The Cincinnati Bengals put up an impressive performance last Sunday in The Motor City. While the game was close for the better part of two quarters, Zac Taylor’s crew pulled away late and won in most areas of the contest.
Here are the best and worst facets from the Bengals in their 34-11 win over the Detroit Lions.
There were a few points of emphasis, in terms of how the Bengals wanted to improve their football team this offseason. Frank Pollack’s reunion was the key to fixing the offensive line and running game, while the drafting of Ja’Marr Chase was going to bring big-play capability.
All of those elements came to fruition on Sunday. Of the Bengals’ 398 total net yards, 256 of those were passing (with sack yardage being accounted for) and 142 coming on the ground. The running backs helped in the passing game and in protection, while Chase popped two big receptions on the day.
It was just a nicely-executed day on offense with a lot of players chipping in for the win.
Joe Mixon (83.9) and Chris Evans (80.0) were the two highest-graded pass blockers in the game yesterday.— Andrew Russell (@PFF_AndrewR) October 18, 2021
They combined for 9 pass block snaps and didn't allow a pressure, including the crucial pickup (and he stayed on the block) by Evans to give Burrow time to step-up.
Speaking of Evans, he had a nice showing in his first extended action this week. It was a bit shocking when the Bengals released Giovani Bernard a few weeks before the draft and questions lingered further early this season when his replacement (Evans) wasn’t getting much playing time while the other backs (Mixon and Samaje Perine) were having trouble picking up blitzes. The criticism drew louder when the Bengals didn’t really use the cap savings on another big-ticket free agent and/or an extension for Jessie Bates.
But, as Evans has received more playing time, it’s become apparent that he can be the triple-threat in which the staff had envisioned. On Sunday, Evans had a beautiful receiving touchdown, a couple of nice runs and was even picking up blocks well. Apparently, he learned well from his predecessor:
Bengals RB Chris Evans said coach Zac Taylor wanted the rookie to watch all of former Bengals RB Giovani Bernard's pass-blocking highlights.— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) October 18, 2021
In case you needed another reminder that the Bengals wanted Evans to be a like-for-like replacement for the team's former No. 25.
The offensive guards:
The Bengals didn’t bring in household names in free agency or the draft at guard this year, but things are starting to come together. Trey Hill got the start against Detroit and struggled, yet somehow earned a somewhat-respectable 64.9 overall Pro Football Focus score in his first pro start.
Meanwhile, Quinton Spain is quietly putting together a really solid season at left guard, posting a 75.1 overall PFF score this year and a really high one against the Lions. Jackson Carman relieved Hill, but had to leave with an illness. Even so, he also had a nice showing, per PFF:
Top 5 PFF Offensive Grade for the #Bengals against the #Lions:— Willie Lutz (@willie_lutz) October 18, 2021
1. Isaiah Prince, 91.5
2. Quinton Spain, 89.6
3. Jackson Carman, 87.2
4. Chris Evans, 85.6
5. Joe Burrow, 76.2
Biggest takeaway: Best day as a pro for Jackson Carman even though he was under-the-weather (23 snaps). pic.twitter.com/klkc4jQkGj
Special teams adjustments:
Unfortunately, Darius Phillips’ immense athleticism and knack for making a big play isn’t translating to punt return success. After a poor return early in the game, Darrin Simmons went to Trenton Irwin and he produced two returns for 26 yards, including a 15-yarder.
Evan McPherson had a tough week against the Packers last Sunday, missing two field goals, but he got back to his perfect ways against the Lions. He was 4-of-4 on extra points and 2-of-2 on field goal attempts.
Kevin Huber was outshined by Jack Fox punting the football, but he still had a solid afternoon with a 54.3 average. And, there weren’t many big returns given up—just a 14-yard long on punt returns and 28 yards on kickoffs.
While we’ve gushed about the offense and special teams groups, but the defense had the Lions handled throughout the game. The stout run defense made a re-appearance, allowing just 36 yards on the ground to Detroit.
They also allowed just 4.5 yards per pass from Jared Goff and a 43% conversion rate on third and fourth downs. When the game was actually close in the first half, the defense kept making plays, keeping the Lions off of the scoreboard until midway through the fourth quarter.
Statistical disparity in favor of Cincinnati:
There were so many team stats that pointed to the Bengals’ utter dominance in this game. For starters, Cincinnati out-gained Detroit by 170 total yards, including 106 more on the ground.
Additionally, Cincinnati had five less penalties (four to nine), hogged the ball for an 11:44 disparity in time of possession and were almost 20% more effective in converting third downs. There were many other points of emphasis here, like average passing yards per completion (8.0 to 4.5) and rushing (3.9 to 2.0), but the fact is that Cincinnati was superior in almost every major statistical category.
Continuing to capitalize on possessions surrounding halftime:
Joe Burrow and others have repeatedly talked about the importance of getting points before halftime and then coming out of the locker room in the third quarter—particularly had they won the coin toss and deferred returning the football. It’s worked very well for them this season, and once again on Sunday.
The Bengals got a field goal after a big third-down catch by Chase to close the second quarter and then a statement touchdown on a 40-yard fourth-down score by Mixon. These are the types of situations that have them on the right side of the win-loss column this year:
The Cincinnati Bengals have scored 31 points in offensive drives right before halftime through six games this year (5.2 points per game average).— Anthony Cosenza (@CJAnthonyCUI) October 18, 2021
They’ve also scored 27 points in their second half-opening possessions (4.5 points average per game).
A huge reason they’re 4-2.
Dry spells on offense:
After the Evans touchdown to open the contest, the Bengals put up four consecutive scoreless drives before kicking the field goal before halftime. On the possession wherein Burrow threw an interception, Cincinnati ran six plays, while the three other possessions ending in punts were all three-and-outs.
The offense atoned for this by scoring on five straight drives from the end of the second quarter until deep into the fourth quarter, but the early inconsistencies were troubling. Teams can get away with four straight scoreless possessions against a winless team, but not so much against the league’s elite.
Giving up multiple sacks/allowing more than forcing:
We’re nitpicking here, but the quarterback sacks and hits on Burrow remain concerning. There were only two given up this week, but was double the amount the Bengals accrued on the day.
Point blank, the Bengals need to limit the sacks and hits on Burrow. He’ll run into the occasional one while trying to improvise, but they are tied for sixth in most amount of sacks given up with 16 through six contests.
In all of the years I’ve reported on the Bengals for Cincy Jungle and written this specific post, there have been at least a couple of “ugly” facets per game, despite the result. However, this week has provided little opportunities to truly tee off on things.
Not to be a lazy journalist here, but there wasn’t anything truly “ugly” about the Bengals’ performance in a 23-point win. Those points scored by the Lions were in “garbage time” and the Bengals largely dominated the entire game.