The Cincinnati Bengals flew out of San Francisco last Sunday night with a massive 31-17 win over the 49ers, all while sweeping the whole NFC West division. Now, they look to get back on track as they work to close the gap in the AFC North division after winning their last three games in a row.
The Buffalo Bills come to Payco for a primetime matchup on Sunday night, bringing a lot of emotion from the previous two times these teams have met up.
In the AFC Divisional round last season, Bill’s postseason playoff run ended with a 27-10 loss to Cincinnati. This defeat was tough, especially since it was a home game for Buffalo.
Then there was the terrifying game where Buffalo defensive back Damar Hamlin, after tackling Bengals receiver Tee Higgins, suffered cardiac arrest, collapsed to the turf, and had to be revived on the field. Fortunately, he has made a full recovery. It’s unclear whether Hamlin will be active for Sunday night’s game.
Make no mistakes: both teams will be fighting to improve their standings in a brutal AFC division, which makes this a fun game to watch.
Burrow is back to normal as he heads into another primetime game.
Cincinnati’s quarterback Joe Burrow put on a show last week against the 49ers as he threw for 283 yards and picked up another 43 yards with his legs. Whether it was avoiding multiple sacks or scrambling out of the pocket, Burrow looked to be back to rare form.
The Bills will challenge Burrow as head coach Sean McDermott now makes the defensive calls. Look for McDermott to simulate pressures, hoping to get Burrow uncomfortable in the pocket. Buffalo is tied in the NFL with 28 sacks and hopes to add to it on Sunday.
However, don’t expect Burrow to stand around and make it easy for McDermott and company. He has proven to be more mobile and is starting to go under center more. His ability to break down a defense within the first few seconds of approaching the ball is second to none, as he makes the proper adjustments at the line. With his fast decision-making, Burrow gets the ball out of his hands fast, which is perfect for stopping a relentless Bills defense.
The Bengal’s offensive must hold up in the trenches.
Last week, Burrow’s offensive line played well against a solid 49ers defense while only giving up three sacks. This group will once again have to bring their A-game for the Bills’ bring a tough defensive front led by Ed Oliver, Greg Rousseau, and, of course, Vonn Miller.
Burrow was looking extremely comfortable in pass protection against the Niners and gave praise this week to his center, Ted Karras, for communicating the calls to the line. “We wouldn’t be who we are without Ted. He brings an energy and a toughness that we didn’t have before… I wouldn’t trade him for any center in the league.” Communication will be more important than ever against this pass rush, especially against defensive end Leonard Floyd, who has 6.5 sacks this season.
Mixon is looking to shine in primetime.
For a passing team like the Bengals, running back Joe Mixon has given the team more options with play calling. Mixon has racked up a team-best 112 rushing attempts for 453 total yards (64.7 ypg). He has scored two rushing TDs. Mixon, as a receiver, has 19 catches for 127 yards (18.1 ypg).
Now that Burrow is going under center more, it has opened the doors for the run game. Buffalo’s defense allows 122 rushing yards per game (22nd in NFL) and 5.1 per carry (31st), which is precisely what you want to hear if you are Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator, Brian Callahan.
Look for Mixion to exploit this Bills defense with big chunk plays in the run game.
Don’t look now, but here comes one of the best-receiving corps in the NFL.
How do you defend against three of the best receivers in the league? That will be the question Coach McDermott will ask himself as he develops his game plan. The Bills may find themselves in the same boat as the 49ers as Bengals receivers Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd put up numbers last week.
When Burrow is on his A-game, he likes to spread the ball around, which makes it difficult for defenses to focus on. Last week, Burrow went nine-for-nine and had a pair of touchdown throws on Cincinnati’s first two drives. If he can continue this trend, it would allow the Bengals to play with a lead, putting more pressure on Buffalo.
The Bills have had several key injuries on defense and look vulnerable in the secondary. They signed former Packers cornerback Rasul Douglas at the trade deadline to bolster the secondary, but he will likely not be ready for this game.
The Bengals make moves at tight end.
As hot as Burrow has played the last three weeks, he has yet to get the full potential from his tight end room. Current starter Irv Smith Jr. had four receptions for 25 yards last week. However, he made a crucial mistake. Unfortunately, inside the Niners’ five, Irv Smith fumbled and turned the ball over to cap off what has been a very disappointing year for the former Viking.
Wanting more, the Bengals signed Tanner Hudson to the active roster. Hudson hasn’t seen the field much and has spent most of the season on the practice squad. At 6’5″, he gives Burrow not only a large target to throw to, but Hudson has a knack for getting separation on his routes. He’s a more reliable option at the tight end position than Smith is, so I hope he’ll see a decent amount of snaps against the Bills.
Containing Josh Allen in the pocket will be critical.
The Bengals have struggled at times with running quarterbacks. Buffalo’s quarterback, Josh Allen, falls under this category. He racked up 41 yards with his legs last week against the Buccaneers, so cutting off any of his escapes while keeping him in the pocket would be an advantage for the Stripes.
If the Bengals’ defense can disrupt him with their coverage and pressure, then maybe Allen’s old teammate from the University of Wyoming, linebacker Logan Wison, may have a chance of picking him off. Allen has thrown an interception in each of the Bills’ last four games, which is great to hear when you have a Bengals defense ranked with the 10th most interceptions (eight) in the NFL.
The Bengals’ defense likes to pressure while stopping the run.
Bengals defensive ends Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard have made opposing quarterbacks pay this year. Hendrickson has eight sacks through seven games this season, already tying his total from last year. Hubbard is on pace to surpass the 6.5 sacks he had in 2022, and his four sacks on the year are second on the team in that category behind Trey Hendrickson.
Besides applying pressure on Allen, the defense must stop Bills running back James Cook. He’s coming off arguably the three best consecutive games of the season, rushing for at least 50 yards in three straight games for the first time all season. Cook has averaged at least four yards a carry in all three games as well. With the Bengals being ranked 28th against the run, this is another crucial matchup to watch
Allen has weapons of his own
With their most challenging assignment yet, Cincinnati’s young secondary consisting of Cam Taylor-Britt, DJ Turner II, and Dax Hill will most certainly be tested. This group must not allow three-time Pro Bowl Stefon Diggs, deep threat Gabe Davis, or speedy Khalil Shakir to make big plays.
Bengals second-year cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt will likely be lined up against Diggs, a matchup worth watching. Last year, in the Divisional Playoff game, Taylor-Britt held Diggs to just four grabs on ten targets (35 yards).
Buffalo’s rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid is another player to watch out for. In the past two weeks, the former first-round pick has been very productive and a big part of the offense, with 13 receptions, 140 receiving yards, and a touchdown during that stretch. Bengal’s safety, Dax Hill, may be used to contain Kincaid, as the Bengals have struggled to defend tight ends this season.
The Bengals must get out to another fast start and play with a lead. The Stripes must also take advantage of playing at home, where the crowd’s noise is on their side. Look to improve on the turnovers while limiting Allen from explosive plays with his feet or through the air. With a win, this would be another opportunity to move up in the AFC race while establishing themselves as contenders.
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