Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Burrow Will Be Throwing For His Life

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Writing about the Cincinnati Bengals in 2021 is like performing an autopsy on a skeleton unearthed from a burial mound near Stonehenge. The Jets and Jaguars are annual crime scenes requiring forensic scientists, but the Bengals are an archeological site. To figure out what annihilated their briefly thriving civilization, we need to scrape away layers of dust and neglect and piece together the pottery shards found in nearby middens.

Other teams are bad because their coaches or general managers made critical mistakes in the last two or three years. The Bengals are bad because of events that took place in playoff games during the Obama administration. The Bengals do not collapse or tank like other teams. They erode.

The Bengals are mired in a decline phase that began in 2016. It took them three miserable seasons to finally move on from Marvin Lewis and a fourth to finally get around to replacing Andy Dalton. The Eagles rose and began to fall in that period. The Browns went through two or three mini-epochs, depending on who's counting. But the Bengals operate on paleontological time. They don't get around to solving problems until those problems become crises. Then they jerry-rig temporary solutions. When those fail, they jerry-rig something else. And so forth, until a half-decade has passed and they have been duct-taping the duct tape together for so long that they honestly believe that's how it's supposed to be done.

The Bengals didn't feel the need to replace Dalton until Joe Burrow fell into their lap in the 2020 draft. Burrow was so obviously overqualified to be the first overall pick that even an organization operating on autopilot was bound to select him, and sure enough one did. The Bengals then installed Burrow behind an offensive line which had finished with adjusted sack rates higher than 7.0% in every season since 2016 and 22nd or lower in adjusted line yards in every season since 2017. The resulting devastating knee injury to Burrow was sadly inevitable.

In this year's draft, the Bengals faced a choice between Penei Sewell, one of the top...