American Football

Tuesday Trenches: Leave No Doubt

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Tuesday Trenches: Leave No Doubt
Sam Greene / USA TODAY NETWORK

I will never understand why Remember the Titans is rarely quoted.

The Bengals officially won the AFC North after the Week 17 game against the Buffalo Bills was canceled by the NFL, but it didn’t really feel officially official until the game ended on Sunday and the Bengals had beaten the Baltimore Ravens by a score of 27-16. They are now back-to-back division champions for the first time in team history, and they are guaranteed a home playoff game.

Here are a few things that went right and a couple that didn’t in the Bengals regular season finale against the Ravens.

First, the situation:

There isn’t much point in talking about the situation the NFL put the Bengals in when they canceled the game against the Bills. Don’t get me wrong, I fully agree the game should have been canceled. Rescheduling an entire post season would be a logistical nightmare.

But there’s the coin toss. It seems to me that every rule change they made was for the benefit of every team involved, other than the Bengals. Had the Ravens won on Sunday, they could have potentially hosted the Bengals in the playoffs based on the results of a coin flip. That coin flip never took place, because the Bengals won, but wouldn’t it have made sense to flip the coin before the game? If the Bengals were guaranteed a home playoff game before the Ravens game began, do you think they would have played the starters? I don’t think so.

Backups, schmackups

The Ravens didn’t play many starters. Not only did quarterback Lamar Jackson miss his fifth consecutive game, but J.K. Dobbins, Mark Andrews and Marcus Peters, among others, sat out. The Bengals, of course, ran their starters out of the field because, in order to have a guaranteed home playoff game, they had to win.

Ravens fans on Twitter believe the Bengals only won because they played Ravens backups. Don’t buy into that line of thinking. They’re backups on an NFL team. They’re some of the greatest athletes in the world. It’s not like I was out there in a Ravens uniform trying to block Trey Hendrickson.

The Bengals won yesterday because they’re the better football team, not because the Ravens started backups.

Hubbard back in the lineup

The Bengals defense is well coached and deep, so when Sam Hubbard went down with a calf injury in Week 15, Lou Anarumo’s crew was able to overcome. The Bengals defense is just different when Hubbard’s on the field, though, so seeing back was a welcome site. He played 66 snaps and recorded two hurries and one quarterback hit on Sunday.

“You will be perfect in every aspect”

The Bengals offense was good on Sunday. Good. Not great. But good. Joe Burrow uncharacteristically missed a couple wide open deep passes, overthrowing Tee Higgins on one and under throwing Ja’Marr Chase on another. The offensive line wasn’t able to open many holes for the running game as Joe Mixon only averaged 2.5 yards per carry and Samaje Perine only averaged three.

Now, I do believe the Bengals, knowing the likelihood they’d be playing the Ravens again in just a week, held a lot back on offense and defense, so I don’t think they were playing with a whole deck, but the offense will need to limit the mistakes so Coach Boone doesn’t have to break his foot off in anybody’s John Brown hind parts.

The Bengals turn around and play the Ravens again on Sunday night in the wildcard round. The Bengals are the three seed and the Ravens are the sixth. Here are a few things we could see Sunday night.

  • Many believe quarterback Lamar Jackson will be back and playing now that the Ravens are in the playoffs, but truthfully nobody knows. It seems the Ravens aren’t even completely clear on the injury status of their star signal caller. If Jackson plays, we’ve all seen what he can do with his legs. The Ravens still aren’t an elite passing team with Jackson, but they’re possibly the best running team. Jackson is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, so the Bengals need to be prepared.
  • Dobbins and Andrews are also set to play this weekend. Since Dobbins’ return from injury in Week 15, he’s averaged seven yards per carry. The Bengals defense, especially since D.J. Reader came back from injury, has been very good against the run. Andrews is one of the most talented pass catching tight ends in the league, and could get a ton of targets from whoever is playing quarterback. Tre Flowers, being the biggest cornerback on the team, will likely once again be tasked with attempting to shut down one of the league’s top tight ends.
  • The Ravens defense has allowed the third least rushing yards during the regular season, but the seventh most passing yards. They are very good at rushing the passer, racking up 48 sacks on the year. The Bengals offensive line will have their hands full, and Burrow and the offense will need to avoid missing on some big opportunities the way they did this past Sunday.
  • At the time I’m writing this, it’s unclear as to what right guard Alex Cappa’s status will be for the game on Sunday night, but I’d be willing to bet he’s unable to suit up. It’s likely Max Scharping will start at right guard, and we could possibly see Jackson Carman on the field as well. The Ravens have leaned on their defense all year. The Bengals offensive line, now down two starters, will need to be at their best on Sunday.

To wrap things up, some random thoughts on the Bengals regular season finale…

  • I remember when the regular season schedule came out early in 2022 that the back end of the schedule was brutal. They won every single game. Winning eight games in a row in the NFL is extremely unlikely.
  • Joseph Ossai got a lot more playing time down the stretch thanks to Hubbard’s injury, and boy did he take advantage of it. Over the last two weeks, according to Pro Football Focus, Ossai had two sacks and eight hurries. He’ll be getting on the field more moving forward I’m sure.
  • Jessie Bates III was incredible on Sunday. He had one interception and only allowed two receptions on five targets. I will be very sad if this was his last regular season game in a Bengals uniform. I have a feeling it was.
  • Joe Mixon’s coin flip touchdown celebration was a lot of fun. I’m sure he’ll be fined for it.
  • The Bengals defense is very good at holding players up while they strip the ball away. They did it to Travis Kelce in Week 13 and they did it again to Sammy Watkins. Bates stripped Watkins and Von Bell recovered. Bates and Bell have become one of the top safety duos in the NFL.
  • Mixon had a career year in 2021, finishing the regular season with 1,205 yards on the ground. In 2022 he only racked up 814 yards after he missed a couple games. However, he did have a career high in receiving yards in 2022 with 441. He was much more involved in the passing game this season than he has been in the past, which was nice to see. Hopefully he and the Bengals offense will get the running game going in the playoffs.
  • The following players have potentially played their last regular season game as a member of the Cincinnati Bengal: Bates, Bell, Germain Pratt, Eli Apple, Trent Taylor, Hayden Hurst, Flowers, Perine, Brandon Allen, Drew Sample, Clark Harris, Scharping, Michael Thomas and Jalen Davis.

Time to open up the old pocketbook.

  • I am beyond thrilled that Damar Hamlin has now been discharged from the hospital and has been allowed to go back to Buffalo! Hopefully he continues to improve. I’m sure Bills and Bengals fans are finally breathing a sigh of relief.

Who Dey!

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