The Bengals lost a key divisional game last night, along with an integral member of their defense. It was feared after the contest that cornerback Chidobe Awuzie had suffered an ACL tear; as confirmed (on Twitter) by Kelsey Conway of the Cincinnati Enquirer, that is indeed the case.
The news means that Awuzie will be sidelined for the remainder of the season, and marks a major blow to the AFC champions. He played a key role in the team’s secondary last season, his first in Cincinnati after signing a three-year deal worth over $21MM. That marked the end of his Cowboys tenure, during which he established himself as a full-time starter.
During the Bengals’ run to the divisional title, and, ultimately, the Super Bowl, the 27-year-old established himself as the team’s No. 1 corner. He set new career highs in interceptions (two) and pass breakups (14), leading to high expectations in 2022. The former second-rounder had played in every game so far this season, notching 35 tackles and one forced fumble. He also continued his stellar play in terms of coverage statistics.
Without Awuzie, the Bengals’ corner depth will severely tested. Veteran Eli Apple and rookie Cam Taylor-Britt had been in a competition for a starting role, but both will likely be leaned upon to play significant snaps going forward. Tre Flowers could also see an uptick in usage as a result of the injury, after playing primarily on special teams this season.
Overall, the news is not encouraging considering Cincinnati only ranked mid-pack in terms of pass defense with Awuzie in the fold. The Bengals are surrendering an average of over 210 yards per game (15th in the league), a figure which is now in jeopardy of increasing significantly over the remainder of the season. The defense as a whole has been average in most categories, a troubling sign given the inconsistencies the offense has dealt with so far.
Still, the team sits at 4-4 midway through the year, so a playoff berth in an AFC featuring few true heavyweights will be attainable. Returning to the postseason, and replicating last year’s success, however, will now be more difficult.