How the Bengals are better prepared to win the Super Bowl – Cincinnati Bengals Blog

How the Bengals are better prepared to win the Super Bowl – Cincinnati Bengals Blog

CINCINNATI — Lou Anarumo doesn’t know exactly what was said.

But the message from the Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator at halftime of the team’s Week 15 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was a familiar one. Although the favored Bengals found themselves staring at a 17-3 deficit, he urged patience that the unit’s fortunes would turn around.

“That’s the only thing I remember to be honest,” Anarumo recalled four weeks later.

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This is exactly what happened. The Bengals forced four straight turnovers, scored 31 straight points and won 34-23.

The game best explains why the defending AFC champions are poised for another postseason run. Despite various setbacks — a rough start to the season, a quarterback recovering from an emergency appendectomy, injuries to two starting offensive linemen — Cincinnati is well-positioned to return to the Super Bowl thanks to a strong sense of collective identity and sustainability through troubled waters. .

“When you’re part of a really good team like us, you feel it,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “It doesn’t lead to panic, just confidence that we’re going to do it the right way.”

There’s no question the Bengals are a complete team heading into Sunday’s playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens (8:15 p.m. ET, NBC). The Bengals (12-4) rode an eight-game winning streak into the postseason that tied a franchise record set in 2015.

The Bengals are fifth in the NFL in points per drive, up from 12th a year ago. Cincinnati’s defense is also ninth in points allowed per drive. Most importantly, the team is fifth in the NFL in punt differential, up from eighth in 2021, reaching the end zone 18 times more than its opponents.

But to reach those marks, the Bengals had to overcome significant challenges.

Joe Burrow and the Bengals are equipped to make another deep playoff run this year. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert Stitched and spotted

If the Bengals had held on in Super Bowl LVI against the Los Angeles Rams, Burrow would have become the first quarterback to win a Heisman Trophy, the college football national championship and a Super Bowl. Despite the 23-20 loss, team president Mike Brown was thrilled with the top overall pick in the 2020 draft, which was tabbed to transform the franchise.

“I can tell you we couldn’t be happier with Joe Burrow,” Brown said in July 2022 when speaking to local reporters. “He’s everything you’d want, especially for a quarterback in Cincinnati.”

A day after Brown made that comment, Burrow suffered a ruptured appendix and was hospitalized on the eve of training camp. When he met with reporters three weeks later, he declined to say how much weight he had lost and said he had been in the hospital for several days.

In the team’s season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 11, Burrow threw a career-high four interceptions in a 23–20 overtime loss.

“When you get cut and stitched back up, all those wires have to sync up again,” said Jordan Palmer, the brother of former Bengals star Carson Palmer and the private quarterbacks coach for several NFL players, including Burrow.

Even after the Bengals lost a week later to the Dallas Cowboys and backup quarterback Cooper Rush, Cincinnati preached the need for composure.

Taylor and Burrow were the team’s main evangelists.

“Everybody’s frustrated, but like I said, we’re not panicking, two games left, we’ve got 15 games left,” Burrow said on Sept. 21. “Let’s all take a deep breath and relax. We’ll be fine. We’re not worried about it.”

The further Burrow was removed from his surgery, the better he played. In Weeks 1 through 5, he ranked 18th in Total QBR and 20th in completion percentage over receptions, according to ESPN Stats & Info. As of Week 6, he ranked fifth and second in those categories, respectively.

During that span, he also ranked third in total expected points added, according to NFL Next Generation Stats. Burrow finished the year setting the franchise record for most touchdowns in a season (35), resetting the mark he set in 2021 by one game less.

And even when Burrow and the offense haven’t been at their best, it’s still been enough.

“Not every game is going to be perfect,” Burrow said. “You have to fight through difficulties. That’s what the NFL is all about.”

Bengals coach Zac Taylor never wavered in his belief in the team’s abilities. Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesA bond akin to family

Cincinnati started the season with two losses, and there were plenty of questions about whether the Bengals might be suffering from a Super Bowl hangover, or worse, from one-year wonders. Taylor, the team’s fourth-year coach and offensive lineman, drew plenty of criticism as Cincinnati’s offense struggled early.

But Taylor never wavered in his belief in the team’s abilities.

“Early in the season, it was easy to fall into the narrative of the struggles, 0-2, whatever,” Taylor said Wednesday. “You’ve never felt this. I knew what was being said outside. But I knew that within these walls, no one felt that.

“Nobody was nervous that we weren’t going to deliver on what we were saying. We knew we had plenty of time.”

When Cincinnati began building its current roster in 2020, scouting director Duke Tobin and the front office added players from winning college programs and NFL teams to transform the league’s worst team in 2019, when Cincinnati was 2-14.

DJ Reader, who signed a four-year deal worth $53 million, came from a Houston Texans team that pushed the Kansas City Chiefs to the brink of the playoffs. Safety Vonn Bell, who signed a three-year, $18 million deal, started for a New Orleans Saints team that reached the NFC Championship Game in 2018.

“In ’19 you had a lot of guys out of the way,” Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt said. “Then you got guys from different programs, different teams that were part of the win.”

While some pieces have been added over the past couple of years, many of the team’s cornerstones have been on the team since at least 2020. The reader compared it to being in a long-term relationship “with someone you’re really in love with . ” The bonds built over a period of years is why the team has been able to weather tough times during games and seasons.

“Yeah, we can get angry about the same old things, get irritated with certain things, but it’s the trust and respect we have for each other in that locker room because we’ve been through that,” Reader said. “We’ve seen that guy crash in front of us for most of us two years from now and we understand what that guy is about.”

Defensive tackle DJ Reader is one of a number of Bengals brought in to change the culture in 2020. Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon SportswireO-line injuries bother?

The lack of panic has extended to the significant injuries they have faced throughout the season. When Cincinnati lost starting wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase (groin) and Tee Higgins (hamstring) at different points, the Bengals’ offense found ways to win.

Now, the AFC North champions will have to manage one of the most criticized units on the team – the offensive line. Last year, Burrow was sacked 70 times in the regular season and postseason, with seven of those coming in the Super Bowl loss to the Rams. Cincinnati responded by replacing every starter on the offensive line except left tackle Jonah Williams.

Right tackle La’el Collins is on injured reserve with a torn ACL in his left knee. Right guard Alex Cappa, the crown jewel of offseason additions, is out for at least Sunday’s game against Baltimore with a left ankle injury.

“I just want to make it clear that Alex Cappa was the only force driving this offensive line,” center Ted Karras said. “It’s like having another center on the field. He is my confidant no. 1 and is extremely talented.”

The metrics paint a murky picture of how good Cincinnati’s offensive line was this season. Even with the additions, the Bengals remained no higher than 30th in pass block win rate, an ESPN metric powered by NFL Next Gen Stats.

However, Burrow’s contact rate dropped from 21.4% in 2021 to 18.5%, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That number dropped to 10% on extended shots that lasted more than 2.5 seconds after impact.

Burrow has praised the offensive line all season. With Max Scharping replacing Karras and Hakeem Adeniji taking over for Collins, Burrow knows the challenges of replacing starters on the right side of the offensive line.

The quarterback emphasized things like maximizing reps during strides and talking different defensive looks as a group. But the confidence that has permeated this season has extended to Cincinnati’s current offensive line.

“Everybody knows what their responsibility is,” Bengals rookie left guard Cordell Volson said. “I just think we have a really good room that’s really put together.”

The Bengals have never won back-to-back playoff games. A win against Baltimore changes that. As of Thursday morning, Cincinnati was an 8.5-point favorite over the Ravens, according to Caesars Sportsbook.

If the Bengals win, Cincinnati may have to go on the road and face either Buffalo or Kansas City in order to get back to the AFC Championship game. If the going gets tough, Cincinnati trusts itself to hang on as it makes another run at the Super Bowl.

Taylor said: “They’ve been through this before and they know what it’s going to take to do it again.”

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