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The good, the bad and the ugly in Bengals’ 42-21 win over Panthers

The Cincinnati Bengals absolutely dominated Carolina on Sunday, but there were a couple of concerning issues despite the big win.

The good

Idyllic performance pre-bye:

Some folks wanted to see the Bengals eke out a tough win to “build character”. There is wisdom to that notion, as it could reinforce the idea that Cincinnati could find a way to win without many of its regular cast of characters.

But, even more so, a dominant. blowout win was just what the doctor ordered for this team. Showing their ability to do a bunch of different things on both sides of the ball, Cincinnati thoroughly dominated the Panthers.

It was a confidence-builder in the senses of both “getting right” after a dreadful performance against the Browns and showing the ability to get a convincing win without the help of many important players.

With extra rest came extra rest:

Sometimes with a bye on the horizon, teams can loaf and make things harder on themselves in a game in which they should cruise. Not the case for the Bengals on Sunday.

Aside from using the next couple of weeks to get healthy, Cincinnati was able to rest many of its primary players before the end of the third quarter. Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon, who both had stellar days, were sat before the fourth quarter, while many other backups were seen closing out the contest.

Having a quarter-plus of extra rest for many was just icing on the cake in a dominant win when heading into the bye.

Joe Mixon and the big boys up front:

For a variety of reasons, the prevailing thought was that the Bengals absolutely needed to get the run game going this week. Finding a semblance of balance, gaining confidence in the ability to run and putting things on film for other teams to take note of was paramount going forward.

Cincinnati did so in dramatic fashion. Mixon had a career day for a Bengals’ running back (no small feat, given the history there) with 153 rushing yards and five total touchdowns.

The Bengals rushed for 6.2 yards per carry as a team with the three big free agency acquisitions (La’el Collins, Alex Cappa and Ted Karras) showing major push. They were also doing great things on short passes and set-up screens, as evidenced by Mixon’s 58 yards receiving.

To boot, Samaje Perine had a quality day, both in spelling Mixon earlier in the game and in mop-up duty. Trent Taylor and Trenton Irwin also chipped in with creative runs to net positive gains.

Successfully adapting once again:

At the beginning of the year, Cincinnati had to adapt its offensive attack to morph into one that featured RPO-style runs and had to be patient for the big plays that were so prevalent last year. The past couple of weeks, the Bengals have had to scramble to re-create themselves once again with so many players out of the lineup with injury.

They did so masterfully against the Panthers, showcasing a balanced approach with a pounding rushing performance. Additionally, Cincinnati created turnovers on the back end of the defense, making life easier on everyone with the amassed injuries on the roster.

Suffocating defense:

Carolina had just 64 yards rushing and a 3.6-yard per carry clip on Sunday, while the Bengals’ defense created three turnovers on the afternoon. The Panthers only had one first down in the first half and not only did it come with just a couple of minutes left in the second quarter, but it was “earned” via a Bengals penalty.

Baker Mayfield came in and gave the Panthers life, but it was when the game was way out of control (or in it, depending on your perspective) and as Cincinnati’s starters began to trickle out of the lineup. Panthers’ quarterbacks combined for just 164 passing yards and a 66.5 rating, while PJ Walker had nine passing yards on a 30 percent completion rate through the first two quarters.

Name a stat and the Bengals dominated it:

Total yards. Passing yards. Time of possession, third down conversions, turnovers and yards per play.

These were just some of the areas in which the Bengals completely dominated. Time of possession was incredibly telling, as the Bengals had the ball for almost TWENTY more minutes than the Panthers in this one.

Additionally, Cincinnati ran 24 more plays than Carolina in this one. The TOP and total plays stats are actually staggering, given that the Panthers were in garbage time/stat-build mode throughout most of the contest.

The bad

The kicking game:

The ever-reliable Evan McPherson has missed three of his last kick attempts the past two weeks. He missed an extra point and a 47-yarder against the Browns on Halloween and another field goal attempt from the same distance this past Sunday.

Corners are growing and some are pointing to the unexpected long snapper change that occurred in Week 2, but it’s important to look at the whole picture. Much like how the Bengals are at a similar record right now as the same point last year, McPherson is actually at a very similar status to his 2021 performance.

Last year, McPherson was 11-of-14 on field goal attempts (79 percent) and perfect on extra points (27-of-27). In 2022, McPherson is 12-of-15 (80 percent) and 23-of-25 on extra points (92 percent). So, we can slow our roll on the concerns a bit, but the recent misses are something to monitor after the bye.

The pass-rush:

With all of the great things the Bengals’ defense did on Sunday, getting to the quarterback was not one of them. PJ Walker and Baker Mayfield are more slippery than other quarterbacks, but Cincinnati had just one quarterback hit to go with their goose egg in the stat column. Even Walker’s two interceptions were with relatively clean pockets, though dropping more in coverage might have been the plan all along.

Regardless, don’t look now, but the Bengals’ defense is ranked 28th in sacks amassed this year, tied for fifth-worst in the league with these Carolina Panthers. It’s an average of 1.6 sacks per game (14 total), while the offense has allowed 32 on Burrow this year (3.6 per game). That’s a big disparity and while sacks aren’t the end-all be-all of pass-rush metrics, they do tell a tale and these numbers may not be conducive to long-term viability.

The ugly

Baker Mayfield strikes again:

What is it with this guy and his going up against the Bengals? Mayfield once again channeled his inner-Hulk, focusing the anger he gathered from the cascade of boo’s coming from inside the Paycor Stadium walls once he hit the field in the third quarter.

Mayfield was 14-of-20 for 155 yards, two touchdowns and a crazy 126.0 rating against the Bengals on Sunday in relief of Walker. Sure, it was in garbage time, but in 7.5 games of work against the Bengals, Mayfield has 1,902 passing yards, 21 touchdowns versus just seven interceptions, while garnering a 6-1 record as a starter versus Cincinnati.

More injuries:

Cincinnati had two of its top three interior defensive linemen out of this game, as well as their star receiver and two of its three top cornerbacks. To boot, their left tackle suffered a moderately-significant knee injury a month ago, while Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson have been nicked up throughout the year. It’s why not a lot of folks predicted a three-touchdown blowout by the Bengals on Sunday.

Cincinnati saw its first-round defensive back, Dax Hill, go down with a shoulder issue, adding to the mess of injuries. To boot, Chris Evans left the game with a knee injury, once again pointing to the bye week coming at an optimum time.