The Bengals slumped to a 6-10 record in 2018. For only the third time since the 2002 division realignment, they finished in the cellar of the AFC North. While there is some hope in Cincinnati after the Bengals moved on from long-time head coach Marvin Lewis, the Bengals seem to have too many holes in their roster to compete.
Here is a look at the criticism that could strap the Bengals in 2019.
#1: Andy Dalton is not the answer at quarterback.
Dalton has gotten a bad rap over the last few seasons. Besides the consistent playoff ineptitude, Dalton has been a generally effective option at quarterback over his eight seasons in Cincinnati. With that said, Dalton had failed to finish two of the last four seasons, and he has led the Bengals to three consecutive losing seasons. It may be time for the Bengals to move on from the former TCU Horned Frog in 2019. While Dalton has not played poorly, his interception rate has doubled since 2016 and his completion rate has taken a nosedive from his career-high in 2015. If the Bengals have a subpar 2019 campaign, it may be time to trade Dalton and develop Ryan Finley.
Verdict: 2019 will decide Dalton’s fate.
#2: Joe Mixon is not a top ten running back.
Regardless of where Mixon falls in your running back hierarchy, he is a quality back. In 2018, Mixon neared five yards per carry, adding almost 1.5 yards to his 2017 average. He doubled his per-game output and became a greater threat in the passing game. Mixon was able to add almost 40 yards per game to his tally despite only adding about four extra rushing attempts. As a receiver, Mixon was targeted 1.5 more times per game than in 2017. While he barely eclipsed his 2017 yardage total, over a fifth of his 2017 yards came on a 67-yard catch and run. As a whole, Mixon is a versatile back who should post a Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2019.
#3: Marvin Lewis is a choke artist.
Lewis sported a stellar playoff record of 0-7 while he was the coach of the Bengals. Some of those seven losses came in extreme circumstances. In his first playoff game, Lewis looked on as Carson Palmer tore his ACL just minutes into the game. While Jon Kitna kept the Bengals within striking distance for much of the game, a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions ended any chance of a win in the 2005 playoffs. In 2009, the Bengals succumbed to the Jets by two scores. After a one-year playoff hiatus, the Bengals made it five years in a row. For the third consecutive time, the Bengals blew an early lead as the Texans scored 31 of the last 34 points, including the last 24 to clobber the Bengals.
In 2012, the Bengals once again faced the Texans. After allowing two early field goals, the Bengals answered with a Leon Hall pick-six. For the fourth straight playoff game under Lewis, the Bengals blew the lead and lost by six. In 2013, the Bengals hosted the Chargers. After conceding an early touchdown, the Bengals replied with a 10-point second quarter to carry the lead into the half. The Chargers outscored the Bengals 20-0 in the second half, sending Lewis and the Bengals to their fifth playoff loss together. A 2014 playoff game in Indianapolis offered respite for the Bengals as they did not blow a lead to Andrew Luck and the Colts. The Bengals never had the lead, losing by 16.
2015 brought the deepest of heartbreaks to Cincinnati. After weathering four Pittsburgh scoring drives, the Bengals set off on a 16-0 run fueled by backup quarterback AJ McCarron, Jeremy Hill, and A.J. Green. After being held without a score in the first three quarters, the Bengals scored a pair of touchdowns and a field goal to take a 16-15 lead with 1:56 left in regulation. On the first play after the kickoff, Vontaze Burfict intercepted a pass from Pittsburgh’s Landry Jones.
At this point in the article, Bengals fans need to look away.
On the very next snap of the ball, a handoff to Jeremy Hill goes awry as Ryan Shazier forces a fumble. With 1:23 to go and all three timeouts, Pittsburgh is gifted a chance to score from their own nine-yard line. The Steelers slowly progressed down the field, remaining in their half down to the 30-second mark. On fourth-and-three from their own 41, Ben Roethlisberger (who had just entered back into the game after being injured) found Antonio Brown for 12 yards and a first down. On the next play, Roethlisberger once again targeted Brown. The pass fell to the ground followed shortly by Brown’s lifeless body after Burfict nearly decapitated the wideout. A yellow flag lifted into the sky as Burfict tried to claim he hit Brown in the shoulder. The flag moved the Steelers into fringe field goal territory, but an additional flag on Adam Jones brought the Steelers inside the Cincinnati red zone. Chris Boswell buried the ensuing field goal, ripping the hearts out of Cincinnati.
Verdict: Marvin Lewis was the original 28-3 choke.
The Bengals have had their fair share of disappointment this off-season. Despite the departure of Lewis, star receiver A.J. Green is in jeopardy of missing the beginning of the season due to an injury picked up in training camp. While the Bengals have other offensive players to handle the blow, it is demoralizing for the Bengals to lose Green for any period. In addition to losing Green for a part of the season, the Bengals have endured the loss of rookie tackle Jonah Williams. The Bengals’ first-round pick joins a lengthy list of recent first-round draft picks who failed to play most of their rookie season. Defensively speaking, the team struggled mightily in 2018, and it does not appear that they will be much better in 2019.
Verdict: Four wins, no playoffs