These young Bengals really are nothing like the ones who came before them.
Toppling the AFC’s best Kansas City Chiefs and winning an AFC North title is a mighty accomplishment. Doing so by thriving under pressure and while trailing for most of the afternoon is even more impressive.
But it’s true, these dudes don’t fold like Cincinnati teams of the past did. The coldest of them all is obviously Joe Burrow, but his rookie receiver has to be a close second.
In the statement games of all statement games, Ja’Marr Chase made his with permanent sharpie and all caps.
Against a defense that ranked in the top four for EPA/dropback allowed and dropback success rate allowed during an eight-game win streak, Chase put together the greatest statistical performance for a receiver in Bengals history. That’s not hyperbole.
12 targets. 11 catches. 266 yards. Three touchdowns.
266 yards is six more than Chad Johnson’s 15-year old record for most yards in a game. Despite falling two receptions short of tying Carl Pickens’ 23-year old record and one touchdown away from tying Marvin Jones’ eight-year old record, the magnitude of the game and overall dominance from Chase should give him the edge in franchise lore.
The touchdowns were all spectacular, but Chase did plenty outside of the 18 points he produced on the scoreboard. Take this excerpt from Football Outsiders’ latest quick reads article:
Chase was at his best when the Bengals needed him most. He was targeted six times on third downs and picked up four conversions: both DPIs, that 69-yard score, and a 30-yard gain on third-and-27 with the game tied in the fourth quarter. That miracle conversion kept Cincinnati’s game-winning drive alive and helped to ensure that Patrick Mahomes would never get the ball back with a chance to win. Per Stathead, it was the longest third- or fourth-down conversion of the season (excluding Cleveland’s meaningless end-of-half lateral play against Pittsburgh in Week 8).
Add all that up and you get 128 DYAR, comfortably the best of the year. In fact, it makes our list of the top 20 wide receiver games on record, coming in at 10th place—and it moves up to eighth if you ignore rushing data.
Accounting for game situation, opposition, and replacement-level value at the position, Chase had the best receiving performance of the season. The eye test could’ve told you that as well. Whether it was setting up screens to perfection, owning the sidelines with back-shoulder snags, or just running away from anyone in a white jersey, Chase did it all. There’s something meaningful to take from that from a macroscopic view.
Chase broke onto the scene in September as an immediate deep threat, and most of his production came from his ability to generate separation on deep targets. Once teams started to scheme against those plays, Cincinnati had to start adjusting to work around that.
This has led to Chase being used more in the slot more often. From Weeks 1-15, his target percentage in the slot was 12.2% (12 targets), and he turned that into 152 yards and a touchdown on 10 catches. In the last two weeks, his slot target percentage was 23.8% (five targets), and 134 yards and a score on five catches have come from that.
He’s also been more productive when the scheme relies on him to beat cornerbacks at the catch-point. His contested catch rate jumped nearly 10 percentage points to 34% from this game alone.
Ja'Marr Chase caught 4 of 5 contested balls yesterday.— Goodbrrrrr (@JoeGoodberry) January 3, 2022
Before that game, he only caught 6 of 24 contested passes (25%).
Always felt like he'd turn that last part of his game on at any moment.
Moving Chase around has given him more opportunities to showcase his full skillset. Those increased opportunities combined with general experience have seen Chase turn into the complete receiver the Bengals drafted him to be. He’s doing everything now, and he might just be matchup-proof at the moment. That wasn’t the case over the last two months.
That this came against the Chiefs and their, admittedly, over-performing cornerbacks is one thing. Chase had almost taken a backseat to Tee Higgins over the last month-and-a-half. Some even said Higgins deserved the Pro Bowl nod that Chase earned. Sunday showed just how special he’s been this season.
Through 16 games, Chase stands with 1,429 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 79 receptions on 119 targets. He screamed past his former teammate Justin Jefferson on Sunday to take the rookie record for most receiving yards on his way to posting back-to-back 100-yard games for the first time in his career. That fact surprised me as well considering his stellar season.
Those are the numbers that populate not just Pro Bowls, but All-Pro lists. Chase forced his way into that conversation by beating the Chiefs at their own game. His stock has never been higher, and it’s hard to see it climb further up.
Against the Denver Broncos, Jackson Carman proved how effective he had been coming off the bench at guard. He got another chance on Sunday with Quinton Spain’s ankle sprain occurring right before the half. Things were a bit more muddier this time.
Carman played a fairly clean third quarter. The following period was where problems started occurring. A false start on the fourth play of the quarter was immediately followed by a quick pressure allowed to All-Pro Chris Jones the very next play. Carman then buried Jones to the turf on the play after that.
On the final drive, Jones bull-rushed Carman into Joe Burrow’s left knee just after Burrow got the ball out of his hands. Jones would beat Carman and Trey Hopkins a few plays later to sack Burrow, which would eventually set up the miraculous third-and-27 moment.
The offense would try to pound the ball in near the goal-line, and this was where Carman was the most consistent. He had an excellent run-blocking performance and was the Bengals’ second-highest graded lineman by Pro Football Focus in this regard. But another critical flag from Carman would nearly cost them as he held on the first of two fourth-down tries at the doorstep of the end zone. The penalty was offset by a defensive holding call on the Chiefs, who then got grabby on the second fourth down attempt, and the rest was history.
Carman is the likely favorite to start at left guard while Spain recovers from his ankle injury and COVID-19. Our own Zim, who got good information on Logan Wilson’s injury a few weeks back, seems to think Spain will be good for the playoffs.
Spain is fine— ZIM (@zimwhodey) January 4, 2022
If that’s the case, Carman may just get Week 18 against the Cleveland Browns game to gain more reps and experience. Don’t rule out Xavier Su’a-Filo or D’Ante Smith either if no starters end up playing at all.
Evan McPherson had the easiest game-winner of his life. His 20-yarder sent the Bengals to the playoffs for the first time in six years. That it was such a short distance may’ve been better news than we thought.
On Monday, McPherson told media members that he’s dealing with a minor injury. Zac Taylor described it as “tightness,” which brings up an interesting hypothetical. How close would McPherson have needed to be to make a game-winner? He made a 46-yarder earlier in the game and didn’t seem too troubled kicking extra points. There were also some kickoffs that ended up shorter than usual. That was either by design, or an indication that he couldn’t kick with full power as the game wore on.
McPherson said the issue isn’t serious and he can play through. If not, perhaps Elliott Fry, the kicker the team added to the practice squad, will kick for McPherson against the Browns.
In the last three games Chris Evans has played in since returning from injury, he’s played a combined 11 snaps on offense. He played just snaps on Sunday. When the offense can feature their five starting pass-catchers so eloquently, Evans’ role doesn’t become necessary until it has to be. Trey Hill got his usual work blocking for field goals.
Did Not Play
- Cam Sample (injured)
- Tyler Shelvin (inactive)
- D’Ante Smith (inactive)