What a victory it was on Sunday for the Cincinnati Bengals. They beat the best team in the AFC, they won the division, and they set records in the process.
It was an offensive explosion in this matchup from both the Chiefs and the Bengals with the game coming down to the final drive. It was everything that fans could have wanted and more. Let’s see what we can take away from the Bengals triumph.
Ja’Marr Chase Should Win Offensive Rookie Of The Year
Ja’Marr Chase showed out yesterday on the biggest stage. The Bengals and Chiefs were CBS’ game of the week and were shown in a majority of households yesterday.
Chase caught 11 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns. What a way to end the season if he gets rested next week in preparation for the playoffs. He set a franchise record that was previously held by Chad Johnson (260 yards). It is the most receiving yards ever from a rookie as well. It currently ranks 15th in the NFL record books for most receiving yards in a single game.
Not only was the game spectacular, but the season has been for the Bengals' star rookie. Chase ends his 16 game season with a stat line of 79 catches, 1,429 yards, and 13 touchdowns. That's one of the single greatest rookie wide receiver campaigns of all time. Mac Jones has certainly been a quality quarterback for the New England Patriots, but what Chase is doing is special. If Chase loses the award to Jones, it will most likely just be due to positional value, similar to how Justin Jefferson lost last year. The difference with this year is that Justin Herbert was a better rookie quarterback than Jones is. If Jones wins this year, every other position along the offense stands no chance at winning the award unless all of the quarterbacks play poorly.
Limiting Hill and Kelce
The Bengals went into the game on Sunday with the strategy set in their mind that they will limit the Chiefs star receivers Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. They did a good job of this as well. Hill caught six balls for 40 yards and Kelce was held to five catches, 25 yards and one touchdown.
Mahomes did a great job of spreading the ball around as 10 different receivers made a catch yesterday, but it limited the Chiefs' offense to hold their top two weapons to below their average. There were no explosive, game-breaking plays to Hill. Instead, he was tackled quickly after catching the ball and they did a great job to stay over the top of him in coverage. Similarly, the Bengals’ defense would bring Kelce down quickly after the catch and did their best to not allow him to get a mismatch. The 40-yard performance by Hill is his 5th lowest number on the season. The 25-yard performance from Kelce is his 2nd worst performance on the year. I am excited to rewatch the defense from the all-22 angle to see exactly how they played these two monsters on the back end, but whatever they did, it worked.
Winning Despite Bad Protection
For the second week in a row, the Bengals won despite the defense getting to their quarterback. This improves their record to 3-14-1 in games where Burrow is sacked three or more times. The main defender that brought Burrow down in this game was defensive tackle Chris Jones, who finished with two sacks. He applied a ton of pressure, and ripped the nameplate off of Burrow’s back. He was always going to be a mismatch in this game against the weakest part of the Bengals' offensive line, but Cincinnati did a good job of not letting that destroy their offense. They overcame a sack on the final drive of the game where they converted a 3rd-and-27 with a 30-yard completion to Chase.
They have officially made the playoffs with this offensive line, but it needs revamped coming into next season. The Bengals cannot afford to let their quarterback get hit so often. Just imagine what Burrow will be able to do when he is given more time in the pocket.
A Near Second Half Shutout
Not only did the Bengals' defense limit Kelce and Hill, but in the second half they nearly shut out the Chiefs. Kansas City started the game with a punt, but then scored a touchdown on four-straight drives before halftime. It felt like this game was going to be a boat race, but the Bengals held the Chiefs to just points in the second half. Some of this is how long all of the drives took, but they only possessed the ball three times in the second half, and they punted on two of those drives. This is another area that I will be excited to review as I rewatch the game. Not many teams can hold the Chiefs' offense to just a field goal for an entire half.
The Final Decision
The Bengals' final drive was a masterclass in how to perform the “4-minute offense.” With 6 minutes left in the game, the Bengals' offense drove down the field and made sure that the Chiefs would never see the ball again. An awesome showing by Zac Taylor and the Bengals' offense. His unit was stellar for nearly the entire game. This drive includes an insane 3rd-and-27 conversion where Steve Spagnuolo really looked like his former mentor Jim Johnson as he called for an all-out blitz that Burrow and Chase beat.
After a first down to set up 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line the Bengals started their final strategy. They planned on a pair of quarterback sneaks to start where they had no intention of scoring. This allowed the offense to stay at the 1-yard line while still running down the clock.
After those two plays, the Bengals tried to run duo with Joe Mixon for a touchdown. He went down for no gain and now Zac Taylor had a decision to make. Would he kick the field goal and trust his defense to stop the Chiefs? Or would he go for it and try to take a touchdown lead? He chose to go for it.
I have no issues with this decision. In fact, I commend Taylor for having the bravery to go for the touchdown in this situation. If the Chiefs got the ball back they would have been stuck on their 1-yard yard line with less than a minute remaining in the game. If the Bengals scored the touchdown, they all but won the game.
My issue comes with the play calls. Everything ended up working out, so maybe I shouldn't bother criticizing how it went, but on both fourth down attempts, Burrow lined up in the shotgun. This all but removes the possibility that the Bengals are going to run the ball. Shotgun runs just do not hit downfield fast enough to be a viable option in this situation. Still, while I have a problem with lining up in shotgun, I can understand it.
Burrow is more comfortable in the gun and the under-center game is not how the Bengals drove down the field. Taylor wants to put the ball in his quarterback’s hand to win the game. This is something he has learned from and grown over the year.
The first attempt was a goal-line fade to Chase. That is such a low-probability play. I understand that Chase has been unstoppable in this game, but the Chiefs know that as well. The Chiefs guarded it so well that Burrow had to find Mixon on the opposite side of the field as a check down. Mixon then makes a dive at the goal line and none of this matters because there were offsetting penalties.
The Bengals got to replay the down. They lined up in the shotgun again.
The second play is another isolation concept. They tried to work Tee Higgins on some type of return route where he sells inside and then breaks back outside. The Chiefs once again do a good job of covering this route and Burrow just tosses one up on the other side of the field hoping a receiver could come down with it. They were saved by a hands to the face penalty which had no real effect on the play because Burrow really wanted to hit Higgins on the return route.
In the end, the Bengals benefit from the call and win the game, but if the officials held their whistle (like they do on a lot of 4th and goal situations) then the Bengals just had two attempts to win the game and blew them on isolation concepts. This play was to win the game and Taylor called for isolation concepts twice. This is where he needs to unveil a play that he has saved for this situation where he will put their defense in a bind. Try to get two guys going at the same defender so that he cannot be right, pick a defender so there is an easy throw, get the running back involved in the pass concept, etc. The call to go for it ended up working out, but it had nothing to do with the plays that were called.
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