BENGALS WR JA'MARR CHASE VS. COWBOYS CB TREVON DIGGS
If it seemed like Chase scored eight touchdowns in the last two minutes of Sunday's opener, it's because he simply grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck with those 3XL gloves.
It's the same way Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, Chase's partner in rhyme, felt about Diggs after watching Cowboys tape prepping for Sunday's game in Dallas (4:25 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against the man who had the most interceptions in 40 years last season.
"He makes a lot of plays, with however many interceptions he had last year. It felt like a million," Burrow said before Wednesday's practice. "He's not afraid to take chances, he's going to jump routes and you've got to be aware of who you're throwing a 50-50 ball to when he's covering them, because he's going to make a play. I think he's a former receiver at some point in his career. You've got to be aware of that."
Chase vs. Diggs. The numbers may be crazy but the tape isn't.
Savor it like a vintage 1981 bottle from the cellar Everson Walls racked up 11 picks for the Cowboys team that lost to Dwight Clark's The Catch. But you only have to dust off back to 2019 and LSU's win over Alabama to capture the flavor of a Pro Bowl matchup.
By consensus and stats Chase carried that day against Diggs with six catches for 140 yards and a touchdown. Diggs had his moments when he caused Chase to turn occasionally to the refs seeking a call, but remember what he said at the 2020 NFL scouting combine when asked to rate the best wide receivers he faced.
"He's real good. He's a stud," Diggs said. "Quick, fast, has good hands, runs good routes, he's a baller."
And last month during training camp Diggs put him in his NFL top five even though they don't meet for the first time in the pros until Sunday. Diggs, who began his career at Alabama at receiver, knows what he's getting.
Coming off the most prolific rookie season in history for a receiver, Chase put on a clinic late in Sunday's game. His ten catches for 129 yards and a touchdown had his coaches and mates maybe more impressed than what he did to the Chiefs with those rookie-record 266 yards.
But the big number from Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan? 0.0 mental errors in the passing game.
In the beginning of his second season, his enormous versatility seems to be coming out at the same time as his personality and he's not backing down from a soul. He got a flag for taunting when he ripped the mouthpiece out of Steelers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon's mouth and he went viral giving Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick the double bird in a photo he kept enjoying scrolling through Twitter.
"He was dominant," Callahan agreed. "The effort it took to be dominant was incredible. The stamina, the mental focus, it was one of the most impressive individual performances I've seen. Maybe ever."
Chase got more ink for flipping off Fitzpatrick in the middle of the game than for how he flipped the Steelers' two-high defensive script designed to take him away. With Tee Higgins out for the last 50 minutes or so with a concussion, the Bengals responded by lining up Chase everywhere and he came through playing all 100 snaps, some in places he had never been before.
"Unbelievable effort by him," Burrow said. "He's a unique, special player that you don't see a lot. And as much as we got him the ball on Sunday, we've got to get him the ball more."
Chase admitted it was the most fatigued he'd ever been in a game. "I was drained," he said. But he was able to make catches from spots he had never lined up while also thinking clearly enough to go off script with head coach Zac Taylor on the last play of regulation.
Moments before, a fourth-down fade to Chase had been jammed up in the back of the end zone. This time, down to their last play, Taylor, went to a play they had last run in training camp a few times. Chase faked a fade and broke outside by the right pylon and Burrow fitted while Chase Griddied.
"We changed it at the very last minute probably right as Joe is getting to walk into the huddle and call the first play. We changed it right in that spot because it didn't feel right," Callahan said. "Zac tagged that route on the backside, it ended up being a great look. We knew he was getting doubled, he had hard outside leverage by the corner. Minkah was kind of floating around, trying to protect him on the inside, that's why the fade the first time down there didn't look very good. We ran an outbreaking route towards the pylon that ended up working pretty good for us. It was a really good adjustment by Zac and really good execution by Joe and Ja'Marr."
It was a day Chase got a chance to show off the rolodex he has spinning through his football IQ. Flipping Minkah the bird? Oh yeah, he said, that was after his third catch, he thought. The more they moved him around, he felt the better he got.
"A hundred percent," Chase said. "Just because they can't cloud on me. Everything's moving around, now they've got to actually pay attention where I'm moving to … If I'm moving around then it's a little difficult to just throw the cloud at me."
The ability to move around Chase on such short notice with the Higgins' injury, Callahan feels, is a direct benefit of everyone being in the same system for an extended time.
"They are all routes he has run. He just didn't practice them in the spot that he might have run them in the game," Callahan said. "They're not new routes for him over the course of the system, he's run all of them. He knows what they are. He's caught them in games. But it's just more where he lined up and what part of the concept he was involved in."
During the offseason, the Bengals said they were going to move around Chase so he could avoid the junk defenses. The plan seemed to come out a bit more suddenly than anticipated with Higgins shelved.
"Sooner is probably the wrong word. It's probably he had to take on more than he would normally take on in the game plan," Callahan said. "That's a mental thing than it is anything else. We got to get called right so he knows where …As far as his execution in the pass game, it was as good as you could ever ask for.
"We try to at least give them a chance to have reps on things. But he was playing in the slot, he was playing No. 3, No. 2, he's playing out wide, running all kinds of different routes on 95 or whatever plays, really never came off the field. That kind of effort, I don't think there's a precedent for that."
The mutual respect is running both ways. At 6-2, 195 pounds, Diggs, is typical of the long, lean cornerback. But atypical with his receiver ball skills.
"He's an athlete," Chase said. "He's got great ball skills in the air and he's super fast. He's not too technique sound, though. He's a little hit or miss. He's either all the way on or he's not all the way on. But he's definitely a great athlete.
"He's all around, so you've got to really just watch for everything. Technique, hands you've got to be all around fundamentally to be ready for what he's got going on."
But Chase is thinking more about playing in AT&T Stadium than going against Diggs. Thanks to his dad, he grew up a Cowboys fan.
"I mean, it's a big matchup, but you know what's coming," Chase said. "Me and him and both. I'm not going to do too much talking on that."
He thought the photo of him and Fitzpatrick was "pretty cool," but he didn't want to talk about it. It sounds like he's trying to send a message. He's not going to fade away in double coverage.
"That's just me being myself. Showing my personality a little bit. I did that on purpose. I didn't care about the flag. I did it on purpose," Chase said.
But the tape sent a bigger message than flags and photos ever could.
"I can't say enough positive things and how impressive that feat was," Callahan said. "He'll not get the recognition he deserves for that. But my God, it was impressive."