The Cincinnati Bengals scored two touchdowns on their first two drives against the Buffalo Bills, and while the beleaguered Bills defense was able to stem the tide, the hole proved to be too great for Buffalo’s offense to climb out of Sunday night. The Bengals dominated time of possession, converted on 53% of their third-down tries, and racked up nearly 400 yards of total offense en route to a 24-18 win.
When considering the fact that Cincy scored three first-half touchdowns, it’s a testament to Buffalo’s defensive adjustments in the second half that this game wasn’t a blowout. In four second-half possessions, the Bengals punted, turned it over on downs, kicked a field goal, and knelt the clock out while covering 183 total yards. The Bills fought, but the Bengals were far and away the better team on Sunday night.
Our five Bengals to watch were all integral parts of the victory for the orange and black. Here’s how those five Cincy players to watch performed in Week 9.
QB Joe Burrow
Burrow was automatic for almost the entire game. His accuracy and ball placement are phenomenal, as is his decision making — Burrow consistently put the ball in the hands of the open guy after going through his reads. While the Bengals haven’t had much production from their tight ends this season, the Bills took that as a signal to leave those players alone or mostly uncovered, and Burrow made them pay. Both of his touchdown scores went to tight ends, as Irv Smith Jr. caught the first score of a game and Drew Sample leaked out of the backfield to score a 22-yard dagger near the end of the first half. Combined with Tanner Hudson, Cincinnati’s tight ends caught 10 of the 13 passes thrown their way for a total of 101 yards and two touchdowns. Burrow completed passes to eight different receivers, completing 31-of-44 passes for 348 yards and those two scores.
RB Joe Mixon
As is the usual with Mixon, the final line wasn’t pretty, but the overall effectiveness of his work was felt throughout the game. Mixon ran for only 37 yards on 14 carries, a paltry 2.6 yards per rush, as the Bills consistently brought extra pressure and played with one safety deep. That allowed the Bengals to pass at will, but at least Buffalo didn’t allow a ton of rushing yards like they did in the playoffs last year (sarcasm included). Mixon was Cincinnati’s second-leading receiver in terms of receptions, hauling in five of his six targets for 31 yards.
WR Ja’Marr Chase
Well, the Bills didn’t want to let Chase beat them, and it was clear that the game plan was to make someone else step up while the Bills focused on taking Chase away from Burrow. To paraphrase Lieutenant Aldo Raine from Inglorious Basterds, head coach and defensive play caller Sean McDermott wanted to die for his game plan, and the Bengals obliged him. While Chase had just four catches for 41 yards — 32 of them came on one reception where Dane Jackson was finally beaten in what was a great night for No. 30 — Tee Higgins had easily his best game of the season, totaling eight grabs for 110 yards. Coming into the matchup, Higgins had just 19 catches for 218 yards, so he equaled 5% of his total season output, essentially, in one night. Chase landed hard on his backside late in the contest, and he was wincing pretty badly on the sidelines.
LB Logan Wilson
The big, rangy middle linebacker was outstanding on Sunday. He had eight tackles and didn’t break up a pass, make a tackle for loss, or sack the quarterback. But, what he did do was act as an effective spy/mirror on quarterback Josh Allen, his former teammate in college at Wyoming. Teams know by now that Allen will bail on clean pockets if you take away his first read, and the Bengals and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo exploited that repeatedly by using two spies — Wilson and Germaine Pratt — to fire off at Allen once he took off running. Head coach Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots did something similar a few weeks ago. Wilson’s size and speed make for an imposing obstacle over the middle.
CB Mike Hilton
Rather than bring Hilton off the edge repeatedly, the Bengals used the double-spy method this time around to great success, so Hilton played more as a traditional nickel than he did as a blitzing linebacker. Hilton’s role in the Bengals defense is analogous to Taron Johnson’s role in Buffalo’s defense, and Hilton played it perfectly on Sunday night. He made ten solo tackles on the game (side note: if you’re old like me, you remember when it used to be a bad sign when defensive backs made lots of tackles, because that meant that either they were burned in coverage a lot or the team’s linebackers were terrible) in what was a fantastic performance.