0-2 Again?

A big reason for the greater degree of difficulty is the growing concern that Burrow’s calf injury, unlike his “here today, gone tomorrow” appendectomy last year, could be an issue far longer than anyone in the building anticipated.


Maybe Ja’Marr Chase was right when he suggested the Bengals would be fine if Burrow waited until Week 5 to come back.

One of the reasons the Bengals gave Burrow a five-year, $275 million extension was his ability to mask deficiencies around him and carry the team through any minefield. But now Burrow is compromised, and no one else is stepping up to squeeze the slack.


Chase has 10 catches on 17 targets for 70 yards through two games. His 70 yards mark the lowest two-game total of his career, and he once had one catch for three yards in a 2021 win at Denver.


The defensive line, which was supposed to be the deepest and most talented position group on the team, is not getting any pressure on the quarterback. The Bengals failed to sack Lamar Jackson on Sunday and hit him only once.


And it’s not as though that was part of a trade-off to keep Jackson in the pocket or flood the passing lanes with defenders. Jackson made some easy throws to open receivers and ran 12 times for 54 yards as part of a 178-yard rushing performance by the Ravens.


In their previous 23 regular and postseason games, the Bengals had allowed a team to rush for 178 yards just once. They’ve now done it back-to-back weeks after surrendering 206 to the Cleveland Browns in the opener.


Offensively, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd elevated their performances. Higgins rebounded from no catches on eight targets to snaring eight receptions for 89 yards and two touchdowns.



Boyd had 52 yards on six catches, one of which was a hospital ball Burrow threw high over the middle that got the receiver leveled.

But overall, the offense — like Burrow’s calf — is compromised.


Burrow attempted only one pass longer than 20 yards. That was on the 3rd-and-8 play on the second drive of the game when he threw a perfect pass that should have put the Bengals in Baltimore territory, only to have tight end Irv Smith Jr. not get a second foot down inbounds.


The risk aversion to having Burrow need to sprint from the pocket and tweak his calf is leading to a bunch of quick passes and early checkdowns. Burrow only attempted three passes of 10 air yards or more. He was 0-for-3 on those. Last week he completed zero of seven throws of more than 10 air yards.


Sunday there was a holding call on Alex Cappa that negated a first-down run by Joe Mixon, resulting in a three-and-out to start the game.

There was an illegal hands-to-the-face penalty by Zach Carter that wiped out Trey Hendrickson’s strip-sack of Jackson, which had resulted in Logan Wilson recovering the ball at Baltimore’s 18-yard line. There was an illegal contact penalty –- bogus as it may have been –- on Cam Taylor-Britt that negated another sack, this time by Sam Hubbard.


Those plays can be costly when Burrow is 100% healthy and dissecting defenses. They’re lethal when he’s not.

It’s easy to point at last year’s slow start as a reason to believe this team can overcome 0-2 and still do special things, especially given the continuity on the coaching staff and the roster. There’s a lot of “been there, done that” in the locker room.


But this is a new year with a new set of challenges that won’t be as easy to fix. This 0-2 hole feels deeper and murkier.

The Bengals beat history last year, starting 0-2 and becoming the 39th team out of 406 since the 1970 merger to still make the playoffs. To do it two years in a row would be remarkable, historically speaking.


The Bengals aren’t a one-man team. They have a legitimately strong roster. Whether the performance can match the talent is going to be a question that, like Burrow’s calf injury, could linger for an undetermined amount of time.



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