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Ultimate Super Bowl scouting report: What to expect from the Bengals on Sunday

SB Nation’s team communities covering teams the Bengals played this season have all the insight you need.

The Cincinnati Bengals are headed to the Super Bowl for the first time since January 1989. To get there, they had to rack up plenty of wins during the regular season and knock out postseason opponents in every phase of the playoffs.

To help you get ready for the big game on Sunday and learn all you need to know about the Bengals, we turned to the experts at our team communities to find out what they learned when the teams they cover played the Bengals this season. Check out the line for the Super Bowl courtesy of our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook, and you can find all of our Bengals coverage on Cincy Jungle.

Week 1: Bengals 27, Vikings 24

The Vikings were kind enough to give the Bengals their initial push towards this year’s Super Bowl, falling to them in Week 1 27-24 in overtime when Evan McPherson’s 33-yard field goal split the uprights with no time left in the extra frame. One of the biggest takeaways from that one was that Bengals’ head coach Zac Taylor is pretty fearless … and we witnessed why that can be both a positive and a negative.

His fearlessness (or recklessness) allowed the Vikings to get back into a game that it appeared the Bengals were cruising to victory in. Leading 21-7 in the third quarter, the Bengals faced a 4th-and-1 from their own 30, and Taylor chose to go for it. The Vikings stopped Joe Mixon for no gain, and completely swung the momentum with a touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Adam Thielen on the ensuing drive to get themselves back into the game. Then, in overtime after Dalvin Cook fumbled with the Vikings on the edge of field goal range, the Bengals faced another 4th-and-1, this one at their own 48. Rather than simply trying for the first down, the Bengals called a play-action pass and Joe Burrow hit C.J. Uzomah for a huge gain. One run by Mixon and a spike later, the Bengals were kicking the game-winning field goal.

Taylor, from all appearances, is a coach who leans into the analytics a lot more than others, and that can lead to him making some decisions that, on the surface, would appear to be questionable. Whether the Bengals can defeat the Rams in this year’s Super Bowl could very well come down to whether or not one of those decisions is successful or not. - Christopher Gates, Daily Norseman

Week 2: Bengals 17, Bears 20

The Bengals were in a different place when they played the Bears way back on Sept. 19, and they lost 20 to 17. It was Week 2, so the Bengals hadn’t really found their groove yet, but the Bears were able to capitalize on a weakness that still exists for Cincinnati: their pass protection. The Bears harassed Joe Burrow all afternoon, and besides their five sacks (nine QB hits), they pressured Burrow into throwing three interceptions. Two picks were on back-to-back offensive snaps, and all three came in a span of four Bengals plays. It was flukey to say the least, but it just points to how the Rams will need to get after the quarterback to win. But even if they do get to the QB, Burrow is still going to get his. He was able to make plays on the Bears, and while this was his worst game the entire 2021 season, he still had his team in position to win late with two fourth quarter touchdown passes. Burrow is That Dude and nothing seems to phase him.

Wide out Ja’Marr Chase and running back Joe Mixon had nice games that day in September, but it was wideouts two and three (Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd) who flashed as well. The Bengals have the offensive weapons to stay with any team, but slowing down Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd and that L.A. pass rush will be the key for them to get their franchise’s first Super Bowl Championship. ~ Lester A. Wiltfong Jr., Windy City Gridiron

Week 3: Cincinnati Bengals 24, Pittsburgh Steelers 10

Going into the 2021 regular season, if you would have told Steelers fans they’d finish the year with a 4-2 divisional record, most would have assumed the team would split with the Browns and Ravens. That would mean they swept the lowly Bengals in the season series. What actually went down was the Steelers swept both the Browns and Ravens, only to be swept themselves by the Bengals who now represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

It wasn’t so much the fact the Steelers lost to the Bengals, it was how they lost. These weren’t close games, it was Cincinnati throttling the Steelers on both occasions. In Week 3 the Steelers lost 24-10, and in Week 12 they lost 41-10.

It was after these games where it became evident these weren’t your usual Bengals. This group didn’t find ways to lose; they found ways to win. Led by Joe Burrow and a tremendous cast around him, the Bengals were able to continue to improve as the season progressed. But everyone knows about the Cincinnati offense. It’s the defense which impressed me the most. They are hard-hitting, athletic and fast. They have their shortcomings, who doesn’t, but they make up for them with a passion which is almost unparalleled. I’ve been very impressed with the Bengals in 2021-2022, and if it weren’t for being AFC North rivals, I’d be all-in on them winning a championship. Alas, that isn’t the case, and so I pledge my allegiance to the Rams for just one game. – Jeff Hartman, Behind the Steel Curtain

Week 4: Jaguars 21, Bengals 24

Count me as one of those people who didn’t give Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals much of a chance this season. And why should I? They were coming off a four-win season in 2020 thanks to three wins against the AFC South (the worst division in professional football) and Joe Burrow was injured midway through his rookie season. Add to that, during the offseason they used a first-round pick on Ja’Marr Chase, who quickly developed a case of the drops in the preseason.

Yeah … OK, Bengals. We’ve seen this movie before.

And then Joe Burrow started playing his ass off, y’all.

Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the dude averaged nearly 11 yards per pass attempt. Four different receivers had catches of 25 yards or more. It’s one of the best passing attacks in the league and it’s being done by a group of guys all under the age of 30. Lord, I see what you’ve done for other people and I want that for me.

If that defense can consistently pressure Matt Stafford when the Bengals, and take even just a little pressure off Joe Burrow’s shoulders, there won’t be enough Skyline Chili in the world to take everyone’s order during the Super Bowl parade. - Ryan Day, Big Cat Country

Week 5: Packers 25, Bengals 22

The biggest thing Green Bay Packers fans learned after the October matchup between the Packers and Cincinnati Bengals was just how lethal Ja’Marr Chase would become this season. In the preseason, there were jokes about how Chase said he was going to buy a Jugs machine and how he said the stripe on the college ball made it easier to track than the NFL ball, but he was able to rip off 297 yards (74-yard average) and four receiving touchdowns in the first month of the season, quieting most of the doubters.

By the time the Packers-Bengals game kicked off, Chase was already on his way to a strong rookie season, but I don’t think anyone expected for him to post 159 receiving yards, with a long of 70 yards, in the second week of October. This game occurred right after Green Bay lost starting cornerback Jaire Alexander to a shoulder injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which forced Isaac Yiadom into the starting lineup. Four different cornerbacks registered over 25 snaps against the Bengals that day as the Packers attempted to slow the rookie down.

The biggest gut punch of the day was when the Bengals, with 50 seconds left in the half, were able to coast-to-coast on a single play. Quarterback Joe Burrow was able to send a ball from 28 yard line to a Chase, who had snuck from the left sideline to outside the numbers on the right on a scramble drill for a score.

In a game where three-time First-Team All-Pro Davante Adams registered his first 200-yard game of his career, a mark the LSU product was able to hit twice as a rookie, Chase’s breakout outshined anyone else’s effort. - Justis Mosqueda, Acme Packing Company

Week 6: Bengals 34, Lions 11

The 2021 Detroit Lions will be remembered as a team short on talent, but long on effort, hustle, and perseverance, consistently punching above their weight in plenty of games this past season.

Week 6 against the Cincinnati Bengals will not be remembered as one of those games.

For the first time that season, the Lions were outplayed and outcoached from start to finish against the Bengals. At one point, Cincinnati led Detroit 27-0 early in the fourth quarter before the Bengals called off the assault on Ford Field and let the Lions score the saddest 11 points in recent memory.

To that point of the Lions being outcoached, there are a couple of plays that stand out from the rest. On Cincinnati’s first score of the afternoon, the Bengals split running back Chris Evans out wide, leaving Lions linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin lined up against him in man coverage. As soon as Joe Burrow saw the matchup, it was over. Burrow took a three-step drop out of shotgun holding safety Will Harris hostage in the middle of the field before he dropped one in the bucket over the head of Reeves-Maybin and right into the hands of Evans for a 24-yard touchdown.

The second play was a fourth-and-inches for the Bengals from the Lions’ side of the field. Tee Higgins came across in motion from the right, Burrow fakes the jet sweep, and dumps it off to Joe Mixon just ahead of the sticks… but the Bengals schemed him so open, the Lions didn’t have a defender within 15 yards, so Mixon started running… and then Ja’Marr Chase showed up 30 yards downfield to clear the way for Mixon to get into the end zone. Speaking of Chase, he had four catches for 97 yards, and many applauded undrafted free agent cornerback Jerry Jacobs for that performance.

All of this talk about coaching and Burrow and well-designed passing plays goes without mentioning the way Cincinnati dominated Detroit on the ground in every way possible. Mixon ran for 94 yards on just 18 carries–and his longest run of the day was only 18 yards. The Lions, a team desperate and dedicated to running the football, gained just 36 yards on 18 carries with their lead back, D’Andre Swift, averaging just 1.8 yards per carry.

If you think the Los Angeles Rams are a “matchup nightmare” for the Cincinnati Bengals, sure, they have some things working in their favor, but this Bengals team, with Burrow under center, will find their own matchups to take advantage. - Ryan Mathews, Pride of Detroit

Week 7: Bengals 41, Ravens 17

I’ve covered the Ravens for nearly a decade now. I’ve seen many iterations of the Cincinnati Bengals. This team, by far, is most concerning for the NFL now and in the future.

A.J. Green was once heralded as the “Ravenkiller.” There appears to be a new duo boasting such a title as both quarterback Joe Burrow and rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase have quickly blossomed into a fearsome tandem. They thrive in pressure; they enjoy going out there and making big plays and they certainly enjoy being doubted. It was former defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale who said he wasn’t ready to give Burrow a gold jacket. Burrow proceeded to throw for 941 yards and seven touchdowns against the Ravens in two games, and responded to Wink’s comments by saying they were unnecessary.

As the resident kicking expert here at SB Nation (self-titled), I can also assure that rookie kicker Evan McPherson is an assassin. There’s a swagger about him that reminds me of a young Justin Tucker, who as a rookie went and buried a double overtime game winner over the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos.

The Bengals were one of those teams that were a quarterback away. They have a solid defense that plays fast. They’re solid in just about every spot on defense, with some upper echelon talent in the fold. Guys like safety Jessie Bates and Trey Hendrickson. They also have an offense boasting a plethora of skill-position talent needing that final, most invaluable piece. They have not only found a good one, but they’ve landed a great one with Burrow, who synced up quickly with running back Joe Mixon and his wideouts, Chase, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins.

Both times, the Bengals dropped 41 points on the Ravens. Both times, Burrow went off and demonstrated he’s ready for AFC North football. It’s generic scouting and most know it, but I think me droning on about a sophomore quarterback who lit up the Ravens twice in 2021 speaks for itself. – Kyle Barber, Baltimore Beatdown

Week 8: Bengals 31, Jets 34

The Jets shocked the Bengals with an upset win on Halloween.

The game was started by backup quarterback Mike White. It was the first start of his career. He threw for 405 yards against the Cincinnati defense.

If there’s a lesson it’s probably that the Jets caught the Bengals by surprise. They broke a number of tendencies in the game. Heading into the game, they had a heavy run ratio in the first quarter. They flipped the script and came out throwing the ball. The Jets also spread the field with receivers, frequently going to four receiver sets for the first time all year and embraced White’s ability to make pre-snap reads and quick, short throws, which is a contrast with Wilson’s early season tendency to seek the big play.

The Bengals defense had a very difficult time dealing with this and adjusting in-game.

I’m not sure how applicable any of this is to the Rams. The Jets were a bad team that needed to change things for a new quarterback. The Rams made it to the Super Bowl with their formula. Still, this might indicate that the Bengals could have a difficult time if the Rams decide to break any of their tendencies in a significant way. - John Butchko, Gang Green Nation

Week 9: Browns 41, Bengals 16

We had a little bit of fun on Twitter by saying, “The Browns swept the Bengals team that’ll be in the Super Bowl now.” That is most certainly a tongue in cheek statement, especially since Cincinnati played their reserves in Week 18. However, the Browns’ best game of the season came in their Week 9 victory over the Bengals by a final score of 41-16. It was also arguably the Bengals’ worst game of their season. What did Cleveland do that worked?

It started with some gambles defensively. On Cincinnati’s first drive, Joe Burrow had the Bengals mowing down the field with ease. On a third-and-goal from the 3 yard line, Burrow tried to throw the quick out to Ja’Marr Chase, only for cornerback Denzel Ward to take a chance and jump it for a 99-yard touchdown return.

A few back-and-forth touchdowns later (to make it a 14-7 game), Cleveland took advantage of the Bengals’ mistakes and made sure they snowballed in the Browns’ favor. The Bengals faced a 4th-and-3 from the 40 yard line and went for it. They failed to complete, and then on the next play, Baker Mayfield ran a play action fake and hit Donovan Peoples-Jones for a 60-yard touchdown pass. On the Bengals’ next drive, Chase caught a shallow crossing pass, and safety John Johnson delivered a diving hit right to his midsection to force a fumble. In the blink of an eye, the Browns were up 24-7 in the first half.

One interesting wrinkle that Cleveland pulled out during this game was that they brought nickelback Troy Hill on the blitz several times. He was initially credited with three sacks, but was later corrected to two sacks. Still, the point remains that it caused some chaos for Cincinnati. I know Cincinnati has found ways to come back from large deficits twice now (against the Chiefs), but my impression is that they are susceptible to the big play defensively. On offense, I love Burrow and Chase, but you have to keep blitzing in creative ways and trust your best defensive back to be aggressive on Chase. If they decide to run him on a crosser, have a spy take a chance and dart up, ready to deliver a big hit. - Chris Pokorny, Dawgs By Nature

Week 10: Bye

Week 11: Bengals 32, Raiders 13

When the Raiders played the Bengals in the playoffs, I wrote an article about how the Raiders can slow down Ja’Marr Chase after looking at one of his lowest producing games and one of his highest. Coincidentally, one of his more modest outings came in Week 11 against the Raiders.

Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley had a great game plan for Chase, who only had three catches for 32 yards in the contest. Bradley used a lot of bracket coverages to force Joe Burrow to work through his progressions and take away the deep shots to the rookie.

Having played and won every award under the sun together in college, Burrow and Chase don’t have a typical second-year quarterback and first-year wide receiver type of relationship. Their chemistry is evident as Burrow will pull the trigger nearly every time he sees Chase single covered on deep routes, and they are in sync to hit those nearly impossible to defend back-shoulder throws. That’s also where the signal caller’s accuracy and the pass catcher’s body control really come into play and can be deadly.

Now, the problem with that strategy is Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are good wideouts and can tear defenses apart, forcing coordinators to adjust from bracketing or doubling Chase. In those circumstances, Bradley put his corner with the best ball skills on the team – Brandon Facyson – on the rookie to help defend against those back-shoulder throws. Facyson managed to keep Chase to just two catches for 26 yards on four targets with one pass breakup thrown in the mix.

However, the latter strategy wasn’t as effective the second time around, when the receiver caught four of four targets for 44 yards against the corner before Facyson left the game early with a concussion. The Bengals also did a much better job of getting Chase involved in the short to intermediate areas, as he finished with nine catches for 116 yards in the playoff matchup.

If I’m Raheem Morris, I’d consider at least starting the game with Jalen Ramsey isolated on Higgins and bracketing Chase with Darious Williams and Nick Scott. That way you take away the Burrow’s No. 2 option with your No. 1 corner and have the two on one advantage on his top target. - Matt Holder, Silver & Black Pride

Week 12: Steelers 10, Bengals 41

Week 13: Chargers 41, Bengals 22

When the Chargers played the Bengals, it was a rough day for Joe Burrow who threw a pair of picks in a 41-22 routing at home. Following that loss, however, the Bengals went on to win their next three to clinch the AFC North. The offense bounced back just fine as they posted 41 points against the Ravens and 34 on the Chiefs before sitting their starters in the season finale. The connection between Burrow and rookie wideout Ja’Marr Chase is truly something to behold. Whatever they had going on at LSU is still going strong in the NFL, and it doesn’t look to be disappearing anytime soon. The Bengals may have gotten a ton of flack for drafting a receiver over an elite offensive tackle, but Penei Sewell likely doesn’t lead them to the Super Bowl this year. Combine their elite receiver trio with a phenomenal back in Joe Mixon and you’ve got one of the most complete offenses in the league. – MIchael Peterson, Bolts from the Blue

Week 14: 49ers 26, Bengals 23

The 49ers came into Cincinnati desperately needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, and it took absolutely everything for them to pull it out in overtime.

By far, what most struck me was the speed and ease with which the Bengals erased a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter based solely on the connection between Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase. This is obviously quite obvious, but, man, those guys can ball out.

Two fourth quarter deep shots, not to mention the one that got reversed by review in the second quarter, nullified an entire game of sound D from the Niners, whose line had harassed Burrow all day. The heroics, also, put Band-Aids on the self-inflicted wounds of two first half fumbles by punt returner Darius Philips, which resulted in 10 points for the Niners.

Similar to what we saw against Kansas City, the Bengals defense did just enough in the second half, holding the Niners to a field goal and a missed game-winner at the end of regulation, to claw their way back into it. The went sack-for-sack with the Niners, totaling five on the day, and discombobulated Jimmy G for long stretches.

That just-enough D resulted in the Bengals edging out wins in total yards (397 to 355), yards per play (6.1 to 5.1), first downs (22 to 21), and time of possession (34:17 to 33:50). Some of those are essentially toss-ups, but when playing San Francisco, a team that preaches ruthless efficiency and ball control, those narrow margins are big wins.

If I learned anything watching this Bengals team, it’s that no lead is safe and don’t underestimate their defensive fortitude. Just ask, like, any other team that played them.-Tyler Austin, Niners Nation

Week 15: Bengals 15, Broncos 10

Teddy Bridgewater’s injury adds a layer of complexity to the Broncos’ 15-10 loss to the Bengals. At the time of his injury midway through the third quarter, Denver had three points on the board and Drew Lock found notable success replacing him. The Broncos’ run game found new life once the backup passer entered the contest. Lock’s propensity for rolling out of the pocket led to chunk play opportunities after the pass protection broke down from Lou Anarumo’s pressure scheme, and he almost led Denver to a comeback win if not for one of the worst fumbles of the 2021 season.

Beyond the injury, there are three major takeaways from that Week 15 matchup to keep an eye on in the Super Bowl.

Joe Burrow and his playmakers hide the fact Zac Taylor’s offense doesn’t present a lot of conflict for opposing coordinators. There aren’t many counters or restraint plays built off the bread-and-butter concepts, so two weeks to prepare could have Raheem Morris and the Rams defense dialed up for what’s coming.

Cincy’s pressure scheme has been a saving grace for them all season and gave both Broncos quarterbacks fits. Anarumo does a tremendous job mugging the line of scrimmage and making passer’s feel the threat of a blitz without getting predictable. However, Matthew Stafford is one of the best quarterbacks in football against the blitz.

Long before Burrow’s nine-sack win over the Tennessee Titans, it was painfully obvious that the right side of the Bengals offensive line was atrocious. The Broncos pass rush cratered after George Paton traded Von Miller to the Rams, and yet Vic Fangio found a ton of success dialing up games to attack Hakeem Adeniji and Isaiah Prince. Miller, Leonard Floyd, and Aaron Donald should feast in the Super Bowl. - Joe Rowles, Mile High Report

Week 16: Ravens 21, Bengals 41

Week 17: Bengals 34, Chiefs 31

The Kansas City Chiefs learned two very distinct lessons this season when it came to the Cincinnati Bengals: 1) Do not plan on one defender being enough on Ja’Marr Chase – and 2) Never take your foot off the gas.

During the Chiefs’ regular-season game, the Joe Burrow-to-Ja’Marr Chase connection was alive, to the tune of 11 catches for 266 yards and three touchdowns. There were times when, in particular, Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward was playing pretty good coverage on Chase, but left alone, it didn’t matter that he is a rookie and new to the league. He performed as a top-five wide receiver. Devote extra attention to Chase, even if it means Tee Higgins will get his.

Week 18: Bengals 16, Browns 21

Wild Card Round: Raiders 19, Bengals 26

Divisional Round: Bengals 19, Titans 16

When the Titans played the Bengals in the Divisional Round of the playoffs I learned that Joe Burrow is that guy. The Titans recorded nine(!) sacks on Burrow in the loss. They also had two other plays where they sacked him but the play was blown dead before the snap, and they hit him numerous other times. At no point during the game did Burrow appear rattled. He got up time and time again. It wasn’t his best game in the box score, he did not throw a touchdown and threw a pick, but he made a throw to Ja’Marr Chase at the end of the game that set up the game-winning field goal.

The turnaround that franchise has made in a year is pretty unbelievable. You have seen their confidence grow with each game they have won. Burrow is the guy that leads that charge. It has trickled down to the rest of the team. It was reported that before Evan McPherson went out to attempt the 52-yard game winner against the Titans he went over to Burrow and said, “I guess we are going to the AFC Championship.” That’s a rookie kicker!

It takes confidence and a little luck to win in the NFL playoffs. The Bengals clearly have had both of those. They will come into this game believing they will leave World Champions. That does not mean they will, but after what I have seen from them in the last three games, I am not betting against them. - Jimmy Morris, Music City Miracles

AFC Championship: Bengals 27, Chiefs 24

In the AFC title game, Tee Higgins did get his. The Chiefs learned their lesson in not over-blitzing Burrow and ensuring Chase wouldn’t beat them, allowing Higgins with one-on-one coverage to go for 100 yards. But you’ll take that over one receiver going for 250-plus, right?

In the regular season, the Chiefs let two 14-point leads slip away. In the conference championship, they let an 18-point lead slip away, and there’s a case to be made that the Chiefs vastly underestimated the defensive prowess of coordinator Lou Anarumo. After allowing 21 points in the first, Anarumo showed the Chiefs more man coverage in half two, rushing three and spying Patrick Mahomes to make him uncomfortable – and it showed for the world to see.

The Chiefs were lucky to score three points after that, and it wasn’t good enough. It doesn’t matter if you’re leading by three scores against this Bengals team. Don’t take your foot off the gas, be ready for adjustments and find a multitude of ways to score. Sean McVay should be up to that task. - Pete Sweeney, Arrowhead Pride

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