Last season, the New York Jets stunned the Cincinnati Bengals 34-31 behind Mike White’s heroics, an uncharacteristically stingy run defense and a huge turnover from Shaq Lawson of all people. The upset seemed even more remarkable at the end of the season as the Bengals went to - and almost won - the Super Bowl. However, Cincinnati enters Week 3 with an 0-2 record so will be desperate not to lose to the Jets again. Despite being winless in 2022 so far, the Bengals are 4.5-point favorites, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
Joe Burrow had a great season last year, as he passed for over 4,600 yards and 34 touchdowns. He led the NFL in yards per attempt and completion percentage, then led the Bengals through the postseason with some clutch play.
2022 hasn’t been as good for Burrow so far. After throwing four interceptions in an opening day loss to Pittsburgh, he was held under 200 yards in Dallas last week. He also has three fumbles already this season.
Backup Brandon Allen started one game last season and five in 2020. He’s only won one of those six games.
So far, Burrow’s struggles can probably be mostly attributed to the offensive line, which is struggling badly having added four new starters to the group. Burrow was the most sacked quarterback in the NFL last year and that shows no signs of changing this year, as he’s been sacked 13 times in the first two games.
The only returning starter is former first rounder Jonah Williams. The left tackle gave up a team-high 10 sacks last season and has already given up three this year.
The Bengals signed La’el Collins to a three-year, $21 million deal to be their other tackle in the offseason. However, the 29-year old is a better run blocker than pass blocker at this stage of his career and he hasn’t practiced all week due to a back injury. Indications are that he’s expected to play despite being listed as questionable, but missing that time won’t have helped their efforts to develop some chemistry.
Two other veterans, center Ted Karras and right guard Alex Cappa, were brought in to bring some experience on the interior. They both got decent multi-year deals in free agency.
The other starter is rookie left guard Cordell Volson, who was a fourth round pick. Last year’s second round pick, Jackson Carman, who started six games last year, has been relegated to the bench along with Hakeem Adeniji, who started nine regular season games and all four playoff games.
Tackle Isaiah Prince, who started four late season games and then all four playoff games, is still with the team but currently on injured reserve. Carman, Adeniji and Prince all struggled last year as Prince led the team with 11 penalties. However, although they’ve brought in players who, on paper, should be upgrades, this hasn’t happened yet as they are still not playing well as a unit.
The other options on the bench are Trey Hill, Max Scharping and D’Ante Smith, all of whom were recent draft picks. Scharping was a second round pick in 2019 and started 33 games in three years with the Texans.
The Bengals had similar issues at the start of last season as they gave up five sacks in each of the first two games. However, in their third game, they didn’t give up any sacks. No doubt they’ll be looking for a similar improvement this week.
Joe Mixon went to the pro bowl in 2021 after racking up over 1,200 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns in the regular season. He also caught 42 passes. He’s only averaging three yards per carry this season though, providing further evidence of the offensive line struggles against the Steelers and Cowboys.
Samaje Perine is the main backup. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry in that role last year. Trayveon Williams and Chris Evans don’t usually see much action though. The Bengals don’t employ a fullback, but will put a tight end in the backfield sometimes.
The Bengals’ top offensive weapon is wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who went to the pro bowl last year after catching 81 passes for almost 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns. Chase has 15 catches so far this year and is a constant threat after the catch.
The 6’4” Tee Higgins also posted a thousand-yard season last year and number three receiver Tyler Boyd is an excellent possession option who caught 67 passes in 2021 and had thousand-yard seasons of his own in 2018 and 2019.
Reserves Stanley Morgan Jr., Trent Taylor and Mike Thomas all return to the lineup but they caught just nine passes between them last year.
With CJ Uzomah heading to the Jets in the offseason, the Bengals brought in veteran Hayden Hurst to start at tight end and he reeled in 10 catches in the first two games. Reserve Drew Sample is out with an injury so Mitchell Wilcox will back Hurst up. Devin Asiasi was another recent addition to the roster.
Another ex-Bengal who headed to the Jets was defensive end Carl Lawson and his replacement Trey Hendrickson racked up 14 sacks last season to earn a pro bowl nomination. Sam Hubbard is the other starter at defensive end. He added 7.5 sacks of his own.
Inside, the Bengals lost Larry Ogunjobi in free agency, but BJ Hill was ready to step up into the starting lineup anyway as he had 5.5 sacks in 2021 and can also be disruptive against the run. The other starting tackle, DJ Reader, is more of a run plugger, but a very good one.
Cameron Sample and Joseph Ossai are the main reserves at defensive end and Josh Tupou has been backing up on the inside along with third round pick Zachary Carter. Jay Tufele and another draftee, seventh rounder Jeffrey Gunter, round out this group.
The Bengals are expected to be without Germaine Pratt on Sunday, so Akeem Davis-Gaither might make the start. Davis-Gaither didn’t start any games last season, but did start twice in his rookie year in 2020.
Logan Wilson is the other starter at linebacker. He led the team with 100 tackles last season and also intercepted four passes.
Joe Bachie, who started two games last year, is on the PUP list. Clay Johnston did start once last season so he could be an option but Davis-Gaither appeared to be the next man up in the first two games. Markus Bailey played two snaps in each game.
Keandre Jones has been elevated off the practice squad to provide extra cover and contribute on special teams.
Chidobe Awuzie has established himself as the Bengals’ most reliable cornerback over the last year or so and Eli Apple has also held up surprisingly well as the other starter. The Bengals are nearly always in subpackages, so Mike Hilton will be on the field most of the time in the slot.
Jessie Bates III has established himself as a top safety, although he was embroiled in a contract dispute during the offseason. The other starter at safety is Vonn Bell, who started 16 games and racked up 97 tackles last year.
The Bengals will sometimes operate with six defensive backs, with the versatile Tre Flowers and first round safety Daxton Hill seeing some action. Jalen Davis and Michael Thomas round out the secondary with two draft picks - second round corner Cam Taylor-Britt and fifth round safety Tycen Anderson - both on injured reserve.
Kicker Evan McPherson made a few game winners last year but he had a couple of costly misses in the 23-20 loss to the Steelers in the first game. Punter Kevin Huber returns for a 14th season with the Bengals. He was a pro bowler back in 2014. The Bengals also have an undrafted rookie long snapper; Cal Adomitis.
Safety Brandon Wilson was the team’s primary return man last year but he’s on the PUP list so Trent Taylor is handling punts this year and Chris Evans is listed as the kickoff returner (although they haven’t returned any kickoffs yet this season). Boyd is listed as the backup to Taylor.
Morgan remains the team’s best gunner on punts. Johnston, Flowers and Bailey are also productive contributors in kick coverage.