Even though the game was tight, there was a lot to smile about this week, if you are a Bengals fan.
What a win! For the first time as the Bengals’ head coach, Zac Taylor has a winning record, as Cincinnati Bengals Nation is feeling good at 1-0.
Here are the best and worst facets to Cincinnati’s thrilling Week 1 overtime win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Many wondered how Burrow would look in his first return to significant NFL game action since his devastating knee injury last November. And, while there were a few signs of rust, the efficiency, occasional big play and evidence of his “clutch gene” were obvious on Sunday.
Burrow finished the day 20-of-27 (74% completion rate) for 261 yards, two touchdowns and zero turnovers. The play at the end of overtime wherein Burrow audibled to a play-action pass on fourth and inches was vintage No. 9, as it led to the game-winning field goal with time expiring.
The Ja’Marr Chase rebound:
For weeks, No. 1 has been dragged through the mud because of some preseason drops—four of them in two games, to be exact. Whether it was the national media or even a contingent of Bengals fans themselves, Chase had to fight through what seemed like a major mental block to get himself ready for the season.
The No. 5 overall pick responded in a HUGE way on Sunday, logging five catches on seven targets for 101 yards and a touchdown. The big 50-yard play in the second quarter from Burrow was a rewind back to the duo’s 2019 NCAA Championship campaign.
— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) September 12, 2021
Tee Higgins, the quiet monster:
Chase was the team’s leading receiver and got the lion’s share of attention, but let’s not forget about No. 85. He had a touchdown catch of his own after caused a momentum-swinging pass interference penalty, tying the game at 7-7 in the second quarter. Higgins left with cramps for a bit, but had four catches for 58 yards and the score.
The fruits of committing to Joe Mixon:
The Bengals invested so heavily in boosting the passing game the past couple of offseasons, but Zac Taylor and Co. still talked about how they wanted Mixon and the run game to be a huge part of the offense. Some folks bristled at the idea, noting the move to a more pass-happy league, but at least for Week 1, Cincinnati committed its offensive plan to using Mixon plenty.
Early down pass rate over expected (based on situation).
The season opener had the two pass-happiest teams, and wow, Bengals pic.twitter.com/vizVO8CTiR
— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) September 14, 2021
And, it worked. Mixon had a methodical 127 rushing yards and a 4.4 yards per carry average on 29 carries, en route to a FedEx Ground Player of the Week nomination. He also had four receptions for 23 yards, further showcasing how he’ll likely be featured in 2021.
Sound offensive tackle play:
National and even some local pundits knocked the Bengals for going with Chase at No. 5 in the draft and opting only to with a rental-like deal with Riley Reiff in free agency to remedy the offensive line issues in free agency. Cincinnati used second, fourth and sixth round picks on linemen in the draft, respectively, but none of those three saw action on Sunday as current backups.
Lost in those conversations was Cincinnati’s No. 11 overall investment back in 2019 with Jonah Williams. He and Reiff teamed up to play at high levels in the pass blocking department on Sunday, with Williams having an 84.8 PFF pass blocking grade, while Reiff had a 78 PFF pass blocking grade. Oh, and there’s this:
— Dan Hoard (@Dan_Hoard) September 13, 2021
The new tandem of B.J. Hill and Larry Ogunjobi and interior defensive line, overall:
Cincinnati swung a masterful trade before final cuts, sending Billy Price to New York for Hill, as a potential boost to an already-deep, albeit somewhat-banged-up defensive line. It appears that a reunion with Lou Anarumo has done wonders for Hill, as he was everywhere on Sunday.
Ogunjobi was one of the best overall players on the field Sunday. He was continuously in the Vikings’ backfield, as he and Hill combined for nine total tackles, three sacks and four tackles for loss. Throw in D.J. Reader’s 75.8 overall PFF grade on the day and the Bengals are fielding a formidable interior.
Larry Ogunjobi using the C’s corpse to sack the QB pic.twitter.com/9QUWSRYwI3
— Mike (Sans) (@bengals_sans) September 13, 2021
A couple of young guns at linebacker:
It was a pretty good day for two linebackers who seem to be hitting their stride in their young careers. Germaine Pratt had eight total tackles, including one for loss, as well as the game-changing forced fumble on Dalvin Cook.
Meanwhile, Akeem Davis-Gaither took his preseason momentum and parlayed it into some nice snaps in Week 1. He was particularly sound in coverage, per PFF:
Breakout candidate Akeem Davis-Gaither had a 79.9 coverage grade.
— Chris Roling (@Chris_Roling) September 14, 2021
Many members of the secondary:
Vonn Bell, Jessie Bates III, Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie all had solid games against the Vikings on Sunday. We knew the trio of Cook, Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson would get theirs, and they did to some degrees, but this group was flying all over the place.
Bates and Bell combined for 16 tackles with one for loss, while Awuzie had two passes defended and Hilton notching another tackle for loss. This group is working well together and haven’t had the luxury of playing Trae Waynes, yet.
Whether it was in the preseason games or on Sunday, McPherson hasn’t missed a kick as a pro. He was 2-of-2 on Sunday, including a 53-yarder and the game-winning 33-yard attempt, as the gun sounded in overtime.
Chase had an outstanding day and there is potential for a lot of quality snaps from the 2021 draft class, but don’t laugh: McPherson is giving “Uno” a run for his money as the best rookie in the class. And, when watching Justin Tucker on Monday night, it’s hard to not want to compare the two. It’s also an especially satisfying end to this Week 1, as compared to how Week 1 concluded in 2020.
The master of special teams, Darrin Simmons:
His kicker nailed two big kicks, the receiver he likely pounded the table for at final cuts—Stanley Morgan—had a nice downed punt late in the game and his new punt returner had 10.6 yards per his five runbacks. The coach just knows how to put things together within his unit.
Both teams left Paul Brown Stadium healthy:
Regardless of the outcome, you hate to see a game filled with injuries—big or small. Mixon and Higgins left in spurts with cramps and Burrow was limping after taking a sack, but all of them seem to be okay, as do much of the Vikings. It was a small miracle, given five full quarters of play, but nice to see nothing major for either team.
The aggressive Zac Taylor who giveth:
Taylor was an out-of-the-box-thinking kind of hire for the usually-conservative Bengals. His offensive mind, team-building vision and confidence for his young age won Cincinnati’s front office staff over three years ago.
Fast-forward to 2021 where Taylor has many of the players he desires, and he’s showing us that he’s going to go for it often on critical fourth-down plays. The Bengals had a huge touchdown drive in the third quarter, wherein Taylor opted to go for it at the Vikings’ 25-yard line instead of opting for a field goal.
And, of course, going for it in overtime on their own 48-yard line with just over a minute to play, showed the mindset of playing to win and not to tie. Also, the play call, whether it was Burrow or Taylor: *Chef’s Kiss.
Also, getting a win in one of those infamous one-possession games? I’ll take it.
We knew there would be a rough patch in the secondary with Apple getting the spot start for Trae Waynes and because of the weapons Minnesota has at receiver. The hope was that he’d get by with stable play for the short-term to help the Bengals get past these early weeks with some wins.
Unfortunately, Apple had a particularly rough stretch in the second quarter and was victimized a couple of other times. He’ll likely get the start again this week against Chicago with Trae Waynes being ruled out again by Zac Taylor early this week.
Very rough drive for Bengals CB Eli Apple.
— missed tackle on 3rd-and-24.
— defensive holding that negates a sack
— in the area when Cousins found Adam Thielen for a 5-yard TD.
— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) September 12, 2021
Few answers for old friend, Nick Vigil:
Every once in a while, a former Bengals player comes in and inexplicably makes his mark in a revenge game against their former employer. Such was the case for Vigil, who had one of the best games of his six pro seasons.
Vigil had nine total tackles, a sack and another tackle for loss in the game. It seems that Mike Zimmer is getting a lot out of the veteran linebacker later in his career. While the Bengals still made their share of plays, the extra sting of a former player balling out against Cincinnati was tough to bear.
The aggressive Zac Taylor who taketh:
We talked about the two great fourth-down plays that worked in the Bengals’ favor, but what also comes with going for it on multiple occasions is the shooting of oneself in the foot. Such was the case in the third quarter when the Bengals had a commanding 21-7 lead late in the third quarter.
Mixon couldn’t push through for a yard and Minnesota ended up scoring four plays later on their own huge fourth-down conversion. Bates noted in postgame interviews that he was “pissed” at the decision, but the ever-confident Taylor rallied the team on the sideline to let them know that these types of decisions on critical downs would be part of their identity this year. While it all worked out in the end and he made some other great calls, this one was a bit of a head-scratcher.
Interior pressure allowed by the offensive line, backs and others:
We can’t really place much blame on Quinton Spain and his 79.8 overall PFF score on the day (second-best overall on the entire team), most of the five sacks allowed on Burrow were on the interior of the line and a group of others. Vigil and Harrison Smith came shooting in on blitzes that weren’t properly picked up, as evidenced by pass blocking scores in the 30s by Mixon and Samaje Perine.
However, when you don’t credit the tackles with a hit, sack or pressure in Burrow’s 32 dropbacks, there is a spotlight to shine. Danielle Hunter had a sack working inside and Michael Pierce had two sacks from his defensive tackle position as well. Trey Hopkins, who is working back from a Week 17 knee injury from last year, had a 36.3 overall PFF score, while Xavier Su’a-Filo logged a 59.6. Drew Sample also had a rough afternoon, adding to some of the non-tackle blocking woes.
Here’s how the OL looks after a full week of play with overall PFF Grade and position rank.
LT Williams – 73.1 (15 of 59)
LG Spain – 79.7 (4 of 62)
C Hopkins – 36.3 (30 of 31)
RG XSF – 59.6 (38 of 62)
RT Reiff – 62.2 (29 of 59)
— Andrew Russell (@PFF_AndrewR) September 14, 2021