The Cincinnati Bengals come out of their bye week with a 3-3 record with hopes of improving in the second half of the season. The Stripes travel to San Francisco to take on the 5-2 Niners on Sunday while looking to tack on another win. This game could be the perfect time to show the rest of the league that the Bengals are contenders, as the 49ers will look to snap a two-game losing streak and maybe without some key players.
A healthy Joe Burrow could spell trouble for the Niners.
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow played through a strained calf injury through the first six weeks of the season and still gutted out three wins. Against Seattle, he looked more like his old self as he passed for 185 yards and connected with two of his receivers for touchdowns.
The extra time off has been beneficial for Burrow. In fact, he told reporters this week, “I feel really good.” If this is indeed the case, then the Bengals playbook should open up more, allowing Burrow to take more snaps from under center. A few more successful play-action plays could be just what the doctor ordered.
A mobile Burrow is a dangerous Burrow, and he more than likely will use his legs to pick up a third down here and there. Although this year’s stats may not reflect it, this could be the game where Burrow hits his stride.
Stopping Nick Bosa is one of the keys to victory.
The Niner’s defense is solid and led by all-pro Nick Bosa, whose mindset is always to get to the quarterback. In this case, it will be his close friend Burrow. The two hang out in the offseason, often taking in a UFC match occasionally. However, make no mistake, both are fierce competitors, and each has the ability to take over a game.
Bengals right tackle Jonah Williams will have the main task of stopping Bosa in his tracks while giving the Burrow time to executive the offense. If this becomes too much for Williams, the coaching staff could send help with a tight end or running back.
Cincinnati’s all-pro left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. was back at practice this week after going out in the Seattle game with a groin injury. He and his fellow lineman must stop this 49ers pass rush. The bright spot is that the Niners did not have a sack against the Vikings on Monday Night, so there is hope, along with good communication, that the line will be able to keep Burrow upright.
Will the Bengals commit more to the running game against the Niners?
One of the most talked about things over the bye week by Bengal fans was what to do about the running game. Starting running back Joe Mixon has been solid throughout his first six games. On 96 carries this season, Mixon has recorded a team-best 366 rushing yards and has one rushing touchdown. In the receiving game, Mixon has amassed 16 catches for 104 yards. Despite these numbers, the Bengals have yet to commit to the running game.
Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan even mentioned that after the break, he wanted to get the running backs more time on the field. Rookie Chase Brown was one of the backs looking to pick up more reps, but he injured his hamstring and will sit this game out.
Brown’s injury gives Trayveon Williams and Chris Brown more opportunity to prove they have what it takes to back up Mixon. What better way to show off your skills than against the third-best run defense in the NFL?
The Bengals need production at tight end.
Everyone knows that Burrow runs his offense through the wide receivers. Ja’Marr Chase. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. The tight end position has never been a centerpiece of the Bengals’s offense; nevertheless, they will need more production from Irv Smith Jr. to move the chains.
In the four games played by Smith, he has only recorded six receptions for 36 yards. The Bengals are one of the worst teams at picking up third downs. A good tight-end performance could throw off the Niners’ defense. If things don’t improve, the Bengals could be looking to pick up a tight end by the trade deadline.
Could Brock Purdy clear concussion protocol on Saturday and play on Sunday?
There are five phases to the NFL’s concussion protocol, and the 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy is in phase four. That has allowed Purdy to participate in practice on a limited basis on Thursday and practice full go on Friday’s session. It is remarkable, considering the team is on a short week.
Officially, Purdy is listed as questionable for Sunday, but he will attempt to pass the final step of the protocol on Saturday. If he clears that, he will start, according to coach Kyle Shanahan. If unable to go, backup veteran quarterback Sam Darnold would take his place.
What does all this mean for the Bengals? They will need to bring the pressure regardless of who is quarterbacking. The defensive book ends of Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard have been consistent with getting to the quarterback. Against each NFL West opponent, the Bengals have had 24 quarterback hits—this game is where the H&H Boys will need to have their presence felt.
Niners right tackle Colton McKivitz has been the weak link in their offensive line so far, so watch as the Bengals take advantage of his matchup with Hubbard.
Things the Bengals defense must do to get off the field
The 49ers have one of the more explosive offenses in the NFL due mainly to the array of weapons they have on their team. Stopping running back Christian McCaffrey and tight end George Kittle will be critical.
The Bengals can not allow McCaffrey to break off big chucks of runs. The Bengals struggled earlier in the season but managed to slow down Seattle’s run game, especially in the red zone. The 49ers are hoping to get big left tackle Trent Williams back, which would make McCaffre’s job much more manageable. The Bengals must tackle and wrap McCaffrey up, or it will be a long day for the stripes.
Look up top tight ends in the NFL, and you will find Kittle’s name there. If unchecked, Kittle can expose the weakness of any defense. The Bengals will need to shadow Kittle, especially on third downs.
Bengals’ defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has been called the mad scientist regarding the many looks his defenses give. I am sure he will have enough pre-snap disguises and different looks from the safeties to throw off the Niner’s offense.
One person the Bengal’s defense will not have to worry about is receiver and jack-of-trades Deebo Samuel. He is still out with an injury.
The Bengals’ secondary is young but talented.
The Stripe’s second-year cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt loves the challenge of going up against top receivers every week. He, along with veteran corner Chidobe Awuzie, will need to limit 49ers’ receiver Brandon Aiyuk. Anarumo likes to rotate his rookies into the mix, so look for DJ Turner and Jordan Battle to take their fair share of snaps in this game.
This secondary plays well together and has a real nose for the ball, as proven by the eight interceptions this group has acquired this season. Turnovers could be another critical factor in who wins the game.
The Bengals need to keep their playoff hopes alive, and a win would make them relevant again. They will need a healthy Burrow to be accurate and in rhythm with everyone, including the tight end. They must limit the costly penalties and not give up easy field positions. Getting a running game going early and sticking with it would be a start in the right direction. The Bengals have won two straight and have been an excellent post-bye team recently, so let’s see if they are genuine contenders.
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