We all may look back at the Week 6 win over the New Orleans Saints by the Cincinnati Bengals and call it a season’s crossroads. It was great to see them rebound from the tough Sunday night loss to the Ravens and gain a share of the AFC North lead by the conclusion of the weekend.
It wasn’t a perfect game, however. Here are the best and worst facets from Cincinnati’s 30-26 win over New Orleans.
Shades of “The old Joey B”:
Don’t get it twisted: Joe Burrow was not experiencing any kind of regression for the first part of this year and this phrasing doesn’t mean to point to that notion. But, he and the rest of the offense have had to navigate defenses altering their looks to take away the things they do best, making the numbers drop a bit from some of their trademark wins in 2021.
But, back in his old stomping grounds and utilizing a different approach (more on that in a minute), Burrow was pinpoint-accurate, careful with the football, while also playing a bit of that “backyard style” of the game that makes him lethal.
Burrow finished with 300 passing yards and four total touchdowns (three passing, one rushing), en route to his highest quarterback rating since late last season.
LSU guys and former Saints shine back home:
It wasn’t just Burrow who had a huge day in familiar territory. Ja’Marr Chase exploded in his New Orleans homecoming, notching 132 yards (his highest output of the season) on seven catches and two touchdowns. One of those was the exciting 60-yard back-breaker, wherein it was obvious defense still somehow misjudge his strength and long speed.
While it was a rough day overall for the offense and for those playing for the Bengals who came from New Orleans, guys like Trey Hendrickson and Eli Apple did have big redemption moments. Hendrickson atoned for a brutal roughing-the-passer penalty by knocking a pass out of Andy Dalton’s hand with just over two minutes remaining on a third-down.
That play by Hendrickson led to the Chase game-winner, but Apple had a couple of key plays after struggling in coverage in the first half, too. He smacked Taysom Hill on a run attempt before half, causing a loss and, in turn a field goal attempt. He was also in coverage on the final play by New Orleans to cause an incompletion.
Adaptation on offense:
As mentioned above, Cincinnati changed up their offense, exercising more patience on that side of the ball. As the old adage goes, “patience is a virtue” and the Bengals capitalized later on because they “took what the Saints gave them”.
Cincinnati wisely relied on Tyler Boyd and Hayden Hurst early in the contest, while opting for RPO-style runs. From there, they just decided to utilize This paid dividends late, as we saw chunk runs from Joe Mixon on the second-to-last drive which netted a field goal (two carries for 12 yards on that drive alone) and Chase eventually turning a 10-yard route into a 60-yard play.
Additionally, the protection, while still not perfect, has been far steadier over the past few weeks, as opposed to that in the beginning of the year. Three sacks were netted by the Saints, but two were credited to Mixon off Demario Davis blitzes.
A new trend has hit the league, wherein the Bengals were seemingly ahead of the curve. Along with having a franchise quarterback, teams want “that guy” as their kicker, with quite a few teams now having guys who can kick 50-plus-yarders with regularity.
None seem to do it better than Baltimore’s Justin Tucker, but the Bengals’ second-year kicker is right on his heels. Cincinnati needed yet another HUGE kick by McPherson late in this contest after Burrow took back-to-back sacks and he nailed the 52-yarder on the road. He was also perfect on all three of his extra point tries.
Finding a way to get a season-changing win:
For whatever reason it may be—simple visuals, pas playoff percentages, etc.—2-4 is a world of a difference from 3-3. With two divisional losses under their belt and the AFC North continuing to be a crap shoot, Cincinnati needed this road win for more than one reason.
The Bengals didn’t have a lead until about two minutes left in the game and stared at two possession deficits for a good portion of the contest. Still, leaders stepped up, maligned units and players came up clutch at critical moments and the offense found sparks that had avoided them through the first month and half.
Kudos to the coaches and players for getting a win that could very well change the trajectory of their season.
The usually-sure unit was pretty awful at wrapping up ball-carriers this week. Part of it had to do with missing personnel, but Lou Anarumo offered up a different and interesting opinion as to why it was so bad this week, noting that the adjustment of tackling players from college to pros is a world of difference and that technique really matters at the NFL level.
That’s all well and good as a learning lesson, but with Josh Tupou, Logan Wilson and D.J. Reader all nursing injuries right now, this needs to get corrected quickly. Particularly with the rugged AFC North games remaining and Cincinnati needing to win as many of those four games as possible.
If you were eager to watch the Bengals’ offense this week, there was a particular stretch of time wherein you could have done your laundry, washed your car and paid some bills online in the middle of the contest without seeing that unit taking a snap. Maybe that’s a bit of hyperbole, but between New Orleans’ hogging the ball for the las portion of the second quarter, the halftime break and then the Saints doing it again out of the locker room, it felt like an absolute eternity before Joe Burrow and Co. got the ball again.
A lot of this was on the defense and their allowance of 28 plays on those two drives, including six third-down conversions (three apiece) on them. New Orleans had to stunningly settle for field goals on each drive, but this chunk of time gassed the Bengals’ defense, disallowed their offense to continue to find early rhythm and put Cincinnati in a nine-point hole in the second half.
How good is Cincinnati?:
I’m sorry to be the bearer of the cold water bucket, but the question has to be asked. Cincinnati has played a backup quarterback in five of six contests for varying amounts of time and the Saints had four of their top wide receivers out of the game.
Of course, this same cast of characters made the Super Bowl just a year ago, so we know they’re pretty good at their core. We also know that their three losses have come on the final play of the game and have a sub-three-point differential average between them.
Still, the whole scenario does give pause, doesn’t it?
The run defense:
Cincinnati was a top-five unit, in terms of rushing yards allowed, coming into this week, but they got gashed. New Orleans galloped for 228 yards and a 6.7 yards per carry average against the Bengals, showcasing their talent and Cincinnati’s inability to tackle last Sunday.
We knew it was going to be tough sledding for Anarumo’s group this week with the abilities of Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Hill and the creativity they spawn in the system. Still, with the Saints’ top four wideouts out with injuries in this game, one would have thought Cincinnati would completely sell out on stopping this facet. They failed to do so.
Aside from tackling issues and their inability to stop the run, Cincinnati’s defense allowed at least four third-and-long situations (3rd-and-8-plus yards) in this one. An absolutely inexcusable moment was when Hendrickson had a bonehead penalty to wipe out a 3rd-and-25 to let the Saints continue an eventual field goal drive.
Injuries piling up:
While the injuries to Wilson and Tupou don’t seem extremely serious right now, they’re players who are still sorely missed. Throw in arguably their best defensive player in Reader still nursing a knee issue and Cincinnati is facing more injury issues than they did in their Super Bowl run last year.
Jay Tufele had a couple of nice plays last Sunday, and the coaches seem to like the upside and versatility of Zachary Carter, but they need more depth up front—even if temporary. It’s also going to be on guys like Akeem Davis-Gaither, Markus Bailey and Clay Johnston effectively stepping in to various capacities.