Halloween night truly was a nightmare for the Cincinnati Bengals. Despite being favored on the road in Cleveland, the team never really got going on offense, and after a solid first half by the defense, they came out flat in the second half and could not slow down Jacoby Brissett or Nick Chubb at all. With the Ravens now in sole possession of first place and a cupcake second half of their schedule, this was the sort of game the Bengals could not afford to have. However, even with how bad the game itself went, the aftermath might have been even worse for the team’s 2022 outlook.
The Bengals’ Cornerback Room Takes A Massive Hit
At the end of the first half against Cleveland, star cornerback Chidobe Awuzie appeared to buckle his knee on a pass breakup. Awuzie tried to come off the field under his own power, but he was almost immediately declared out after the game and seen on crutches on the sideline. It did not take long for Cincinnati to deduce that their star defender had suffered a serious injury, and that was confirmed on Tuesday morning when it was reported that Awuzie had torn his ACL. The Bengals had entered this game with their other starting cornerback, Eli Apple, already hurt, and over the course of the game, backup Trey Flowers also got dinged up.
The news got even worse during the week, however. With Awuzie now confirmed to be out for the season, slot cornerback Mike Hilton clearly became the leader of the pack in the cornerback room. That is until Hilton himself appeared on the team’s practice report on Wednesday afternoon with a finger injury. Come to the arrival of the Friday injury report, Hilton has been declared out this week against a Carolina Panthers team that showed they could put up points in bunches against Atlanta. While the strength of the Panthers’ team is hardly their passing game, and this does not necessarily put a stake in the Bengals’ chances, it does expose their lack of depth at the position.
Lack Of Offseason Preparation Puts The Bengals’ 2022 Season In Jeopardy
Cornerback was the position that was most mocked to the Bengals in the first half of the 2022 NFL Draft and had the cards fallen the right way, they likely would have addressed it. However, by the time it was their turn on the clock, they felt the athleticism and versatility of safety Dax Hill were too much to pass up. They will get a chance to try out that versatility this week, as he is being forced to take reps at cornerback due to their lack of depth. He did get some run at the outside spot in Cleveland, but he struggled mightily, headlined by the massive play he gave up to Amari Cooper.
That is not to say he cannot do it; he did play some corner in college and is a phenomenal athlete, but it is hard to project for a guy who has never consistently played that spot to step in and excel. He will be coming in as part of a rotation with veteran Eli Apple, fellow rookie Cam Taylor-Britt, and backup slot Jalen Davis. Needless to say, the Bengals’ cornerback room is hurting right now. Trey Flowers, who was listed as questionable, may be able to play on Sunday. But without Awuzie for the rest of 2022 and Hilton against Carolina, the room will need to be at its absolute best against the Panthers.
This serves to highlight how the Bengals’ failed to address the corner position properly in the offseason. While getting Hill and Taylor-Britt were solid additions, neither of them will be enough to hold the position down without their top dog Awuzie, who had been having a career year. Stephon Gilmore was able on the free agent market for several weeks, and the team never tried to make a move; he is currently playing very well for Indianapolis. They had chances at the trade deadline to make a move for a guy like Jeff Okudah, but they opted to stick with the broken pieces they had in the locker room.
How The Bengals Can Salvage Their Season
The Seahawks, who are thriving with rookie corners Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant, waived former Washington star Sidney Jones just after the trade deadline. If the Bengals want to have any production out of their cornerback room for the rest of 2022, it is vital that they try to bring him in as a free agent. The team has made those kinds of additions before, trying to bring in Takk McKinley in 2020 before his failed physical and successfully getting Trey Flowers and Vernon Hargreaves just last year. Jones may not be an elite corner, but he is a starting-caliber player that can keep the position above water for the rest of 2022.
Making an addition like this will be crucial, as will the return of players like DJ Reader, Mike Hilton, and Ja’Marr Chase after the bye. It has been pointed out that the Bengals face an absolute gauntlet over the latter half of their schedule, playing Tennessee, Kansas City, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, New England, Buffalo, and Baltimore over the last seven weeks of the season. Much like he did last year, and he has in spurts this year, Joe Burrow will need to play at an MVP level if the Bengals are to make another postseason run. The Bengals benefited from health last year and won’t have that luxury this time around; it’s up to Burrow to carry the team anyways.
Check out our other articles at Bengal Breakdown