When you watch the Cincinnati Bengals offense, you see some similarities to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Those similarities could be taken in both positive and negatives ways, too. Like Pittsburgh's, Cincinnati's offense hasn't exactly lit the world on fire during the early portion of the 2021 campaign. However, there are flashes of what they could eventually evolve into. Below is a breakdown of what to expect when they attempt to move the ball through the air on Sunday at Heinz Field.
From a schematic standpoint, Zac Taylor's offense is designed to get the football out of Joe Burrow's hands quickly. It's easy to understand why when you consider the Bengals' new look offensive line and the number of weapons that Burrow has at his disposal.
The Bengals love to come out in empty sets with Burrow in shotgun. The Steelers are no strangers to teams doing this against them. Tom Brady obliterated them with these designs years ago. However, the Steelers' defense had a good amount of success stopping Josh Allen in empty formations during their week one matchup.
Empty personnel works in a handful of ways, such as limiting some of the exotic blitz packages that defenses conjure up. However, it's also dependent that the offensive line can handle their one on one matchups up front. If Burrow can't get the ball out quickly, the Steelers front should wreak havoc in the backfield.
Speaking of Joe Burrow, he's coming off a season-ending surgery and while he is fully healthy, he doesn't look 100% like the guy we saw break passing records at LSU.
Coming out of college, Burrow was known for having a knack for manipulating the pocket reminiscent of guys like Tony Romo. He doesn't appear quite as quick or comfortable just yet and that's understandable, considering the magnitude of the injury that he suffered.
A strength of Burrow's is his accuracy and ability to work through the quick passing game. He loves working the underneath stuff, especially in the shallow middle of the field. At times, his ability to get the ball out quickly can mitigate some of his offensive line struggles.
The glaring weakness in Burrow's game is that he possesses just average arm strength for an NFL starter. Burrow prefers to stay away from sideline throws when possible. There are even completions along the sideline where you can see a lack of velocity where the ball dies on him a little bit.
In their lone matchup last year, the Steelers deployed some trail coverages and tried to force Burrow into making tough throws towards the sideline. They were successful in doing so, holding him to just 213 yards on 40 passing attempts.
It's worth noting that Burrow threw three interceptions last week on consecutive passes against the Bears. While one of those wasn't necessarily his fault, the Steelers will undoubtedly be given an opportunity for a takeaway on Sunday.
Cincinnati does have formidable weapons at their disposal, and their trip of receivers is pretty comparable to Pittsburgh's. Ja'Marr Chase was Joe Burrow's number one target when they played together at LSU.
Chase is a smooth but explosive athlete who works his best when tracking deep balls down the sideline. He's already hauled in a couple touchdowns and should have had at least one more, if not for a bad miss from Burrow against Chicago.
Tyler Boyd handles all of the slot work and he's been one of the best inside guys at the position for several years now. Boyd is a crafty route runner who gives defenders fits on underneath routes. While he doesn't seem to get much downfield work, he's certainly capable at the catch point and with the ball in his hands.
The Bengals will likely be without Tee Higgins on Sunday as he is listed as doubtful. Higgins is a guy who can do a little bit of everything. While not quite the athlete that Chase is, he's also a bigger receiver who can go over the middle of the field and can win deep balls by bringing in contested catches.
The jump ball area is where Higgins made a living in college. It's fair to speculate that Auden Tate will see an increased role on Sunday as he has a similar build and play style to Higgins. It's worth noting, however, that Mike Thomas has out-snapped Tate each of the last two games.
C.J. Uzomah is the number one tight end in Cincinnati. He possesses ideal size for what you are looking for out of that position, standing 6-5, 260 pounds. More of a run blocker and while he's never been a dynamic receiving threat, he's a reliable target in the middle of the field.
Lastly, you can't forget about Joe Mixon. For years, fantasy football players have been begging the Bengals to get him more involved in the passing game. Unfortunately for those folks, that simply has not come to fruition just yet. Mixon has the skill set of a guy that you would want to get the ball out in space more. With Gio Bernard now in Tampa Bay, he could see more receiving work as the season wears on.
Hopefully, the Steelers' defense will be healthier this Sunday on the defensive side of the ball. Regardless, they will have their hands full with Cincinnati's weapons. It would be wise to make sure they keep a lid on the explosive plays from Ja'Marr Chase, as well as dominate the line of scrimmage. If they do those things, they have a good shot at being successful in shutting this attack down.
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