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Tuesday Trenches: The Thin Red Line

The key moments from the Bengals’ first loss of the season.

Syndication: The Enquirer Sam Greene/The Enquirer via Imagn Content Services, LLC

After riding high from a Week 1 overtime win against a Minnesota Vikings team that looked good on paper, the Cincinnati Bengals struggled on the road in an ugly 20-17 loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 2.

The Bengals were unable to move the ball on offense throughout the majority of the game, and they squandered several opportunities on defense. Luckily for Bengals fans, Evan McPherson is the kicker.

Here are some of the bright, and not so bright, moments of the Bengals’ Week 2 loss.

The Six(ty) Million Dollar Man

Whether you liked the Trey Hendrickson signing or not, he made his presence known on Sunday. He finished the day with 1.5 sacks, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. He shared his first sack on Justin Fields with Sam Hubbard, but his second was a solo strip sack. For a moment, it seemed that linebacker Logan Wilson was going to scoop the ball up and score, as there was nothing between him and the end zone. However, Fields was able to pull the ball back into his chest, recovering his own fumble.

The quarterback is, without question, the most important player on any football field. An argument can be made that any player who has the ability to pressure the quarterback on a consistent basis is the second most important. So far, Hendrickson has shown the ability to win one-on-one pass-rushing matchups and finish at the quarterback.

Welcome to Smithville

Do you remember when Alex Smith played really well for the San Francisco 49ers and then he got hurt, which gave then coach Jim Harbaugh the perfect excuse to unleash Colin Kaepernick? And then do you remember when Smith was acquired by the Kansas City Chiefs and he got hurt and that gave coach Andy Reid the perfect excuse to unleash Patrick Mahomes? Andy Dalton is the new Alex Smith.

Dalton limped off the field after he scrambled for 10 yards, but seemed to come out of the medical tent ready to continue to play against his former team who benched him on his birthday in 2019. It seems that his injury was perfect excuse for Matt Nagy to fully unleash Justin Fields.

Do you see Dalton making another start under center this year as long as Fields is healthy? I don’t.

One Bad Apple Spoils the Bunch

The Bears drove down the field on their opening drive and scored a touchdown. The Bengals had a shot to stop Dalton and company on a 3rd-and-12 play from the Cincinnati 48-yard-line, but Eli Apple committed a terrible defensive pass interference penalty on the play by just trying to shove Bears wide receiver Marquise Goodwin out of bounds as the ball was half way to him.

I don’t know how to play defensive back, and I’m 100 percent sure that had I been on the field, tasked with defending Goodwin, I would have just laid down before the snap and pretended I was hurt. I do know, though, that just trying to push receivers out of bounds is not how you play defense. It was a 32-yard penalty, which set the Bears up on the 16-yard-line.


Joe Burrow had an up and down game. He didn’t have a ton of time to work in the pocket, which made it hard to look deep very often. The vast majority of his passes were short to bordering on intermediate. He only averaged 6.9 yards per attempt, but I can’t solely place the blame on him for that. It seemed that was a part of the game plan to help protect Burrow from the Bears pass rush.

What wasn’t in the game plan Burrow’s three fourth quarter interceptions on three consecutive pass attempts; two of which I can place the blame squarely on the second-year signal caller.

His first was the most costly as linebacker Roquan Smith read Burrow’s eyes and stepped right in front of a pass intended for Tyler Boyd and returned it for a defensive touchdown. The second came two plays later when Burrow threw to Tee Higgins on a comeback route that was jumped by cornerback Jaylon Johnson. Burrow seemed to telegraph both of those throws, allowing the Bears defense to step right in front of the receiver.

The third interception came because of a failed blitz pickup by Joe Mixon on linebacker Alec Ogletree. Ogletree hit Burrow as his arm was beginning to come forward, knocking the ball straight up into the air and into defensive lineman Angelo Blackson’s arms.

Those three interceptions yielded 10 points for the Bears, and ultimately put the Bengals out of reach.

Are You Ready To Fumble!?!

That near-Wilson score was a huge turning point in the game. Because Fields recovered the ball, the Bears punted away to the opposite side of the field.

On the first play of the ensuing drive, Burrow found Higgins on an intermediate crossing route. Higgins hauled in the perfect pass, took a couple steps, and then had the ball knocked out of his hands by Bears defensive back Eddie Jackson. It was scooped up by DeAndre Houston-Carson and was returned to the Bengals’ 40-yard-line. Luckily, the Bengals defense was able to hold the Bears to a field goal.

Sacks Fifth Avenue

Burrow was sacked four times and hit nine times on Sunday. We knew coming into the game the Bengals offensive line would have their hands full with the Bears’ front seven, but there were times that Burrow had less than no time to get the ball out of his hands. Khalil Mack and Co. especially made left tackle Jonah Williams and left guard Quinton Spain look foolish more than once.

Burrow has now been sacked nine times on the season so far, which is tied with Ryan Tannehill for second worst only behind New York Jets Rookie Zach Wilson (10). It’s obviously early, but Burrow is on pace to be sacked 76.5 times this season, should this trend continue, which would break the record held by David Carr.

Remember when Carr overcame having the crap knocked out of him over and over and went on to have a great NFL career? Yeah, me neither.

Shake it Off

Even after throwing for three interceptions on three consecutive passes, Burrow came out and put the past right where it belongs, behind him. He connected with Ja’Marr Chase on a 42 yard touchdown pass, and then threw another touchdown to Higgins, bringing the Bengals within three points late in the fourth quarter.

Every quarterback throws bad interceptions, but the best ones show the ability to forget about them and move on like nothing happened. Burrow showed how mentally tough he is on Sunday.

Looking Ahead

The Bengals travel to Pittsburgh to take on the 1-1 Steelers in their first divisional game of the season. The Steelers, who surprised everyone in Week 1 by defeating the Bills in Buffalo, turned around and surprised everyone again by losing to the Raiders at home.

Here are some things to look out for.

  • The Steelers defense is as good, if not better, at rushing the passer than the Bears and Vikings. They’re tied at fifth in the league with five sacks so far this season. T.J. Watt just signed a $112 million extension, but suffered an injury against the Raiders and his game status is up in the air this week.
  • Last season, Ben Roethlisberger was forced to offset the Steelers non-existent running game by throwing 40 times a game. It worked until late in the season when Big Ben broke down and the Steelers lost four of their last five games, including a playoff loss to the Browns. They drafted Alabama running back Najee Harris in the first round in hopes he would fix the running game. He’s averaging 3.2 yards per carry, but he did catch five passes against the Raiders, including one for a touchdown. I don’t want to see Harris’ breakout game come against the Bengals.
  • Like the Bengals, the Steelers receiving corps is flush with talent. Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and Juju Smith-Schuster will keep the Bengals secondary busy.
  • Also, like the Bengals, the Steelers likely didn’t do enough to fix their sub-par offensive line this offseason. Hopefully the Bengals are able to take advantage.
  • I wonder if Smith-Schuster remembers Vonn Bell. I’m pretty sure he does.

To wrap things up, some random Week 2 thoughts

  • I sure do miss having a running back on the roster that is capable of picking up the blitz.
  • Mixon wasn’t nearly as effective in Week 2, averaging 3.5 yards per carry, but he did carve out some tough runs in the second half of the game. He definitely gets stronger as the game goes on, which is what you want from a bell cow back.
  • The Bengals ran several plays with five receivers spread out wide and Burrow alone in an empty backfield. They did it more than I’d like considering the line’s issues with giving Burrow time to find a receiver downfield.
  • McPherson nailed another long field goal, sending a 53-yard kick between the uprights. He put plenty of leg behind it and probably had the distance to be good from 60 yards. What a weapon.
  • Center Trey Hopkins struggled last week, but he bounced back on Sunday. He was the highest graded offensive lineman, according to Pro Football Focus, while all the others struggled.
  • Has anybody heard of a “country fumble” or a “city fumble” that Mark Sanchez was talking about during the broadcast? I get the gist, but I’ve never head those terms.
  • Larry Ogunjobi didn’t have a sack on Sunday, but he still got into the backfield. He had a great tackle behind the line of scrimmage on David Montgomery.
  • It was good to see D.J. Reader log his first sack in a Bengals uniform.
  • Hendrickson had a chance to stop Fields at the line of scrimmage on a third-and-nine play late in the fourth quarter, which would have given the Bengals the ball back with enough time to try to at least tie the game, but Fields was able to wiggle free and run for the first down.
  • The Bengals are 0-20 when trailing in the beginning of the fourth quarter under head coach Zach Taylor.
  • They’re 1-15-1 on the road and 1-7-1 at home in games that are decided by three points or fewer.
  • David Montgomery came into Sunday’s game with seven straight games with over 100 total yards from scrimmage, which was a Bears record. Considering Chicago’s rich history of running backs, that’s very impressive. The Bengals defense held him to 79 total yards.
  • Trae Waynes needs to get healthy right now.
  • I’m sure the Bengals conservative passing attack was an attempt to mitigate the Bears pass rush, but it’s a waste of potential with three great wide receivers, including this year’s number five overall pick, Chase.
  • Will we see Jackson Carman or D’Ante Smith get first-team reps in practice soon?

Who Dey!