Much of the hype surrounding the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense this year has gone to Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase. And with good reason, at least in the earlier parts of this season. But Chase’s yardage production has slowed from its torrid pace since his Week 7, 201-yard performance though. Since then, fellow receiver Tee Higgins has begun to trend upward with stellar showings of his own.
Over the first 11 weeks of this season, Higgins looked like he was avoiding the sophomore slump, following up his very solid rookie season with more good production. In fact, his per-game production to start the 2021 season was nearly identical to the numbers he had in 2020. That meant averaging about four or five receptions each game with right around 55-56 yards on a weekly basis.
It was a good sign for Higgins, whose production could have dropped with Burrow’s college teammate, Chase, stealing targets after joining the team. Instead, we saw Burrow continue to find Higgins just as often as he had last year, with the latter averaging almost the exact same number of targets per game. Still, he had a couple 100-yard games in 2020 that helped elevate his average yardage, but he hadn’t yet broken into triple digits after 11 weeks in 2021.
Then, against the Steelers in Week 12, Higgins put up 114 yards on six catches. The next week, he caught nine passes for 138 yards, and this Sunday, he tallied 114 yards again on five catches. With those performances, Higgins became only the sixth player in franchise history to record three straight games with more than 100 receiving yards. He’s also doubled his touchdown total this year in those games, with two scores over the last three weeks.
Through Week 11, Higgins’ production seemed to only be on pace to maybe break 900 yards in that extra 17th game. After three straight games with more than 100 receiving yards, he could viably breach the 1,100-yard mark this season, even after missing two early games with an injury. He’s been very effective in getting open over the middle on both intermediate and deep passes. Even when he’s got a man right on him in coverage, Higgins has shown off his incredible talent at high-pointing the football and securing tough catches in recent weeks.
Cincinnati ended up losing a tough game on Sunday, but the fact that they were in the game late in regulation and even ahead in overtime was in large part because of their sophomore receiver. He made a huge catch to get the Bengals going on their two-minute drive, and Chase tied the game just four plays later.
His big catch and run to start overtime also set Cincinnati within reach of field goal range right away.
Higgins has just been a production monster for the Bengals over the last three weeks, but as a team, Cincinnati needs to get their offense going earlier. The Bengals have a talented offensive unit that ranks seventh in the NFL in points per game, but they’ve still had to fight to stay in games this season and especially over the last two weeks. That’s largely because they’ve been facing large scoring deficits at halftime; their 11.7 points per first half drops them to 16th in the league in first-half offense.
To that end, as great as Higgins was on Sunday, he only had one target (and catch) for the entirety of the first half. The rest of his seven targets didn’t come until after the half, when Cincinnati was already down 17-6. The Bengals must find a way to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers and score more points in the first half. If these last three games are any indication, Higgins can be a big part of that solution.
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