Silver Linings From the Cincinnati Bengals Super Bowl LVI Loss

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While the Cincinnati Bengals may have fallen to the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI, there are plenty of details that are worth highlighting. There’s just too much negativity surrounding this Bengals Super Bowl LVI performance that the universe requires correction.

Were there deplorable performances by the offensive line, Eli Apple, and situational playcalling? Absolutely. Bengals fans have to accentuate the good. Despite those negatives, Cincinnati was a play away.

What Went Right for the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI

Joe Mixon is Good, Actually

There’s been a whole lot of talk regarding whether or not Joe Mixon is a good running back. Mixon finished third in the league in rushing. That is despite running behind the worst offensive line in football. He is still disrespected. Now, could that be because paying your running back $48MM is dumb? Possibly. Could it be due to his past? Possibly. But Mixon showed a national audience that he is the Bengals best running back and a top-three back in the league.

Mixon finished with 72 yards off of 15 carries to go with his six-yard touchdown pass. None of those carries were bigger than during the Bengals final full drive where they started in the shadow of their endzone fresh off of an ugly sack on Burrow. Everyone in the stadium knew Mixon was getting the ball to start the drive both due to the injury and the fact they went out there with jumbo packages. Mixon broke off a 12-yarder followed by an eight-yarder. After a run for no gain, Cincinnati threw it a couple of times before getting back to Mixon on a four-yard gain. That carry ended up being the last time he touched the ball.

Eight of Mixon’s rushes resulted in four or more yards. Of those, he had 12, 13, and 14-yard gainers. He had the four longest runs of either team on the night. There was only one instance where he didn’t get positive yards and even then, it was a rush for no gain. The fact the Bengals took him off the field for the final drive was crazy, especially when one considers they needed one yard to keep the drive going. Packages and gamesmanship are out the window, does it make sense to run with Samaje Perine or your franchise running back? Taylor did recently come out to say that his decision to run the ball was made with little time left on the play clock. He didn’t want to waste a time out.

Regardless, Mixon’s vision and ability to make defenders miss in the backfield – which there are always defenders in the backfield with that offensive line – proved that he is a top back. There is no Bengals Super Bowl LVI appearance without Mixon.

Defensive Front Seven

If the Bengals Super Bowl LVI defensive game plan was to make LA one-dimensional, they succeeded with flying colors. Yes, forcing Matthew Stafford to throw the ball does tend to play into the Rams strengths. When one considers the weapons he had going into the game, that is especially so. But the front seven of Cincinnati effectively turned the Rams rush attack into a non-issue.

LA rushed for a total of 43 yards and Cam Akers led the way with a whopping 21 yards off of 13 carries. Six of those carries resulted in either no gain or a loss. D.J. Reader, B.J. Hill, and Sam Hubbard imposed their will on the Rams offensive line and that allowed for massive days for Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson. Wilson led all defenders with three tackles for loss with Hubbard right behind him with his two. In the run game, the Bengals front won almost every battle.

When it came to the passing game, one would think the Bengals didn’t do well. It’s extremely easy to think so when Aaron Donald is personally causing Joe Burrow‘s insurance rate to go up with every play. But, as a whole, the Bengals got six pressures on Stafford which resulted in a pair of sacks thanks to Reader and Trey Hendrickson.

While not every pressure is made the same, it was clear that Stafford was not completely comfortable in the pocket. Do they still have room for improvement? Absolutely, and the interior defensive line is likely going to be an area Cincinnati looks to fortify. However, Hendrickson was winning more reps against Andrew Whitworth than he was losing. Wilson, when tasked with coverage, did a phenomenal job outside of his game-extending controversial holding penalty. Not many linebackers can be tasked with covering Cooper Kupp and live to tell the tale.

This Bengals defense is just getting better. Give them a corner to go opposite Chidobe Awuzie that isn’t the entire nation’s public enemy number one due to his sub-par play but elite Twitter smack-talking ability, Cincinnati isn’t going anywhere.

These Young Receivers are Legit

As bad as that corner was, he wasn’t Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey is, allegedly, the best corner in the NFL. Missed pass interference or not, Ramsey was beaten for five receptions on eight targets for 159 yards and a touchdown.

Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase were open when Ramsey covered them. Of the three incompletions, only one was actually due to a play made by Ramsey.

In their first Super Bowl appearance, Higgins and Chase had themselves a day. Higgins turned seven targets into four receptions for 100 yards and two touchdowns. Chase saw eight targets. He hauled in five for 89 yards including a ridiculous one-handed grab over Ramsey.

Even on plays where Ramsey wasn’t targeted, he was cooked by these young receivers. On the last play of the game for Cincinnati, Chase burnt Ramsey so badly, he was on the ground and was about to score the game-winning touchdown. Given the Bengals offense and its history, the route that Chase was to run wasn’t just an outside-release go route, it was an option. Ramsey played him in press, so the only option was to beat him deep. If Ramsey had played him soft, the route would likely have been a slant.

Time and time again, Chase and Higgins made plays for this Bengals offense. Plus, even with Tyler Boyd dropping his first pass since Week 17 of the 2020 season, there is no confidence lost. He’s such a reliable third-down option that the @Bengals account tweets “3rd and Boyd” every time he converts.

Give Burrow 0.5 seconds more in the pocket and these three will combine for another 3,000+ yards in 2022.

Burrow is Still That Dude

Twitter is inundated with “what Burrow will be if the Bengals don’t get an offensive line” memes of Andrew Luck. Regardless of whether or not Luck overcame 19 sacks in a single post-season to come one play away from a title, it’s only natural to compare the two. Luck took a beating in his career. He fell out of love with the game and called it quits.

Respectfully, the two are very different. Burrow takes a ridiculous amount of sacks. But his playstyle invites the pressure. He’s always been known for extending and salvaging plays. They got burnt several times this year. But they also benefited. In the AFC Championship game alone, Burrow was forced to extend at least three third downs due to pressure and was able to convert them all. Not to mention the fact that the Burrow-to-Chase combo was lethal all year, especially on scramble drills.

The hits take their toll. Burrow ended up spraining his MCL on a brutal fourth-quarter sack.

They were still a play away.

The Bengals Super Bowl LVI run does not happen with any of the quarterbacks of Cincinnati’s past. Just Burrow. Get this man a middle-of-the-pack offensive line and watch him contend for an MVP.

Close But No Cigar

The Bengals Super Bowl LVI experience will forever be home to a dozen “what if” moments. They couldn’t get it done in the end.

Looking at silver linings isn’t about being content with second place or being okay with a loss. It’s about celebrating the achievements of this 2021 Bengals squad. Realistically, they could be considered the best team in franchise history.

Think of it this way: the Bengals offensive line was one of the worst in the modern football era and they still came within a play from winning it all. Let’s celebrate the 2021 AFC North Champions. Let’s celebrate the 2021 AFC Champions. Expect more but be grateful for what you have. It could be worse. Cincinnati could have missed the playoffs with no quarterback and be stuck in salary cap hell. Instead, they almost won it all. They have Joey Franchise, a ridiculously talented core, a coach who was just extended, and way more cap space than they know what to do with.

The Bengals are not satisfied with this result and neither are the fans. They shouldn’t be. But provide positivity and show them that the fans believe that they can be back and contend for Super Bowl LVII.

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