The Cincinnati Bengals had a bad game. It happens.
Ja’Marr Chase was in pain (though he still made a big impact). Tee Higgins was out. Tyler Boyd had two uncharacteristic drops, one that could’ve swung the outcome in Cincinnati’s favor. And Alex Cappa got completely dominated by Houston Texans defensive tackle Sheldin Rankins, who had his first three-sack game since high school.
The problem is, the Bengals can’t really afford many losses after a slow start. So what did we learn, and is there time to right the ship before a showdown with the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night?
The season is still in jeopardy
Just a few weeks ago, the Bengals were 1-3, and fans were ready to pack it in. A four-game win streak changed that to some degree, but the team still wasn’t in the clear. Even if Cincinnati looked fantastic the last two weeks, they still had too many losses on their record for there to be talk of a return to the Super Bowl.
Now, at 5-4, the Bengals really don’t have the luxury of having off days like they did against Houston. Not only are there 11 teams in the AFC with five or more wins right now, but Cincinnati has the worst conference record of all of them.
Tanner Hudson is going to play a big role
The fifth-year tight end ended up with only 33 yards on six catches against the Texans. However, five of those receptions came on the opening drive, an indication that he was all over Zac Taylor’s script. Had the Bengals’ offense not fallen apart (largely due to poor protection), we probably would’ve seen Hudson more heavily involved after that as well.
Everyone has been asking where the TE's have been in the #Bengals offense...— Kyle Caskey (@CoachKyleCaskey) November 13, 2023
Well, this is a pretty impressive inside choice route by Tanner Hudson.@CBoxSports #CINvsHOU #HOUvsCIN pic.twitter.com/kLFo4nfIN1
On a side note, once again, Trenton Irwin made a splashy play when a top receiver (Tee Higgins) was out with an injury. Irwin will make an impact when called upon. But Hudson should be a factor even when Cincinnati’s skill players are healthy.
The lack of depth at pass rusher is dangerous
Myles Murphy showed promise against the Buffalo Bills, but neither he nor Joseph Ossai can carry this unit. The pass rush still revolves around the play of Trey Hendrickson, who suffered a knee sprain against Houston, and Sam Hubbard, who missed the Houston game because of an ankle injury.
Here's the view of Trey Hendrickson's injury pic.twitter.com/VJarmauocy— Ben Brown (@BenBrownPL) November 12, 2023
If those two aren’t back against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, the only path to victory for Cincinnati is to win a shootout.
Hero ball is still an important component of the offense
The Bengals’ opening drive was a thing of beauty. Burrow completed seven of his first eight passes and topped things off with a magnificent 32-yard touchdown to Irwin.
But then things stalled. Badly. After five straight punts, the Bengals trailed 20-7. Cincinnati’s o-line simply didn’t play at the level it had in the previous two games against the San Francisco 49ers and the Bills.
Sheldon Rankins generated a career-high 7 pressures and 3 sacks, all of which came in 26 matchups vs RG Alex Cappa.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 12, 2023
Those 3 sacks are the most given up by a guard to an individual pass rusher in a game this season.#CINvsHOU | #WeAreTexans pic.twitter.com/LcGd13xNyS
Another case of the pocket just crumbling. Even though every rusher is accounted for, Burrow is still under pressure because this group is still struggling to anchor. pic.twitter.com/ZEAjuvJFZu— Parker Blake (@ParkerBlake60) November 13, 2023
The Bengals were eventually able to crawl back into the game thanks to some heroics. Midway through the third quarter, Burrow took off for a 17-yard run after escaping pressure to get things going again. The Bengals would get a 50-yard field goal out of that drive.
On the next drive, at the end of the third quarter, Burrow rolled to his left and made a nice throw on the run that resulted in a 64-yard Ja’Marr Chase touchdown. And Cam Taylor-Britt gave Cincinnati the ball at the Houston four-yard line by intercepting CJ Stroud. Joe Mixon would punch the ball in to make it 27-24.
Obviously, that’s not ideal offensive production. Clearly, the smooth offensive system we saw the previous two weeks isn’t quite as consistent as it may have seemed. If the offensive line is having a bad day, like it did yesterday, it looks like the offense will revert back to the style of play of 2021 and 2022.
Brad Robbins is rapidly adjusting to the NFL
The rookie punter out of Michigan boomed five punts for a total of 259 yards (51.8 yards per punt). It was his best game of the season. And after being held under 45 yards per punt his first three games, he has reached that mark in five of the last six games.
As CBS’ Kevin Harlan noted, Brad Robbins with a 55-yard punt and a 5.0 hang time— Anthony Cosenza (@CJAnthonyCUI) November 12, 2023
Was the excitement around the Bengals premature? Or were they simply looking ahead to the Ravens a bit too much and not prepared for the vortex that is a CJ Stroud-led offense? We’ll find out on Thursday, when Cincinnati gets its biggest test of the year against the Ravens.