After starting the season with a loss, Joe Burrow and the Bengals head up to Cleveland on a short week, looking to get their first win.
Week 1 had its ups and downs, but young offensive players like Burrow and guard Michael Jordan showed great promise.
The defense, which struggled greatly a year ago, looked like they might be able to put things together this season. The absence of Geno Atkins and the in-game loss of D.J. Reader hurt, but stars like Jessie Bates III and William Jackson shined in the secondary while rookie linebackers Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaither brought a new component to the team’s 3rd Down Defense.
So how do they take the next step and get their first win this week?
Here are 5 keys to a Bengals victory in Week 2.
One of the things that makes Burrow special is his ability to see and read the entire field. When the offense is in an empty set, Burrow is in position to make the most out of this skill.
The Bengals came out in empty to start out the final drive of Week 1 and it really helped them get the ball rolling.
Although in this case the Bengals flexed their depth at wide receiver, they can run empty sets with a running back and tight end on the field. This will help them to get more favorable matchups as their personnel still threatens the use of more traditional formations.
Being in empty limits the number of pass blockers available, but it also limits the defense in several ways.
They have to have at least 5 players lined up over the receivers. This gives Burrow a clear picture of who is in coverage and who is a potential blitzer.
If they put 5 or 6 players in coverage, there will be several opportunities to take advantage of one-on-one matchups. Burrow may have to get the ball out fast, but that is okay. He has a quick and accurate delivery and is great at finding the favorable matchup. The Browns have several injuries in the secondary that will make these matchups even easier to find.
If they put 7 players in coverage, that means only 4 will be left between the tackles and Burrow can audible to a QB draw, just like he did on his Week 1 touchdown run.
The Bengals need to get everything they can out of their rookie quarterback and empty formations allow Burrow to thrive. A heavier dose of empty formations will help this team move the ball more effectively and score.
Stop the run
I know it’s a coaching cliche, but it’s true.
Running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt however, can carry the load. Hunt averaged 5.54 yards-per-carry on Sunday while Chubb averaged 6 yards-per-carry.
In Week 1, the Bengals gave up 155 yards rushing and the Chargers averaged 4 yards-per-carry. The Bengals need to do a better job of stopping the run in Week 2, which will not be easy since they will be without both Geno Atkins and Mike Daniels.
Win the turnover margin
While the Bengals defense showed promise in Week 1, they failed to create any turnovers.
Bates had 3 interceptions in each of his 2 seasons in the NFL. Darius Phillips had 4 interceptions last season despite only playing in 8 games.
These two need to step up and create more opportunities for the offense. Meanwhile, the offense cannot squander opportunities.
On the next drive, Burrow got careless with the ball and threw a bad interception. The defense held on the ensuing Chargers drive, but it still cost the Bengals an opportunity to take the lead back.
The Bengals need to win the turnover margin to win the game.
Penalties happen. I get it.
The offensive pass interference call at the end of the game was heart-breaking, but that flag was not the only one that may have cost them the game.
The false starts are highly concerning. Without a preseason, this sort of penalty is to be expected, but they need to fix this issue quickly.
There were 3 false starts called on the Bengals in this game. The first 2 were called on offensive tackle Bobby Hart and tight end C.J. Uzomah respectively.
Hart’s penalty took the Bengals from 2nd and 13 to 2nd and 18. The Bengals were forced to punt 2 plays later.
Uzomah’s false start was on 1st and 10. After moving back 5 yards, the Bengals failed to convert a 1st Down over the next 3 downs.
These 2 drives were shut down in part by a false start penalty that put them in an extra yardage situation.
The 3rd false start was committed by John Ross on the final drive. The Bengals were able to keep this drive alive, but as we are all too aware, the drive was shut down by an offensive pass interference call when the team was at the 3-yard line.
Everything that happens in a football game causes a ripple effect that sends the game off in a new direction, so it is impossible to say for sure, but could this penalty have cost them the game?
If not for the 5-yard penalty earlier in the drive, maybe they never have a play from the 3. Maybe running back Giovani Bernard gets in the end zone on the previous play.
It is impossible to know for sure how the penalty impacted offensive and defensive play-calling throughout the rest of the drive and where the defense would have been on the Bernard reception if that play started 5 yards closer to the end zone, but it makes you think about the impact a seemingly small penalty can have.
This week holding penalties are a major concern.
In Week 1 holding penalties were down by 78% league-wide compared to Week 1 of 2019. It is likely that officials will be more cognizant of holding in Week 2.
NFL holding penalties— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) September 15, 2020
Week 1, 2019: 82
Week 1, 2020: 18
Pendulum has swung wildly, and it’s probably why you thought games this weekend looked better than you anticipated. As officials basically ignored holding, second-fewest total penalties in 20 years https://t.co/zyd1pqavZQ
Make your kicks
The Browns went 0/1 on field goal attempts and 0/1 on extra point attempts in Week 1.
The Bengals failed to convert a field goal that would have sent their game into overtime and have an injured kicker.
This game is likely to be close, so the team that can make their kicks may be the one who comes out on top.
The Bengals have a great opportunity to get their first win this week if they do these 5 things.