It didn’t start very pretty, but the Cincinnati Bengals were able to overcome some injuries and put together a complete game to finally upend the Cleveland Browns.
Early on, it looked like Myles Garrett and company were going to get Joe Burrow and the offense out of rhythm again. But, perhaps due to the time Ja’Marr Chase missed, the quarterback was able to adjust and connect on big plays to his backup receivers.
Meanwhile, the defense stepped up and finally shut down Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. And though Cincinnati faced the most talented Cleveland quarterback yet, the team was able to keep Deshaun Watson in check, in part thanks to an outstanding effort by rookie Cam Taylor-Britt.
So what did we learn? Let’s get into it.
The run defense is ready for the postseason
Just a couple weeks after holding Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans to 38 yards on 17 carries, Reader and the defense held Chubb to 34 yards on 14 carries. Yes, they let Kansas City’s quicker running backs rip off some long runs, but the run defense looks prepared to shut down teams that rely on their running game to win.
Zac Taylor has come a long way as a playcaller
It wasn’t too long ago that a lot of us were calling for Taylor to hand over playcalling duties. Well, it turns out, we just needed to be a little more patient. The head coach was “in his bag” on Sunday, finding a way to get Trenton Irwin wide open on a beautiful flea flicker.
Flea-Flicker works to perfection. @Bengals— NFL (@NFL) December 11, 2022
: #CLEvsCIN on CBS
: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/5eoy1fJ9tq pic.twitter.com/cyG2mpXcDu
Late in the first half, Taylor also designed plays in which Trent Taylor ripped off 34 yards over the middle and Irwin converted a big 3rd and 10 that resulted in Samaje Perine’s rushing touchdown with 24 seconds left in the half.
Oh, and then there’s this beauty of a run design for Joe Mixon early in the second half:
One of my favorite plays from yesterday. I love how well the entire offense sells pass on this delayed Joe Mixon run. pic.twitter.com/TsKS0Fm7cz— Dadio Makdook (@dadiodefacto) December 12, 2022
The game plan was even more impressive considering how much Taylor and his staff had to adjust when the team realized Tee Higgins wasn’t ready shortly before kickoff and then had to play without Tyler Boyd for most of the game.
Ja’Marr Chase cannot be stopped
With Boyd and Higgins out, the Browns secondary was bracketing Chase. But that just meant he wasn’t torching guys deep as much. Still, Chase was able to rack up 10 receptions and 119 yards and a touchdown mostly on short, comeback routes.
This productivity was due to the great chemistry he has with Burrow and the receiver’s awareness of where the ball is supposed to be. Of course, the touchdown reception was a different story. It was just Chase squeezing in behind two defenders and Burrow placing the ball perfectly. I mean perfectly.
We say 'threading the needle' a lot but Joe Burrow just gave us one of the best examples ever pic.twitter.com/TfwiGlkLuH— Dadio Makdook (@dadiodefacto) December 11, 2022
Cam Taylor-Britt has no fear
The rookie cornerback isn’t necessarily blanketing receivers the entire game, but he did step up numerous times in the redzone to prevent touchdowns.
Look at Cam Taylor-Britt. This guy is gonna be GOOD and him stepping up with Awuzie’s injury is exactly what the Bengals needed pic.twitter.com/qyLncvBAjb— Jack (@Cincinneumeyer) December 12, 2022
This batted ball thing is a big issue
Okay, one negative from this game. Burrow’s passes are still being batted around, resulting in costly turnovers. The reality is, this is what happens to the Bengals when they face a strong pass rush. T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers has had some of the biggest highlights of his career this season going for those batted balls.
So what can be done? Surely, the offensive staff and the quarterback can work on rhythm and timing to throw opposing pass rushers off. But for now, this is the only obvious weakness in the offense.
Joe Burrow with a subtle flex about tipped balls leading to turnovers: “That’s the only way I throw interceptions these days.”— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) December 11, 2022
We discuss these developments and more tonight, at 6:15 PM Eastern, in our recap of the game and preview of the upcoming matchup between Burrow and Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 15.