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Zac Taylor to continue creative efforts with Ja’Marr Chase

The focus has been clear in Chase’s usage through four weeks.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals Cincinnati Enquirer-USA TODAY NETWORK

Should the No. 1 receiver always get the most targets? It’s not that simple in the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense.

In the eyes of the four defenses the Bengals have played, Ja’Marr Chase remains the top option in the passing game. To say that’s benefitted Tee Higgins is an understatement. The attention Chase has garnered in the form of scheme and bodies has allowed Higgins to exceed Chase in targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns in the past three games after Chase went off against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1.

Ever since the beginning of the offseason, head coach Zac Taylor has preached creativity in getting the ball to last year’s fifth-overall pick after he took the league by storm as a rookie. Defenses, as expected, are keying in on him more than ever, and the plan looks to be staying the course.

“We’re going to continue to be creative and get the ball in his hands,” Taylor said about Chase. “You’re talking about an unselfish guy who at times has created double teams so that other guys can deliver. That doesn’t mean we’re going to not throw the ball to Ja’Marr, we’re always looking for ways to get the ball in his hands because he’s so dynamic and explosive. Whether it’s putting him in the backfield or putting him in the slot or putting him outside, we’re going to continue to be creative and try to make it as hard as possible on defenses to combat that.”

The goal thus far seems to be getting the ball to Chase in quicker fashion. Chase’s downfield targets aren’t that much different compared to the first four games of last year (eight in 2021, six in 2022); the difference lies in the short and intermediary game.

Chase leads all Bengals receivers in passes less than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage with 22 (Higgins is second with 11), and he has but nine intermediate targets from 10-19 yards downfield. That number is still higher than it was last year at this time, and in terms of yards per route run (Y/RR), the glaring difference is in the deep game.

Ja’Marr Chase Target Depth/Efficiency Weeks 1-4

Year Behind LOS targets Behind LOS Y/RR 0-9 yard targets 0-9 yard Y/RR 10-19 yard targets 10-19 yard Y/RR 20+ yard targets 20+ yard Y/RR
Year Behind LOS targets Behind LOS Y/RR 0-9 yard targets 0-9 yard Y/RR 10-19 yard targets 10-19 yard Y/RR 20+ yard targets 20+ yard Y/RR
2022 2 6 22 5.73 9 12.6 6 9.83
2021 2 2 10 6.7 5 11.2 8 21.25

With less single coverage and more safety help over top of him, the Bengals have tried to maximize Chase’s yards after catch ability to compensate for fewer deep opportunities. Sometimes, it’s just about taking the space created underneath from respecting coverages, and YAC isn’t always possible. His Average Depth of Target is down by 5.5 yards compared to the first four weeks of last year. And with just two fewer deep shots, the Bengals have went Chase’s way whenever the opportunity presented itself.

“Teams are going to play true to themselves and they’re not going to create stuff just for us typically,” Taylor said. “They’re going to maybe tweak how they do things just to put somebody over to help Ja’Marr, or maybe to help Tee, or double T.B. (Tyler Boyd), or whatever it is. I think our coaches have done a good job sorting it out as the game goes on, especially these last two weeks how teams are trying to play us.”

The pendulum could also swing back to where it began. With Higgins torching secondaries so focused on Chase, future defenses may try to balance attention all over the field, or simply key in on Higgins more often.

No matter what they decide to do, the Bengals can unleash Chase in whatever way they see fit.