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4 things we learned from Bengals vs. Bills

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The Bengals lost, again, so there is certainly room for improvement. But this improvement is closer than people may think.

NFL: SEP 22 Bengals at Bills Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Bengals lost a close one on Sunday to bring their record to an abysmal 0-3.

Things were supposed to be better this year, but so far we just have the same old Bengals, or so it seems. Don’t write off the season quite yet.

If it’s possible to have an encouraging loss, then the Bengals just picked up their second of the year. Not that it does them any good this season, but the Bengals can at least make things interesting. While the Bengals’ playoff odds decline steadily with each loss, the Bengals may be able to play spoiler to some contenders late in the season.

What did we learn from the Bengals’ third loss of the year? I’m so glad you asked.

Joe Mixon is back to his regular self

There’s a reason the Bengals are 6-1 in games where Joe Mixon gets 20 or more carries.

It was amazing to see Mixon finally do Mixon things, as the third-year running back had 95 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in his best performance of the year so far.

In the first half, the Bengals had pretty much no offense to speak of whatsoever. Because they were behind the chains on every possession, they threw the ball far more than they ran the ball.

At halftime, Zac Taylor realized that their plan wasn’t going to work, so he decided to make Mixon a factor. This resulted in the offense scoring 17 points and taking the lead late in the fourth quarter.

The lesson learned here is that Mixon cannot be contained if the Bengals want to have a functioning offense.

So far this season, Mixon hasn’t had a 20 carry game yet, and the Bengals are 0-3. If Zac Taylor is as smart as people give him credit for, Mixon will have that game sooner rather than later.

Auden Tate might become a new fixture in this offense

The Bengals need someone to step into that third receiver spot (behind John Ross and Tyler Boyd) while A.J. Green is out, and the Bengals may have found their man in Auden Tate.

Tate was third in snaps among receivers with 54, which is one less than Boyd’s 55 and only six less than Ross’ 61. With that opportunity, he was second on the team in targets (10), tied for first in receptions (6), and all by himself in first in receiving yards (88).

For reference, Auden Tate’s entire NFL production before Sunday was three catches for 41 yards.

Maybe there was a matchup that Taylor wanted to exploit, or maybe Taylor found a role for Tate in this offense. Either way, his usage in Week 3 is a far cry from what we saw out of him last year. Are the Bengals realizing that they got a seventh round steal?

It’s only one week of production, so it may be too early to crown him quite yet. We’ll see if his usage remains like this in the future. But a regularly contributing Tate is far more likely now than it has ever been before.

Coaching adjustments do exist

Don’t tell Marvin Lewis, but coaching adjustments may not just be something invented by the media.

The Bengals almost won even they had no business being that close. In the first half, the Bengals were clearly the inferior team. They had about a third of the yardage and the time of possession that the Bills had in the first half, with only two first down conversions and no points. Half of the Bengals total offensive production came on the hail mary to Tate to close out the first half.

But Taylor made some adjustments and a different team took the field in the second half.

The Bengals were pretty much toe to toe with the Bills in terms of yardage, time of possession, first down conversions, and pretty much every statistical category. Not to mention the fact that the Bills had to mount a fourth quarter comeback in order to check the win column.

The Bengals played so poorly in the first half that their adjustments did little good. However, this is a step in the right direction for the team. With that second half performance, it seems like Taylor has done everything correct except win a game. Unfortunately, that’s the coach’s number one job.

Trying to fix things on defense

The defense wasn’t great, but you’ve got to give the coaches credit for trying.

Lou Anarumo tried all sorts of different things on Sunday, and it almost paid off.

For instance, one of the critiques from Week 2 was that the Bengals played out of the nickel formation all day, even on running downs. But in Week 3, every linebacker on the Bengals’ active roster got some playing time on defense, and when they remained in the nickel, Anarumo brought Shawn Williams in the box to essentially play linebacker.

The Bengals even rotated nickel backs. Most of the time, it was Tony McRae, who made an incredible rebound from a horrible preseason that nearly cost him his job. Darius Phillips cycled in also and got an interception. Brandon Wilson even got some action as fifth defensive back on the field.

One thing that helped the Bengals’ defense in the second half is that the offense was able to win the possession battle in the final two quarters. The defense was on the field for 23 out of the first 30 minutes of the game, which is usually a recipe for disaster.

The changes definitely added something to the defense, though. The Bengals’ may not know exactly what to do about the defense, but they are experimenting different things and actually improving.

With all of the changes made in Week 3, the Bengals are the best winless team in the NFL.