What did we learn before the Bengals practiced Wednesday as they for prepped for Sunday's 96th Battle of Ohio (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) at Paul Brown Stadium?
Among other things, Bengals rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase has yet to receive Packers wide receiver Davante Adams' No. 17 jersey, Chase and Joe Burrow can read other's minds at times, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor thinks Burrow simulates an NFL scramble drill as well as any quarterback he's ever seen and Bengals middle linebacker Logan Wilson is still talking to the media even though he got scorched by classic careless clickers a few weeks back.
CHASING A-ROD AND ADAMS: Chase, who has run off the best eight-game start (786 yards) of any Bengals wide receiver but A.J. Green's opening salvo in 2016, thinks the future belongs to him and Burrow.
Before Wednesday's practice Chase was asked how good he thinks he and Burrow can be. After asking for Packers wide receiver Davante Adams' jersey after Adams and quarterback Aaron Rodgers lit them for 206 yards, he doesn't mind going there.
"I think we can get better than Davante Adams and Mr. A -Rod. I believe we can get that far," Chase said. "I've had Joe since college. I don't think he had him in college. I think that's a big difference right there. I feel like once I get a lot smarter than what I am now with football and the league, I'll start to be able to give Joe signals and we'll be able to look at stuff from the sideline and correct it on the field as we go. I just think it will just get better."
For the record, Adams had 263 yards in his first eight games back in 2014 with Rodgers. And Chase still looking for Adams' No. 17.
"I'm waiting for it right now," Chase said. "I hope he sees this. Can I please have the jersey please? Thank you."
MIND GAMES: Meanwhile, Sunday in New York Burrow became the first Bengals quarterback to throw for 20 touchdowns in the first eight games. Two of them came off the scramble drill in the red zone, a two-yarder to Chase and a 10-yarder to slot receiver Tyler Boyd.
So the scramble drill emerged as a topic before Wednesday's workout. After decades of watching A-Rod and Ben Roethlisberger and Lamar Jackson (and here comes Patrick Mahomes into the Paul on Jan. 2), break their back on broken plays, the Bengals have a guy that can respond often.
"What separates guys is when they can make throws under duress to tight windows," Burrow said. "Create plays where a play might not be there. I've always taken pride that when I can extend plays into a rush is bearing down on me I can make throws with my arm getting or a little bit of off platform."
It may look like they practice that for hours. But Chase says nay.
"I don't think we were work at it at all. If I'm really being honest I think it's just something that we know about each other," Chase said. "I just know what Joe is thinking sometimes, he knows what I'm thinking. If I don't think we're on the same page, I'm going to ask him where he wants me, how he wants it to make sure we're on the same page. "
Burrow agrees. It's not so much reps, but just mindset. It seems like Boyd actually wished it into existence after he watched Burrow improvising to find Chase a few times out of the pocket. The receivers have taken Burrow's cue and are making sure they're ready.
"That's been a big part of our offense the last couple of weeks. It's less practicing it and more of talking about it over and over again," Burrow said. "Guys like Ja'Marr, we have done it over and over again. We scored a couple touchdowns by doing that this year. Then I think guys like TB, who haven't done that much in the past, then see Ja'Marr catch a couple of touchdowns, he's like, hey, I want a couple of those touchdowns and big plays in that situation."
Burrow made it clear to Chase once he arrived here in May, be ready. He's getting rid of it fast because they're not in the SEC anymore. Not this Sunday with Browns edge terror Myles Garrett and his 10.5 sacks.
"When I first got here I was like, 'Why are you throwing so hard?' He was just like 'I've got to get it there faster now.' Just got to be quicker now. We're playing against Myles Garrett? Isn't that his name? Got to be much faster."
Take Chase's touchdown last Sunday. It is a matter of racing into Burrow's vision.
"It was an in-breaking route. I was trying to signal something to Joe, but wasn't on the same page there actually, he didn't look at me," Chase said. "But it was an in-breaking route like a slant, I kept it high a little bit, but I went outside of him and Joe scrambled out of the pocket and I went to the pylon (and followed him)."
On third-and-four from the Jets 10 in a game the Bengals led, 24-20 midway through the fourth quarter, Taylor sent Boyd on a fly motion, a route he rarely is the target. But when it broke down and Burrow ran to the right, Boyd ran "a half-mile," to get open.
"I think TB has really made the most strides in that area. His route's not open then he sees me break the pocket and his scramble reaction happens a lot faster," Burrow said. "It's nice to see that progression from guys like that and we are just going to keep getting better at it."
If they don't work at it in team drills, Burrow certainly puts in the time simulating broken plays in other drills.
"Last two or three years, throw one route on air where you take three (steps) and a hitch and throw it. When you are throwing the same route next time move the pocket, throw off platform, pretend somebody is around you," Burrow said. "So, I do a good job practicing that. That's really paid off in games."
"He does a great job of that in routes on air, in group install and he does it in time periods as well as any quarterback I've ever seen," Taylor said.
Taylor has to shake his head. It turns out the Bengals' best off-script plays have come without a practice script.
"There have been years where we've emphasized scramble drill on Fridays and we've been a bad scramble team," Taylor said. "This year we've taken that drill out and now we're a better scramble team so you make sense of it."
Defenses certainly can't.
WILSON WONDERS: Remember a few weeks back before they played the Ravens and Wilson complimented Lamar Jackson so effusively he said it was like getting ready to play a great running back? No good deed goes unpunished. True to form, Twitter immediately turned it negative, twisting the most harmless quote of the week into Wilson deriding Jackson's ability to throw.
Couldn't have been further from the truth and Wilson had to go to Twitter himself to clarify something that never should have been needed to be clarified.
"Anyone who knows me, I would never say something like that to say something negative toward a player of that caliber," Wilson said Wednesday. "It is what it is. It was out of my control … Yeah. It was ridiculous. But it's the world we live in."
Then some press-box wag tried to be funny and asked if he had anything to say about Jets quarterback Mike White.
"I'm not taking those baits anymore," Wilson said.
TACKLING LACK OF TACKLING: But Wilson had no problem talking about the most glaring part of the 34-31 loss to the Jets. The working number is 15 missed tackles and Pro Football Focus had Wilson for a team-high three.
"I feel like last week was our worst tackling game of the year. Up until that (game), we had done a very good job of tackling, for the most part," Wilson said. "Now obviously, you're going to miss tackles here and there. They get paid to do what they do on offense, too. And it's the NFL. They're very good athletes themselves. That's going to happen. I just think that we've got to clean some things up on how we tackle and being closer to check-downs, putting yourself in better position to make a tackle."
"Closer to check-downs."
That sounds like it could be a theme for the week. The Jets had 280 yards after catch (according to PFF) in a game the Bengals backers primarily played a soft zone.
"I didn't need to drop as deep as I did sometimes. And being closer to those check-downs and making it easier on yourself is definitely something I could've done better," Wilson said. "I feel like most of the time you're trying to take away the deep stuff and force them to throw the check-downs, which is what we were still trying to do but I didn't need to be as far away from the check-down as I was."
OTHER SHOE: Now here's the other shoe. The Browns are number one in the league running the ball and relentless. Rugged running back Nick Chubb is fourth in the league in yards after contact at 5-11, 227 pounds.
"I would say, probably just how many tackles he takes. He's hard to bring down with just one guy," Wilson said of Chubb's style. "You just have to make sure you wrap and squeeze. Everyone's coming. You just have to hold on. But sometimes, it's easier said than done. He's very good at making guys miss and breaking tackles."
With Kareem Hunt injured, Chubb's backup, 5-10, 208-pound D'Ernest Johnson, isn't easy to take down, either. He has a top 31 PFF number for yards per after contact at 3.17.
"He fits very well with what they do," Wilson said about Cleveland's down-hill zone runs.
SCREENS AND THINGS: If you thought the Jets like to run screens, Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski is coming in here with a screen door. Backs. Receivers. Tight ends. Especially now with Baker Mayfield dinged and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., done.
Many of the NFL's grand puzzles can be answered with one simple phrase.
The running game.
Your defense struggling?
Run the ball.
A young and rebuilt offensive line looking for rhythm and confidence?
Run the ball.
You've got a new quarterback or a young one or one that's just plain struggling?
Run the ball.
Which is why the Browns have a great screen game.
"Because they're so good at running the ball," Wilson said. "So, they run the ball effectively to begin with, and then you're so worried about the run, then they get you with screens because you start over-pursuing for that run. And then they've got a lot of guys that can run the screens. They've got guys at receiver, guys at tight end and guys at running back. So, they've got all sorts of different screens."
So Sunday's stage is set. The Bengals can't give up 280 YAC again.
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Taylor is keeping an eye on offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji to see if he's ready to come off injured reserve. Adeniji got hurt working out before training camp, so it's going to be interesting to see if they're going to put him at tackle or guard, where he started at both spots as a rookie last year.
With Isaiah Prince and Fred Johnson at backup tackles, he's considered a guard with rookie guard D'Ante Smith on IR. They're extremely bullish on Adeniji, a sixth-rounder from last season, so it's almost like a new addition at the trade deadline …
Jackson Carman, the starting right guard, practiced full Wednesday after getting carted off the field Sunday on the last series with a back issue …
Wide receiver Auden Tate (thigh) and running back Chris Evans (hamstring) didn't play last Sunday and went limited Wednesday …
Center Trey Hopkins (knee) and edge Cam Sample (knee) sat out but it sounds like they'll play …