The Cincinnati Bengals are currently 3-2, 1-0 in division play and sit as the #5 seed in the AFC through five regular-season games. As we head into Week 6 against the Detroit Lions, I think it is essential to set some expectations of the capability of this team finally.
Bringing the Green Bay Packers into overtime and having multiple opportunities to win speaks volumes to the ability of this squad. Still, I took away that was more appealing because when the Bengals trailed and the momentum wasn’t on their side, they always found a way to stay in the game, remain competitive and make plays to keep it close. First, the Bengals trailed 16-7 and connected on a 70-yard touchdown, then they trailed 22-14 in the 4th quarter and responded with an 8 point drive to tie it. In the past, most Bengals’ teams would have folded and let the game get out of hand, this team doesn’t do that.
The same thing happened on Thursday night two weeks ago against Jacksonville after trailing 14-0 at the half. That shows the culture has changed in the Queen City; they are playing with pride, they are playing team-driven football, which could be a key reason this team could still be hanging around towards the end of the season.
The defense has drastically improved, led by 2nd-year linebacker Logan Wilson who is 2nd in the NFL in interceptions and ranks in the top ten in tackles. The front seven has been elite in stopping the run this season, with Larry Ogunjobi and D.J. Reader setting the tone in the middle and Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard around the edge. The Bengals recently acquired cornerback Tre Flowers off waivers from the Seahawks, adding another depth piece to the cornerback room, which is currently beaten up. I’d expect him to split snaps with Eli Apple as the cornerback number two while Chidobe Awuzie continues to take the reigns as the number one corner.
If the offense can reach its full potential, I can see this team competing for a playoff spot at the end of the season. Currently, the Bengals have only scored 7 points in the first quarter through five games, so consistently starting slow is a trend they need to change. You could say it’s a lack of aggression in the play calling from the start. Zac Taylor will play a vital role in the Bengals reaching their peak.
And the obvious one. The consistency of the offensive line throughout the rest of the season will more than likely be the biggest and most important piece to the puzzle. They need to keep Joe Burrow upright and give him time in the pocket to throw the football because when he gets those opportunities, he has had plenty of success finding his receivers and making the right decisions that move the offense down the field. Burrow and former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase have put that on display as Chase leads all rookie receivers in touchdowns and yards. He is the only rookie to catch 5 touchdowns this early in his rookie season since Randy Moss and that is excellent company to sit with.
The game Sunday against Detroit will prove a lot because if this Bengals team is as legit as some claim, they should handle their business against an 0-5 Lions team. Detroit is no pushover and doesn’t play like an 0-5 team, but this is a game Cincinnati needs to win. They head into Baltimore next week with a huge division matchup against the Ravens, and in three weeks, they have a division matchup with the Browns. Every win is essential when you play in the AFC North, and Burrow and company will need to show that starting this week. This is the most talented team since the 2015 squad, which went 12-4. There’s a lot of football left, but seeing how consistent this team stays will speak volumes about what they can do moving forward.