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Film Room: Bengals run wild over Steelers

The running game is finally coming together

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Beating the Steelers twice in one season is a making a statement, but the Cincinnati Bengals offensive line had even more to prove than the rest of the team combined.

New offensive line coach and run game coordinator Frank Pollack had his work cut out for him this season. Not only was he tasked with protecting the franchise (aka Joe Burrow) he needed to build a run game that this team could lean on.

Over the past two weeks, we have finally seen the pieces start to come together.

To use a Taylor-ism, the Bengals’ offense “majors in” the outside zone. On the second play of the game, Joe Mixon broke a 25-yard run due to some excellent zone blocking.

Starting on the right side of the screen, tight end C.J. Uzomah has a solo block on Alex Highsmith (56) and is effective, forcing him to the outside.

Jonah Williams and Quinton Spain have a combo block. They are in charge of blocking the 4i, number 99, and the linebacker Joe Schobert (93). Spain comes flat down the line of scrimmage, taking over the block on the 4i, allowing Williams to come off to Schobert as he scrapes to the outside. This was an incredible job by both players.

The next combo block was between Trey Hopkins and Hakeem Adeniji. Cameron Heyward (97) is lined up head-up on Hopkins, but Adeniji will end up blocking him. Hopkins knows that he needs to get to Devin Bush (55), so he strikes Heyward with his backside hand while taking a flat path to the play side. When Adeniji is able to take over the block, Hopkins works up to the second level. He gets there just in time to engage on Bush and open up the hole for Mixon to run through.

Those blocks were fantastic, but there was another block that made turned a 10-yard gain into a 25-yard gain. When you see a long run break, you’ll usually find a great block from a wide receiver, and that was the case on this play.

As Mixon runs past Bush, cornerback Cameron Sutton should step up to make the play, but he can’t because Ja’Marr Chase is doing an excellent job blocking him. Chase squares him up and does not allow him to come inside. This was a fantastic block by the receiver and pays major dividends for the Bengals.

Here is another example of a well-executed outside zone play.

This time both Uzomah and Williams have solo blocks. The front side combo block is between Spain and Hopkins. Instead of taking a wide step to the play side like the rest of the line, Spain engages with the defensive tackle. This is because he needs to prevent any penetration, giving Hopkins time to snap the ball and get to the 3-technique for the reach block. As Hopkins takes over the block, Spain works up to Schobert, creating a nice hole for Mixon.

This was another great play.

This zone run features some exceptional combo blocks.

On the backside, Spain gives the 3-technique a shot to the shoulder before working up to the backside linebacker, and Williams does a great job on the reach block.

Adeniji gives a shot to the play side defensive tackle, but Hopkins takes over the block. This allows Adeniji to climb up to the second level and make a great block on Bush.

T.J. Watt lined wide to counter the Bengals’ bunch formation, but Isaiah Prince did a great job of getting out there to make the block. This was a nice play that could have gone for a lot more yards if not for Watt’s alignment. This slowed down Tyler Boyd as he looked to block the safety, and that was who ultimately made the play.

The Bengals’ offensive line is really starting to look like a well-oiled machine on these outside zone plays. This is exactly what Zac Taylor wants from his offense and why Pollack was brought in. There is, however, one non-offensive linemen who is really making a difference on these plays...

Imagine, if you will, reading an article about offensive line play where an elite wide receiver is mentioned prominently, not once but twice. Well, that is exactly what you are doing, but no, you have not entered the Twilight Zone. You have entered the Chase-era in Cincinnati.

In this clip, Mixon cuts way back and makes the first defender miss. It’s a great play by Mixon, but what really stands out is the pair of former LSU Tigers (Chase and Burrow) sprinting down the field along with him.

Chase is charged with cutting off backside pursuit, but when Mixon cuts back, he releases and looks for work. He ends up doing his job by cutting off pursuit, just in an unexpected way.

Perhaps even more impressive is what he does after the play. His reaction to Mixon’s long run can only be described as joy, pure joy. Wide receivers, particularly star wide receivers like Chase, are often stereotyped as “me” players concerned with their stats and getting the ball in their hands. That is clearly not Chase.

On a day when he was only targeted three times, making three receptions for 39 yards and not finding the end zone once, Chase was elated to see his teammate have success and play a part in Mixon’s 165-yard, 2 touchdown day.

Ja’Marr Chase is special.

The Bengals want to be able to run the ball effectively until teams are forced to move an extra player into the box to stop them. This will create one-on-one matchups for Chase and Tee Higgins on the outside, and this will lead to more big plays.

The run game has really started to click, which will be huge for this team as they head into December with a difficult lineup of opponents.