“Learning how to win” comes off as another meaningless coachism, but there’s some weight to it in regards to the Cincinnati Bengals’ latest victory.
Zac Taylor referenced it in the locker room after his team turned a close game into a 19-point win over the Las Vegas Raiders. They were in a similar situation three weeks ago against the New York Jets; leading by two scores with less than 10 minutes remaining. They folded to the Jets thanks to crucial mistakes on both sides of the ball. History did not repeat itself against the Raiders.
Was it the most appealing win of the year? Of course not. But it counts the same on the record book, and it shows a young team is capable of correcting past issues when they need to. That can instill confidence for the inexperienced portion of the roster. Let’s overview how those players did this week.
The Raiders’ grass field was atrocious, but Evan McPherson didn’t seem to mind.
In his second and final game in an indoor stadium, McPherson had his fifth-round leg put to the test and succeed with flying colors. He became the first kicker in NFL history to make three field goals from 50+ yards (54, 53, and 51), and he drilled a 47-yarder for good measure to close out the game.
For most of the game, this was all the Bengals’ offense could count on, and they needed luck to even get McPherson in those situations. The Raiders’ defense committed crucial penalties leading up to McPherson’s first two field goals from 54 yards and 53 yards. It was just that kind of day for Cincinnati’s offense, which fits the trend of playing after the bye week.
In previous weeks, Taylor didn’t give his rookie kicker very many chances from beyond 50 yards. He didn’t really have a choice this week, and McPherson rewarded his faith. The league then rewarded McPherson with AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
McPherson has already shown us he’s capable in clutch situations. There were no last-second kicks for him to make this week, but his accuracy from deep kept the Bengals on pace and eventually in front of the Raiders for an all-important victory.
There’s a weird thing going on with the Bengals trying to involve Ja’Marr Chase early in games. In the last three games, he’s carried the ball five times, four of which have come on jet sweeps that have been largely unsuccessful, even borderline disastrous.
As a former running back, Chase carries that experience with the ball in his hands, but these plays aren’t achieving the success they’re designed to obtain. They’re supposed to get Chase into the rhythm of the game and give the offense easy yards. The latter has definitely not been the case, and the former probably hasn’t worked either.
Chase makes up another parallel from that Jets game a few weeks back. He put together a 32-yard performance on three catches with one of them being a touchdown. That was his exact stat-line from this past Sunday.
What boosted Chase’s numbers from the first seven weeks has not been working over the last month. He caught nine of his 16 deep targets (20+ air yards) from the start of the year up to the Baltimore Ravens game. He’s 0-7 since then going back to the Jets game, including three incompletions from Sunday.
That’s been an issue in of itself. Only five of those first 16 deep targets were contested for Chase (he hauled in just two of them). Six of the last seven have been contested by coverages who seem more prepared to handle them. Does Chase need to fight for these throws better, or does it fall on the design of the offense to attack down the field in more opportune situations to avoid these contested situations? The answer likely falls somewhere in the middle, and Burrow can do a better job of leading Chase away from the coverage as well.
The 10 offensive snaps from Chris Evans were the most we’ve seen of him since his breakout game against the Detroit Lions over a month ago. He saw one pass come his way, and a seven-yard completion resulted from it.
Evans’ 10 special teams snaps were also the most he’s taken since Week 6. He made an impressive tackle on the Raiders’ first kickoff return that stopped return-man Kenyan Drake at the 15-yard line.
Special teams work was all Jackson Carman and Trey Hill received, as Carman is firmly on the outside looking in to get back his starting spot at right guard. Taylor emphatically praised Hakeem Adeniji’s performance this week, and you have to wonder if Carman would’ve ever started there in the first place had Adeniji been healthy during the offseason.
Having a solid right guard in place is all that matters right now. Carman’s work for the rest of the season may just be to compete for a spot next season.
It’s a defense’s dream to only have to play 47 snaps in a full game. The only downside is backups get fewer chances to be rotated into the game. This is why Cam Sample played a season-low four snaps. Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard barely came off the field because their normal workloads nearly matched how many snaps the entire defense had to play.
This game can be viewed as an outlier for Sample because of this. He’s also coming off a knee injury that forced him to miss Cincinnati’s previous game against the Cleveland Browns. We’ll see if he returns to his normal usage next week.
Did Not Play
- Tyler Shelvin (knee)