The Bengals are good. Ja'Marr Chase makes them interesting.

Prior to the arrival of wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, the Cincinnati Bengals were perhaps the smallest franchise in the NFL. The Bengals...


Prior to the arrival of wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, the Cincinnati Bengals were perhaps the smallest franchise in the NFL.

The Bengals have a reputation for being the football equivalent of a local family hardware store operating on a shoestring. Their state-of-the-art mid-20th-century fitness center features five surplus military weight benches and a hydration hose. Their practice area produces alfalfa out of season. Their screening service consists of unpaid interns and a box of VHS tapes from the Ohio State games. Business inquiries go directly to their answering machine.

These are exaggerations, but you get the idea.

The heyday of the Bengals’ success over the past 30 years has been a five-game losing streak with wild cards under coach Marvin Lewis and quarterback Andy Dalton from 2011 to 2015. Yet the Bengals avoid also usually the hilarious disasters that make the Jets. and the fascinating Cleveland Browns.

For the most part, the Bengals exist simply to balance the schedule, generate some fantastic stats, and provide the Pittsburgh Steelers with an opponent they can beat on the road while still being home in time for a late supper.

Chase’s arrival changes all that. Fifth overall pick in the 2021 draft, he has the league’s second-most receiving yards (754) out of 35 receptions. He caught six touchdown passes, including four for over 30 yards. He’s set to beat the 1,400-yard NFL rookie receiving record set by Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings last season. (Bill Groman holds the professional football record for receiving yards as a rookie – 1,473 yards in 1960 for the Houston Oilers in the American Football League.)

On Sunday, Chase caught eight passes for 201 yards, including one on a fast slant road that he turned into an 82-yard touchdown, to fuel a 41-17 rout of the Bengals against the Baltimore Ravens. The victory, which improved the Bengals’ record to 5-2, was the franchise’s most important victory in its playoff years, if not more.

At 6 feet 1 inch and 201 pounds, Chase is not physically imposing. His stopwatch speed – a 4.34-second 40-yard dash on this year’s Recon combine – is excellent but not critical. However, he excels in many of the finer points of his craft. Like a skilled veteran, he can take a stand on a defender during his first steps outside the line of scrimmage or with a subtle feint in the open field. It makes deep, over-the-shoulder captures a routine. He rushes forward and moves away from potential attackers after capture. He’s an enthusiastic blocker who pushes defenders aside when his teammates run for touchdowns.

Chase’s success as a rookie kicked off the development of sophomore quarterback Joe Burrow, his teammate when Louisiana State University won the national championship in the 2019 season. The Bengals drafted Burrow at No. 1 in the standings. general in 2020 and left him behind an offensive line that was crumbling after years of neglect. He suffered 32 sacks in 10 starts as a rookie before a career-threatening knee injury forced him to sit down.

Burrow learned to dodge passers and is now one of the most proficient passers in the NFL. He ranks second in the league with 9.2 yards per passing attempt, and the Bengals generated eight passing plays over 40 yards, tied with the Los Angeles Rams for the league’s highest number.

Chase became his quarterback’s favorite target both on deep passes (21.5 yards per catch) and on third and fourth downs (13 catches for first 10 downs).

His emergence also bolstered the profile of coach Zac Taylor, who in his first two seasons looked like another stubble-bearded offensive prodigy from Sean McVay’s counterfeit factory.

Draft experts have insisted Taylor and the Bengals had better select University of Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell to protect Burrow than a playmaker like Chase. After all, it doesn’t matter how many receivers open in the field when the quarterback is lying on his back. Sewell has been a great addition for the Detroit Lions, and the draft would have been the safe choice for a team aspiring to one day lose a playoff game.

Instead, the Bengals have chosen to build one of the most powerful receiving corps in the league. With Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, tight end CJ Uzomah and others spread out in the lineup, opponents can neither focus coverage strictly on Chase nor blitz Burrow without risking danger elsewhere.

The Bengals have also improved their defense by doing something they generally hate to do – spend money on free agents. Newcomers like Eli Apple, Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton have stabilized their highs, while tackles Trey Hendrickson and DJ Reader, a 2020 acquisition that was injured for most of last season, bolstered the defense against the running and rushing passes.

Veteran defense rounds off the explosive young attack nicely: Opponents forced to catch up after a few pushes from Burrow soon find that none of their own receivers are open.

The Bengals also started their 2011 and 2013 seasons 5-2 and were 8-0 in 2015, so early fall success is nothing new. But this year’s squad has a personality and an element of danger that the exciting and adequate Bengals lacked in the early 2010s.

The Lewis-Dalton teams were known to have lost not only playoff games but also prime-time showcases: they were 5-12 in Thursday, Sunday night and Monday night games from 2011 to 2016, often with unbalanced scores. Even in their relative heyday, the Bengals were a charming vaudeville act that fell apart every time it hit Broadway due to the lack of stars.

Sunday’s victory over the Ravens indicates this year’s Bengals are more than playoff seat fillers. Burrow and Chase may not be Joe Montana and Jerry Rice yet, and the Bengals look more like pesky newcomers than real Super Bowl contenders, but a team that can score from anywhere on the pitch. and taking down the league’s perennial powerhouses is worth watching.

For the Bengals, “deserving to be watched” is an accomplishment in itself.

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Newsrust - US Top News: The Bengals are good. Ja'Marr Chase makes them interesting.
The Bengals are good. Ja'Marr Chase makes them interesting.
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