In this weekly Opponent Scout series, we break down the Kansas City Chiefs’ upcoming opponent by examining their strengths, weaknesses and tendencies — and how those things affect the matchup.
In their latest bout with AFC playoff teams, the Chiefs will hit the road, looking for revenge as they face the Cincinnati Bengals. Here’s what to know about the Bengals this year.
The Bengals are in the fourth season under head coach Zac Taylor — and the third with Joe Burrow as starting quarterback. Fresh off a Super Bowl appearance, Cincinnati is contending again. The team is 7-4 — with five wins in its last six games.
The Bengals currently rank fifth in scoring and sixth in yards per game. Their high-volume passing attack has racked up the fourth-most passing yards and second-most passing touchdowns. They have the fourth-best third-down conversion rate — and are even better in the red zone, where they rank second. Cincinnati has the seventh-best offensive DVOA score.
Cincinnati is ranked 13th in scoring defense and total yards allowed, ranking middle of the pack in most defensive categories. They rank 18th in third-down conversion rate, but also have the sixth-best percentage in the red zone. They have the league’s third-fewest sacks. Cincinnati ranked sixth in defensive DVOA.
The Bengals have always tried to present a balanced attack — and with running back Joe Mixon, they should want to do that. But Mixon was a limited participant in practice on both Wednesday and Thurdsay, recovering from a concussion suffered in Week 11. He is a dangerous ball carrier in space — but this year, he has averaged only 3.8 yards per carry. Backup Samaje Perine is averaging 4.2 yards per rush on 53 attempts.
Being a pass-first team has made things even easier on Burrow, allowing him to play from shotgun at a higher rate than in past seasons — or even earlier this season. It allows the team’s quick-passing game to be more impactful on every down, complementing its big-play threat.
Since Ja'Marr Chase has been out, Burrow and Tee Higgins have developed some WR1-like chemistry .— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 1, 2022
He's so much more than a ball winner down the field now pic.twitter.com/qQ9KyLBD8D
With star wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase missing the last four games, third-year receiver Tee Higgins has developed the kind of chemistry with Burrow that you would typically see in a No. 1 receiver. It’s more than just Go routes down the sideline; he has had success throughout the route tree. He looks like he is being used in the same ways Chase was utilized.
In the two games before Chase went out to injury, he tore up the Saints and Falcons for 262 receiving yards and 4 TDs— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 1, 2022
121 of his yards came after the catch pic.twitter.com/xXhdiW1MiH
But now, Chase should be returning from his hip injury; he was limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday. When the former Top 5 pick last saw the field, he put up 262 receiving yards and four touchdowns over two games; 121 of those yards came after the catch. He presents a very difficult challenge to a young defensive back’s discipline; he doesn’t need much separation or space to make a catch or get past a tackler in the open field.
Those are just the top two in a quality receiving corps — including solid players like wide receiver Tyler Boyd and tight end Hayden Hurst; Mixon will also get frequent targets.
Bengals rank 30th in ESPN's team pass block win rate, 24th in PFF Pass block grade— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 1, 2022
It hasn't been great, but I don't think Burrow helps his blockers out at times. Only 2 QBs have a higher rate of pressure turn into a sack in the NFL this year pic.twitter.com/yfd58yhjul
Still, Cincinnati has allowed the fifth-most sacks this season, ranking 30th in ESPN’s team pass-blocking win rate and 24th in PFF pass-blocking grades. This is a combination of the offensive line’s performance and Burrow’s tendency to hold onto the ball and welcome sacks. According to this season’s PFF data, only two quarterbacks have a higher rate of their pressures resulting in sacks than Burrow.
The Bengals’ pass rush hasn’t been very productive. They have the third-fewest sacks among all NFL teams, while also ranking in the middle of the pack in team pressure rate; ESPN ranks them 21st in team pass-rushing win rate.
Trey Hendrickson has 6 of the Bengals' 17 sacks -- the 3rd-fewest among all NFL teams— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 1, 2022
Hendrickson's ability to hand fight and win around the outside not only gets him his sacks, but can lead to clean-up opportunities for others pic.twitter.com/w7R2frMgxJ
It all comes from edge rushers Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard, who have 10.5 of the team’s 17 total sacks for the season. Hendrickson tends to get his sacks exploding off the snap, flying around the edge and turning the corner. Even when he hasn’t earned the sack, he often leaves clean-up opportunities to Hubbard — and others.
The Bengals use LB Logan Wilson in a lot of ways, and rightfully so. He makes plays against the run and in pass coverage— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 1, 2022
They'll put him up on the line in certain pass-down packages, threatening to blitz, spy, or pick up the RB out of the backfield pic.twitter.com/Odv5G0TGU3
Behind the edge rushers, the Bengals have two linebackers they’ll trust in most defensive snaps: Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt. Wilson plays 89% of the snaps, which is third-most among all Cincinnati defenders.
Wilson’s athleticism translates to playmaking — both against the run and in dropping back into pass coverage. He’ll be the linebacker they use if they choose to spy Mahomes or send a linebacker after him on a blitz.
In the back end of Cincinnati’s defense, their No. 1 cornerback is Chidobe Awuzie — who is out for the season with a knee injury. In his place, rookie Cam Taylor-Britt has stepped in — and brought playmaking talent with him. Last week, he stripped Tennessee Titans’ running back Derrick Henry after a long gain.
Bengals will use slot CB Mike Hilton in many ways, including coverage of TEs— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 1, 2022
Similar to Ramsey last week, having a physical CB on Kelce is a good plan in theory.. pic.twitter.com/PaIhAedHLI
In the slot, cornerback Mike Hilton does a little bit of everything — from filling gaps against the run to covering tight ends and slot receivers in man coverage. He is a physical player, and will use that skillset in coverage to muddy up throwing windows.
Then there is a great duo of safeties: Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell. Both patrol the back end and make plays on deep passes; the two have combined for six interceptions this season, while the rest of the team has two.
The bottom line
The Bengals’ offense is getting healthy, which is coinciding with the existing individual talents getting into a rhythm. They have gotten better at the efficient parts of a passing attack, while also retaining big-play capability on any given play.
On all levels, the Cincinnati defense can just make life hard. While those on the defensive front aren’t sack artists, they can get after the quarterback on obvious passing downs. They get help from the back end — a playmaking group that covers a lot of ground in the intermediate and deep areas of the field.