Bengals rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase could get his 1,000th-yard of the season as soon as Sunday's game (4:25 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against the 49ers at Paul Brown Stadium and he still has the fifth most receiving yards in the NFL with 958. That's 109 yards more than the next rookie, Chase's old SEC rival Jaylen Waddle of Alabama now with the Dolphins.
But that also means since Chase's 201 yards in Baltimore on Oct. 24 gave him an NFL-record 754 yards in his first seven games on a torrid 21.5 yards per catch, he's got 204 in the last five games on 20 balls for 10.2 yards per catch.
It's not brain surgery.
"I've been getting a lot of cloud lately. That makes my route change when I get cloud coverage," Chase said Monday during his Zoom media availability. "Bumping me, trying to make me slow down my route, get me out of the play, take me out back side. I'm pretty sure that's slowing me down now. I have to make the adjustment to beat double teams."
But when he was involved in one of the biggest plays of Sunday's 41-22 loss to the Chargers, he beat one-one-on coverage from cornerback Michael Davis. Down 9-0, quarterback Joe Burrow dropped a dime over Chase's left shoulder on what looked to be a 71-yard touchdown that would get the Bengals back in the game and Chase back in the swim.
But when he tried to put the ball away, he juggled it and the next thing the PBS crowd knew, Davis had interception at the Chargers 29. Instead of 9-7, a few moments later it was 16-0.
"I just double caught it. I didn't catch it the first time. Ended up double catching it. Tried to tap it back to me and all hell," said Chase who appeared to be the classic victim of running before he caught it. "I did see that on film, too. It did look like I ran before I had it. But I think it was me trying to catch it a second time that made it look bad. Getting it the first time I would have made it look easier."
Chase is still second in the league with six catches of at least 40 yards even though he hasn't had one since his 82-yard catch-and-run touchdown in Baltimore. He admits he's frustrated over what has transpired over the last five games and is looking for ways to beat the attentive coverage. Chase says he'd love to line up in more different spots, realizing, "It means I've got to know more."
Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan says the Bengals are trying to do exactly that, pointing to Sunday's red-zone snap Chase lined up in the backfield and ran an option route.
"He's been in the slot. It's hard. We have a dynamic slot receiver on top of it that we like to use, too," Callahan said of Tyler Boyd. "It's not always that easy to say, 'move him around'. But I feel like we've tried to do our best to keep him in some different places and he has played in the slot, he's played as the third receiver inside in some of those speed trips formations.
"We've put him in the backfield. We've handed him jet sweeps. We've handed him toss sweeps. We've found ways to get him the ball, I think. And we'll keep probing those ways to get him different touches in different places, too. He's pretty dynamic so we'll try to get him the balls as many ways as we can."
Callahan told his guys Monday that turnovers are not an individual thing, but a unit-wide issue. Chase who was open downfield and appeared to be the target when Burrow wound up and was the victim of a sack-strip on the first series of the game, gets that.
"I have no control over that. I can only control the things I can control," Chase said. "Do my job. Do my assignment at the time. That's really what football is. Everybody just has to execute on the same page to not make games look like that."
This is what Chase can control.
"It's just adjusting on the fly, not messing up assignments. Make sure I'm on the same page with the quarterback, no MA's (missed assignments), penalties, no drops."
He had two drops Sunday, giving him seven for the season (three touchdowns), fourth most in the league, but he's in good company. The Rams' Cooper Kupp has eight, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce has nine and NFL-leader Deebo Samuel (10) comes into PBS this Sunday with his NFL-leading seven catches of 40 yards for the 49ers.
The one thing Chase says he has learned in this stretch is to take care of his body in the cold climes.
"Since I'm in a cold area, trying to go to practices and just start off practices like I did at LSU, you can't do that the same way," Chase said of his native temperate Louisiana. "I've got to stretch, go out there stretch, might hit the hot tub a little bit to get my blood flow, just getting myself comfortable to start practice. So I've been doing that a lot lately."
And you don't have to tell him what Sunday's drop meant.
"With that catch at the beginning of the game," Chase said. "We probably wouldn't be having this talk right now because that's early in the game and that's a big play, so it's just making plays that need to be made."
BURROW CHECK: Chase said Sunday was the most emotion he's ever seen from his Bayou buddy Burrow as he watched him play with his dislocated right pinky.
"Dealing with that pinky, so I don't know," Chase said. "I'm pretty sure he's going to be okay. You know, he'll shake back. He's a tough dude, so I think he'll get right, get back treatment, get his hand right. Whatever he can do he will try to do for us."
Chase saw only one wobbler on tape and it was still a good throw.
"I overheard him say it took a little zip off. He really couldn't grip the ball so good," Chase said. "On film, he threw a little wobbly one to TB (Boyd) on the flood concept route, sail route. It was a great ball and everything, still, but the ball just came out wobbly. It still got there. It was still a perfect ball, but it just wasn't a spiral."
This, by the way, will the first of thousands of references to Burrow's finger before Sunday's game. Head coach Zac Taylor remains optimistic he'll play, but said he'll take it day-to-day. It sounds like he'll back him off Wednesday.
"He feels good," Taylor said. "There's a chance that we limit him early in the week so that we can make sure he doesn't put any pressure on it and can be the most effective he can be.
"I can't give exactly how the week is going to play out as I sit here right this second but we will have great communication with Joe over the course of the week and work we need to get done."
Taylor, a former quarterback, knew it couldn't have been easy to play with something like that from the fifth snap on.
"He did a really good job handling it over the game. It was a fresh injury, he was pretty accurate for us and put us in position where we could have won it," Taylor said. "He managed it in the short term and we'll see how this week goes. We'll be smart with what we'll ask him to do. Maybe rest will be the best thing for him. Let him manage it. Tomorrow, we'll have more information of how he feels. Wednesday we'll have more information and see where we have to go with it this week."
Callahan, another former quarterback, didn't know it was an issue until about two minutes left in the half.
"I saw it on the TV upstairs that he was fidgeting with it and looked like he was in pain," Callahan said. "Apparently it got worse as the game went along for him so it didn't show up right away. Things like that you usually leave it up to the player. If he feels good, then we're good, and if he feels we need to monitor something or don't throw these routes we wouldn't. He basically gave the green light and we went out and played football the way we normally would. We didn't adjust anything to that for him. If we needed to we would have, but he was confident he could manage it."
INJURY UPDATE: The injury fallout was as expected. Not good, but it could have been worse.
Taylor didn't confirm a report that middle linebacker Logan Wilson has a dislocated shoulder, but he confirmed he's out for this Sunday with a shoulder injury and maybe longer.
He did say he didn't think the loss of Wilson, the man with the green dot on his helmet who communicates with the sideline, was responsible for the three 40-yard pass plays they allowed or some of the wide-open receivers. Taylor said linebacker Germaine Pratt, whom forced a fumble and recovered one, did just fine with it.
"A lot of them were 1 on 1," Taylor said of the explosives. "Guys were in position and their guy made a play. A couple of them were coverage issues, but I don't think it came down to who was wearing the green dot. I thought Germaine did a great job communicating there as the game went on. He hasn't always had that, but he did a nice job there and he understands the defense and is a great communicator. We'll continue to assess that, but I thought our guys, even the depth guys that came in, did a good job holding down the fort for us."
The other injured all seem to be lumped in day-to-day, starting with cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (foot) and the two offensive linemen who missed Sunday's game with ankle injuries, center Trey Hopkins and right tackle Riley Reiff.
"Chido will go to day to day. We'll see where he's at with his foot and see how he can manage that over the course of the week and make a decision," Taylor said. "Other guys that pop up, (linebacker) Markus Bailey had a stinger, so we'll have to monitor him during the week and see where he's at. Other guys that popped up, the guys that were out last week most of those guys will be day to day this week to see where they're at.
"So I'm talking about Trey Hopkins, Riley Reiff, (running back) Chris Evans. Hopefully we can get them back practicing and see where they're at this week. And then a lot of guys had some nicks and bruises, but most of the other guys will be good."
WAYNES, D'ANTE SMITH EYE RETURN: Taylor said cornerback Trae Waynes (hamstring) and rookie offensive lineman D'Ante Smith (knee) are "trending" to come off injured reserve. They'll know more Tuesday if they'll start their 21-day window to practice this week.
O-LINE STRUGLGLES: Both Taylor and Callahan confirmed what everyone saw Sunday. The renovated offensive line without Hopkins and Reiff struggled.
It wasn't an ideal situation for a rookie to make his first NFL start at center given how multiple the Chargers defense is. And the big lead allowed them to play even more havoc with Trey Hill.
"That was a particularly mentally challenging group because of how multiple they are, both in their fronts and their coverages," Callahan said. "It was a challenge for any center, and certainly a challenge for a rookie making a start at center. There's no excuse, though. We expect the guys that we have on the roster to be ready to play."