Looking to quell that raging fever known as Opener Overreaction, the Bengals' two top offensive coaches emerged from Monday's film session confident that their passing game is on track enough to re-surface in this Sunday's Paycor Stadium opener (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against the familiar sight of the Ravens.
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow's lethal long ball which has led the NFL in deep passing the last two seasons couldn't pierce the Lake Erie mist. According to Pro Football Focus, Burrow was 0-for-5 on balls deeper than 20 yards on Sunday. Wide receiver Tee Higgins, the 6-4, 220-pounder who has converted enough of those 50-50 balls for two straight 1,000-yard seasons, got his hand on two of them but couldn't haul them in.
"I think that at the end of the day, those guys are going to connect on a whole lot more balls than they're going to miss," Callahan said. "We're going to load … up and fire away again. We've played really well playing that style when we've been given those opportunities. Yesterday didn't work out as well as it has. We're not going to throw it all away just because we were off on two or three throws in tough conditions."
Head coach Zac Taylor, who is in charge of dousing the fever, doesn't have to do much to stop his team from wallowing because here come the Ravens.
During the previous five seasons, the teams have each won the AFC North twice and after finishing last season here in the regular-season finale and the following week's Wild Card Game, the Ravens are on their way for a third straight visit.
The Bengals won the AFC North and the Wild Card in those last shots at Baltimore and after the 24-3 Opening Day loss in Cleveland, a win Sunday would feel just as big.
"Our guys are in a great place. We've played enough games as a team together to understand what kind of team we have and to see that even on film like yesterday and still be encouraged," Taylor said.
"And still be motivated to move on and play in front of a great home crowd. One thing I will say that I will continue to say this week is our home field is such an advantage, especially early in the season with new players on a team and new communication. That's what we're looking really forward to is playing in front of our home crowd and getting those advantages with the noise that way. Our fans always turn up and support us that way. That's going to be a great advantage we can have this Sunday at 1."
MISTY MEMORIES: The great Red Sox pitcher Oil Can Boyd famously observed after getting fogged out of a 1986 game in Cleveland, "That's what you get for building a ballpark by the ocean, man."
This generation of Bengals got that funky kind of weather game up north that the legends riff on. It didn't pour Sunday. But the rain was steady enough and misty enough that the ball was a bar of soap in the shower.
Taylor, who has coached in Miami and Los Angeles, has really been on the ocean, man.
"That was probably the biggest rain game I've been a part of in 10 years," Taylor said. "Sometimes the ball gets away from you and you can't get a great grip on it. There's a battle of 'OK, let's get some quick game.' That's even harder because you have to grab it quicker and you don't get a grip. Then you try to play action and maybe get a better grip and push it down the field, but they've got a pretty good rush.
"They're putting five D linemen in the game and creating problems that way. There were just things you have to continue to balance … There's so many things that we're confident in ourselves to move forward from. There are certainly things that we could have done better that you take the elements out of it, you take the other team out of it, there's some things that usually we are much better at that we weren't good enough on. Some phases of offense in particular. I feel really strong that those are things that we've cleaned up today and we'll be much better moving forward."
THIRD DOWN FOCUS: One of them has got to be third down. The Bengals finished fourth in third-down conversions last year but whiffed on 13 of 15 in Cleveland. Even more frustrating is they couldn't make five of four yards or less. Taylor focused on the two third-and-ones in the first half, one a short and high pass to tight end Irv Smith where the ball sailed out of Burrow's hand and the other a no-gain for running back Joe Mixon.
"We had a quick game of throw in the rain, and it was just sloppy. The throw and the catch were just tough. We had another third-and-1 where we ran it and just didn't quite get off quick enough and able to sustain that first down," Taylor said. "Big picture, there's a lot of confidence in our room that we're going to be just fine. It's the first game. We won't make too much out of it. Wished we would have had more success, should have had more success, and we didn't, and you've got to give credit to Cleveland. They came out ready to play. They had a great plan, their players executed it, and they deserved that Week 1 win."
MIXON LEADS BACKS: With his 4.3 yards per on 13 carries. Mixon drew praise from his coaches. So did the other two running backs for their pass blocking, Trayveon Williams and Chris Evans.
"I thought the backs played well, yesterday, I thought they gave us enough in protection," Taylor said. "I thought Joe Mixon ran the football really hard. He had a really good game for us and gave us what we needed. I thought those guys did a good job executing in all the phases that we need them to in terms of offense."
NIXING NARRATIVE: Callahan shot down two emerging narratives. No, he said, the offense wasn't rusty because Burrow practiced only six times leading up to the opener.
"I did not feel that way going into the game (of needing more work)," Callahan said. "I did not feel like we were off in any way, shape, or form leading up to the game. In practices and then in the game. I do think the weather threw it off quite a bit. Not to make an excuse for it, but I think that was a large part of it."
Or that the offense, along with not having Burrow for 34 days, suffered not playing in a preseason game. Which they haven't in basically the last four preseasons
"You'd like to not have your first five reps against Myles Garrett probably, but that's just what it is and that's the direction we've gone," Callahan said. "And it's been really good for us over the course of our time here. We've been a really healthy team because of it, too. So I don't think one game necessarily there was such a process to be honest."
BUILDING FOR BALTIMORE: Callahan began with the offensive line when outlining what the offense can take away from Sunday and build on for this Sunday. Burrow got sacked twice and hit eight more times, but there was a lot on their plate.
Not only were they facing one of the league's best players in pass rusher Myles Garrett, they were also dealing with the Browns moving their linemen in and out up and down the line. Callahan said he never saw Garrett line up so much inside.
Still, center Ted Karras and left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. were ranked the offense's third and fourth-best players by Pro Football Focus. While Garrett worked much of the night on the right side, between Garrett and double-digit sacker Za'Darius Smith on 36 pass blocks, Brown allowed just three pressures and no sacks for a PFF efficiency of 95.6.
"I thought there were some really good moments for the entire offensive line as a unit. I thought it was some good things in the pass protection part of it," Callahan said. "I think we created some separation and holes in the run game when we needed to. Wasn't perfect, but I was encouraged.
"I think Orlando did a nice job. You see his strength, you see his length and his size. He's going against probably the best rusher in football. And I thought he did a nice job holding up for the most part. We helped them when we could because that guy requires a lot of attention. But I was pleased with what he showed."
Other building blocks for Baltimore:
"The running backs played well in all three roles they were asked to play. I thought Joe Mixon really ran the ball well and I think he protected well. It's a position group in that game that was arrow up and positive … I'm not worried about the receiver stuff. We'll be all right."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Bengals Ring of Honor member Willie Anderson made good on his promise to treat the Bengals offensive line to pizza and sent some over Monday straight from North College Hill's Happy's Pizza, owned by Anderson's closest friend in Cincinnati, pastor Floyd Walker Jr. …
Taylor said defensive end Joseph Ossai (ankle) is day-to-day after missing the opener and indicated the Bengals have a shot at having everybody at their disposal against the Ravens …