Tuesday Trenches: Holding the Bridge

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Cara Owsley/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

We have officially made the transition from conqueror to defender.

I won’t say the Cincinnati Bengals season is over, because it isn’t. There are still seven games to be played, and while they may not be favored in the majority of them, they have some outstanding chances to play spoiler for others on their way to the playoffs.

Over the last two years, they were the conquering team on their way to two consecutive AFC Championship games.

Now, without Joe Burrow, the Bengals are playing the part of the underestimated homeland defender.

Picturing Jake Browning standing in for King Leonidas, leading the Bengals’ 53-man roster at Thermopylae against the invading horde, makes me feel better about losing Joe Burrow for the season. They may lose the war at the end of the season, but Browning and the Bengals will make you pay dearly for every inch gained. I can live with that.

And maybe they’ll steal one or two and get into the playoffs as a Wild Card team. It’s not impossible. This is still an insanely talented roster.


Here are a few things I noticed during the devastating Thursday Night Football loss to the Ravens:

  • After the weekend to digest, the pain of losing the franchise quarterback is mostly gone. Even though the Bengals had won four of their last five games heading into Week 11, I had a sense that the early-season struggles weren’t exactly behind them. The defense had been inconsistent, and the offense would go into these lulls where they’d punt four or five drives in a row. You can’t win the Super Bowl like that. Hell, you can’t win in the regular season like that on a consistent basis. Maybe they were just about to put it together, in which case, this would have been devastating, but they were 5-4 before the Ravens game. It sucks, but I’ll be fine. So will you.
  • Joe Mixon continues to look good on the ground. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry and added five receptions, including catching Burrow’s only touchdown pass on the day. He’s a strong runner, and while he may not have that extra gear necessary to say he’s “explosive,” he’s perfectly capable of wearing teams down as games go on. I expect the Bengals’ new, post-Burrow playbook to feature a lot of Mixon.
  • Voltron, the new name for the Bengals tight end, continues to produce. Voltron, if you’re somehow unaware, is a giant robot piloted by kids who control smaller robots. Think Power Rangers, but a thousand times better. If there’s a “Keith” of the Bengals tight end group (“Jason” for you Power Ranger nerds), it’s definitely Tanner Hudson, who led all Bengals receivers with 49 yards. Yeah, it was that kind of night.
  • For those of you who chose Week 11 as the week that rookie safety Jordan Battle would take over the position permanently from Nick Scott, it looks like you won. Scott didn’t look very good against the Ravens, and Battle looked really good. PFF actually graded him as the second-highest performing defensive player behind veteran cornerback Mike Hilton. The future of the secondary, with CTB, DJ Turner, Dax Hill, and Battle, is very bright.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are headed for Cincinnati. They’re off a loss to the Browns and will face their second backup quarterback in a row. A loss for the Steelers could be the catalyst that dooms them when it comes to the wildcard race, and it could keep the Bengals in the hunt.

Here are a few things about the Steelers as we head into Week 12:

  • The Steelers offense has scored the second-fewest touchdowns in the NFL so far this season. Their running game is in the middle of the pack, but their passing offense is rated as the worst in the league when it comes to overall yards. Kenny Pickett is ranked as PFF’s 31st quarterback. Things have looked better for the Steelers offense.
  • The Steelers defense is very typical of the franchise. They have sacked the quarterback 28 times so far this year, and they’ve picked off 11 passes. TJ Watt, of course, is the big name, but the defense is loaded. Cam Heyward is a future Hall of Famer, and they’ll be facing Larry Ogunjobi, who helped get the Bengals to the Super Bowl. They have Minkah Fitzpatrick, rookie Joey Porter Jr., and Patrick Peterson in the secondary. This is a talented and well-coached defense that has the potential to give Browning and the offense fits.
  • The Steelers have an offensive line ranked just slightly ahead of the Bengals’ line. They’ve allowed only 10 sacks, but they’ve given up 20 hits, 80 hurries, and 110 pressures for an overall grade of 82.8, which puts the Steelers in 21st place out of 32 lines. The Bengals still have Trey Hendrickson and a young but talented secondary with two of the best linebackers in the league. If the Bengals win on Sunday, it’ll be because the defense made it happen.
  • Pickett has only thrown four interceptions on the season so far, but the Bengals defense is one of the most opportunistic in the league. Don’t be surprised to see Lou Anarumo throw a few wrinkles Pickett’s way, forcing him into an errant throw or two.

Here are a few more random thoughts on the Bengals Week 11 loss to the Ravens, as well as on the rest of the season:

  • At what point do you start to worry about Burrow’s ability to stay healthy? Personally, I say not quite yet, but that’s just me. After all, he’s dealt with a sub-par offensive line for a lot of his career in a division with two of the best pass rushers in the league. However, if he can’t be on the field, he can’t help them win. I can understand both sides, but I don’t think a determination can be made either way quite yet.
  • This is an absolute worst-case scenario for Tee Higgins. He’s in a contract year, so it’s either land a big contract, get tagged, or sign a team-friendly deal. Everyone and their brother knows Higgins is absolutely a No. 1 wide receiver who deserves No. 1 wide receiver money, but the NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league, and in his contract year, Higgins is going to have a career low in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. It’s not his fault necessarily, but he’s the one who will pay.
  • When the Bengals offense decides to run the ball down hill, between the tackles, the line, and Mixon, look good. Mixon averaged over four yards per carry against a good Ravens defense. I’m excited to see an entire game of Mixon towing the offense behind him. I’m also excited to see the return of rookie running back Chase Brown as well.

There’s really not a lot to say. There’s a logical part of me that realizes it would be beneficial to the Bengals to lose every game that remains on the schedule, not only for the potential of a top-10 draft pick but for a slightly easier slate of games in 2024.


I don’t want that. I don’t want to watch my team lose from here on out. The Bungle for Burrow era is over. There’s nobody worth tanking for outside of a franchise quarterback. I want to see the team I love win. I want to see the players I root for succeed as a team and individually. I hope Higgins somehow tears the roof off the place and signs a contract he’s happy with, in Cincinnati, of course.

And I want the Bengals to win the Super Bowl.

I bet $25 before the season started that they would. They offered me $3.04 to tuck my tail between my legs and cash out. No thanks.

Do I think they have a realistic shot at the Super Bowl?

No, but I’ll root like hell every week for them to get there. I mainly hope the remaining players on the roster remain healthy and productive for the rest of the year, and that the young players develop and are ready for ‘24.

For now, I’ll settle for imagining the Bengals as Horatius at the Sublican bridge in Rome as the entire Etruscan army approached, and he stood alone to hold them off.

Death cometh soon or late
And how can a man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods.

Or as King Theoden told Aragorn before the battle of Helm’s Deep, “If this is to be our end, then I would have them make such an end, as to be worth of remembrance.”

Whichever underdog movie trope you love the most, insert it here, and if that doesn’t get you going, I don’t know what will.

Beat the Steelers.

Who Dey!

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Title: Tuesday Trenches: Holding the Bridge
Author: Jason Garrison

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