Running game opening up Bengals’ offense

CINCINNATi -- During the summer and going into this season, the Cincinnati Bengals raved about their ability to attack defenses with multiple weapons and in different ways.

The offense showed flashes of that when the Joe Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase connection was burning opponents on the deep ball early this season, but Sunday’s dominant win against the Pittsburgh Steelers was proof of what the Bengals thought they had all along.

Cincinnati’s offensive line had one of its best games, Joe Mixon rushed for a career-high 165 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries, Tee Higgins caught a 32-yard touchdown pass, almost had another one and finished with 114 yards and Burrow was an efficient 20-for-24 passing as the Bengals blasted the Steelers 41-10 on Sunday.

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“I think overall, we’re using a really balanced attack, and that benefits all parties on the offense,” left tackle Jonah Williams said Monday on a Zoom from home after the team was rewarded with an extra day off. “It starts with us up front blocking. And I mean, we started that (first) drive, and I think one of the first plays, I think the second play, Joe ran for 25ish-yard gain, and that just kind of set the tone for what we were going to do in this game. We’ve got the receivers and the quarterback to have explosive passes, and then you know, we’ve got the blocking and the running backs to have explosive runs. When you can do both that really puts stress on the defense and then we’re running play action off of it and they’re biting on the run because you’ve been so successful with it, and Joe throws it to Tee for an almost touchdown. Those are the types of things that make our offense good, and it allows all the talent that we have to shine.”

On Sunday, there was no question it started with the running game. Mixon had 49 yards on seven carries the opening drive, and the Steelers were frustrated early, going into halftime down 31-3. Center Trey Hopkins and right tackle Riley Reiff both left with injuries that caused them to miss most of the second half, but Hopkins is just banged up and should be OK and Riley is dealing with an ankle issue that could limit him in practice this week.

More often than not, when Mixon is on, the Bengals offense is productive as a whole.

“I think when we’re averaging close to five yards a carry, being efficient, I think that allows us to get in a rhythm and kind of keep the defense on their heels,” Williams said. “I think it opened up a lot of stuff for the offense as a whole throughout the rest of the game, just knowing that we could consistently pick up positive yardage in the run game.”

Chase seemed to be the missing piece, and there was a clear reason the Bengals drafted him fifth overall, to give Burrow another explosive threat down the field.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said while the team had talented players in the past, the offensive play calling has been better this season in part because of the natural progression of the core players and staff being together now three years.

“I think we’ve done a better job in Year 3 than we did in Year 1 and at times in Year 2,” Taylor said. “And again, we feel like our team’s now in a position third year in the system where they’re playing with so much confidence, it makes it easier for us. We’re in better positions to manage those. But I just think that the thick of the staff has really been together now for three years, we’ve added some pieces over years in years two and three, we’ve added the right pieces to where the communication is just we’re on top of it during games. We’re always on the same page and we’re able to adjust maybe with a little less effort than in the past because of our time together and so it’s just a fun group to be around, really, really proud to represent this group of coaches because I wouldn’t trade any of them. They all do a fantastic job and have played the roles really well.”

Williams said even after the two losses to the Jets and Browns before the bye week, the Bengals knew their performances weren’t indicative of what they were capable of, and now they are showing their resilience.

They’ve set themselves up well for the back end of the season sitting at 7-4 with four more home games still to play. Williams said “there’s a lot of confidence in the room” now, but the key is to be consistent.

SUNDAY’S GAME

Chargers at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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