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Analysis: How the Bengals ran wild over the Bills

Just as we all predicted would happen

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Cincinnati Bengals v Buffalo Bills Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Before the big Divisional Round playoff game where the Buffalo Bills hosted the Cincinnati Bengals, I previewed the Bengals’ running game. I’m pretty sure I wrote how amazing they were at running the ball, and that any team that kept them under 6.0 yards per carry was doing a great job. The alternative is that I wrote something about how terrible they were at running, and I’m about to make everyone even more upset about the loss by doing some analysis on how they did against the Bills.

By the numbers

You’re probably grateful for the stats. Better than watching it again, right? Absolutely. But don’t worry, I’ll rub some salt in the ol’ wounds soon enough with some GIFs. We’re gonna focus on Joe Mixon’s carries again, because he was the workhorse back, as predicted.

Mixon averaged 5.25 yards per carry against Buffalo. That’s only 1.35 yards per carry higher than his season average. GIFs are starting to sound pretty, pretty good right about now, I bet. No worries, though. It gets worse.

His longest carry of the game was 16 yards. How is that worse, Skare? Sounds like they contained the big plays, which has been their Achilles’ heel. A big run can make the average a fluke. One big gain when every other run was pretty bad is a good outcome, in my opinion. Such a short longest run suggests that Mixon steadily chewed through Buffalo’s defense. Let’s find out.

Mixon’s runs had the following gains: 5, 10, 5, 16, -2 (yay), 3, 11, 6, 1, 4, 7, 13, 0 (also yay), 1 (but it was a TD), 9, 3, 2, 1, 7, 3. That’s precisely what I was afraid of. That’s a lot of moderate gains. Now, let’s get to the GIFs to see if we can figure out what happened.

Play 1: Shoving time

A big point of contention already for this game is whether the players or the coaches are to blame. I always assume there’s enough credit to go around, but not always in equal measure. Players were able to get to gaps here, and Tremaine Edmunds (who I love) was in position to at least limit this. He was maybe a half-step out of where I’d like to see him from a leverage standpoint, and had to fall backward, which allowed Mixon to drag him for a five-yard gain. Credit to the Bengals, as well. They blocked well here.

Play 2: Check out the lane

For the most part, I’d call this a draw for play calling. It was mostly hat-on-hat, which means it was player vs. player for every bit of the way. More credit to the Bengals, as Mixon was untouched for about five yards. Then credit to Mixon for pushing for five more. And of course, less credit to the Bills. If hat-on-hat play is about beating the man across from you...

Play 3: Three times is a trend?

Ed Oliver was double-teamed at the line, but held his position. He also was in decent shape where he ended up, as Mixon needed to move right to avoid Oliver’s leg. He found Edmunds waiting for him after about a two-yard gain, and shoved for a few more.

Play 4: Coaches’ Corner

I’ve called out execution and physicality so far, but here was Mixon’s longest run of the day. The Bengals executed, but I don’t love the defensive play call. Buffalo was spread out, daring a run, and were going pretty aggressive from the edges. The Bengals pulled a lineman to seal the left side, and Mixon was quickly on to the second level. Buffalo closed quickly, but due to the ground they needed to cover, it was a 16-yard pickup.

Play 5: End on a high note

The last thing I want to call out is effort and motivation. I saw plenty of passion on the field. So I want to end on a high note. Matt Milano cleaned up on the only tackle for loss on Mixon all day. He had that chance because the play design and execution from his team forced Mixon sideways immediately.

In summary

I felt this way during the game, and it’s possible my analysis was biased going in, but I think the film backs up my gut reaction from Sunday. I don’t think I’m looking at a lack of effort or motivation, but I’ll borrow Milano’s words, and say a lack of energy was apparent. I made a plea on Twitter, and I’ll repeat it here as I know the audiences don’t overlap a ton.

I know we all wanted a storybook ending due to everything the team went through. Not just the team, either — the entire Western New York region. The people who make up the Buffalo Bills and the WNY community rode wave after wave of bad news this last season. The thing that storybooks often leave out is how exhausting trauma can be. And there was a lot of it. It lingers, too. You don’t just turn the page like you can in a book.

The last chapter of this book sucked, frankly. There’s no getting around that fact, and it’s unfortunately part of the analysis job to point it out. So here you go. We’ll likely come back to it, too. I’ll be trying to temper the criticism with a little empathy, though. We saw a failure on the field, but I have a suspicion that it was partly due to success in other areas. The Bills repeatedly won at life this year. That can take a lot out of you.