Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
There wasn’t a lot to be happy about in a frustrating game the Bengals conceivably should have won in Chicago.
The Cincinnati Bengals/Chicago Bears matchup was an ugly one from pretty much start to finish, save for an interesting few minutes late in the fourth quarter. Cincinnati squandered countless opportunities to take control of the game, while their star quarterback was harassed to the inevitable point of creating giveaways to Chicago.
Here are some of the best and worst facets by the Bengals in their 17-20 loss to the Bears in Week 2.
Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins find the end zone again:
Higgins was slated as a breakout receiver in 2021 by many national pundits and with 118 receiving yards and two touchdowns in as many games, he’s proving them right. Chase is rebounding extremely well from a tough preseason, showing that big play ability in both games.
The rookie is averaging 22.1 yards per reception this year and has touchdowns of 50 and 42 yards, respectively. If they can shore up the protection and iron out the turnover issues from this week, this passing attack can become scary very quickly.
This stretch of time at the end of the fourth quarter made us believe the Bengals would be able to pull off the impossible by weathering the storm of four straight possessions with a turnover and get a win. After Joe Burrow threw three interceptions on three straight passes, he amazingly threw two touchdowns on two of his following attempts shortly thereafter.
It was too little, too late, but seeing the team keep fighting to the end was welcomed. Let’s hope they continue that mindset, regardless of how things are going in a game.
The second-year linebacker is looking like a solid pick for the Bengals. Yes, he whiffed on a sure-fire fumble recovery that would have been huge, but atoned later by nabbing a game-changing interception, while notching nine total tackles. He was part of a crew that largely held David Montgomery in check with just 61 rushing yards.
Logan Wilson NFL ranks this season min. 100 snaps:
PFF Grade: 79.6 (5th)
Coverage grade: 83.2 (3rd)
Passer Ruth Allowed: 50.0 (3rd)
Yards per catch: 6.3 (6th)
Missed tackles: 0 (T-1)
This is the kinda leap he needed for the LB room this season. pic.twitter.com/JFw5G4npYY
— Andrew Russell (@PFF_AndrewR) September 20, 2021
The defense—particularly against the run:
It’s easy to point out mistakes from the defense—and there definitely were some—but, for the most part, they did their job. One of Sunday’s primary objectives was to hold Montgomery in check, and they did just that, as evidenced by his 61 yards on the ground and 3.1 yards per carry average.
That and the three sacks were the formulas to success, whether it was Andy Dalton or Justin Fields under center. The Bears only netted 206 total yards on offense, so some credit goes to Lou Anarumo here.
What a weapon. The dude remains perfect through preseason and the regular season, bringing serenity following some of the first two weeks’ most chaotic in-game moments.
It was a frustrating afternoon for the Bengals’ offense, and they barely moved in field goal range to start the third quarter. No problem for McPherson, who drilled a 53-yarder to get the Bengals on the board. He followed it up with two made extra points, and we just wanted him to get the opportunity to tie this one up at the end, honestly.
This loss wasn’t on the refs—the Bengals made enough miscues to proclaim this a game wherein they beat themselves. Still, some egregious calls by the officials made the afternoon even tougher than it should have been.
Burrow was getting hit plenty with at least one seeming to be one that should have been of the flagged ilk. Additionally, a catch by Marquise Goodwin was upheld after almost everybody else figured it would be overturned, while Vonn Bell was tagged with a weak taunting penalty. It just wasn’t the Bengals’ day, and we should have figured that out early with the calls from the striped crew.
Referees missed a lot of calls yesterday. This was one of the worst pic.twitter.com/PvGKp8op7l
— Jack (@Cincinneumeyer) September 20, 2021
The running game and backs’ ineffective pass-blocking:
Last week, Joe Mixon was a huge key to the Bengals’ win over Minnesota with his NFL-leading 129 rushing yards and 150 total from scrimmage. While there weren’t many big-gain gallops by No. 28 against the Vikings, the rush attack was effective and methodical. Fast-forward a week, and it was a completely different story. Mixon and his line couldn’t muster much push and his yards per carry dropped nearly a full yard from the week prior—down to 3.5 from 4.4.
The Bengals seem committed to running the football twice in a three-down series, so at least some of those need to start moving the sticks. To add insult to injury, both Mixon and Samaje Perine are not picking up blitzes well at all, with PFF scores in that facet hovering in the 30s for the first two weeks.
Easy to explain. Play action and the Bears bring 5. Mixon in charge of the free rusher and he just whiffs. Ball is essentially tipped at the line as Burrow can’t really throw it. Mixon falls on his face. Great hands from the big guy to pick this off though. pic.twitter.com/FrRKKOD4C5
— Mike (Sans) (@bengals_sans) September 20, 2021
More questions than answers:
After Week 1, we thought we had a decent idea as to what this team’s identity was: methodical, efficient and performing just well enough in deficient roster areas to become a competitor in the AFC. Oh, the “no quit” mentality and “clutch gene” showed up against Minnesota, too.
No one really wanted to talk about a hangover from playing five quarters and traveling on the road, but it seems we may have seen a bit of that this past Sunday. Additionally, we saw familiar flaws in the offensive game plan and the lack of an ability to put an opponent away. The Bengals want offensive balance, but followed up an NFL-leading rushing performance in Week 1 with one that netted just 69 yards, a 3.5 average and a long attempt of 10 yards.
What is this team’s identity? Was this loss an aberration, or a reality check? How will they respond with another tough test in Pittsburgh next week?
The offensive line:
The Bengals put pretty much all of their eggs in the Frank Pollack and NFL Draft baskets to fix the 2021 offensive line, and it has come with mixed results. The tackles played well last week against the Vikings, but it was a completely different story this week with Burrow collecting four more sacks against Chicago, giving him nine on the year.
With all games in sans MNF, it’s time for the weekly OL review with Grade and Rank among position group:
LT: Williams, 60.1 (43 of 60)
LG: Spain, 66.7 (19 of 62)
C: Hopkins, 46.1 (26 of 30)
RG: XSF, 50.0 (52 of 62)
RT: Reiff, 60.7 (41 of 60)
— Andrew Russell (@PFF_AndrewR) September 20, 2021
Xavier Su’a-Filo is now dealing with a leg injury and Taylor said he is “day-to-day”, so Jackson Carman might get his first NFL start against the Steelers. Regardless, this unit needs to play markedly better to not only get an important win next week in Pittsburgh, but also to keep Burrow healthy. Oh, it would be nice to regain consistency in the run game as well.
Four consecutive second-half drives:
Last week, Burrow talked about how the team scoring right before half and then getting the ball right back in the third quarter and doing it again was something they strive for weekly. Cincinnati achieved the latter portion of the formula against the Bears and then quickly got the ball back again, hoping to gain a lead.
Unfortunately, Higgins fumbled the ball away on a nice first down gain and then Burrow threw three interceptions—one a pick-six—on his next three throws. It was an unbelievable sequence of events that gifted the Bears 13 points and, ultimately, the game.
The offensive play-calling:
It almost felt as if the Bengals watched film of how the Rams dismantled the Bears with deep passes in Week 1 and said: “Nah, let’s not do that”. Taylor noted on Monday that they had some deep shots called earlier than the ones witnessed with about five minutes left in the game, but Chicago’s defense had taken those opportunities away.
Fine. However, the ability and/or appearance of having the ability to throw deep keeps a defense honest. It can open up opportunities in the run game and for shorter yards-after-the-catch opportunities, not to mention hitting the actual deep passes themselves.
To boot, Burrow has been one of the league’s most efficient passes in the intermediate areas of the field in games he has started and that wasn’t called upon much, either. Just a confusing plan of attack this week by Taylor and Co.
A lot of “yeah, but’s”:
While we’ve called out a lot of players and the defense for some nice moments on Sunday, they almost all came with a bit of “yeah, but they also (insert play here)”. Hendrickson is becoming more known for letting Justin Fields slip through his grasp than his 1.5 sacks on the day, Tee Higgins had another touchdown catch, but also a crucial fumble, while Burrow almost led the team to one of its wildest comebacks after throwing three picks on three straight throws. Do we want to bring up Wilson’s missed fumble recovery again? Ouch.
There are so many others, but the point is that these elements simply can’t happen in what was a winnable game. The Bengals looked to have turned a corner in Week 1, only to show up at a familiar street sign from 2020. If even just half of these things fell the Bengals’ way (i.e. they made the plays they were supposed to), we’d be talking about a different result.