The Cincinnati Bengals dominated the Buffalo Bills from beginning to end, winning 27-10. They started off the game with two unanswered touchdown drives and maintained their lead throughout the contest. This means the Bengals will play the Chiefs in Kansas City for the AFC title. Before that, we break down the four takeaways from the Bengals vs. Bills.
4 Takeaways From Bengals vs. Bills
The Bengals’ dominance over the Bills tells us that there is a distinct coaching advantage for Cincinnati, one that could implicate the head coach searches that this year’s underperforming teams are undertaking.
Not only that, it speaks to fundamental issues that keep the Bills from turning a great team into an elite team. Sean McDermott is a good head coach, but without resolving these issues, it will be tough for Buffalo to see themselves in the Super Bowl.
The Cincinnati Bengals Overcame Injury Issues Better Than the Buffalo Bills
The Bills entered the game down several defensive backs compared to their preseason expectations. They placed both safeties, Micah Hyde and Damar Hamlin, on the injured reserve list, and three of their defensive backs were on the injury report heading into the game. Not only that, they put a lot of hope into edge rusher Von Miller to help lead their defense, but he’s landed on the injury list as well.
Adding to that problem, they also lost safety Dean Marlowe to injury partway through the game while Kaiir Elam was on and off the field with injury problems. In the fourth quarter, as they needed to stave off scoring to create opportunities for a comeback attempt, both safety Jordan Poyer and cornerback Tre’Davious White collided helmet to helmet on a deep throw and were quickly ruled out.
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The Bengals had matching injuries on the offensive side of the ball and were forced to play three offensive linemen that they didn’t expect to start this season. Instead of having Jonah Williams and La’el Collins at tackle and Alex Cappa at guard, they were forced to play Hakeem Adeniji, Max Scharping, and Jackson Carman.
For their part, the Bengals managed their shorthandedness quite a bit better than the Bills and were able to play to the strengths of the offensive linemen they were forced to play, all while taking advantage of some of the weaknesses among Buffalo’s defense, targeting starters like Tremaine Edmunds with misdirection or forcing backup safeties to take on demanding switch concepts.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that Cincinnati has better depth, though a good argument could be made for that. Rather, it means that the Bengals did a better job of adapting to their adverse circumstances than the Bills did.
The Bengals Proved That the Elements Refocus Priorities
When it’s difficult to gain footing or generate much power from the ground, good technique is more important than ever. Teams with stronger fundamentals find themselves with an edge in games like these, where schematic advantages, power, and strength fall second to the ability to wrap up a tackle with form. With less wiggle room, good technique makes up the difference.
During the season, the Bills ranked 31st in missed tackle rate on defense, while the Bengals ranked fourth. Those already dramatic differences in tackling ability seemed magnified on Sunday, with Buffalo consistently missing tackles on Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd, and even Joe Burrow.
By the time garbage time began with five minutes left in the game, the Bengals averaged 0.12 expected points per carry. That’s the same rushing efficiency Lamar Jackson’s Ravens were able to get over the course of the full 2022 season.
That wasn’t the only element that the Bengals played more solid fundamentals. The Bills committed more penalties, too — not just holding but pass interference, defensive offsides, and having too many players on the field. In the end, the Bills committed eight penalties for 60 yards, while the Bengals only committed two penalties for nine yards.
The Bills Need More Out of Offensive Coordinator Ken Dorsey
The Bills’ offense has been exciting this year but hasn’t nearly hit its potential. Buffalo’s red-zone conversion rate has kept them below their potential, and they’ve been too reliant on production on third down to dig themselves out of bad play calls on first and second down.
That’s not sustainable, and we saw that in this game. The Bills had three three-and-outs, and they only converted one of their three red-zone trips into a touchdown.
Often the offense runs independent of the context of the opposing defense, calling plays not designed to beat coverage but to take advantage of the preternatural skills of Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. Allen does a good job overcoming blitz tendencies and setting protections, but it seems like the offense performs in spite of what the defense is doing instead of because of any particular offensive game plan.
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The Bills had only played against two top-level defenses all year — the New England Patriots and New York Jets. While their two games against the Patriots featured a lot of points, much of it didn’t come offensively. Two kickoff return touchdowns put the Bills over the top, and they averaged just 23.5 points per game outside of that. Against the Jets, they only averaged 18.5 points.
Overall, they put together a 0.00 EPA-per-play performance against those two teams. That’s better than an average NFL team, but only just. The Bills are supposed to be an elite offense with these kinds of tools, but against high-level opponents, they can mostly just manage.
Against the Bengals, managing wasn’t enough. Cincinnati knew Buffalo’s offensive tendencies and knew where they needed to drop extra defenders or send extra rushers. The Bills never adapted. An offense with a top-five receiver and MVP candidate quarterback could only manage 10 points before garbage time began halfway through the fourth quarter, averaging — once again — 0.00 expected points per play.
Bengals Defensive Coordinator Lou Anarumo Continues To Be Underrated
Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has not been as hot of a name as several coaches on the offensive side or young defensive minds like DeMeco Ryans and Jerod Mayo. But Anarumo’s been one of the best in the NFL at getting the most out of his defenses and preparing his teams.
Cincinnati ranked eighth in EPA per play and fifth in points per drive. Importantly, against the Bills, they looked more prepared to play in the snow than the home team did. And they did a remarkable job closing down on receivers in zone while Buffalo defenders were slipping in the same conditions.
It’s not a unit that’s received as much investment as the offense. While it does have some excellent free agents in Mike Hilton and Trey Hendrickson, they’ve mostly made short work of opposing offenses with a cadre of third through fifth-rounders along with middle-market free agents. This while the offense is stacked with first and second-rounders like Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Joe Mixon, and more.
After holding the Bills’ offense to 19 first downs, one touchdown, and 10 total points, Anarumo might get more attention.