Cincinnati Bengals 2020 NFL Season Preview

NFL

The Bengals were the ultimate wild card in a changing AFC North during the offseason. While Cleveland had all of the media talking about them, Pittsburgh was without two of their star offensive playmakers, and Baltimore lost key starters on defense, Cincinnati was the ultimate dark horse in the division.

That was before the injuries ended Jonah Williams and A.J. Green‘s season before they started. The Cincinnati Bengals were a complete disaster going 2-14, including an 0-11 start. The Cincinnati Bengals, led by 2nd-year Head Coach, Zac Taylor, and rookie quarterback Joe Burrow is Part 1 of PigskinNut’s 2020 NFL Season Preview Series.

So what went right for the Bengals in 2019?

Tyler Boyd will be a centerpiece of the offense for years to come as I explain why as I discuss more below in this 2020 NFL Season Preview Series Cincinnati Bengals article.

Tyler Boyd emerged again in 2019 posting a stat-line of 90-1046-5 for the Cincinnati Bengals. In Green’s absence, Boyd seems to have found himself as the heir to him as the number one receiver in Cincinnati.

With Green being out, John Ross would become the team’s second receiver and make the most of his opportunities. He had 28 receptions for 506 yards and three touchdowns in only eight games.

Tyler Eifert has been injury-prone for most of his career. He would manage to play all 16 games for the first time in his career. He wasn’t as effective as he has been in the past but Eifert being active for all 16 games was a step in the right direction.

What went wrong for the Bengals in 2019?

WR A.J. Green got hurt in July and wouldn’t play a snap during the whole season. Instead of placing him on injured reserve, the team decided to keep him on the active roster until the final week of the season. The relationship between the front office and Green appears to be broken and might impact the team during the offseason as he is an upcoming free agent.

QB Andy Dalton has been an average starter in the league for a while. At times he was good enough to win games, but inconsistencies made it hard for him to keep them close. Especially when the defense wasn’t doing them any favors. The Bengals decided to bench him in favor of rookie Ryan Finley on the day before the trade deadline. They eventually went back to Dalton late in the season but it was too little too late.

They got nothing from their draft class and I tell you why in this 2020 NFL Season Preview Series Cincinnati Bengals article. Jonah Williams missed the entire season after being selected 11th overall. The second-round pick, Drew Sample only had five catches for 30 yards. Finley was a disaster when he started. The only who got solid playing time from the draft class was Germaine Pratt.

Offseason Recap

Read further on down for more in-depth analysis as I begin to breakdown the Bengals Coaching Staff, Roster, and give my outlook for the Bengals for the upcoming 2020 NFL season.

Coaching Analysis

Zac Taylor has all the offensive talent in the world at his disposal in 2020 with Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, A.J. Green, and Tyler Boyd, but Brian Callahan is unproven after finishing with only the 30th highest-scoring offense in his first season as an offensive coordinator. Rounding out the staff is Lou Anarumo who was the defensive coordinator on the same 2015 Dolphins team which struggled with Taylor and Callahan on the bench.

[Read also, “Who can right the ship in Cincinnati?’]

Roster Evaluation

Banners with Burrow’s name hung at Paul Brown Stadium before the 2019 season came to an end. Now that he’s officially theirs, the Bengals are hoping to go from good enough to great at the quarterback position with the No. 1 pick at the helm.

The belief is Burrow can elevate the Bengals in the opposite direction that only true franchise quarterbacks can — the way he orchestrated LSU’s electric offense throughout one of the best seasons in college football history. “I was waiting to see the flaw, waiting to see the hole,” Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan told Bengals.com. “The reality is, he only got better as the season went on. Against the best teams, he played his best.”

Cincinnati brought A.J. Green back on the franchise tag and hopes he can put together his first full season since 2017. Even if he can’t, the Bengals are in much better shape than some of their rivals thanks to the return of Tyler Boyd, who will gun for his third straight 1,000-yard season, and the addition of Tee Higgins, a 6’4″, 215-pound second-round pick out of Clemson who drew pre-draft comparisons to Green. Speedster John Ross III faces a make-or-break season after showing signs of life in 2019, but he could become even more valuable in a receiving corps with so many different skill sets.

The running back stable of Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard remains unchanged for a third consecutive year. If the Bengals get the Mixon who averaged more than 100 yards in the Bengals’ final eight games of 2019, Burrow won’t have to win games on his own — a luxury in the world of No. 1-pick quarterbacks who typically walk into terrible situations.

Former first-round left tackle Jonah Williams will get a second shot at his rookie season after missing all of 2019 with a shoulder injury and will be in charge of protecting Burrow’s blindside. The Bengals bring back most of an offensive line that wasn’t great by any means in 2019.

Though it’s a new era for the young, Bengals defense, two familiar figures remain on the front line. DE Carlos Dunlap has been as consistent as any player at his position over the past decade. DT Geno Atkins is coming off his sixth straight trip to the Pro Bowl. The veterans should get some significant help from D.J. Reader, a rare, big-time Bengals free-agent acquisition. I only see improvement coming after ranking dead last in run-defense with an average of 148.9 yards allowed per game.

The transformation of Cincinnati’s linebacking corps continued. Perhaps with none bigger than its third-round selection of Logan Wilson. Veteran free-agent signing Josh Bynes should bring some toughness, too, while Germaine Pratt enters his second season as the likely starter at Will after a promising finish to his rookie year.

Did I mention this is a new-look defense? It’s no more apparent than in the secondary, where longtime Bengals Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard no longer roam. Both were essentially replaced by two former Vikings, Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander, who were salary-cap casualties in Minnesota. Another free agent signing, Vonn Bell, is coming off four seasons as a strong safety in New Orleans.

Randy Bullock put together another solid season in 2019. The same goes for Kevin Huber, who enters his 12th season as the team’s reliable punter. WR Alex Erickson hasn’t been a game-breaker on punts but isn’t a liability by any means. Brandon Wilson returns after proving to be one of the NFL’s best on kick returns.

Outlook for the 2020 season

The Bengals were never as bad as their record indicated last season, but they attacked the offseason as if they were and I tell you why in this 2020 NFL Season Preview Series Cincinnati Bengals article.

While the team’s record was only 2–14 last season, the Bengals were tanking for Burrow. Their team was more of a 7–9 team with Dalton under center all season. Combine that with some injuries and there it was. This team should definitely improve on that win total. If Burrow is as good as he’s billed to be the Bengals may be able to grab second place in the AFC North. I don’t see a playoff shot for these Bengals, but I do see a step in the right direction. After 2–14, there are not many steps you can take backward.