The Cincinnati Bengals got their first win of the season. More importantly, a number of important players looked like their old selves. And the team may have even found a replacement for one of the few who didn’t return to form.
Let’s get right to what we learned from the Bengals’ 27-12 victory over the New York Jets.
Joe Burrow’s confidence was just on break the first two weeks
Say what you will about Burrow’s performances against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys. Analyze it to pieces. Scrutinize where his eyes were, how long he held on to the ball, how many sacks were his fault... But the reality is, he simply didn’t seem to be there mentally.
Burrow’s strength is his mind. He beats teams with his acumen and confidence. The latter was somewhat diminished perhaps because of the bone-crunching hits he’s taken during his time in Cincinnati combined with a very recent appendectomy. His acumen, meanwhile, never went anywhere. But it’s hard to get back to processing NFL defenses when you’ve missed a ton of practice and the entire preseason.
Well, the good news is, he’s clearly back. He was decisive with his throws, which looked crisper and had more velocity. And his movement in the pocket was similar to what we saw late last season, when he was able to make critical plays despite an onslaught of pass rushers in his face.
Burrow was only sacked twice, and that improvement was because he decided to take things into his own hands and start rolling around, like on the touchdown to Samaje Perine and not because the o-line played all that much better.
Thought the offensive line played well, too. However, Bengals still ranked T-27th out of 30 teams so far on Week 3 in pass block win rate (ESPN/NFL Next Gen) https://t.co/BDOzXLCTLH— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) September 26, 2022
This surge in production by the QB isn’t just about the Jets somehow missing the memo that the Bengals struggle with Tampa 2. I believe that Burrow would’ve shined against just about any opponent this week. He needed a couple weeks to shake off the rust, get comfortable with his body being thrown to the wolves again, and then remind himself who he is: a young man with the potential to be the very best to have ever done it.
The Bengals actually do know how to run the football
It just may not be with Joe Mixon.
Look, I get it. Perine doesn’t excite you. He’s a 27 year old who hasn’t topped 301 yards in a season since his rookie year. He’s the plodding, straight-line runner we saw too much of at the end of the Super Bowl.
But guess what. Perine runs hard. And that’s what this team needs right now. With Burrow leading what should be a high flying attack that features Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd, all the team needs is a running back who can keep defenses honest. And Perine seems capable of providing that a lot more than Mixon can right now.
Mixon is a very, very talented athlete. However, he didn’t seem to be completely right the first two games and now has an ankle injury. And the man has taken a lot of hits behind some terrible lines over the years. The sixth-year runner has the third most carries since 2017, only behind Ezekiel Elliot and Derrick Henry. While there are always other factors at play (like losing top receivers and linemen), it’s hard to ignore the drop in their yards per attempt. Running back is one of the most grueling positions on the body. That’s why running backs leave their prime around the same time that QBs enter theirs.
Perine, meanwhile, hasn’t carried the ball a lot in his career. And so perhaps it shouldn’t be that surprising that he seems to have a lot left in the tank. He had probably the best drive by a running back all year to drain the clock from 10:03 to 2:15 by picking up hard-earned gains of seven, seven, five, four, five, seven, and four yards. Remember, the Jets, with their talented interior defensive linemen, were trying very hard to get a stop.
i'll give him a couple. this is what reading zone is supposed to look like. we gawked over le'veon's patience when that was only possible behind an impenetrable line. you need this decisiveness paired w/ balance and efficient cuts. the finishing power is needed no matter what. https://t.co/YUQzw31z3p pic.twitter.com/NQiiduhykO— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) September 25, 2022
Now, Perine isn’t going to lead the league in rushing. But a bulldozer like that will help make playaction a more viable option for the team. And when we get leads in the future, it’ll be a lot easier to protect them and avoid turning the ball over.
Akeem Davis-Gaither is ready
With the hero of the Bengals’ Wild Card win over the Las Vegas Raiders, Germaine Pratt, out with a knee injury, Davis-Gaither ended up being the only linebacker to get snaps other than Logan Wilson. And the man delivered, leading the team with 13 tackles and nine solo tackles The third-year product out of Appalachian State also had a tackle for a loss.
Jackson Carman is not going to help any time this year
For the first time this short season, Carman was not active. He is healthy. He just can’t help the o-line right now. The former second round back was replaced by Max Scharping, a waiver wire addition less than a month ago.
While Cordell Volson hasn’t looked amazing as the starting left guard, it seems coaches and players trust him and his work ethic more than they do Carman, who is still young and will need to seriously improve next offseason to resurrect his career.
The boys are back
Before you say that Jets were an inferior opponent, let me remind you that the Bengals lost to the Steelers and Cowboys the previous two weeks.
Cincinnati is loaded with talent just about everywhere but the offensive line, but the team is still young, so concentration and motivation will be an issue, especially following a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss.
Well, going 0-2 was the wakeup call that the Bengals’ heroes from last year needed. Not only did Burrow return to form, but so did:
- Trey Hendrickson, who had 2.5 sacks, four QB hits, and three forced fumbles
- Chidobe Awuzie, who has been very good again this year but took it to a whole other level against the Jets by making three huge pass breakups
- Boyd, who had 105 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown, after not even reaching 40 yards his first two games
- Jessie Bates, who had one pass breakup and the interception that sealed the game with 1:01 left
- Vonn Bell, who had his swagger back, a big hit over the middle, and two tackles for a loss
It’s hard to forget how young this team is because of how quickly they reached the status of contender. The fact that so many players got it going at the same point in the season shouldn’t be a big surprise. This was largely about getting on the same page, getting in sync, and getting out of their own heads. If this team shows up every week, the Bengals will once again make some noise in the playoffs.
Check out our video analysis of what we learned plus a preview of Thursday’s game against the Miami Dolphins: