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Tuesday Trenches: New Kids on the Block

Observations, analysis, and takeaways from the Bengals’ Week 1 victory over the Vikings.

Minnesota Vikings v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

I gotta say, Sunday’s season opener will go down as one of the most memorable wins in recent history for me. With so many questions about the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive line, the new faces on defense, Joe Burrow’s knee, Ja’Marr Chase’s ability to catch anything, and just the general state of the team, I was bracing myself for an ugly game. I’m glad the Bengals made me eat crow.

With that being said, here are some things that went right, some things that didn’t and a look ahead at some adjustments to be made for Week 2 in the Windy City.

New Kids on the Block

There are new faces both sides of the ball, and most of them came up big when it mattered most.

B.J. Hill, who was acquired via trade with the Giants for Billy Price, put together a two-sack performance. Larry Ogunjobi, signed as a free agent from the Browns this offseason, registered a sack as well. All three cornerbacks that started the game, Eli Apple, Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie, were offseason additions, and were responsible for covering on of the NFL’s best wide receiver duos in Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, neither of whom had over 100 yards receiving.

On offense, rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase had himself a game (more on that in a moment), and right tackle Riley Reiff helped give Joe Burrow enough time to look at more than one target before he threw the ball, for the most part, and open up lanes for Joe Mixon to average 4.4 yards per carry.

Remember when we complained all the time that the Bengals didn’t spend any money in free agency? I remember. I mean, they still don’t spend as much as I’d like, but they are spending now. The new guys, both rookies and veterans, played a big part in Sunday’s win.

Come on Feel the Noise

Paul Brown Stadium wasn’t completely sold out, but you could tell the place was rocking. How could you tell? There were 14 total penalties called on the Vikings IN THE FIRST HALF! Of the 14, 10 were accepted, and four of them were false starts. I refuse to believe that professional football players just simply forgot that snap counts and cadence are things that exist. It happened because they couldn’t hear Kirk Cousins.

Seeing the jungle rocking was nice.

Chase-ing Amy

When Joe Burrow sat down for his post-game press conference right after Chase finished, the first thing he said, before he took any questions, was, “I thought he was dropping everything.”

I’ll admit, Chase’s preseason didn’t look great. There were some dropped balls, but I didn’t really worry much about it. He hadn’t played in a real football game since early 2020, and I refuse to believe that didn’t matter. I watched what he could do at LSU and I was confident that he would be fine. I never saw comments myself about people comparing him to John Ross, but I read about those comments being made.

Chase finished the game with five receptions for 101 yards, including a beautiful 50-yard bomb from Burrow in the second quarter. He led both teams in receiving yards.

So much for the Ross comparisons.

Harry and the Hendricksons

Many fans were unhappy with the Bengals decision to let Carl Lawson walk in free agency and sign Saints edge rusher Trey Hendrickson instead. I’m not going to say if it was a good or bad move right now; not enough time has passed to really make a judgement. However, Hendrickson lived in the backfield most of the afternoon. He made a difference and didn’t even show up in the stat line for a single tackle.

Hendrickson was severely close to grabbing Cousins on more than one occasion, and he forced Cousins to throw the ball earlier than he would have liked a few times too. It also opened things up for Hill, Ogunjobi and others to hurry Cousins into making errant throws and gumming up the works for the Vikings offense. He also caused Vikings left tackle, Rashod Hill, to commit a false start and a holding penalty.

One Bad Apple

Eli Apple didn’t have a great game. He missed a tackle on third-and-24 that allowed the Vikings to convert, and then on the same drive he was flagged for defensive holding in the end zone and gave up a touchdown to Thielen, who got away from Apple with ease.

We know who Apple is and what he’s capable of. That doesn’t including covering Jefferson or Thielen one-on-one. It didn’t cause the Bengals to lose, but it didn’t help either.

Let’s hope Trae Waynes’ hamstring heals quickly.

Stuck in the Middle With You

Burrow was sacked a total of five times on Sunday, which is five times too many considering he’s coming off reconstructive knee surgery. The tackles held up for the most part, as the majority of the pressure came up the middle. There were a couple of times when free rushers came through without being touched.

This was Week 1, and mistakes will happen. Center Trey Hopkins is playing in his first game since a knee injury of his own from Week 17 of the 2020 season. He didn’t get a ton of work in the preseason, and there will be growing pains for sure.

I don’t want those growing pains to cause actual pain to Burrow, though.

I am Number Four

Going for it on fourth down when you're in no man’s land is one thing, but going for it on fourth-and-one on your own 30-yard line is another. I like the confidence and faith head coach Zach Taylor had in his offense, but there is a fine line between confident and reckless. The Vikings got the ball back with a short field and scored another touchdown to get within one score.

The Bengals took a calculated risk, but on that play, boy were they bad at math.

Looking Ahead

The Bengals make the trip up north to play the Chicago Bears this week and will face off against former quarterback Andy Dalton..... maybe. Here are some thoughts on what needs to be done to prepare for the Bears.

  • The offensive line needs to get ready for Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and the rest of the Bears formidable front seven.
  • The defense held Dalvin Cook to 3.1 yards per carry on Sunday, but he did catch six passes for 43 yards. Bears running back David Montgomery is also a prolific pass catcher out of the backfield and the defense needs to be prepared.
  • The Bears seemed to struggle stopping Darrell Henderson at times on Sunday night as he averaged 4.4 yards per carry. Maybe they were more concerned about Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, but I’d like to see Mixon have another solid game.
  • It will be tough to know which quarterback to prepare for as the Bears rotated Andy Dalton and Justin Fields. Dalton was responsible for the vast majority of the passing game, though, throwing 38 times to Fields’ two attempts, but I get the feeling Dalton won’t be the starting quarterback for long. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Fields a little more often on Sunday.
  • Andy Dalton grew a beard. He’s now Andrew Dalton.

To wrap up things, some random Week 1 thoughts

  • Steve Buscemi’s opening monologue about the 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001 was very moving.
  • Burrow completed 74 percent of his passes and averaged 13 yards per completion. There is more than one player in the running for comeback player of the year, but he’s off to a good start.
  • I was very happy to see the Bengals keep true to their word by giving Mixon 29 carries and another four catches. They said they didn’t want him to leave the field, and they meant it.
  • The fake pitch left and Bootleg pass to the right was a beautiful play design. It just happened to be one of the very few bad throws Burrow made on Sunday. He’ll connect on that more often than not.
  • The fourth-down play action pass to C.J. Uzomah in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal was a thing of beauty.
  • The defense looked very solid throughout the majority of the game against, what is on paper, a very good Vikings offense.
  • Kevin Huber came through late in the fourth quarter with a beautiful punt to pin the Vikings back on their own 2-yard line.
  • Thank the football gods the referees ruled Cook’s fumble as a fumble on the field. That call could have gone either way in the replay, but we should be happy the current rules don’t allow the play to be overturned without enough evidence.
  • Does icing the kicker actually work? I mean every coach wouldn’t do it if it didn’t, right?
  • I heard the announcers praising Xavier Su’a-Filo on more than one occasion for great blocks in the running game.
  • I loved seeing rookie kicker Evan McPherson being lifted up by teammates after he sent the game-winning kick between the uprights in overtime

Who Dey!