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Tuesday Trenches: Cin City

Just won, baby.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Las Vegas Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After two bad losses and a bye week, the Cincinnati Bengals returned to their winning ways by defeating the Raiders 32-13 in Las Vegas.

The importance of this win cannot be overstated as each team came into their Week 11 game with a 5-4 record, each losing two consecutive games and each fighting to get back into the playoff picture. By winning, the Bengals have boosted their chances of going to the playoffs while the Raiders are now outside looking in. With five of their remaining seven games at home, the Bengals started the second half of their season on a good note.

It wasn’t pretty all the time, but when it mattered, the Bengals got it done on both sides of the ball. Here are some things that went right, some that went wrong and a look ahead at the Bengals’ Week 12 game at home against the Steelers.

G.I. Joe

The Bengals’ offense has had its ups and downs, and most of the focus has been on quarterback Joe Burrow and his connection with rookie sensation Ja’Marr Chase when things have been promising, but it was running back Joe Mixon that killed the Raiders on Sunday. He carried the ball 30 times for 123 yards (4.1 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. This total included runs of -3, -2, -1, -2 and -5 yards, but the Bengals wisely kept feeding Mixon, which paid off big time.

Mixon is fifth in the league in rushing with 759 yards and fourth in rushing touchdowns with nine. He’s on pace for just under 1300 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns for the season.

An Apple a Day

If I’m going to call him out when he struggles, I have to say something when Eli Apple has a good game, which he did on Sunday. The receivers Apple was covering were targeted three times and two of those targets turned into receptions for only 27 yards, but more importantly was the interception that helped put the game on ice.

With just under five minutes left in the fourth quarter and with the Bengals up by just nine, Apple dropped back into zone coverage and picked off a pass intended for tight end Darren Waller. That interception led to a Bengals touchdown that officially put the game out of reach for the Raiders.

The Drive

Early in the fourth quarter, the Raiders got within a field goal of tying the Bengals after an explosive three-play drive that resulted in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr to wide receiver Foster Moreau. That drive could have taken all the wind out of the Bengals sails, but they responded with a 13-play touchdown drive that took up almost seven minutes to make it a two-score game.

That drive broke the Raiders’ back, and with only five minutes remaining, even without the multiple turnovers committed by the Raiders in the final few minutes, it probably put the game out of reach. It was a massive gut check and the Bengals offense rose to the occasion.

Bic Mac with extra sauce

Evan McPherson showed once again why he was worth an early (for a kicker) pick in the 2021 NFL draft. He drained not one, not two, but three field goals from beyond 50 yards, which ties an NFL record and has never been done by a kicker playing in his first 10 games in the league. In the first quarter, he made two 54-yard field goals, and in the third quarter he made a 53-yard field goal. Outside of missing an extra point, McPherson played an almost perfect game.

When was the last time you felt confident when a Bengals kicker came out on the field to attempt a field goal of 40 yards or longer? Also, those field goals had the distance to be good from 60 yards.

Looking ahead

The Bengals return home to face off against the Steelers for the second time this season on Sunday. They defeated their division rival by a score of 24-10 in Pittsburgh in Week 3, but the Steelers have since won four of their last seven games, losing two and tying the other (cough-against-the-Lions-cough).

Here are some things the Bengals could see on Sunday:

  • If the Steelers were going to make the playoffs in 2021, it was thought they would be led there by their defense, but they’ve allowed the eighth most rush yards so far this season, and they have been just okay against the pass. The offense has been mediocre, but they did score 37 points on the road against the Chargers in LA on Sunday night. Ben Roethlisberger has only lost to the Bengals seven times in his career and if the Bengals do win on Sunday it will be the first time they’ve swept the Steelers since 2009.
  • Rookie running back Najee Harris has rushed for 685 yards and added an addition 337 receiving yards and a total of seven touchdowns. He is one of the rare every-down backs in the NFL and is looking like he was worth the first-round pick the Steelers invested in him. However, the struggling offensive line has meant that Harris has only averaged 3.6 yards per carry. The Bengals have allowed the fourth-fewest rushing yards in the league so far this year, and hopefully they force a repeat of the 2.9 yards per carry performance Harris had against them in Week 3.
  • The Steelers were without their two best players in T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick Sunday against the Chargers, and it showed. Watt is nursing a hip and knee injury and Fitzpatrick was ineligible to play because he was on the COVID list. It’s not clear if Watt or Fitzpatrick will be able to suit up against the Bengals on Sunday, but both of them are game changers, especially Watt, who has 12.5 sacks so far this season.
  • The Bengals sit in second place in the division behind the 7-3 Ravens and the Steelers are right behind them with a 5-4-1 record. The Bengals currently hold the top wildcard spot in the AFC and the Steelers are the first team out. This is a massively important game for both teams that could shape the playoffs in the AFC. A win for the Bengals could help cement their playoff standings and a loss for the Steelers could push them further behind the rest of the teams currently in the hunt.

To wrap things up, some random Week 11 thoughts

  • Trey Hendrickson had another sack on Sunday in the fourth quarter, this time stripping Carr of the ball as the quarterback went down, which set up a long return by fellow defensive end Sam Hubbard and setting up another McPherson field goal, which would be the final points scored in the game. Hendrickson has now racked up 9.5 sacks on the season (11 sacks according to Pro Football Focus), and is on pace for 16 this season. We’re not going to mention that he may have been lined up offsides.
  • Burrow was sacked three times and was hit twice more, but according to PFF, all the Bengals offensive linemen had good games in pass protection with the exception of right tackle Riley Reiff. Thankfully, Reiff and left tackle Jonah Williams excelled as run blockers, opening holes up for Mixon down the stretch.
  • The Bengals have always had an issue when it comes to covering elite tight ends, and it doesn’t get much more elite than Darren Waller. Waller caught seven passes for 116 yards, but was kept out of the end zone.
  • Over the last few weeks, it seemed that Tyler Boyd was the odd man out when it comes to the Bengals passing attack. The overall passing game never got off the ground on Sunday, but Boyd led the team in receptions and yards with six catches for 49 yards.
  • Chase didn’t have a huge afternoon, but he did score the team's only receiving touchdown on a beautiful touch pass over two defenders in the back corner of the end zone from Burrow. Chase now has 867 yards and eight touchdowns on the season. Mac Jones is now the odds-on favorite to be named the Offensive Rookie of the Year, but Chase has still had an amazing season so far as a rookie wide receiver.
  • Hendrickson has now had a sack in six straight games. That’s the longest streak in the NFL and ties a franchise record.
  • Mixon’s fake flea flicker was an awesome play that I’ve never seen in many years of watching football. It turned into a nice gain on first down.
  • The field condition was absolute trash. I saw several players slip on the turf as they were trying to make cuts, including on that fake flea flicker.
  • Burrow got hit on a third down and limped off the field after a defensive player landed on his surgically-repaired knee. Burrow has taken 28 sacks so far this season, which is tied for second most in the NFL, but it is four less than he took at this point last year. It’s better, but a long ways from being good enough.
  • This was a huge win heading into Steelers week with massive playoff implications. Winning on the road in the NFL is hard, but the Bengals got it done on Sunday in all three phases of the game.

Who Dey!