Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bengals On the Rise | Scouting Report 

Scouting Report: After a sound defeat by the 49ers, the Buccaneers will look to catapult themselves forward against the surging Bengals, a team with a young cast of offensive playmakers featuring Joe Burrow at the helm, a revamped offensive line and an athletic defense…Key players and strengths and weaknesses for the Bucs’ Week 15 opponent 

SR Week 15
(AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Next up on the 2022 slate, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face the defending AFC Champions: the Cincinnati Bengals. Tampa Bay will host the AFC crown jewel in Week 15 at Raymond James Stadium. The matchup is slated for a 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff on CBS. Coming off a 35-7 beating at the hands of the 49ers on Sunday, the Buccaneers will look for redemption against an ascending Bengals' team. Cincinnati has won five straight games, including a 23-10 victory over the Browns in Week 14 and a 27-24 win over Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs that essentially mirrored the club's title win against Kansas City in January 2022. The Bengals are second in the AFC North – trailing the Ravens due to a tiebreaker – and will strive to strengthen their hold on the division in the Week 15 clash.

After cruising to a slow 0-2 start and undergoing a demoralizing defeat in Cleveland on Halloween in which Joe Burrow was sacked five times, the team has hit its stride. The Bengals are now 9-4, with the offensive line playing a key role in the transformation. In 2021, Burrow was put in harm's way far too often, garnering a reload in the offseason. Last season, Burrow took 51 sacks during the regular season and 19 more in four playoff games. The Bengals made an offensive line reboot a priority, signing two proven interior linemen in guard Alex Cappa and center Ted Karras at the beginning of free agency. Then, the club enlisted another in former LSU standout La'el Collins. During the recent five-game win streak, the fortified unit has maximized talent on offense.

The Bengals have had to rely on their depth as injuries have piled up. After already being without starting tight end Hayden Hurst, Cincinnati lost defensive end Trey Hendrickson to a broken wrist, and the receiving corps took a hit. Tyler Boyd dislocated his finger and Tee Higgins has a hamstring ailment. Ja'Marr Chase missed time earlier in the season with a hip injury but since his long-awaited return to action, he has become Burrow's go-to target once again. Opponents opened the 2022 season by utilizing a heavy dose of Cover 2 in order to counter the Bengals' aerial attack, attempting to mitigate vertical concepts by allocating more resources to the deep receiving threats. Despite a revamped offensive line and anticipation of the usage, Cincinnati struggled to adjust, and protection issues contributed to the offensive woes. A contributing factor to the Bengals' recent climb is the robust running game. The Bengals' ability to achieve success on the ground against light boxes is what has led to an uptick in production.

Head Coach Zac Taylor – a prodigy of the Sean McVay coaching tree – has adapted the offense from being an outsize-zone based team into a shotgun-run, RPO-centric system. Since Week Nine, Cincinnati ranks fifth in rushing success rate out of 11 personnel. The Bengals employ pullers to deceive linebackers and provide push at the second level. The use of run-pass-option provides Burrow with the flexibility to hand it off, or to throw it with favorable matchups outside. The emergence of the ground attack has helped Burrow thrive with the use of play-action fakes. Without Chase in the lineup, the Bengals were able to exploit a two-high shell on the short-to-intermediate game featuring Higgins and Boyd working the middle of the field.

Defensively, the Bengals have taken strides. Despite middle-of-the-pack statistics, Cincinnati has held the last five opponents to an 83.1 quarterback rating with a 38.8% third-down conversion rate. With top-tier talent at all three levels of the defense in DJ Reader, Sam Hubbard, tackle-leader Logan Wilson (91), Von Bell and Mike Hilton, the Bengals have become a force in 2022. Bell is tied for fourth in the league with four interceptions and Hubbard leads the club in sacks with 6.5. Cincinnati held the Browns to a measly 4.9 yards per play, forcing the run-heavy team to become one-dimensional. The unit played with tight coverage against the Browns, blanketing receivers and forcing Deshaun Watson into frustrating checkdowns. Under the direction of Lou Anarumo, the unit has repeatedly found success in stalling drives and forcing punts. In spurts, the unit struggled against offenses attacking the edges in perimeter-based attacks, but the Bengals' defense has since been solidified.

In Week 15, the Buccaneers will strive to get back on track at Raymond James Stadium against a Bengals' potent offense and an opportunistic defense.

Bengals' Difference-Makers

On this week's compilation of headliners, many could have made the Bengals' difference-makers list, but these five stand out. This group could help swing the game in favor of Cincinnati on Sunday in Week 15:

QB Joe Burrow

The Bengals' calm and collected young quarterback, Joe Burrow, has taken the NFL by storm. With an understanding of defenses and rare processing skills, Burrow takes advantage of matchups – providing his playmakers with the best chance to succeed. The elite signal-caller finished out the 2021 season completing 72.3 percent of his passes for an average of 355 yards per game with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions over the final five games of the regular season. With vison and read recognition, The Heisman Trophy winner elevates the Bengals' offense. With brazen poise, elite precision, elusiveness when scrambling, the ability to make off-schedule plays and the acumen to throw pass-catchers away from coverage sets him apart. Burrow has established himself as one of the best in the game and the Buccaneers' defense will have to play a fundamentally sound, clean game on Sunday.

WR Ja'Marr Chase

Ja'Marr Chase's chemistry with his former college quarterback is undeniable. In his final year at LSU, Chase caught 20 touchdown passes from Burrow en route to the National Championship. He is coming off one of the best rookie receiver campaigns in NFL history, accumulating 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns. In 2022, Chase has continued the stellar trend, ranking sixth in the league with seven receiving touchdowns and 64 receptions (team-high). Chase is not only a deep threat but a weapon in the short-to-intermediate area. The 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year possesses sneaky speed, with the capability of going the distance on a slant, an out route, or an over. Chase's explosiveness often catches defensive backs off guard, as he hits vertical acceleration, leaving corners stunned. With rare ball-tracking, high-point ability and downfield adjustments, Chase is the offensive catalyst. The ball magnet poses a unique challenge for the Buccaneers, who will need to have a stout day in coverage on one of the league's most promising young stars.

RB Joe Mixon

Joe Mixon, a three-time, 1,000-yard rusher has benefited from the Bengals' rebuilt offensive line. After receiving his first Pro Bowl invitation last season, Mixon has put together another impressive outing in 2022. He has amassed 701 rushing yards and six touchdowns, including 96 rushing yards and an average of six yards-per-attempt against the Browns. His tough, dirty runs keep the Bengals' prolific offense from getting behind the chains. In short, Mixon is the engine. His straight-line burst allows him to quickly go from the first to third level. Mixon can hit chunk plays between the tackles or on the edge around corners/safeties. He is a true three-down back, with an upside as a pass-catcher. Mixon is a nuanced route-runner and can create immediate separation. He stays square in his blocking responsibilities and can can jump-cut around defenders in traffic. The Buccaneers defense struggled to stop Christian McCaffrey in Week 14 and on Sunday, they have to maintain gaps and set the edge going up against Mixon.

DT DJ Reader

DJ Reader is as stout as they come in the interior. He is the tone-setter of the Bengals' defense, providing opportunities for teammates with his push in the pocket. He uses his 335-pound frame to gain leverage/power on bull rushes. Reader overwhelms centers in one-on-one battles and has the athleticism to chase a play down the field. He fortifies the Bengals' defense and causes a positive ripple effect. Reader amassed five tackles, a quarterback hit and a pass breakup on a red-zone third down against the Browns. Cleveland continuously ran at Reader to no avail. Nick Chubb finished Sunday with 14 carries for 34 yards and 2.4 yards per carry in the Bengals' 23-10 victory. That was the second-lowest yards-per-rush number of Chubb's career, a testament to Reader's ability up front to plug holes. He made tackles for gains of zero and two yards, including a stuff on third-and-1, for Cincinnati. Reader is at the forefront of the Bengals' run defense, disrupting at the line of scrimmage. He is playing at a Pro Bowl-level and the Buccaneers' interior offensive line will have to be solid at the point of attack in going up against one of the NFL's best nose tackles.

NB Mike Hilton

Mike Hilton, the Bengals' versatile nickelback can do it all: blitz, disrupt opposing run games and blow-up screen games/end-arounds. He proved to be a great free agent success story for Cincinnati, showing that he was more than just a chess piece in the Steelers' perennially imposing defense. He has 52 combined tackles and four quarterback hits in 2022, serving as an impetus on the back end. In regards to playing in the box, Hilton is one of the most dominant in the game. He has tallied the fourth most sacks of any defensive back and the second most tackles for loss of any defensive back since 2017. Hilton is instinctive underneath, adept at working in the flat or as a robber player where he can utilize his speed to make plays driving on throws. He sets the edge versus the run by wrapping up tackles and is proficient on blitzes, navigating through traffic to get to the quarterback. He plays an integral role in the Bengals' defense and the Bucs will have to be aware of his placement on every down.

Strengths

Here are some ways in which the Bengals have excelled in 2022:

  • The Bengals rank second in the league in plays of 20-plus yards in 2022 with 39 (34 passing, five running). On passes of 20-plus yards, Cincinnati is averaging a distance of 29.8.
  • Joe Burrow ranks in the top two in completion percentage (69.3, 2nd), passing yards/attempts (8.4, 1st), and passer rating (105.2, 2nd) since 2021.

Weaknesses

Negative factors hindering the outcome of games in Cincinnati in 2022, most notably:

  • The Bengals rank 28th in the league in opponent punt returns, allowing teams an average of 11.7 yards per return (longest being a 56-yarder). On 20 opponent returns, the Bengals have given up 233 total yards, putting the team at a disadvantage.
  • Cincinnati ranks 29th in the NFL in stopping teams on third-and-short situations. On 43 attempts of four yards or less on third down, the Bengals have allowed 29 conversions (67.4 percent). Opposing teams have consistently had success in short-yardage instances against the Bengals' defense in 2022.

New Faces in 2022

The Bengals added key acquisitions during the offseason including guard Alex Cappa (four-year deal), center Ted Karras (three-year) and tackle La'el Collins (three-year) to bolster the front in protecting Burrow. In 2021, Burrow was sacked 70 times (including postseason), for the third-most ever recorded for a quarterback in a single season. Cincinnati retained the majority of its starters and added an infusion of young talent by way of the draft, including safety Dax Hill (pick number 31) and cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt (60). After investing in the offensive line in free agency, the Bengals' addressed the defense in the draft, solidifying the secondary. Hill primarily played in the slot at Michigan but possesses the athleticism to line up deep. Additionally, the Bengals signed tight end Hayden Hurst (calf injury, week-to-week) to add another dimension to the offense and a target for Burrow over the middle of the field after the departure of C.J. Uzomah.

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