For the second consecutive week, the Cincinnati Bengals offense scored four touchdowns and at least 30 points. So far this year, Zac Taylor‘s game plan and script-writing abilities were brought into question. In their previous six games, the Bengals first drives ended with a pick-six, a field goal, two punts, and two touchdowns.
At the beginning of their biggest game thus far, the Bengals wasted their first four drives with four quick punts against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5. In Week 6, Cincinnati’s first four drives (minus the Trent Taylor muffed punt, of course) resulted in three punts, two of which were three-and-out.
Against Atlanta, that all changed.
Credit Where Credit is Due: Zac Taylor’s Game Plan was Fantastic against Atlanta
Generally, game script refers to the first 15-20 plays in a game. This week, Zac Taylor’s game plan and script started off hot and never cooled off. Cincinnati didn’t have a play resulting in negative yards until their 23rd play with 4:12 to go in the first half where Joe Burrow was sacked for six yards. Their first punt came with just 20 seconds to go in the half.
Joe Burrow Continues to Rebound Spectacularly
Since his disastrous Week 1 performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Burrow has thrown for 1,759 yards and 13 touchdowns with just one interception. In that time, he is still getting sacked at a higher-than-you’d-like rate considering he continues to lead the league in sacks taken. On Sunday, he was sacked three times yet again.
Against the Atlanta Falcons, Zac Taylor’s game plan allowed for Burrow to get rolling early. Three of their four plays in the initial touchdown drive were pass plays, signaling that it was going to be a Burrow game. Tyler Boyd was the beneficiary as he was the target on play one and then went for 60 yards thanks to a play-action 989 concept that left him wide open on a post behind the safeties. On the following drive, the Bengals ran 11 plays, seven of which were through the air.
Joe Burrow after going 34-42 for 481 yards and 3 TDs and being 7 yds away from 3 100-yard receivers: pic.twitter.com/wFYVMrkWPa
— Drew (@DrewCrabtree12) October 24, 2022
While they had explosive plays on Sunday, it seemed like the offense was humming in a way that they haven’t had thus far this year. Before, the Bengals relied on explosive plays or nothing. This time, they could not go wrong. Burrow finished with 481 yards and four touchdowns while completing nearly 81% of his passes. Has an MVP ever had a nuclear meltdown in Week 1 then came back stronger than ever to win the award? If Burrow continues this pace, it can happen.
Burrow is the only quarterback in NFL history with multiple games of 500+ total yards and four touchdowns. Not too bad.
READ MORE: Joe Burrow’s Historic Game Against the Ravens in 2021
Don’t Test the Three Amigos
Ja’Marr Chase. Tee Higgins. Tyler Boyd. A trio of WR1s with no ego lives in Cincinnati and have a legitimate chance of finishing with 1,000 yards each.
Most receiving yards in the NFL over the last two weeks?
🥇 Ja’Marr Chase (262 yards)
🥈 Tyler Boyd (221 yards)
Boyd and Chase have also combined for 5 TDs in the last two weeks.
These two #Bengals wide receivers are destroying defensive backs right now. pic.twitter.com/BpSn6qNmKJ
— Willie Lutz (@willie_lutz) October 24, 2022
For the third time this year, Chase finished with at least 129 yards and a score. Over the past two weeks, Chase has finished with 162 yards and four touchdowns combined. In Week 7, Chase averaged nearly 12 yards per target after hauling in eight of his 11 targets. On his second touchdown for 41 yards, Chase showed off his elite play-making ability by turning a simple hitch into a massive score, outrunning the Falcons secondary. On the season, Chase has the fifth-most yards. Over the past two weeks, he has the most.
Coming in second in receiving yards over the past two weeks is the grizzled veteran of the bunch, Tyler Boyd. With all of the attention on Chase and Higgins, Boyd is often overlooked in the slot. After putting up season-highs in targets, receptions, and yards, Boyd shows no signs of slowing down. As mentioned above, Boyd was the “8” in the Bengals utilization of 989 on the fourth play of the game and showed that he still has game-breaking abilities. Even aside from his 60-yard score, Boyd made a fantastic one-handed grab on the second drive as he ran a crossing route. It was a perfect throw from Burrow and an even better catch from Boyd.
Finally, the lone receiver to come up short on the 100-yard goal, Tee Higgins. The big-body receiver was teased by his peers for coming up seven yards short but there’s only one football to go around. Higgins is a matchup nightmare each and every week because while he may not have the ridiculous breakaway speed of Chase, his catch radius is reminiscent of Chad Johnson. Fitting, since “85 is always open.” Look for Higgins to step up in the coming weeks as defenses try to slow down Chase outside and Boyd in the slot.
Shotgun, No Run
Before the year, it was said that Joe Mixon was going to go off, have a career year, and challenge Rudi Johnson’s single-season mark. After seven weeks, it’s safe to say that this will not happen.
After finishing 2021 with nearly 300 carries (third in the NFL), Mixon is on-pace for about the same in 2022. The difference this year is that the rushing offense has been significantly less efficient. Through seven games, Mixon is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry as compared to 4.4 through the same amount of games last year. Could it be that he’s had fewer chances? Not quite. Joe Mixon has 121 carries thus far this year as compared to 123 through seven games last year.
The issues with the Bengals rush attack have been well-documented. So far, Mixon has yet to eclipse 100 yards and has had his best YPC days when his touches were limited. Oddly enough, the Bengals offense is top-five in rush EPA over the last few weeks.
While he maintained a role in the passing game (4 targets per game).
Mixon’s rushing EPA is 5.64 (4th) since Week 5.
His rushing EPA ranked dead last from Weeks 1-4.
— Andrew Erickson™ (@AndrewErickson_) October 19, 2022
The thing is, this offense is not a run-first offense. Expecting Mixon — or anyone else in that room, for that matter — to go for 150 yards and two touchdowns off of 30 carries is unrealistic. This offense is now predicated on running sparingly out of shotgun. Excluding kneel downs and the final drive against the Falcons, Cincinnati has been in shotgun for all but six plays.
Eight of Mixon’s 17 carries came on the final drive where Cincinnati was just running out the clock. When the Falcons defense knew they were running, Cincinnati was able to move bodies and drive down the field. They elected to kneel at the Atlanta 2-yard-line when they easily could have capped off the drive with yet another touchdown. As a unit, the Bengals offensive line finished with an 82.8 run-blocking grade from PFF.
Cincinnati has figured out its offense. Zac Taylor’s game plan for Atlanta was spot-on.