The Cincinnati Bengals have now won their last two games out of the bye week by three scores each. They have also won both games against the Steelers this season, and each of the last three.
In fact, the Bengals have won their last three games against the Steelers by an average of 18 points.
Zac Taylor has built his team to win in the division, and it is paying dividends so far. The Bengals are now 3-1 in the AFC North, and are only a game behind the Ravens. If they can repeat their win against the Ravens and get their revenge on the Browns, that would lock up the division.
Who would have thought that the Bengals are realistically in the hunt for the division crown going into Week 13?
Here’s what we learned from the Bengals’ third straight win over the Steelers.
3 things we learned from the Bengals’ win over the Steelers
The Bengals are letting the other Joe cook
The Bengals needed to reevaluate themselves over the bye week to keep their losing streak from getting worse. One of those things turns out to be the run-pass balance.
The Bengals have had more rushing yards than passing yards for the first time since Ryan Finley was the regular starter. Unlike the Finley era, however, the Bengals have won two games in that span.
They’re letting Joe cook—no, the other Joe. Mixon is a focal point of the Bengals’ offense over the last few weeks, and the Bengals are scoring points.
In the last two weeks, Mixon has carried the ball 58 times for 288 yards and four touchdowns. It’s not that he hadn’t been used early in the season, it just wasn’t that much.
In the meantime, Burrow has only thrown 53 times for 338 yards and two touchdowns. But it’s not the disappointment it would be normally because the Bengals are still scoring points and winning. The Bengals have 71 points in the last two games despite Burrow taking the backseat.
With teams taking away Ja’Marr Chase over the top, that leaves room for Mixon to run. If opponents start trying to stop Mixon, then deep balls will start opening up again.
Until it stops working, the Bengals are going to let Joe Mixon cook.
The offensive line is coming together
The Bengals’ offensive line used to be a liability, but now is actually starting to come together. They’re opening up holes for Mixon, and they’re keeping Burrow relatively clean.
They’ve come a long way from allowing five sacks in each game in Week 1 and Week 2. They have only allowed five sacks in the last two games. That’s obviously not perfect, but they have given up five sacks in a single game three times already this season.
Last year, the big problem was injuries and a lack of depth. This year, injuries are still happening, but depth is no longer a problem. Isaiah Prince as the third-highest rated offensive player according to PFF. Hakeem Adeniji and Jackson Carman have been able to plug into the right guard spot and become solid players there.
For now, the five up front are working really well together. The line is not the liability it used to be.
Eli Apple is holding up well
Despite taking up the largest cap hit on the team, Trae Waynes has only played two games in the last two seasons. He was a big part of the Bengals’ plans to revamp this defense, but Bengals have needed a regular understudy to fill in for him.
That has been Eli Apple this year, and it hasn’t been pretty.
In fairness to Apple, he’s going to get targeted a lot by nature of the position. Chidobe Awuzie is locking things down on the other side, so opposing quarterbacks are going towards the number two corner. In this case, that corner is Apple.
Ben Roethlisberger went after Apple several times, and more often than not, Apple got the better of him. Chase Claypool was the receiver battling with Apple, and only caught two passes on five attempts. One of those incompletions was an interception, which led to a Bengals’ 10-0 lead in the first quarter.
For a defense that needed improvement at the bye week, Apple is doing his part to help.