Commentary: Bengals and Buckeyes follow similar paths to victory; are they sustainable?

Ohio State’s current and one of its former quarterbacks had very similar weekends.

I’d imagine that was more the plan for Joe Burrow than Kyle McCord, though.

Here are some thoughts and observations from another football-filled weekend:

1. The Bengals game was a pleasant surprise because they not only won but did so in what qualifies as dominating fashion for an NFL game.

Joe Burrow even looked almost like himself rather than just somewhat better than the week before, and I would qualify that as a huge bonus. He made quick decisions and threw the ball with authority to all parts of the field. He also scrambled multiple times and endured some big hits (though he had already been doing the latter). The contrast from the previous week when he not only didn’t throw the ball well but looked like a sitting duck in the pocket was striking and encouraging.

2. Beyond that, the Bengals even ran the ball! Willingly and (somewhat) effectively!

At the end of the day, Joe Mixon only averaged 3.2 yards on his 25 carries, but those were 81 important yards because if you are not willing to run the ball that amps up the blitzes and speeds up the pass rush, two things the Bengals can’t afford to do.

The numbers also looked a little better before they had four carries for minus-5 yards on the last two drives.

3. Rain fell off and on Saturday afternoon in Columbus, but the sun was shining by the time Ryan Day met with reporters, and that felt appropriate.

Social media may still have been roiling with anger and concern after another day of not dominating an opponent from start to finish, but all in all this appeared to be Ohio State’s best all-around performance of a season that is approaching its midpoint.

4. So, is the teeth-gnashing fair?

Not this week, but this is the life we’ve chosen — at least until sites like what used to be known as Twitter mercifully go out of business. There were many tense moments, as there tend to be in college football games, but when all was said and done Ohio State had a 20-point win over what figures to be one of the top five or six teams in the Big Ten when all is said and done. Maryland has a legitimate offense with a good quarterback and a good shot at winning nine games if they can put this loss behind them quickly.

Don’t get me wrong — I understand the angst for sure. And doubt about the rest of the afternoon let alone the rest of the season were more than fair when the Buckeyes fell into a 10-point hole and didn’t look very good doing it.

But once the fog of war lifted, well, that looked like a pretty good win and a more-than-solid overall performance with multiple positive indicators for the future.

5. There are legitimate concerns, of course.

How good will Kyle McCord ultimately be? Is the offensive line good enough? Can it be good enough two weeks from now when Penn State comes to town? Is the defense legit?

As the players and coaches said leading into the Maryland game, the answer to the last question really won’t be known until the season is over.

The Silver Bullets shot blanks against Michigan and Georgia last season after looking pretty good for the first 10 games. For what it’s worth, they first showed some cracks against these Terrapins in the 11th game of last season. This time around, the defense fared much better. Not only did they hold Maryland to 17 points (including a touchdown off a short field), they actually forced a couple of turnovers and got some pressure on Taulia Tagovailoa.

Maryland ran 23 times for 85 yards, a 3.7-yard average Ohio State is going to take every time, especially if the Buckeyes are continue playing a style of defense that is more focused on preventing big plays. The trend in the NFL is to give up some runs like that in exchange for unrelenting big play prevention. I had guessed that was also Jim Knowles’ philosophy in playing a true 4-2-5 defense, but he insists they will never be a “bend but don’t break” unit, and his tendency to make very aggressive blitz calls also goes against my theory. He has dialed back the blitzes this season, but he seemed to call some well-timed ones against the Terrapins.

6. As I’ve already written, concerns about the offensive line being able to physically do the job are not only legitimate but major at this point.

I also still don’t think the staff knows how it wants to try to run the ball. I guess we can give them both credit and blame for trying just about everything so far this season, but at some point don’t they need to settle on a bread and butter? I have never been a zone blocking person anyway, but it seems to me they are better using gap schemes because those provide angles that make executing blocks easier for guys who are not physical marvels like some of the players Ohio State has had up front in the past (this is also not coincidentally why it works for Michigan after the Wolverines struggled up front for years). The OSU coaches know their guys better than I do, and they see them in practice. They also get limited chances to work things out in games, so this is an ongoing situation. Pass protection seemed to be pretty good against Maryland, but the Terps don’t have much of a pass rush, either, coming into the game.

I haven’t rewatched the game yet, so I also need to see how often they were just getting outnumbered. In that case, the running game is at least serving its most basic purpose as it creates opportunities for the passing game, which only needs an inch to take a mile given the talents of Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka.

7. So Ohio State ended up winning The Bengals Way (Joe Burrow Edition).

That means by having the best receiver on the field if not the country/league and getting him the ball whenever possible —literally.

Marvin Harrison Jr. and Ja’Marr Chase were the men of the match for Ohio State and the Bengals with their teams taking advantage of every opportunity to get them the ball both because they could and because they had to. And even though the opponent had to know that was their best path to victory. McCord also sounded like Burrow when after the game he said he will take Harrison one on one against anybody 10 of 10 times.

Is that sustainable for either team? Winning would be a lot easier if they come up with some changeups, but Harrison and Chase just might be that good.

What would be ideal for both teams is to have their quarterback continue to get better (speaking in terms of Burrow getting healthier and McCord having the game continue to slow down for him as he gets more experience) and get more help.

Well, as the song goes, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you’ll find you get what you need.

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