It’s not easy to win five consecutive games in the NFL. That feat becomes exponentially difficult after wins against juggernauts like the 49ers and Bills, respectively.
The Bengals had a chance to pull out an unlikely win this week but came up just short. Here are the best and worst facets of Cincinnati’s 27-30 loss to the Houston Texans.
Early Tanner Hudson usage:
One of the facets we thought may have been coming this week on offense with the loss of Tee Higgins was the usage of Cincinnati’s big pass-catching tight end, Tanner Hudson. It came to fruition early, with Hudson grabbing five catches on the first drive alone.
He was critical in moving the chains and keeping that first drive alive, which seemed to have asserted Cincinnati’s power in this one. Regardless of the outcome, he’s proven to be a solid ancillary passing game weapon going forward.
Ancillary weapons contributing:
We mentioned Hudson’s contributions, but with Higgins and Charlie Jones also out, others needed to step up. Trenton Irwin had two catches on the day, including a beauty of a 32-yard touchdown grab.
Tyler Boyd had two huge drops on the day but also had his first 100-yard day of the year. The drops unfairly overshadowed the fact that his 64-yard reception set up any chance for a tie or a win just a few plays earlier.
We know the Bengals were playing it cool with Chase’s injury and didn’t want to risk exacerbating it for the back-end schedule stretch, but the fact they didn’t use him earlier ended up hurting them. Chase notched 124 yards on just five catches, including an exciting 64-yard touchdown grab.
“Uno” continues to be the most consistently dangerous weapon on offense, and the team shouldn’t bottle him up. Once they fed him the ball, the entire offense opened up to generate the comeback.
Speaking of Cincinnati’s fortitude...wow. We’ve seen this team and its current cast of characters come back from crazy scenarios, but this one has to be up there in terms of improbability. The Texans had a 10-point lead with under four minutes to play.
The mere fact that the Bengals turned things around so quickly that they had a chance to win the game was near-miraculous. It shows the talent of the roster and what can happen when this team puts the pedal to the metal.
Cincinnati’s defense has been far from a perfect unit this year, relying more on big plays, other than the unexciting forcing of a punt or field goal. Houston has taken care of the ball this year, so creating big opportunities was one of the priorities this week.
They achieved that and, despite the big swings of momentum, couldn’t fully take advantage. Regardless, these are plays that will need to continue being made down the stretch.
A lack of truly wrapping up and getting players down on initial contact has been a bit of an issue this year. You can point to some free agent acquisition, injuries, and/or a high amount of snaps forced upon this specific cast of characters the past two-plus years, but the fact is Lou Anarumo’s group is getting gashed.
Noah freaking Brown:
For those keeping tabs, Brown was a seventh-round pick out of Ohio State back in 2017 by the Dallas Cowboys. After six seasons in “Jerry’s World,” he moved in-state to the Texans for another opportunity.
After grabbing six passes for 153 yards the week prior against the Buccaneers, Brown decided to one-up himself against the Bengals. He had seven grabs for 172 yards (both career-highs), as the Cincinnati defense had no answers for his big plays.
The offense working off its script:
A big reason why the Bengals have preferred to receive the ball first, of late, has to do with their comfort level with the opening drive’s set of plays they worked on through a week’s worth of practices. It’s a blessing and a curse to come out hot on overly-practiced plays.
While the offense ended up scoring points in the end-of-game scramble mode, they had big timelines of struggles. Look no further than the handful of offensive possessions leading to punts going into halftime.
Seven points off of three turnovers:
You can point to the Boyd drops, offensive inconsistency, and a number of other factors, but one key stat still looms large. If you can’t take advantage of game-changing opportunities, then you probably aren’t winning the game.
That’s been a huge theme of the Bengals’ four losses this year, with the offense sputtering after receiving a gift from their counterparts. To Brian Callahan and Co.’s defense, some of those turnovers (including those on Sunday) were netted deep in their own territory.
When you dive into team stats, there were some eye-popping disparities this week. The Bengals’ offensive line allowed four sacks and nine quarterback hits, while their own defensive line forced just one sack and four quarterback hits.
Buffalo’s rush offense absolutely gashed the Bengals’ defense to the tune of 188 team rushing yards at 5.0 yards per pop. Meanwhile, Cincinnati’s defense mustered 66 yards on 4.1 yards per carry.
We can talk about the “modern day” and “passing league” mantras all we want, but you can’t win with these stat lines. Cincinnati will need to find ways to produce better results upfront.
A game wherein the previous safeties were sorely missed:
Dax Hill has been a nice piece to the defense (even the incredibly well-respected Greg Cosell talked of him recently), and Nick Scott has improved here and there. But the Bengals’ defense was gashed by so many things this week that it was hard not to feel the vacancies left by Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell.
Cincinnati unexpectedly lost both this offseason, with experience and heady play leaving the city. But this week showed how much this unit missed veteran leadership—particularly on the back end of the unit.
The former number is an insane stat, wherein the Texans executed 17 “explosive plays” on the day. This is the fourth-highest amount of explosive plays that have occurred in a game since 2000.
The #Texans had 17 explosive plays against the #Bengals. That is the 4th most of any team in any game since the year 2000. #WeAreTexans— VT (@brownchubbybear) November 13, 2023
We already knew CJ Stroud was HIM, and now that we have figured out how to the run the ball this offense is truly something special. #TFB pic.twitter.com/xUEPsAi7Jj
When you give up 544 yards to an opponent on your home field, it’s usually not a formula for success. In fact, it’s almost shades of mid-2000s Jerome Bettis and the Pittsburgh Steelers, wherein you’re forced to play catch-up all game as the opposition bleeds out the clock. Houston tried to do this but tripped over their own feet in accomplishing it.
Also, while there isn’t a science to it, you can’t allow the opposing offense to hit the “trifecta”, so to speak. With C.J. Stroud over 300 yards passing, Devin Singletary had the game of his life with 150 rushing yards, and Brown hitting 100 yards receiving, the Bengals’ defense was absolutely embarrassed.
Repeated mistakes leading to a loss:
If you played this one back, you’d find countless mistakes. And, while it’s incredibly admirable the Bengals largely overcame them, there were so many that it added up to an insurmountable situation.
Boyd’s drops, the offense’s stretches of inefficiency, Cincinnati’s inability to stop the Texans, and a myriad of other issues plagued the Bengals this week. There are some answers for the issues at the ready and others that come at a premium.