The Cincinnati Bengals said lots of similar-feeling things coming out of Sunday’s 16-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Strictly looking at the offensive side of the ball, there was talk from coaches about executing better, managing the game better and that AFC North football has a way of changing plans.
But for fans, it has to feel a bit like deja vu.
Jake Browning at quarterback or not, the Bengals offense was outgained by a Steelers team that had just fired its offensive coordinator 421-222. Pittsburgh had 22 first downs to Cincinnati’s 10. The Bengals went 2-of-10 on third downs.
Some things weren’t the fault of coaches. Browning holding the ball for far, far too long hurt things. So did a miserable-looking defense that wasn’t blown out of the water only because they were playing the unimpressive Kenny Pickett.
But rushing Joe Mixon just eight times and giving none to rookie Chase Brown is a mistake. Being unable to motion, align for mismatches and just generally create chances for Ja’Marr Chase is inexcusable.
By game’s end, despite often getting single coverage against a rookie Joey Porter Jr. (an impressive rookie, but a rookie), Chase had just six targets.
That’s an especially sour point for fans, considering proper Chase usage feels like the most obvious thing in the world. Even if the quarterback is limited, not force-feeding arguably the league’s best wideout and by far the best player on the field nearly feels like malpractice.
When asked if things changed because it wasn’t Burrow under center, Taylor said the following: “It’s a hard question to answer. Sometimes when you play these divisional opponents, the whole game shifts. These are some of the best defenses in the NFL. You have to play a certain way against these teams. We didn’t have to this week, so I didn’t make game plays with Joe, so I can’t really answer that question. We’ve got to be situationally sound. We have to win the turnover battle and can’t have the calls that we had today in order to win games like this.”
What’s not hard to answer is that fans are justified in feeling disgruntled. Feeling like the Chase usage problems are an every-other-week thing. Feeling like the running game has never been right despite big investments in the offensive line. Feeling like roster-building mistakes made last offseason are coming back to haunt them.
And feeling like Burrow has masked a whole lot of issues that are going to get highlighted in the worst way for the rest of this season.
Whether meaningful change happens because those issues have been pushed to the forefront or if Burrow’s absence is the excuse to remain stagnant might say much about the next few years in Cincinnati.