As seen by the lead art up top, the Cincinnati Bengals flew into the uncontested top of the AFC North and the third seed of the AFC Playoff picture after dismantling the Baltimore Ravens. Sunday’s game was the third time Cincinnati dropped exactly 41 points on a division rival this season.
Much has been made about the validity of that offensive success. The Ravens were nowhere near full strength on defense, and they allowed several easy plays for the Bengals. No one can deny this, but if the Bengals want to be known as a dominant powerhouse, they need to showcase that when opportunities arise. Also, the talent discrepancy wasn’t just created by the Ravens’ injuries, the Bengals’ overwhelming talent at receiver also helped create it.
So let’s start this week’s rookie report with one of those receivers.
When his first target ended up being arguably his most impressive catch of the season, you knew it was going to be that kind of day for Ja’Marr Chase.
The Ravens tried baiting Joe Burrow into throwing an out route against a third-down blitz. The out-route was going to be double covered in an instant because the cornerback wasn’t going to carry Chase’s go route down the sideline. Burrow saw this instantaneously and lobbed a perfect ball to Chase, but the safety was quick to arrive and laid a big hit on the rookie receiver.
Chase came down with the ball anyways after tapping both feet in bounds.
JA’MARR CHASE TOE-TAP pic.twitter.com/kajWti8PEj— PFF CIN Bengals (@PFF_Bengals) December 26, 2021
This was just the first of seven catches for 125 yards for Chase. For the seventh time this year, he averaged two or more yards per route run (2.66), but this game was different than the rest.
In the six other games when his yards per route run was that high, his average depth of target (ADoT) averaged out to 16.3. His average depth of target on Sunday was exactly 10. The only other time he popped off with an ADoT that low was against, you guessed it—the Ravens in his Week 7 showcase. These numbers are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
Ja’Marr Chase’s ADoT in Biggest Games
|Week||Opponent||Yards/Route Run||Average Depth of Target|
|Week||Opponent||Yards/Route Run||Average Depth of Target|
The numbers back up what we witnessed. Chase was simply gliding all over the field with the ball in his hands against a secondary that was so concerned with not getting beat deep. The Ravens sat in soft zones more most of the afternoon and Chase took advantage of the space. Two of the few times he was tightly contested he drew defensive holding penalties (on back-to-back plays nonetheless!) in the end zone.
Entering this game, Chase had 350 yards when targeted 0-9 yards down the field and 220 came after the catch. He added 89 and 68, respectively, before he left the field Sunday. That’s a 25.4% increase for total yardage and 30.9% increase for yards after catch. From one game.
This was the first time both Chase and Higgins crossed the century mark for yards in a single game. Having these two dominate in tandem was the plan, but Chase’s impact was always seen as the vertical threat to Higgins’ big-bodied possession archetype. The tables turned a bit in this one as Higgins’ verticality was put to the test while Chase worked in the short and intermediary parts of the field.
When both these guys—who are a combined 43 years old—can beat defenses in similar ways instead of just complementing each other, it’s very hard to stop for any defense, healthy or not.
Despite playing just nine snaps, I debated whether or not Jackson Carman belonged here or in the first section. He wasn’t put in the game because of injury, or because the team took other starters out during garbage time. It seemed as if the coaches pulled right guard Hakeem Adeniji for Carman due to performance.
Adeniji was playing fine for three quarters of the game. The Bengals had just gotten the ball back after the Ravens failed to convert on fourth down. Burrow, who had been sacked just once up until this point, was sacked twice in the next four plays. Adeniji was beat and culpable for both times, and the coaches knew it. Carman came in for Adeniji right after the second sack.
Carman was just fine in his nine snaps, but the sample size may not have been enough for the coaches to give him back the starting gig. Adeniji’s recent inconsistencies should make them at least think about it, though.
Speaking of small sample sizes, Tyler Shelvin came in for a whopping three snaps in his second-ever game. Even without D.J. Reader available, the coaches weren’t ready to turn to their rookie nose tackle. This performance doesn’t really move the needle for Shelvin because at the end of the day, it’s three more snaps than he’s used to seeing.
They’ve been able to sit Shelvin for so much this year not only because they’ve been healthy at that position, but it’s become a position of strength. Larry Ogunjobi and B.J. Hill are earning paydays this offseason for good reason.
Chris Evans got a surprising end zone target on a go-route against linebacker Patrick Queen early in the game. The play came after both teams were flagged for 12 men on the field. It wasn’t the wisest play-call or decision from Burrow considering Evans had no positioning to make a play on the ball and Queen had excellent coverage. Later in the first quarter, Evans got a goal-line carry that went for no gain. Joe Mixon would punch it in just three plays later.
The offense putting up points left and right made Evan McPherson more of a bystander alongside his holder Kevin Huber. McPherson attempted three field goals with two of them between 30-39 yards. He made both of those, but fans wanted to see him hit a 50-yarder to tie Justin Tucker’s record for most in a season from that distance.
McPherson had his chance with Tucker watching in person with five minutes remaining in the game, but his 50-yard attempt was pushed just right. We’ll count it as the lone W the Ravens had all day.
The only time Cam Sample saw the field was on the opening kickoff. He never came on with the defense and we would soon learn why. Sample was declared out of the game with a left hamstring injury before the first quarter ended.
It didn’t even appear as if Sample got hurt the one play he was out there. If he was declared out so early, one would think the injury could be serious enough for him to miss the next game or two. We’ll get an update on him tomorrow most likely.
Did Not Play
- D’Ante Smith
- Trey Hill