The Cincinnati Bengals are best offensively when they are efficient on first and second down, avoiding third and longs and often avoiding third downs all together. They get themselves into trouble when they have penalties, sacks, or other negative plays that put them in extra-long situations, where they have to gain more than ten yards to convert the first down.
Starting on the first drive against the Tennessee Titans, the Bengals got themselves into a few of these bad situations, and it cost them. Great teams need to be able to triumph, even when they are disadvantageous situations, and that is just what they did later on in the game.
Twice, the Bengals overcame this type of adversity with a big play and found themselves in the end zone only a play later. Interestingly, the heroes of these plays were not who you might expect.
The Bengals’ offense was moving the ball very well at the beginning of the game. Their first third down wasn’t until the seventh play of the first drive. It looked like they not only converted, but picked up several extra yards on the Tee Higgins reception shown above. Unfortunately, running back Chris Evans didn’t run his pick route the way he was supposed to and was correctly called for pass interference.
The penalty moved the Bengals to the other side of the 50, setting up a third and long that they failed to convert.
Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. Here are the four other times, a penalty or negative play put them behind the sticks and derailed the drive.
- On their second drive, Joe Burrow was sacked on second down, resulting in a 3rd and 13 that they were unable to convert.
- Higgins was called for pass interference on the first play of the team’s fifth drive. This resulted in 1st and 20, and they were not able to get back to the original line of scrimmage before punting.
- Three plays into the first drive of the second half, the Bengals converted on 3rd and 1, but a holding call negated Samaje Perine’s run and put the team in 3rd and 10, which they failed to convert.
- The Bengals moved the ball all the way down to the 16-yard line on the following drive, but an intentional grounding penalty pushed them back 13 yards. Even though this was on first down, they never recovered and were forced to kick a field goal
The Bengals’ two touchdown drives were not perfect, but the offense was able to come up with a big play at the right time and ride that momentum into the end zone.
Titans punter Ryan Stonehouse had a phenomenal game. This was a big reason why the Bengals frequently found themselves in poor field position in the first half. That was also something they were eventually able to overcome.
The Bengals first scoring drive started on their own 8-yard line. Perine caught a pass and picked up a big chunk of yards on the first play, but an ineffective screen to Perine a few plays later put the Bengals in 2nd and 15. They picked up a few yards on the next play, but the drive was on the line on 3rd and 12.
You wouldn’t imagine that the team’s fourth-string running back would be adept at adjusting his pass-route when the quarterback scrambled, but that is exactly what made this play happen. Burrow felt pressure and got out of the pocket. Trayveon Williams saw Burrow scramble, and turned his short route into a long route, working in the same direction as Burrow. Burrow and Williams connected for a big gain to move the chains, and it was only possible because they were on the same page. Williams has patiently waited for a time to shine and was obviously preparing just like a starter.
A play later, Hakeem Adeniji, tight end Mitchell Wilcox, and the starting-five on the offensive line opened a huge hole and Perine finished what he started, capping off the 92-yard drive with a touchdown.
The Bengals put together another nice drive at the beginning of the 4th quarter, but a run for a loss and an incomplete pass led to 3rd and 12.
The Bengals converted this key third down when Burrow and Trenton Irwin connected with a back-shoulder route on the sideline. Just like Burrow and Williams in the play above, here Burrow and Irwin had to be on the same page to make the play.
It’s noteworthy that Burrow has this type of connection with Williams, who rarely gets offensive snaps, and Irwin, who was on the practice squad at the beginning of the month. Having this type of relationship with Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tyler Boyd is to be expected, but rapport runs deep on this team.
A play after Irwin’s sensational sideline snag, Burrow found Higgins on this touchdown pass.
In the past, the Bengals have struggled when they found themselves behind the sticks, but in this game they showed the ability to not only convert these third downs, but quickly parlay them into touchdowns. This is a huge step forward for the Bengals offense.