The Cincinnati Bengals are experiencing a bit of déjà vu with how their season is starting this year, and they’ve put themselves in a hole in a division where getting behind early may come back to bite them.
After their 27-24 loss to the Ravens, the Bengals now sit at 0-2 — just like they were at this point last season. Whether or not they rally again and go on a run to the AFC championship game remains to be seen, but this version of the Bengals has had some alarming struggles so far that makes their chances of getting back into the playoff race tougher than expected.
Cincinnati’s offense hasn't had the juice so far this season and has struggled for the majority of the time that it has been on the field. The Bengals put together some drives late in the game against the Ravens that gave them a chance to win at the end, but it was too late. Through two games, the Bengals have mustered only two touchdowns — and they were helped out Sunday by an 81-yard punt return that got them on the board in the first half.
The biggest sore spot right now might be at quarterback, where Joe Burrow hasn’t been as dynamic as he usually is coming off of a calf injury that knocked him out for all of preseason. Through two games, including an ugly loss to the Browns last week, Burrow has completed 41 of his 72 passing attempts (56.9%) for 304 yards, two touchdowns and an interception — just 4.2 yards per attempt.
Burrow said after Sunday's game that he tweaked his calf injury, but whether it’s that or just rust, he hasn’t been the playmaker who just signed the largest contract in the history of the NFL.
The first half that Burrow played against the Ravens illustrated some of the struggles that he’s had this season. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Burrow averaged 2.05 seconds per throw and 3.1 air yards an attempt. That’s a far cry from the Bengals’ offense that the NFL has grown accustomed to where they’re hunting for big yardage and making magic on off-schedule plays. Burrow even threw an uncharacteristic interception where he flat out didn’t see safety Geno Stone lurking in the middle of the field.
“Not well enough to win, not well enough to win,” Burrow said of his play. “We’ll go watch the tape … some things need to be cleaned up.”
Burrow also noted that his turnover in the red zone is a mistake that the Bengals can’t be making against an opponent as good as the Ravens. For a team whose goal is winning the Super Bowl, starting off 0-2 is a big blow, especially in the AFC North.
Burrow hasn’t been able to get things going, which in turn is hampering the potential production of Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, although Higgins overcame Burrow’s struggles with 89 yards and two touchdowns against Baltimore.
The Bengals have the Rams, Titans, Cardinals and Seahawks before they can get to their bye, which looks like a tougher stretch of games than before the season started. The Rams and Titans look to have figured some things out and provide a tough challenge for the Bengals in their current form.
Joe Burrow hints at whether he'll need to manage calf rest of season. pic.twitter.com/L8v6dLctmv
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) September 17, 2023
The season isn’t over for Cincinnati, but this year’s 0-2 doesn’t feel like last year’s 0-2. They have the talent to start stacking consecutive wins, but they’ve got to get this thing moving in the right direction immediately.