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Tuesday Trenches: Throwaway Finale

Bring on the playoffs.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals closed their 2021-2022 regular season with a loss to the Browns in Cleveland by a score of 21-16. The Bengals finished with a 10-7 record, winning the AFC North and securing their first playoff game since the 2015 season.

Joe Burrow not only didn’t play, he didn’t travel with the team to Cleveland, as head coach Zac Taylor opted to sit the second-year quarterback to make sure he’s 100% healthy for the team’s playoff game. Several other Bengals players didn’t make the trip, including Joe Mixon, Vonn Bell, Trey Hendrickson, Trey Hopkins and Quinton Spain, all of whom were on the team’s COVID-19 list.

The Browns didn’t start Baker Mayfield, as they decided to shut him down early so he could have shoulder surgery, but most of their other star players took the field for at least a portion of the game.

Here are a few things that went right, a couple that didn’t and a bigger look ahead at the team’s Saturday playoff game at home against the Las Vegas Raiders.

And the award goes to....

The only reason Ja’Marr Chase even made the trip was because he was very close to breaking the Bengals single-season receiving yards record. He played on the team’s first two drives, and after he secured his two catches for 26 yards, he was pulled from the game. He finished the regular season with 81 catches for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns. He not only has the most receiving yards for a rookie in NFL history, he has more yards in a single season than any other Bengals receiver in franchise history, a record that was previously held by Chad Johnson.

Chase deserves to be named Offensive Rookie of the Year in the coming weeks.

Defense is the new offense

Without Burrow, Mixon, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, C.J. Uzomah and most of the starting offensive linemen, it’s not surprising that the Bengals offense would struggle in the first half, especially considering they were playing against most of the Browns starting defense. What is funny is the Bengals’ offense was almost out-gained by the defense in the first half. The Bengals went into the locker room at halftime having only gained 65 total yards, but the defense, on a scoop-and-score and interception return, had gained 64 yards.

Again, considering the Browns defense had starters on the field and the Bengals had backups and backups to the backups, there’s not a lot to be upset about. At least the defense was doing its job.

Captain America

Getting things going on the ground was a big ask on Sunday for the Bengals offense. Two running backs did fairly well, though. Chris Evans averaged five yards per carry on seven attempts and Trayveon Williams averaged 4.2 yards per carry on nine attempts. It was nice to see Evans get a heavier workload. Normally we get heavy doses of Mixon and backup running back Samaje Perine, but Evans has shown flashes throughout the season. Perine is under contract for the 2022 season, but the Bengals could avoid paying him $1.5 million (which is small potatoes, I know) if they feel Evans can be the No. 2 running back.

A look ahead

The Raiders decided to make the Bengals wait until the very last moment to see who they would be playing in the wild card round of the playoffs. Since the Raiders won, the Bengals play the Raiders at home. Had the Raiders lost or tied (which looked like it was a real possibility), the Bengals would have hosted the Patriots. The Raiders beat the Chargers on a last second field goal in overtime by a score of 35-32.

If you remember, the Bengals defeated the Raiders by a score of 32-13 in Las Vegas in Week 11 of the 2021 season. Here’s a look at what the Bengals could see in their first playoff game since 2016.

  • The Raiders have been good at defending deep passes of 20 or more yards. They have the fourth-best defense against big passing plays in the league as they run a cover-3 defense the vast majority of the time. This is something the Bengals knew back in Week 11 as they decided to feed Mixon, even after he had a slow start in that game, 30 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns. The Bengals would be smart to set up the pass by establishing the run again.
  • The Raiders have a very good defensive line rotation, and they don’t send a lot of extra pressure at the quarterback, which is another reason they’ve had a good pass defense. The Bengals tackles will have their hands full with guys like Maxx Crosby, who had two sacks against the Chargers and was in the backfield for the vast majority of the game. When Burrow does throw, he’ll need to get the ball out quickly.
  • When the Raiders have the ball, Darren Waller, their star tight end, will look to have another big game against the Bengals. In Week 11 he caught seven passes for 116 yards, and while he didn’t do a ton against the Chargers, the Bengals have traditionally struggled to contain good tight ends, and Waller is very good.
  • Running back Josh Jacobs only carried the ball nine times for 37 yards against the Bengals, but over the last few weeks, he has been heavily involved in the offense, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. And to add a wrinkle to their running game, the Raiders have been putting in backup quarterback Marcus Mariota to run the read-option. The Bengals defense had better be prepared.

To wrap things up, some random thoughts about the 2021 regular season

  • Burrow has absolutely played at an MVP caliber level over the last month, and I hope that carries into the postseason. With the offense humming the way it was against the Chiefs and Ravens, the Bengals can beat anybody.
  • If you’re picking a team MVP, it has to be Burrow, right?
  • If you pick a defensive MVP, who is it? Chidobe Awuzie was one of the best cover corners in the league. Trey Hendrickson had 14 sacks and three forced fumbles. Logan Wilson led the team in tackles with 100 and interceptions with four. The defense overall was very good, and much improved from 2021.
  • Thank goodness that several players were placed on the COVID-list in Week 18 in a throwaway game and not after Week 18 when they were getting ready to host a playoff game. (knock on wood)
  • The Bengals are the only team in the AFC who are undefeated (4-0) against the rest of the AFC playoff teams.
  • Chase is Vegas’ front-runner to win OROY. Should Zac Taylor be front-runner to win coach of the year? Should Burrow be front-runner to win comeback player of the year? What do you think?
  • Who would you have rather seen the Bengals play in the Wild Card Round: Raiders or Patriots?
  • Of all the playoff game times, 4:30 pm ET on Saturday was the one time slot I had hoped the Bengals wouldn’t be given.
  • The Bengals aren’t done rebuilding. The offensive line, linebackers corps and secondary need some work. However, they are ahead of schedule for sure, and with the right additions this offseason, the Bengals should go from favorite to win the division to legit Super Bowl contender.
  • If the Bengals win on Saturday, you could be the first person to text about a Bengals playoff win. Their last playoff win was in 1991. The first text message was sent in 1992.
  • The Bengals are favored by six. Hopefully Vegas is right and the next Tuesday Trenches you read will be a fun one.

Who Dey!