The Bengals’ 2016 season was an outlier compared to the past six years, where they made the playoffs five consecutive times. To ensure last year doesn’t become a habit, there are three areas where the Bengals must improve.

Pass Protection

The obvious improvement must come from the offensive line.

The Bengals ranked 26th in the league in pass protection, surrendering 41 sacks in 16 games, good for an adjusted sack rate of 7.3%.

The biggest concerns were in end protection. Football Outsiders ranked the Bengals 30th on the left end with an average adjusted line yard (ALY) of 2.34 yards. On the right end, they also struggled, averaging an ALY of 2.83 yards, good for 28th in the league.

If the offensive line doesn’t improve, the Bengals won’t be able to reach their full potential.

Special Teams

The Bengals had more problems than field goal kicking in 2016. Football Outsiders ranked the Bengals 28th in the league in overall special team performance, accounting for factors such as kick and punt returns, field goals, punts, and kickoffs.

The Bengals did an excellent job addressing these issues in the offseason. Not only are they holding an open competition for their kicking job after releasing Mike Nugent, they drafted John Ross, who showed the ability to make spectacular special team plays for the Huskies.

The Bengals have Ross fielding punts during training camp. His speed, vision, and ability to turn on a dime could result in the home run type of plays the Bengals lacked in 2016.

Rush Defense (Line level)

Opponents were able to average 4.4 yards per rush against the Bengals’ defense. This isn’t a stellar stat, considering a four and a half yard run on first down left opposing offenses in manageable second and third-down situations.

To shed more light on the Bengals’ struggles, Football Outsiders reported the Bengals adjusted line yards is 4.02, placing them 19th in the league. This means the defensive line wasn’t adept at stopping the run consistently. Instead, the defense relied on linebackers and the secondary to fill the gaps, something the Bengals did well.

However, when it came to stuffing ball carriers at the line of scrimmage, the Bengals must improve. They had a stuff rate of 17%. Opponents also averaged 1.28 second-level yards—this is where the ball carrier moves past the defensive line to the linebackers. On short-yardage situations such as a 3rd and 2, this resulted in favorable outcomes for opponents.

Overall, these three areas are important to pay attention to as the Bengals prepare for the season. If they make improvements in each of these areas, they will return to playoff form.