CINCINNATI — One of the more puzzling aspects of the Cincinnati Bengals‘ 16-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday was the absence of Chase Brown snaps.
Earlier in the week, the team activated the rookie running back from injured reserve after he missed four games with a hamstring injury that occurred just as the coaches were carving out a bigger role for him heading into the San Francisco game.
Head coach Zac Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan talked about how excited they were to have Brown back at practice and to see if he could help spark the team’s struggling run game.
But the Bengals ended up with one of the most lopsided pass-run disparities in franchise history with just eight handoffs, all of which went to Joe Mixon for 16 yards. Not only did Brown not touch the ball, he wasn’t on the field for a single offensive snap.
Why Chase Brown Didn’t Play Sunday, and Why He Will Monday
“Chase had some plays in the gameplan that were his that we didn’t get to,” Callahan said. “When you get eight attempts, it’s pretty tough to divide up that carry number.”
Taylor and Callahan answered a lot of questions about why there were so few run plays on a day when they had Jake Browning making his NFL starting debut in a game that was close throughout as opposed to blowout with a lot of obvious passing situations.
They talked about only having 41 offensive plays and the reluctance to “bang your head against the wall” by sticking with a run game that clearly wasn’t working against an elite Pittsburgh defense that wasn’t going to break.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) August 2, 2023
Things won’t get much easier Monday night when the Bengals travel to Jacksonville to play a Jaguars defense that ranks fourth in rushing yards per game (87.4) and ninth in rushing yards per attempt (3.95).
But Callahan said the Bengals will be committed to getting Brown involved.
“We need to find out what Chase can do for us because I don’t know,” Callahan said. “That’s the answer at this point, and we do need to find out.”
One way to ensure Brown sees action would be to commit to giving him a series rather than waiting for the right circumstance to call one of the plays designed for him. Callahan said they haven’t committed to anything yet, but that could be a plan.
“That’s probably the way that you can at least guarantee he gets whatever runs are called, he gets the protection reps, he gets all those things,” Callahan said. “Sometimes that’s a better way to do it, just because it’s sometimes hard to get guys subbed in and out.”
While an effective running game can be an asset for a new quarterback, an inexperienced pass protector can have the opposite effect. But Callahan said that did not in any way play into the fact that Brown never got on the field.
“The protection part is obviously a critical part, but we didn’t have any reservation about playing Chase in the game,” Callahan said.
The combination of more quality practice reps, injuries, and a spiraling record has led the Bengals to lean on their rookie class more and more in the last few games.
Even without Brown taking an offensive snap (he did play 11 on special teams), the Bengals had a season-high 172 offense and defensive snaps played by rookie draft picks Sunday, with third-rounder Jordan Battle making his first start and first-rounder Myles Murphy topping 20 for the third straight week after averaging 10.1 through the first eight games.
The previous team high for rookie snaps was 148 the prior week at Baltimore. And the 109 logged in Week 10 against Houston was the third-highest total of the season.
If Tee Higgins returns this week at Jacksonville, it will cut into Andrei Iosivas’ snaps. But adding Brown to the mix could continue the trend. And it’s something the Bengals are committed to doing.
“For his sake and for ours, we need to find out if he can help us,” Callahan said.
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