The Cincinnati Bengals were in it until the end this past Sunday, but let a golden opportunity slip to remain atop the AFC. Here are the best and worst facets to the team’s 31-34 loss to the Jets in Week 8.
Joe Burrow’s target dispersal, scoring 31 on the road and getting creative when needed:
We’ve complained about the Bengals’ inconsistencies and slow starts on offense, and while there were issues aplenty (more on that later), the offense did put up a lot of points against a struggling team on their home turf. Burrow threw three touchdowns to as many different receivers and Joe Mixon was a factor as a receiver on Sunday.
Additionally, we saw a bunch of personnel movement on plays to free up certain sides of the field for passes and even a wide receiver toss to Mixon by Boyd. It was far from a perfect day on that side of the ball, but when you score 31 on the road, you’re usually going to win.
The offensive tackles:
While the center and right guard positions remain a work in progress, the Bengals’ offensive line bookends played well on Sunday. Jonah Williams had a nice rebound after and awful first half in Baltimore versus the Ravens last week, while Riley Reiff was a steady presence, as well. Just take a look at their Pro Football Focus scores for the day:
Highest-graded #Bengals in Week 8 (min. 25 snaps)— PFF CIN Bengals (@PFF_Bengals) November 1, 2021
1️⃣ Vonn Bell, S- 89.0
2️⃣ D.J. Reader, DI- 83.3
3️⃣ Riley Reiff, OT- 82.4
4️⃣ Jonah Williams, OT- 80.6
5️⃣ Mike Hilton, CB- 77.9 pic.twitter.com/9dDOQ9uW4P
It was an overall miserable day for the defense, but they did give the offense a handful of opportunities to really pull away in this one. Lou Anarumo’s unit created three turnovers in the first half alone, which was a big part of the formula to rattle a young quarterback making his first start.
Cincinnati somewhat-squandered those opportunities in a number of different ways, as the defense had their own glut of other issues. Again, three turnovers on a team’s home turf against a quarterback getting his first career start should have been part of the equation for a win.
A number of fun, highlight-reel plays:
Regardless of the result, the Bengals got into the end zone four times and even on the drives they didn’t, we saw plays like the aforementioned Boyd-to-Mixon connection. Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase provided additional excitement on respective receptions and rushes, while the defense did provide three turnovers, two sacks and four total tackles for loss amid their struggles.
The Bengals’ ground game:
Mixon contributed as a receiver this week, but the Bengals failed to gain any consistency running the football this week. The long run of the day was provided by Chase at just nine yards, while the Bengals netted just 41 total yards and 2.6 yards per carry on the afternoon.
Against a struggling team that gave the ball away three times and their defensive focus being on containing Chase, this seemed like an opportune game to gain momentum on the ground, for a number of reasons. It was an extremely disappointing result, to say the least.
Unforced/mental errors abound:
Chase had two drops on the afternoon, while most of the defense looked lackadaisical in its approach. On the Jessie Bates interception, Logan Wilson trailed him as he approached the end zone, but failed to use his peripheral vision to pick up a block to truly spring it. There were a myriad of other examples in which to point, but the sleepwalking nature by the Bengals most of the game showed they may have taken this one too lightly.
Red zone issues and a lack of both capitalization on turnovers and “complementary football”:
On the Bengals’ three turnovers they forced from the Jets, they netted just 10 points, which included a drive that started from the New York 1-yard and gained zero points. While that may not seem absolutely horrible on the surface, the average drive off of those three turnovers started at the Jets’ 23-yard line.
Additionally, the Bengals’ bend-and-sometimes-break defense forced a missed field goal by the Jets early in the second quarter. The offense’s response? A three-play, minus-eight-yard drive and a punt.
We’ve talked about “complementary football” on our Orange and Black Insider Bengals podcast and you’ve probably heard similar terms thrown out there by others. Essentially, the concept is in one of the three facets stepping up to make plays after another phase does its job. When you look at the above-mentioned situations and other drives, this simply wasn’t the case for Cincinnati on Sunday.
On a day where these were the only ways the defense were forcing “stops”, the Bengals’ offense simply needed to take more advantage. Cincinnati needed to harness its killer instinct here to put away a lesser opponent when they had the chance.
The possessions sandwiched around halftime:
Going into this game, Cincinnati excelled at scoring going into the locker room for halftime and coming out of it to start the third quarter. In their first seven games, they scored 34 points in both their final drives before halftime and the ones coming out of it (68 in total).
That’s an average of netting almost five points per possession in these areas. It was a major reason to their 5-2 start in 2021.
Unfortunately, the Bengals put up goose eggs in these drives on Sunday. There was a slight caveat, as the Bengals received the ball before halftime with 15 seconds left, no timeouts and kicked a field goal on their previous possession with under two minutes to play, but you get the idea.
The worst part? New York totally flipped the script on Cincinnati, scoring 10 points on their possessions surrounding the midway break.
Disparity in team stats:
Whether it be in first downs (32 to 18), third/fourth down efficiency (55% to 36%), total plays (78 to 54), total yards (511 to 318), passing yards (411 to 277) and/or time of possession (36:20 to 23:40), the Jets took it to the Bengals in major statistical areas. These were the major reasons why Cincinnati collected its third loss of the season.
Tackling (or, lack thereof):
Pro Football Focus has notoriously credited the Bengals with 15 missed tackles on Sunday. That’s a downright obscene number, as is Logan Wilson’s three and his PFF score of 26. 7
It’s odd and immensely concerning how far this fall from grace by Lou Anarumo’s unit was in just one week.
Buying too much into themselves/trap game?:
All week, the Bengals were the media darlings after stomping the Ravens in Baltimore by 24 points. Burrow and Co. talked about the importance of keeping focused while going on the road to play a 1-5 team with a backup quarterback.
The good vibes from the prior Sunday soured by Halloween evening, as the Bengals let a winnable one go through their grasp. They didn’t execute the basics and a deadly combination of three straight road games, a hungry opponent fielding a quarterback with little-to-no pro film and this contest being wedged in between two huge divisional games spelled doom.
Lou Anarumo’s game plan and death by Mike White’s 1,000 papercuts:
The Bengals’ defensive game plan appeared to be have everything be kept in front of them, while relying on sound tackling and timely turnovers to get stops. Instead, this plan proved to be fatal for the Bengals, as they exhibited atrocious tackling and these dink-and-dunk passes got White in a rhythm, thus building his confidence.
There have been 11 games this season where a QB threw for 400+ yards.— Andrew Russell (@PFF_AndrewR) November 1, 2021
In every, single, game the QB had at least a 6.0 avg. depth of target and had no more than 57% of their yards come after the catch.
Mike white had a 4.2 adot and 63.2% of his yards came on YAC. Just wow.
Worse than that was the apparent lack of adjustments. Cincinnati seemed fearful that White was going to beat them deep, even with Corey Davis out of the lineup, and allowed short passes to ten different receivers. It all added up to 405 passing yards and three touchdowns to three different receivers, with the coup de grace being delivered by former Bengal Tyler Kroft for an extra-big gut punch.
On the rare occasion that Cincinnati did make a good tackle and stop, they were wrongfully penalized for it. The helmet-to-helmet penalty on Mike Hilton was an egregious call at that point in the game, but there was another that stuck in my personal craw.
Braxton Berrios seemed to have made a nice touchdown catch at first glance after one by Keelan Cole was overturned two plays earlier. But, on second look, Berrios seemed to be lacking full control of the ball before going out of bounds. It barely got a look and the Jets got the huge touchdown before half.
The second one may be a stretch for some, and I get that. Regardless, I’ll never be the “officiating cost the game for the Bengals” guy, for the glut of reasons I’ve detailed above, but one can’t deny that the final call stripped Cincinnati their rightful opportunity to at least see what they could do with the football as time was expiring.
AFC playoff seeding:
Cincinnati was riding high after last week’s win and positioned as the AFC’s top seed in the playoff bracket after seven weeks. Unfortunately, the loss to New York and other Week 8 caused Cincinnati to fall to the No. 5 seed and in second place in the AFC North.
Speaking of the division, don’t look now, but Pittsburgh and Cleveland are nipping at the Bengals’ heels. The Steelers and Browns are right outside postseason eligibility as No. 6 and No. 10 seeds, respectively, making Cincinnati’s clash with the Browns this Sunday of utmost importance.