The losses of Ja’Marr Chase and Chidobe Awuzie to injury were supposed to be detrimental to the offense and defense respectively.
But in the Cincinnati Bengals’ second game without Chase and their first game without Awuzie, everything seemed to click.
Let’s get into what we learned in their 42-21 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Joe Mixon has a lot of pride
The sixth-year running back hasn’t been as elusive or decisive this year, leading many to think that we were upon his decline.
But Mixon, still only 26 years old, clearly still has a lot left in the tank. He had the best game of his career against the Carolina Panthers, answering questions about whether he should be replaced in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future.
The Bengals actually do have depth at WR
It’s just not what most were hoping for.
Yes, there is a clear drop-off after Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. But that’s okay. Burrow’s ability to see the field and put the ball in the best place for receivers means that he can get production out of what we might call WR3 or WR4 by committee.
Against the Panthers, Burrow connected with Trenton Irwin and Trent Taylor all three times he targeted them for a total of 49 yards. That may not seem like a lot, but it’s almost a fourth of Burrow’s total passing yards. Not bad.
Irwin also caught two of three targets the previous week against the Cleveland Browns and seems to be carving out a role as an over-the-middle target.
The secondary is not going to be terrible
Sure it was just one game. And it was against a former undrafted free agent in just his fourth start. But Carolina QB P.J. Walker actually looked pretty good last week against the Atlanta Falcons. In fact, an ESPN analyst even predicted that he’d outplay Burrow.
So just a week after Walker threw for 317 yards and perhaps the cleanest Hail Mary throw you’ll ever see, Cincinnati’s depleted secondary held him to three completions on 10 attempts for nine yards and two interceptions.
Baker Mayfield fared better, but was essentially playing in garbage time, taking over in the second half when his team was trailing by 35 points.
The offense is getting both more creative and more sustainable
What’s the saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention”?
Well, when a head coach has the amazing chemistry that exists between Burrow and Chase available, he might be tempted to just get out of the way or try to capture lightning in a bottle by shaping the offense around getting a few big plays.
Now that Chase is out, though, we are starting to see the Bengals explore more options in the offense. Like I mentioned above, Irwin and Taylor are becoming a part of the passing offense... slowly. But even more interesting is the fact that Zac Taylor had those two carry the ball a few times; they combined for 29 yards on four carries.
Remember, Boyd is not really a speedster. And Higgins is about as big as they come. Taylor, though, is a 5’ 8”, 181 pounder with enough quickness in tight spaces to break a run or two, which is why he got three chances to do so on Sunday.
Meanwhile, we saw Mixon unleashed in both the running game and the passing game. It’s hard to tell how much of that was due to play-calling, because the running back had a different sort of mindset from the beginning of the game and hit holes faster than he had a any previous point in the season. However, Taylor helped fan the flames by getting Mixon involved in the passing game early.