‘He’s a fast guy. Real fast.’ Rookie Brown provides spark to Bengals’ offense

CINCINNATI — Chase Brown didn’t necessarily blow anyone away with his 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine, and he wasn’t known as a speed guy at the University of Illinois, but the Cincinnati Bengals seem to have found something in the rookie running back they drafted in the fifth round.

They weren’t surprised to see him flash like he did Sunday when he clocked 22.05 miles per hour on a screen pass he turned into a 54-yard touchdown in a 34-14 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

Brown had shown his speed in practices and finally had an opportunity to put it on display. He had only touched the ball five times before the Dec. 4 game at Jacksonville. His first career touchdown came on his first touch Sunday and was the second fastest speed reached by a ball carrier in the NFL this season, trailing D.K. Metcalf’s 22.23 mph reached in a Nov. 30 game at Dallas.

“We’ve learned he is that fast,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “We do the GPS in practice on kickoff return, things like that. He’s had opportunities to show how fast he is. Second fastest? That’s pretty good. He’s a fast guy. Real fast.”

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Brown clocked a 4.43-second 40-yard dash, one of the fastest 40 times for a Bengals’ running back in recent memory. In college he was known more as a workhorse, high-volume, grind-it-out ball carrier.

His scouting profile on NFL.com indicated he needed to prove he could be an effective outside runner to help widen the field.

“I was more slow paced (in college),” Brown said. “Once I got to the NFL and working with coach (Justin) Hill, the main thing is using that speed as an advantage. That’s something we were talking about all week. When the opportunity was there and I saw tons of space, I thought I’m going to turn on the jets. Especially after that big run against Jacksonville, I thought if I could turn on the jets, I could make a big play.”

The Bengals might have known he was capable of hitting top speeds, but they didn’t quite know what he could do for the offense until the last two weeks.

Taylor said the Bengals always had confidence in Brown, but his opportunities were limited through the first three months of the season. He played just eight offensive snaps through the first six games, then landed on injured reserve with a pulled hamstring.

Brown returned to the active roster when backup quarterback Jake Browning made his first career start in place of injured Joe Burrow on Nov. 26 in a 16-11 loss to Pittsburgh. However, in a game where the offense wasn’t getting anywhere and the running game produced just 25 yards, Brown’s only snaps ended up being on special teams. Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said after that game, the Bengals needed to see what Brown could provide.

Last week on Monday Night Football, Brown carried the ball nine times for 61 yards, as the Bengals exploded for a season-high 156 yards rushing at Jacksonville. In the last two games, he has 166 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown.

“He’s done a great job controlling what he can control,” Taylor said. “When he came back off the injury, he’s shown great attention to detail as a rookie with what we’re asking him to handle. He makes plays when his number is called.”

Brown said he’s done nothing different these last few weeks. He just needed an opportunity, and he’s making the most of it.

“I’m just playing my role right now,” Brown said. “When there’s time to make a play, I’m going to keep on doing that and helping this team win games.”

It turns out, Brown is the lightning to Joe Mixon’s thunder, a combination the Bengals needed to make the running game less predictable and more versatile. The screen game is an extension of that, as well.

These last two games have been the most productive for Mixon, and the two backs have combined for 408 total yards and four touchdowns the last two games. They accounted for 230 of the team’s 385 yards from scrimmage Sunday.

“I think he’s stepping in and doing his thing,” Mixon said of Brown. “He’s bringing a spark and I feel he’s doing a great job, especially as a rookie. He’s learned the playbook. He’s doing all the right things right and (we’ve) just got to keep it up. We’re feeding off each other, so once you make one play, that leads to another. Everybody’s going to need it.”

The offense has benefited with back-to-back wins that have helped the Bengals get back in the playoff picture. Cincinnati has scored 34 points in back-to-back games and is averaging 2.96 points per drive the last two weeks after averaging 1.65 points per drive over the previous 11 games.

“I think he’ll continue to do a lot for us,” Browning said. “It’s kind of nice to have the one-two punch of him and Joe Mixon. I think every good offense needs two legit running backs, and I think we have that.”


Vikings at Bengals, 1 p.m., NFL Network, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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