In the blink of an eye, we are already six weeks through the 2023 season and the Cincinnati Bengals miraculously go into their Week 7 bye with a .500 record at 3-3 after winning their last two games. All of their wins have come against NFC West opponents, and they'll get the opportunity for a division sweep right after the bye as they march into Levi's Stadium to take on the San Francisco 49ers.
Things have been far from ideal this year up until this point. Getting blown out twice in just six games, losing a couple of players to injuries, frustrating play calling, and some players simply not playing up to expectations.
All this to say, this bye week could not have come at a better time and hopefully is just what this team needs to get back on track. Thankfully, coming out strong after the bye has been the pattern for Cincy for the last couple of years, which will hopefully continue in 2023. They've been 5-4 heading into their week 10 byes in both of the last two seasons and have finished strong in both instances, going 5-3 after it in 2021 and a perfect 7-0 in 2022.
Bruised and battered Bengals will have time to rest and recover from whatever ails them, and it should allow both players and coaches alike to smooth out some rough patches of their game. Emphasis on players, as that's what this article is about.
Here are four Bengals who have been disappointing through the first six weeks and will need to step their game up after the bye.
The most obvious entry and likely what comes to most fans' minds when they think of Bengals who have disappointed so far in 2023. Burrow does get a little leeway, as he is-- or at the very least was-- playing through a calf injury he suffered during training camp. That being said, even going into the season expecting him to be a shadow of his former self with this lingering injury, he looked downright awful in those first four games.
Through Weeks 1-4, Joe Burrow was playing the worst football of his pro career. He completed just 57.6% of his passes for 728 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, and the lowest adjusted yards per attempt of his career at an abysmal 4.5 AY/A, a far cry from his 7.6 AY/A in the '22 season and a league-leading 9.0 AY/A in '21.
Worse yet, the stats don't tell the full story of his stunted play, the eye test was even worse. He was missing on pretty much every throw past 10 yards, either severely underthrowing or overthrowing his receivers. And, naturally with the calf injury, he was a statue in the pocket, unable to move around and magically evade defenders like he had up until this point.
He did bounce back against a Cardinals team that, while not very good, does play hard and can give even the best teams a run for their money (beating the Cowboys, keeping up with the 49ers until the fourth quarter, etc.), throwing for over 300 yards for the first time this season, as well as finding Ja'Marr Chase in the end zone three times.
The most promising part of his performance was the fact he was scrambling for firsts and avoiding pressure, making it seem like the woes of that calf injury were in the rearview mirror.
It looked like he was going to continue his good play against the Seahawks as Burrow got off to a hot start and was fixing to have a career day after starting the game off by going 17/19 with 139 yards and a pair of touchdowns, at one point having 15 straight completions. Unfortunately, after their first two drives where they scored touchdowns on both, it felt like Burrow and the offense got complacent, coasting off an incredible defensive performance to a stress-inducing 17-13 win.
I understand Burrow is/was injured, and these performances shouldn't be as scrutinized as if he were healthy, but at the end of the day if you say you're feeling good enough to play, then the expectation is that you'll play well. The simple fact of the matter is that -- outside of six quarters -- Burrow really hasn't played well at all. He's been a shell of his usual self, and I don't think anyone will benefit more from this bye than he will.