Bengals find success moving Chase all around offensive formation

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

CINCINNATI — Ja’Marr Chase said it’s “crazy” to think the Buffalo Bills would have beaten his Cincinnati Bengals in the playoffs last year had it not been for the snow, but the reminder of those kinds of comments a couple opposing players made after the game don’t necessarily provide any added motivation.

The Bengals have another chance to prove themselves Sunday night when they host the Bills (5-3) in a rematch of their divisional round playoff game, which Cincinnati won 27-10 on the road.

That was Chase’s first game in snow, and he noted it’s more difficult to play in those conditions but Buffalo of all teams should have been more accustomed to it than the Bengals. There is no snow in the forecast for Sunday’s game at Paycor Stadium.

“It will be a good test for us again,” Chase said. “Hopefully they don’t know none of our tendencies, (since) we switch it up a little bit and keep them guessing. They play man, zone (defense) — they play it all, two-man, quarters, strong, so they throw it all at you and you’ve got to be ready for anything.

“We control our own destiny right here so we’ve got to get this win and move forward and put ourselves in the right spot,” he added.

Chase didn’t have his best game at Buffalo last year but he scored on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Joe Burrow less than four minutes into the game and by the end of the first quarter, the Bengals had a 14-0 lead they wouldn’t lose.

That was also where the evolution of his game really began, and his versatility could be key for Cincinnati beating a very good defense that, as Chase noted, does a lot of things well.

Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said the Bengals had been lining Chase up in different spots for the last four regular season games in 2022, but that originated with the plans to use him out of the backfield some in the Week 17 game against Buffalo — the one that ended less than 10 minutes in when Damar Hamlin collapsed.

Because Cincinnati didn’t get a chance to use a lot of the game plan that day, the coaches saved some of it for the playoff meeting three weeks later. Chase finished the game with five catches for 61 yards and one touchdown and had one carry for three yards, but he lined up in the slot, on the outside and in the backfield and the Bills couldn’t adjust quickly enough.

Burrow threw for 242 yards and two touchdowns, and Joe Mixon had 105 yards rushing and one touchdown.

“Probably those last four regular season games and the playoffs was when we started doing a whole lot more with him, just because you have to, so nobody could get taken away and you can keep moving him around,” Callahan said. “And he’s done a great job responding to that too.”

The Bengals have brought that into the 2023 season, though his two jet sweep carries on Sunday in a win over San Francisco weren’t so effective. Chase said he likes moving around and doing different things in the offense, and not only does it keep the defenses on their toes but it also frees the other receivers up to run routes they want a shot at but might not get if Chase is lining up on the outside all the time.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said it’s a lot for a wide receiver to take on, but Chase is effective at everything he does.

“The reason you can do that is because of his understanding and football IQ,” Taylor said. “You can’t do that with guys who maybe it doesn’t make much sense to them and you are moving them around and distracting them from playing their one position they are really good at. Ja’Marr is not that way at all.

“Ja’Marr immediately understands the full picture of the full route concept, why we are doing things with him. It allows you to be more aggressive with how you want to use him because of his ability to take it all in and go execute it. … He has worked hard enough to put himself at all five positions, maybe even six — maybe we’ll put him at quarterback here at some point. He’s just done a really good job with his approach and understanding of what we are trying to achieve.”

Chase said he’s never thrown a pass and he doesn’t anticipate needing to do that — especially when Burrow is on top of his game like he was Sunday, completing 28 of 32 passes. The Bengals will be looking to carry that momentum into this week’s game as they are looking for their first AFC win of the season.

“We have to take advantage of the matchups and opportunities we get,” Chase said. “We know their linebackers are young right now so hopefully we get matchups on those guys, matchups on the safety, mismatches on the corner. Hopefully we play the right decision and the receivers make the plays.”

NOTES: The Bengals placed second-year safety Tycen Anderson on the reserve/injured list Friday after he tore the ACL in his left knee in the first half of Sunday’s win at San Francisco. He missed all of his rookie season because of a hamstring injury but played the first seven games of this season on special teams, where he was carving out an important role.

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