Week 2 Breakdown: Cincinnati Bengals

A classic AFC North showdown took place last week, as the Cincinnati Bengals traveled up to Lake Erie to take on the rival Cleveland Browns for Week 2’s Thursday Night Football matchup.

The Bengals were coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, where kicker Randy Bullock missed a field goal in the final seconds that would’ve tied the game, and potentially send it to overtime. The loss was even more painful because QB Joe Burrow had thrown what should’ve been the go-ahead touchdown to WR A.J. Green, but an offensive pass interference call reversed the score, leading to Bullock’s miss. Both teams came into Week 2 looking for their first win, along with major bragging rights in this cross-state rivalry.

The two division foes would feature a common denominator in this game that was highly-anticipated: the duel between two former Heisman trophy winners and first-overall picks, rookie QB Joe Burrow and third-year QB Baker Mayfield.

Although the game turned into a shootout and certainly didn’t disappoint, Cincinnati would come out on the losing end with a 35-30 defeat. We all know there are no moral victories in football, but Bengals fans can, once again, come out of this loss with some hope and confidence in the future of the organization.

JOE BURROW & CO’S SECOND OUTING

Photo Credit: Ron Schwane for AP Photos / Bengals.com

As we went over in my review of last week’s game, the 2020 first-overall pick Joe Burrow looked like a future star, albeit in a losing effort. He wasn’t spectacular in his debut, but undoubtedly looked good in his second start and made the Bengals’ offense look much more respectable on the national stage. The confidence and swagger was again on full display. Burrow battled all night to keep his team in the game, but a few mishaps and costly penalties really hurt throughout the evening.

Burrow, like in Week 1’s loss to the Chargers, missed on a few big shots to former All-Pro wide-receiver A.J. Green. Of course, the rookie will have his fair share of missed opportunities, as does every quarterback. But, it was still a positive sign to see Burrow feeding Green targets, as he would have 13 on the night. The QB-WR duo showed promise, just as they did in the first game. It was also good to see Cincinnati come out aggressive, with a deep pass to Green on the very first play from scrimmage, although the pass would be ruled incomplete, as the receiver could not get a second foot down along the sideline.

Despite his volume, however, Green had a subpar outing. On his 13 targets, the seven-time Pro-Bowler would only record three receptions for 29 yards and no scores. He was harassed and covered like a glove by Browns cornerback Denzel Ward all night. Ward gave Green very little breathing room to get anything going and made the receiver look, well, old.

A notable instance where Joe Burrow showed his inexperience was on a first-quarter play where he rolled to the outside, tried to spin back in, and couldn’t escape a Sheldon Richardson sack. Burrow is known as an intelligent player, but he should’ve thrown the ball away on that play with nowhere to go — rookie mistake. The next play, the snap would go over his head as he turned back to signal for a timeout, but luckily, he was able to fall on the ball and recover.

Burrow would finish the game with an impressive stat line of 316 yards, three TDs, and no interceptions, completing 37 passes on a whopping 61 attempts for a 90.6 QB rating.

Tyler Boyd was the Bengal’s best receiving threat on the night, which fans have become accustomed to over the past few seasons. Although he would finish third on the team in targets, Boyd was the team’s leading receiver with seven receptions for 72 yards and a score. The touchdown came late in the game as the team was fighting to make a comeback, and was also redemption for a terrible dropped pass he had earlier that would’ve been a score. He also had a nice chain-moving catch on fourth down, where Burrow threw a sharp pass to the outside off of a rub route. These are the kind of plays that you have to give your rookie signal-caller to ease the burden off of him and help grow his confidence.

WR Mike Thomas, who’s surprisingly been heavy in the wide-receiver rotation, made a nice slant move on Ward to score a TD early in the fourth quarter.

It was a bittersweet night for the tight end group. Starter C.J. Uzomah, who also seemed to be developing a little chemistry with Joe Burrow, was carted off the field with what would later be diagnosed as a torn Achilles, As we know, the devastating injury is a season-ender and possibly even career-threatening. Prior to his exit, Burrow tossed a lovely touchdown to Uzomah, where the QB dropped the ball right between the safety and underneath defenders towards the pylon. This was most certainly a “pro throw,” as well as a nice response to a Cleveland touchdown the previous drive.

The 2019 second-round pick Drew Sample is now the incumbent starter, and will certainly see an increased workload, given the propensity for Burrow to throw to his TEs — something we see commonly among rookies and young QBs. Sample made good use of his increase in snaps, hauling in seven passes, including a one-handed highlight grab that showed off his hands. Not too many other significant plays made by Sample, but the TE was very scrappy on his blocks. He was getting really feisty with Browns defenders. It should also be noted that the team ran plenty of multi-TE sets throughout the game, to take advantage of the Browns’ line-up.

The running backs couldn’t get anything going in Week 2. A big part of that was the offensive line, which we’ll get to shortly. Another factor was also, simply, limited opportunities. Running back Joe Mixon did garner 16 carries for a measly 46 yards, but the game’s script didn’t allow him to be featured as much. Backup RB Gio Bernard had just one carry in the game, while Mixon was only able to muster up a bunch of short gains on the evening, He was unable to break free on several potential gains, as there were constantly multiple defenders converging on him; the star RB’s longest carry for the game would only go for nine yards.

In regards to the much-maligned O-line, the unit had another rough day. Starting from the opening drive, on second down, left guard Michael Jordan got pushed back off of the snap, letting the defender get a hand on Joe Burrow, who was still able to complete a short pass to Mike Thomas. Jordan was beaten again the next down, but Burrow was able to escape up middle for a first down. Only two weeks into his professional career, the rookie QB does not hesitate if the defense gives him any bit of open grass or a running lane. Two plays later, center Trey Hopkins missed his block, which stopped Mixon in the backfield for only a short three-yard gain. This was pretty much the theme for Mixon and the running game, with the backs taking first-contact at the line of scrimmage. On third down of the same drive, left tackle Jonah Williams gave up the team’s first sack when he was bull-rushed by Browns DL Adrian Clayborn.

Offensive lineman Fred Johnson whiffed on several blocks, too. On one particular first-half play, he got put on his ass by Browns defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, and almost rolled into Joe Burrow’s legs. Richardson gave the Bengals’ interior line trouble the entire contest. Another disastrous play came on the first drive of the first half, when stud defensive end Myles Garrett beat both Johnson and Bengals offensive tackle Bobby Hart with a slick move to crush Burrow, resulting in a fumble, recovered by Cleveland. Johnson would redeem himself late in the third with a good block that helped Gio Bernard score a TD, though the score was reversed and ruled down at the one-yard line.

Cincinnati’s offensive line would give up a total of seven QB hits, three sacks, and five tackles for loss.

COULD THE DEFENSE KEEP IT UP?

Photo Credit: Ron Schwane for AP Photos / Bengals.com

The Bengals defense played quite well in their season opener, holding a good Chargers offense to just 16 points. Even while having some key players out due to injury, the unit held firm. There was no doubt that Cleveland’s offense would be another good test to see where the Bengals stood, and that the Browns would absolutely come out trying to save face from their embarrassing output in Week 1 against the rival Baltimore Ravens.

Cincinnati’s linebacking corps, particularly Germaine Pratt and Josh Bynes, struggled the entire game. The run defense was horrid, as the Browns’ RB duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt bludgeoned their way to 210 yards and three touchdowns combined. It seemed as if Cleveland’s backs shed tackles at will, practically having their way with the Bengals defense. The LBs had a hard time in coverage, as well, with Baker Mayfield’s trademark roll-out plays stretching the defense laterally. This really stresses the intermediate parts of the field and tests defenders in that area, especially middle linebackers and safeties. Pratt’s inexperience and Bynes’ lack of speed stuck out like a sore thumb in this game. Play-action also gave them big problems.

Pressure from the front-seven was simply non-existent. Mayfield did not have a recorded hit or sacked, and had all day to throw. He was flushed out of the pocket a few times, but just couldn’t get down. There was only one recorded tackle-for-loss in the game, which came from D.J. Reader. The team’s big free-agent acquisition this offseason, made his presence felt on quite a few occasions. Reader would finish with six tackles, including one for negative yardage. Following the game, Reader would admit, “There were just too many yards rushing, and everyone has to be better from the point of attack, starting with me.”

Defensive tackle Christian Covington had a pretty solid game. He would only finish the evening with three tackles, but you would think it was more how he seemed to be around the ball quite a bit. He, along with several of the other defensive linemen, had a bunch of near-finishes, just missing tackles by a hair.

At one point in the second quarter, the defense used a three-man rush on a 3rd-and-17, and still gave up a gain of 16. The Bengals would luck out, however, as the Browns punted on the very next play.

On a Kareem Hunt TD reception, there seemed to be some confusion when DE Carlos Dunlap chipped the RB on a wheel route, but still let him release freely up the side with no one in that back part of the end zone to cover that area of the field.

Cincinnati’s defensive front wasn’t the only reason for bad run defense. The defensive backs also missed several tackles during the game. Chubb and Hunt channelled their inner Jim Brown and Earnest Byner, the way they were running through the Cincinnati defense. Bengals defenders looked like they wanted no parts, for most of the night.

When checking the box score and seeing Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell with ten and eight tackles respectively, you’d imagine the safety pair had a pretty good night. In all actuality, neither had great showings, with Bates getting ran over a bunch. It was a letdown performance from the third-year safety after being the highest-graded safety in Week 1, per Pro Football Focus.

Cornerback Mackensie Alexander notched a few nice plays in run support, including a nice stop on Nick Chubb for no gain on the Browns’ first drive. CB Darius Phillips gave up a few plays to the more experienced Cleveland wide-outs, but he also provided some tight coverage on a couple of occasions.

William Jackson III, the Bengals’ undisputed top corner, had an up-and-down night. He had a tough assignment coming into the game, and it got the best of him when Odell Beckham, Jr. burnt him with a great route that went for a 43-yard TD. This pass came on a Mayfield roll-out as well — go figure! Jackson would earn his payback however, with a crucial interception late in the third quarter, just as the Browns were marching up the field. Cleveland was essentially in the red zone, already up 28-16, but tried to get too cute on the play. Jackson made them pay, as he kept sinking back to the end zone since nothing was on the backside of him to occupy. He played it very well, and Baker Mayfield never saw him coming, throwing his lone INT of the night. Jackson also had the defense’s only pass deflection in the game. After the game, regarding his surrendered TD, Jackson told reporters, “It just was not smart on my part…It is nothing I can’t correct.”

At the end of the day, Cincinnati had plenty of chances to come back and take the lead, but the defense just couldn’t get the necessary stops. They’ll have a good shot at doing so against their next opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles; a team that has been slipping and playing far below expectations in the 2020 season.

SPECIALISTS

Dynamic kick-returner Brandon Wilson set up the offense with great field position with some major returns (45 and 42 yards). After those two kickoffs, the Browns would aim for touchbacks for the remainder of the night.

Bengals kicker Randy Bullock looked just fine following a missed game-tying field goal in the Chargers game. Although he’d come down with an injury that caused the team to sign a free-agent, Bullock bounced back in a strong way, nailing all three of his field goals and each of his three extra-point kicks. Bengals fans should worry less; there are many more, less-reliable kickers around the league than Bullock, and he’s still healthy — for now.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Photo Credit: Ron Schwane for AP Photos / Bengals.com

The Cincinnati Bengals’ defense had problems with the Browns’ run game and play-action attack all night. The defensive line let Baker Mayfield have too much time to find open receivers. Cleveland’s running backs were plowing through the first and second levels of the defense, further magnifying the absence of All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins. The defensive unit will look to bounce back Week 3 and should have a better chance going up against an Eagles team with a depleted receiving corps and O-line.

On offense, the Bengals opened up the playbook more and was less conservative than they were in Week 1. The running game struggled to manufacture anything, which in turn, hurt the passing game. After falling behind, the team couldn’t feature star RB Joe Mixon as much as they would’ve liked, and rookie quarterback Joe Burrow would end up throwing the ball 60-plus times. Burrow showed good velocity on his throws, and he did a great job of standing tall in the pocket to deliver strikes. He checked down when he needed to, taking what the defense gave him. Burrow and the Cincinnati offense put the league on notice in Week 2; there’s no reason to think the best isn’t yet to come.

TIDBITS…

  • Rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins logged 60 snaps on offense.
  • When asked about Joe Burrow calling him “his guy” in a post-game interview, WR Tyler Boyd said, “It is great that we have that connection so early.”
  • According to ESPN Analytics, the Bengals rank 17th in “Team Run Block Win Rate” (70%), and 21st in “Team Pass Block Win Rate” (54%).

(Featured Image Credit: David Richard for AP Photos / Bengals.com)

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