The Cincinnati Bengals haven’t had a winning season since 2015, and will hope to make some progress on the road to respectability in 2021.
Obviously, they are a ways away from contending for anything meaningful in the AFC, but this will be an important season for the franchise and head coach Zac Taylor.
Bengals ownership is among the most patient in professional sports, which bodes well for the coaching staff, but another subpar year could incite changes.
While Cincinnati would be unrealistic to have lofty goals for the upcoming NFL season, they should look to check three smaller boxes in 2021 that will set them up for future success.
3. Go .500 In The AFC North
Simply put, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, and Cleveland Browns have had a field day with the Bengals in the last several years.
Cincinnati has gone 1-5 against divisional opponents in each of the last three seasons.
While their division slate is no cakewalk, the Bengals aren’t going to be bailed out by realignment anytime soon.
Their one win last year against the AFC North was against the Steelers in a shocking Monday Night affair.
Both of their games against the Browns last year were close; Cincinnati fell by less than a touchdown in each contest.
It’s not unreasonable to think that with a little better luck and execution, they could split their divisional tilts.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) August 23, 2021
2. Improve The Run Defense
Although the Bengals managed to hang in with the Browns and Steelers in a few games last year, the Ravens absolutely demolished them.
It’s certainly no crime to have difficulty containing Lamar Jackson and Baltimore’s potent ground attack, but Cincinnati’s troubles with stopping the run was a constant theme last year.
They conceded the fourth-most rushing yards in the NFL last year, and the second most yards per carry.
It’s hard to compete when opposing teams are instantly getting into an offensive rhythm by gaining over five yards per tote.
Cincinnati is hopeful that one offseason addition that they plucked away from the rival Browns will make a big difference in that department.
Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi has been a solid player up front, absorbing blocks and playing strong at the point of attack.
He was especially problematic in 2018 and 2019, recording 10 tackles for losses in each campaign.
It’s probably unrealistic to expect the Bengals to be an upper echelon run stuffing unit in 2021, but it’s reasonable to think that they’ll be better than they were in 2020.
1. Keep Joe Burrow Healthy For The Full Season
He's back. pic.twitter.com/ztc4xu99rT
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) August 25, 2021
On paper, it doesn’t feel like there’s any reason why the Bengals can’t be among the league’s most prolific offenses in 2022 or 2023.
Their receiver depth figures to be a huge advantage for them moving forward.
In the backfield, there’s no questioning Joe Mixon’s talent.
Bengals fans will hope that he’s over the foot injury that limited him to only six games a year ago.
At the end of the day though, this team’s ceiling is only as high as Joe Burrow can take it.
The team will need to do a much better job of protecting their crown jewel prospect.
In 2020, the former LSU Tiger was sacked 32 times in just 10 games, which is a clip that cannot continue if Cincinnati is serious about improving.
Luckily for Burrow, his receivers should be able to get separation pretty quickly, which should minimize the number of times he’s forced to hold the ball in the pocket.