It feels good to finally be talking about a win again. After a loss in the 2022 AFC Championship and a winless 2023 preseason, the Bengals’ win against the Rams has provided the first victory to analyze since the dominating 2022 Divisional Round win against the Bills in the Buffalo snow.
Here are the best and worst facets of the Bengals’ 19-16 win over the Rams on Monday night.
Some semblance of offensive rhythm:
In the final two quarters of last week’s eventual loss to the Ravens, we started to see the offense move downfield, score touchdowns, and move the ball through the air with familiar ease. It was an extremely refreshing sight, given the Week 1 debacle against Cleveland.
Cincinnati left a lot of points on the board, had to settle for long field goal attempts, and showcased a number of errors, but Joe Burrow played the role of point guard in this one relatively well, even though his completion percentage was a pedestrian 53%.
Still, it felt better than that, with drops, an insane interception by Ahkello Witherspoon, and other factors playing into that number. There are issues, but you’re starting to see some elements click, bringing long-term optimism.
A swarming defense:
The Cincinnati defense has been put in precarious positions in the first two weeks, namely in the form of repeated three-and-outs by the offense, placing them out there on short rest. The offense wasn’t overly efficient on Monday night, but more sustained drives and the aforementioned hint of rhythm allowed the defense to operate at a higher level.
The energized crowd, favorable personnel matchups, and perhaps a sense of urgency all led to an amazing performance by the Cincinnati defense. Six sacks, 10 quarterback hits, and two interceptions made for a miserable night from the Rams’ offense and one of the best statistical performances by the unit under Lou Anarumo.
Trey Hendrickson was an absolute animal with two sacks, while Dax Hill was arguably the most electric defensive player on the field this week. Truth be told, there could be about four other subsets of nods we could give, but we’re going with the macro-look at the defense here.
Even through the dink-and-dunk nature of the offense, the Bengals made a concerted effort to give “Uno” the ball. Motions and other designs allowed Burrow to focus on getting the ball to their star receiver often.
Chase was targeted 14 times and logged 12 receptions for 141 yards. The highlight was a clever play featuring a fake pitch and a mini-rollout to Chase, netting 43 yards.
Ugly wins are sometimes the best ones:
Even the most talented of teams struggle, and the expectations for the Bengals this year the hopes have been astronomical. An 0-2 start with both coming in the division has the doubters coming out of the woodwork.
The fact is that a grinder of a game and fortitude being tested can sometimes be the best way for a team to get on track. As the Bengals look over the tape, they’ll undoubtedly see a number of missed opportunities to make this a much more lopsided win.
Even though the Rams may not be world-beaters, this very well may be just what the doctor ordered in a 2023 turnaround for the Bengals. Beating a time at the wire and “finding ways to win” have to be confidence-builders.
Cordell Volson’s pass-blocking grade:
Making the rounds in Cincinnati circles is Volson’s notorious 0.0 pass-block grade via Pro Football Focus metrics. He gets a bit of a pass in being tasked with Aaron Donald this week, but at some point, consistency has to be shown.
There’s a lot to like with the second-year guard, and he’s still developing, but not as quickly as some would like with four solid, battle-tested veterans flanking him across the line. Interior pressure has long been a major issue in the Bengals not getting over the hump, so this has to change going forward this year.
Similar issues to what we’ve seen in the past two offseasons:
Aside from the allowance of interior pressure, the offense’s stall-outs have to be reminiscent of the past two Januarys. Settling for long field goal attempts and failing to get into the end zone is what has ultimately doomed the Bengals in the 2022 AFC Championship and Super Bowl LVI.
These first three games have shown similar struggles, so the team will once again need to adjust. Cincinnati can’t routinely hover around 20 points scored in the postseason—particularly on the road—and expect to find different results.
Unforced errors on offense and its current dink-and-dunk nature:
Tee Higgins had a particularly rough night with a couple of big drops and an offensive pass interference penalty against him. Joe Mixon averaged about a yard less per carry from that of the first two games, and the offense was almost feeling like it had the approach of “death by 1,000 paper cuts”.
It worked well for Monday and against the Rams, but it’s unclear how sustainable this approach is in the long term. We’ve seen this offense reinvent itself two or three times since 2021, so the belief is that they can do it again, but with all of the talent on the offense, patience is once again wearing thin.
A lack of capitalizing off turnovers:
Another part of the defensive issues is the offense’s inability to get points off of turnovers. In the opener, the Bengals’ defense forced two turnovers, and their offense netted zero points off of them.
This week, Anarumo’s crew had another two turnovers (and six sacks, to boot), and they only mustered a field goal off of the big plays. While field position on these four forced turnovers has varied, Cincinnati’s offense simply needs to be better at taking advantage of big opportunities.
This is key in the division and for general momentum in games. This is absolutely a facet that needs to change going forward.