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Film Breakdown: What Makes the Bengals' Passing Attack So Deadly

Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase were dominant in Sunday's win.

The Cincinnati Bengals are coming off of a statement victory over the Baltimore Ravens. This win has a lot of people in both local and national media talking about what the Bengals could become this season

So just how did Cincinnati complete a 24 point thrashing of one of the top teams in the NFL? 

Their last two first round picks really showed off on offense. Joe Burrow's ability to maneuver within the pocket stood out and Ja’Marr Chase showed everything that could be asked of a receiver. This combination led to the biggest performance of either player’s career so far. The Bengals’ passing attack is one of the most fearsome in the league when these two players are on like they were in Baltimore.

Let's dive into the film. 

Joe Burrow In The Pocket

In college, Burrow had a few elite-level traits that lead to him becoming the first overall pick. His ball placement, improvisation, and processing were three of his best traits. The one ability he had that I did not list was his ability to manipulate and maneuver within the pocket. This trait is something that Tom Brady is the greatest of all time at utilizing. Slides, steps, dips, climbs, and the ability to bail with spins or other moves make up most of a quarterback’s pocket movement. Combining those techniques with a great feel and knowledge of when to use them is what is really the key to being great at pocket movement.

After Burrow’s injury, I had some fear that maybe he would lose some of this ability within the pocket. Could be a loss of movement or just an unconscious fear of what could happen. After the game against the Ravens, I no longer have this fear. He was a master within the pocket in this game more than he has been in any other game.

Starting with what is probably the most impressive play using movement in the pocket. The defensive line over the right side is using a concept called an E-T stunt. This means the end will crash down and the tackle will loop around. The point is for the end to “pick” the guard and tackle to free up the tackle. It works very well on this particular play as they free the tackle. 

Burrow counters this by first stepping up to possibly allow his offensive line to recover. After that is clearly not going to work, he stops on his left foot (the same leg he had surgery on) and pushes backward in a sort of juke move. This leaves the looper grabbing at thin air and spinning around confused. Now that Burrow has freed himself of the pass rusher, he takes a few steps to his right and floats a ball to the check down. Samaje Perine does a great job to pick up a chunk of yards as well, but this play all comes back to Burrow’s ability within the pocket. The Ravens got the pressure that they wanted, but Burrow’s pocket movement didn’t allow that pressure to become a negative play.

This is a little bit more traditional when it comes to pocket movement compared to juking out a defender. This is the Brady special. Someone is able to get interior pressure on Burrow. He counters this interior pressure with a slide to his right and then a small climb forward before releasing the ball. He does all of this while keeping his eyes downfield. The small and subtle pocket movement is one of the things that goes unnoticed about Burrow, but it is very impressive.

This move here is one of Burrow’s signature moves. The little spin out of the pocket to roll and improvise was utilized heavily at LSU and works well here. The pocket condenses on Burrow from the right side so he lets the defender get close and then spins away. By letting the defender get closer he is making it harder for the defender to get back in the play after the spin. The right tackle will make sure of that. It’s a little bit like how a running back will set up their blocks. After he rolls to his right to bail the pocket he finds the mismatch he wants in Tee Higgins against Josh Bynes. He puts the ball where only his receiver can get it and it is completed. Another example of making something out of nothing because of his ability to move within the pocket.

Related: Six Takeaways From the Bengals' Win Over the Ravens

This is another example of the slide that Burrow has mastered. He gets high and tight pressure from the left side on this play. The slide step to his left buys him the extra half-second he needs to release this ball to his receiver. No need to climb after the slide because the defender is not still engaged. This means that Burrow needs to get the ball out quickly after the slide. He quickly sets his feet and throws the ball to Higgins. This throw is a little bit high and that could be due to the pressure, but another issue is that Higgins had to go underneath a corner who got in his way during the play. This slight movement from Higgins could have caused this throw to go high as well since Burrow expected him to be a little bit further down the field. Either way, it's still a good play for Burrow to avoid the sack and get a throw off.

This is what I consider to be the Tony Romo special and one of the reasons that I thought Romo was a good comparison for Burrow coming out of college. We've already seen Burrow’s ability to spin to the right, but he can also do it to his left. Both he and Romo excel at spinning left and resetting their feet (not to mention their accuracy). On this play, Burrow gets pressure down the middle as C.J. Uzomah is a little late on the pickup. He starts to spin to his left to bail and improvise but notices he has a shot one on one with Higgins. After the spin, he quickly resets his feet and launches the ball deep downfield to his wide receiver. The ball isn't complete, but quarterbacks cannot typically launch balls deep downfield after getting pressure through the A gap. Burrow’s pocket movement allowed for him to give his receiver a chance at a big play.

Here we get more high and tight pressure on him from the right side. This means Burrow will slide to his right to avoid it. After the slide, you can see how quickly he sets his feet to the target. This lets him throw an accurate pass to his receiver. None of these little slides and climbs are going to make a highlight real anywhere, but they are a sustainable way for Burrow to avoid defenders and complete passes downfield.

Now we have the biggest play that comes from his ability to move within the pocket. The Bengals fake wide zone to their left and have Burrow roll to the opposite direction. There he has his tight end blocking a defensive lineman. The tight end is holding up for the most part, but the lineman is able to get penetration. There is also a linebacker that comes into the picture after being faked on the play action. 

Burrow sees them both and stops right around where the tight end is blocking. From there he steps up and away from the two defenders to throw a ball deep downfield to Uzomah. This movement buys him just enough time to uncork this deep ball. It actually causes the linebacker to get caught behind the blocking tight end as well which helps. Another sustainable, repeatable process that can turn negative plays into positive plays. Instead of sacks, Burrow can turn pressures into touchdowns.

Ja’Marr Chase Dominates

The other key to the passing game this past week was Chase's domination of the Ravens’ secondary. He had his biggest test of the year so far in Marlon Humphrey and passed with flying colors. The rookie wide receiver was not only winning in the ways that he did early this season, but we got to see more of his game. Not only did he pass the test, but he gave us reason to believe he is already a complete wide receiver.

The corner on this play is in a press alignment, but he is not jamming Chase. He would rather just mirror him on the release and play tight coverage. 

Chase releases to his outside which means there is a high probability that he is running either a go route or a comeback. He is running a comeback here. That route first requires the receiver to sell the vertical portion of the route to get the corner into a full stride downfield. He does so and that is half of the battle for Chase. 

The other half is being able to slam on the brakes and turn around, which is something he wasn't great at in college. For all of his talent, he had an issue decelerating and coming back to the quarterback which was noted by T.J. Houshmandzadeh. In the biggest test of his career against an All-Pro corner, Chase showed that he has added the ability to slam on the brakes to his game. 

He changes his momentum in three steps, decelerating from full speed and coming to a complete stop. This creates the separation needed to complete the comeback. Humphrey can decelerate pretty well, but even if he matches Chase, there will still be separation on the route because of the reaction time needed. The play is not over at the catch either. Chase makes the catch and instantly turns upfield to gain additional yardage. It doesn't become a touchdown, but he tacks on an additional 3-4 yards. This is a fantastic route from the rookie. He shows that he not only can decelerate on routes, but he can do it against the best competition out there.

It feels like we have already seen the Burrow to Chase back-shoulder throw about 50 times this season. Burrow drops back and puts it right on the money again. This throw is nearly unguardable for the defense. If they try to play the back-shoulder, then Burrow can go over the top. If they play over the top, then the back-shoulder throw is open. Just a lose-lose scenario for the defense which means it is a win-win scenario for the offense. This throw and catch is something that Bengals fans should get used to because it will keep happening this season and into the future. One of the staple plays of this Bengals' offense.

This is another test that Chase had to answer from his college days. At LSU, Chase invited corners to hit him square in the chest. This is because he was stronger than any corner and was able to just run through the contact. 

On this play, Chase does not invite the contact. He starts by squaring up the corner with what I call a “split release." He brings his outside foot forward even with his inside foot so that the corner does not know which way he is going to release. Humphrey wants to jam him on this play. Chase does not let Humphrey get him because he dips and rips to the inside. The dip and rip move protects his chest from contact by narrowing the target. It also gets him past the jam of the corner because of the strong movement of the rip. Once Humphrey lost on the release, he was toast on the route. 

Chase takes the route vertically and gets Humphrey to sprint to try to keep up. Then Chase makes a quick cut at about 90 degrees on the dig route. He is wide open by NFL standards and Burrow puts the ball right on him. He also shows a fantastic ability to run after the catch on this play as he fights to get out of bounds. Ending with a little hurdle to avoid the hands of a defender. This was another very high-level play from Chase against high-level competition that shows that he has become a more technically sound receiver.

From a route running and release standpoint this play is pretty good, but not really much was needed to be shown. What this play highlights is Chase’s run after catch ability. Most wide receivers are probably going to get tackled by the safety here. Chase gives him a little move and gains an additional eight yards on the play. Fantastic balance from the rookie receiver as he stays on his feet to keep working downfield.

The part of route running that Chase showcases here is his ability to change speeds and set himself up for success. The corner is again pressed but instead of jamming, he is mirroring the release. Chase uses this to his advantage with a slow start to his route to get the corner to slow down. Chase has better acceleration than most players in the NFL so when he fires off and starts to sprint downfield he gains an advantage on the cornerback. Burrow puts the ball on the back shoulder which Chase adjusts to very well. He climbs up and catches the ball over the top of the corner to make this play. I also just love that Burrow will excitedly audible to a go route whenever he sees one-on-one man coverage against Chase.

For the final play, we have another slant route, but this time Humphrey is playing with inside leverage against Chase. The rookie needs to get inside of Humphrey on the route, but with the corner playing inside leverage, that will be difficult. 

Chase is able to win the inside by first selling the outside vertically. At this point, Humphrey has already been beaten a few times by Chase on the outside, so he is susceptible to this. Chase starts with another split release to square up the corner. He sees that Humphrey wants to play with inside leverage, so Chase takes three hard steps to the outside to sell that he is going to just sprint downfield past him. Humphrey opens up his hips to run with Chase vertically and that is where the battle is won. 

Chase gives him a little arm-over move to win inside leverage against him and Humphrey is now struggling to get back into the play with his body turned the wrong way. Humphrey is able to smoothly turn to get himself back involved in this play and against a lesser receiver he may have been able to make the stop for a minimal gain. Chase then shows more of his strength and balance. He takes the tackle attempts from Humphrey and the safety and uses that momentum to his advantage. He spins with the momentum to slingshot himself forward on the play. This shows an insane balance ability as he does not even need to catch himself with a hand to keep running. Instead, he just begins sprinting downfield as if he was not just hit by two players. Then all that’s left is a race to the end zone. Chase's 4.34 40-yard dash translates to the football field and it's on full display here. He gets away from everyone to turn what could have just been a 10-yard gain and a first down into an 82-yard touchdown.

This entire game was just an absolute showcase for two of the Bengals cornerstones on offense. Both Burrow and Chase quieted any doubters. They put on an incredible performance against one of the best teams in the NFL. Not only did they quiet their critics, but they also excited the fans who will hope to see this again in the future. I think that this type of game is not a one-off type of performance. They showed abilities that are sustainable and repeatable. When they are both clicking, defenses are going to struggle against these two players for a long time.

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