The Cincinnati Bengals' offense is among the NFL's most explosive, but a key piston in its engine -- rookie wideout Ja’Marr Chase -- isn't firing.
The club's first-round draft pick isn't happy about his production of late, attributable to multiple causes from Chase's own drops to the way he's now being defended. Chase averaged 107.7 receiving yards per game over the first seven weeks of the season, but just 40.8 since.
"Hell yeah," Chase said Monday when asked if he's upset about the drop-off, per The Athletic. "Of course. C'mon, now. Of course."
The former LSU star and college teammate of Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow exploded over the first two months of the season as one of the NFL's most prolific deep threats. By Halloween, he was leading the NFL in receiving yardage (354) and touchdowns (four) on deep balls (20-plus air yards). But of late, he's been unable to take the top off of opposing defenses, and has just one catch of 20-plus yards in the Bengals' last five games. If New England Patriots QB Mac Jones' candidacy for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors has hit the gas, Chase's campaign has slammed on the brakes.
Concerns about Chase's drops in the preseason quickly went away early in the season, but they've since resurfaced -- he's among the league leaders in drops with eight, per Pro Football Focus, and last week, he dropped a perfectly thrown deep ball from Burrow that was intercepted off his hands. Beyond that, opposing defenses have gotten wise to his ability to get separation on the go-route.
"There are ways to help get (Chase) open," Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. "There are things we can do that we tried to do and there are times he's had plays that we went to him and just didn't make for whatever reason. I just think teams are much more aware of his skills and his ability and they're pretty determined to not let him be the one to catch a deep ball, and that's really a big reason why Tee (Higgins) has been so productive the last couple of weeks."
One way the Bengals could grease his tracks again, Chase believes, would be to play him at multiple receiving positions. He's aligned wide for the vast majority of his snaps, and has seen only limited action in the slot.
"I was just getting moved around more in college so it wasn't as easy to double team me, instead of me being on one side of the field and that's easy," Chase said. "I would love to move around more. I mean, that's not a bad option. It makes the offense open up more."
Despite the frustrations, Chase's overall numbers -- 55 catches for 958 yards, eight touchdowns and a robust average of 17.4 per catch -- remain lofty. It's no doubt just a matter of time before he's back in the end zone with another rainbow throw from Burrow.
But for both him and the 7-5 Bengals, it can't happen soon enough.