The Bengals ended the season with a win, improving to 2-14 in Zac Taylor’s first year.
The Bengals have a lot of decisions to make involving personnel, coaching staff, and a whole assortment of other issues.
The way that this season has gone, and the way it ended against the Browns, what did we learn about the Bengals that will change the way the offseason goes?
Joe Mixon is the offense
Nick Chubb came into this game as the leading rusher in the NFL, but it was Joe Mixon who put on a show. Ripping off a 41-yard run in the first possession, he started fast and never slowed. The great running backs always make the first defender miss, and Mixon did that on nearly every play.
When the forecast showed rain, Zac Taylor knew he would have to lean on Mixon in this game. Mixon had 26 rushes, compared to Andy Dalton’s 28 passing attempts.
Dalton had stretches where he threw several straight incompletions, though part of it had to do with the elements and receivers dropping the ball. But when the passing game couldn’t move the ball, Mixon did. He was so integral to the offense that he even scored a touchdown on a drive where Dalton didn’t throw a completion.
Whatever the Bengals’ plans are for the quarterback position over the offseason, they have to remember that Mixon is the force behind the offense.
Playing young guys is paying off
Darius Phillips performed admirably in place of the injured William Jackson. He did give up a couple of touchdowns (though one of them was just a spectacular play by Odell Beckham Jr.), but he also had two interceptions to take the team lead, despite only starting two games.
Phillips didn’t back down from Beckham or Jarvis Landry, no matter how many Pro Bowls they have between them.
Germaine Pratt is another great example of what happens when you let young players work through their deficiencies. Pratt was flying all over the field in Week 17, getting tackles near the line of scrimmage and PBUs in coverage.
Fred Johnson also got the start at left tackle, and he showed that the offensive line is not the rebuild it was a year ago. Johnson was excellent in both pass protection and run blocking.
There are other young players on the roster that haven’t gotten the same looks late, but Taylor has shown that he is open to letting young guys play. This year, the Bengals found at least three players they can feature next season in Phillips, Pratt, and Johnson.
The defensive line is set
Sam Hubbard, Carlos Dunlap, and Geno Atkins were the top three tacklers on defense, which is a huge reason why Nick Chubb only rushed for 41 yards.
They were unkind to Baker Mayfield as well. Hubbard, Dunlap, and Carl Lawson combined for six sacks on the day, a season-high for the Bengals. Not only did they hit Mayfield nine times, but they made him escape the pocket or throw the ball early all day long.
The defensive line was a huge reason why Mayfield only completed 12 passes and threw three interceptions.
The defense played better as a whole, and it started at the line of scrimmage.