If there was an inter-conference game that meant a lot to a respective team’s seasonal outlook, this past Sunday in San Francisco was one of the larger barometers. The 49ers were hungry for a victory after two straight losses, while the Cincinnati Bengals were looking to surge out of the bye and into the backend stretch of their schedule.
Cincinnati dominated San Francisco in multiple facets this weekend, improving to 4-3. Here are the best and worst facets of their win on Sunday.
Joseph Lee Burrow:
Cue the old Eminem line: “Guess who’s back? Back again...”. We began to see shades of the pre-calf injury No. 9 in Arizona and in short spurts against Seattle and Baltimore.
But, out of the bye week, Burrow put it all together against a very solid defense. Aside from being pinpoint accurate with an 87.5% completion rate, a 134.8 rating, and three touchdowns against zero interceptions.
However, the “Burrow being back” also resides in his scrambling ability returning, leading to huge plays on the afternoon. We saw it in an unbelievable completion, as outlined below from the great Joe Goodberry, as well as on a total of 43 yards gained on six carries by Burrow.
There was a whole bunch going on here pic.twitter.com/AXObdM8GMJ— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) October 31, 2023
A balanced offensive approach, complete with bounce-back performances:
The rushing attack, headed by Joe Mixon and Burrow, picked up 134 yards and five yards per carry on 27 carries. Cincinnati was creative with their ground game, with five players getting carries, including two different receivers in the mix.
Additionally, seven receiving options got into the mix (as compared to San Francisco’s five), with three touchdown passes going to three different players (Ja’Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd, and Andrei Iosivas). It was also great seeing Tee Higgins looking more like the guy we know with five catches for 69 yards.
Speaking of balance, a nice shout-out goes to Joe Mixon, who had 110 all-purpose yards on Sunday (87 rushing, 23 receiving). When the passing game clicks, things open up well for Mixon, who had 5.4 yards per carry and doled out big hits to 49ers defenders.
Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt:
The Bengals’ linebackers were outstanding on Sunday. Wilson had an insane afternoon, logging 11 tackles (nine solo) and two passes defended while helping to keep Christian McCaffrey in check with his 54 rushing yards.
Pratt didn’t have the outrageous tackle count like Wilson (only five) but made a game-changing interception in the second half. Cincinnati played some contain to corral McCaffrey, limiting the pass rush a little, so the spotlight for big plays fell on these two throughout a good chunk of the game. They responded in a big way.
Trey Hendrickson and Mike Hilton with the huge behind-the-scenes stats:
If you just look at the “big stats” for Hendrickson, he had one tackle and a sack in this game. But he also had eight total pressures of Brock Purdy and a 27% pass-rush win rate (shout-out to CJ commenter CMCFLYYY on the winners/losers post for doing the work for us on some of those numbers).
Meanwhile, Hilton was a presence throughout much of the game. Whether he was affecting Purdy passes that became an interception or notching a tackle-for-loss, he was one of the steadiest players for Cincinnati’s defense.
Mike Hilton was a MONSTER yesterday for the #Bengals in the 31-17 win over the 49ers.— Willie Lutz (@willie_lutz) October 30, 2023
91.7 PFF Defensive Grade
91.2 Coverage Grade
79.3 Tackling Grade
3 run stops
Hilton is starting to catch fire for this Bengals defense at the right time. pic.twitter.com/MbVTGAPRzo
The output by George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk:
The Bengals wisely keyed in on McCaffrey this week as they realized Purdy would be reined in a little bit coming off a concussion and two straight poor performances. Even so, McCaffrey had 118 all-purpose yards (54 rushing, 64 receiving) and two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving).
And, while the Niners were in a little bit of catch-up mode late in the game, Aiyuk and Kittle made large chunk plays. The former was effective throughout the whole game, notching 109 yards on five catches, while the latter had nine for 149.
There wasn’t much to complain about overall in this game, but while the Bengals’ defense deserves a lot of credit for big plays and routinely making the San Francisco offense uncomfortable, there was still a lot of statistical production from their “big three”.
Cincinnati’s tight end output:
It wasn’t necessarily needed because of the Bengals’ own “big four” (Chase, Mixon, Boyd, and Higgins) being very productive, but Cincinnati isn’t getting anything out of its tight end position group. Irv Smith, Jr. ended up having another tough day, having four catches for 25 yards and a lost fumble in the red zone.
He’s not the only issue there, though. Drew Sample had an early drop, and neither Mitchell Wilcox nor Tanner Hudson has shown the staff enough to get more time on the field.
Squandered opportunities to put an earlier stranglehold on the game:
While a 14-point win against that team and in that venue is impressive, the game wasn’t even really as close as that point margin. Evan McPherson missed a tough 50-yard kick, but we’ve seen him make more difficult ones (like, say, the 56-yarder later in the game).
And, as mentioned earlier, Smith, Jr. fumbled right before the half when Cincinnati was at the Niners’ three-yard line. This wiped away at least three, if not six or seven more points.
It’s miraculous that things didn’t turn out worse because you can’t let good teams hang around like that. Then again, it also points to the Bengals’ fortitude, I suppose.