The Cincinnati Bengals are, by most accounts, not going to make the playoffs this year.
But that’s okay. After all, the goal with Joe Burrow is always to win a championship, and, with this many issues on both offense and defense, that was far from a guarantee even with the franchise QB healthy.
Instead, the team and its fans can use this opportunity to learn as much as possible about the roster and, hopefully, figure out exactly what voids need to be filled before the 2024 season begins.
With that, let’s get started with what we learned from the Bengals’ 16-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday.
Ja’Marr Chase’s awareness is out-of-this-world
Two of the Bengals’ biggest plays in the game came on tipped passes that Chase had the instincts to pluck out of the sky and then use his shiftiness to pick up big gains.
The first was a 31-yard catch and go in the second quarter that set up the Drew Sample touchdown.
And then, he did the same thing again to start the fourth quarter, taking a tipped pass 15 yards.
We all knew Chase was very smart with his “late hands” and his ability to contort his body to make tough catches, which we were reminded of on this play:
Ja’Marr Chase caught this while holding his mouthguard pic.twitter.com/VBE6TXNTjJ— PFF (@PFF) November 26, 2023
But the two tipped plays against the Steelers showed us a different level of his football IQ.
Drew Sample is no joke
After the blocking tight end’s big touchdown against the Buffalo Bills, there were a lot of jokes made about Sample’s newfound receiving ability. But he delivered again against the Steelers, in a similar fashion to how he scored in that Sunday night game.
In both plays, Sample caught the defenses off guard, probably because the ball rarely comes his way. Against the Bills, he beat Dane Jackson to the sideline and then juked Taylor Rapp out of his shoes.
This time, he cruised in a straight line and then shoved teammate (and fellow tight end Mitchell Wilcox) out of his way to score.
While his 82 receiving yards on the season don’t scream “game-breaker”, Sample has delivered when called upon in the passing game.
Andrei Iosivas can get separation in the NFL
In case there was any doubt, yesterday’s game proved that Iosivas will eventually be making some big plays at the professional level. He had one nice 16-yard grab for a third down conversion in the third quarter.
Bengals rookie Andrei Iosivas comes up big on third down to convert.— Seven Rounds in Heaven (@7RoundsInHeaven) November 26, 2023
This is the fifth catch of the sixth-round pick out of Princeton’s rookie season. pic.twitter.com/XZ6SxcsTEP
On his only other target of the game, which came in the fourth quarter, Iosivas was missed by QB Jake Browning deep. But, from a developmental perspective, Iosivas’ biggest play didn’t even appear in the box score.
It came in the first quarter, when Iosivas flew by cornerback Levi Wallace and the rest of Pittsburgh’s secondary to get wide open along the left sideline. He would’ve had a 77-yard touchdown had Browning only kept his eyes downfield. Instead, the backup QB was sacked by Watt and fumbled the ball.
On the 3rd OFF play of @Bengals v @Steelers - Joe Burrow would probably have thrown a TD to Andrei Iosivas— Kyle Caskey (@CoachKyleCaskey) November 27, 2023
But instead...Jake Browning doesn't pull the trigger & sack fumble
This is the difference between Burrow & any other QB that runs out on the field...@CBoxSports #CINvsPIT pic.twitter.com/LHBYnO2jIM
The running game is seriously broken
We knew it wasn’t great. But there’s no denying that the Bengals simply don’t have what it takes to win a game on the ground. I’ll leave it to smarter minds to decide how to divide the blame between Joe Mixon, Frank Pollack, and the offensive line. But even when expectations are low, the run game still finds a way to disappoint.
-16 sorry— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) November 26, 2023
He didn't get a single run over 5 yards. You can't continue to give him the ball when the best he can do is 4 yards.
0 tackles for a loss today and still averaged 2.0 per carry. pic.twitter.com/4oEnTQ0AgH
The playbook is the playbook
Despite its ineffectiveness, many thought that the Bengals would turn to the running game with a backup QB facing T.J. Watt and company. But Zac Taylor stuck to the script and tried to air it out; Browning threw the ball 26 times, while Joe Mixon (and all other running backs) rushed just eight times.
The result wasn’t pretty, but that’s what this offense is. Taylor, of course, was a QB coach for the Los Angeles Rams before coming to Cincinnati. His success hinges on quarterback play, and he’s going to stay true to his identity, even if it doesn’t make sense to outsiders.
So what’s next for a team just trying to stay competitive and build momentum for next year? Will we see AJ McCarron replace Browning? Will Chase Brown be involved? We’ll find out next week when the Bengals face the Jacksonville Jaguars.