CINCINNATI. The offense knew it needed to shake things up after a couple of poor performances in the Cincinnati Bengals’ first two losses.
So the Bengals made small but significant changes to their practice before last week’s game against the New York Jets. Instead of the various positional groups entering the exercise field separately, they entered as a unit. It was part of a week-long effort to create a sense of urgency and avoid a 0-3 start.
Wide wide receiver Tyler Boyd said this underscores the need for a quick start and preparation in order for the team to play confidently.
“Even if we didn’t lose, we had to do it as a team,” Boyd said in the away locker room at Metlife Stadium on Sunday. “We feel like the best team. We have to prepare in this way.”
Since the team’s first game practice last Wednesday, the offense has changed the way they entered the field for team practice. Instead of the squad standing behind teammates at one end of the field, they would run to the touchline before running onto the field at the start of the practice period, mimicking what they would do in a game.
This was not a new concept for the Bengals. Tight end Mitchell Wilcox said the offense did the same at moments during training camp and at the end of the 2021 season.
Boyd and Higgins said the attack came on purpose during practice. But the change emphasized the need to maintain a playful focus in practice and sought to create an urgency that was lacking in the team’s first two defeats.
And it worked. Cincinnati hit a couple of touchdowns early and never looked back in a 27-12 win over the Jets. Ahead of a prime time bout against the Miami Dolphins (3-0) on Thursday (8:15 pm ET, Prime Video), Bengals coach Zach Taylor referred to “little things in practice” when talking about the urgency after 0 -2 start.
“You want guys to be confident and talk about it a little more,” Taylor said. “I have a lot of confidence in our group.”
The practical set-up wasn’t the only thing the Bengals did to ease a quick start against the Jets.
Wilcox said urgency and energy were topics discussed in meetings throughout the week. With the Bengals (1–2) winning on the coin toss, Cincinnati decided to start the ball game, rather than delay, for the first possession of the second half. Taylor usually likes to be able to finish the first half well and then lash out right after the break.
Against the Jets (1–2), Cincinnati started the game with 11 games for 90 yards, culminating in a touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Burrow to running back Samaya Perin. This was the start that the Bengals wanted to show at the start of the week.
“I feel that the fact that we were able to come out and score the first goal also strengthened our defense and gave them a lot more momentum than they could have started. [with]”Higgins said. “It just helped and we played complementary football.”
According to Wilcox, even the first few plays of a drive are important in establishing a good rhythm. In the Cincinnati’s Week 2 loss against the Dallas Cowboys, first try penalties led to misfires due to a Bengals offense that lacked explosive play.
Cincinnati began their game against the Jets with a 13-yard completion by Boyd, followed shortly by a 19-yard tackle by Higgins.
“If we can stick to the schedule and attack the field with some energy, we can start moving,” Wilcox said. “We just need to get started.”
The Bengals hope to repeat this success when they host the Dolphins. Taylor said a process that worked well against the Jets shouldn’t be hard to replicate otherwise.
“We didn’t do anything crazy,” Taylor said. “It wasn’t like the hype we made that we get up for one week and can do it once. I think it’s just a weakness that we realized in the first couple of weeks.”
It turns out that something as small as how a team gets on the field can make a huge difference, especially when a team like the Bengals needs it the most.