If the Bengals’ season goal is to make the playoffs, the run game should be their number one priority. Buffalo boasts the NFL’s best rushing attack, while the Bengals rank near the bottom. Look for Cincinnati to try to turn that around in this week’s home matchup against the Buffalo Bills.
The outlook and strategy for the rest of the year all hinges on this one game for the Bengals. With a win, they keep their playoff hopes alive. With a loss, it’s time to start evaluating who to keep around for next season.
It’s do-or-die time for the Bengals, and if they want to start winning more games, they’ve got to do two things—stop the opponent’s rushers and finally get their own backs going.
If Cincinnati wants any hope for surviving into the postseason, they need to find a way to get their ground game in rhythm. After quietly breaking out last season, Giovani Bernard is having his worst season since he was drafted in 2013. He hasn’t cracked the 4.0 YPC mark, and he’s on track for less rushing yards than his rookie season, when “The Law Firm” BenJarvus Green-Ellis largely dominated the Bengals’ backfield. Jeremy Hill‘s stats look better until you check his game logs and find he has only 3 games of more than 3.5 YPC, worse than his rushing counterpart.
Hill and Bernard have both shown flashes at different points this year, but consistency is key. The offense relies too heavily on AJ Green. It’s great to see his talent finally recognized by the national media, but even keeping up this pace all season won’t bring the Bengals a playoff berth. A ground game needs to be established. The problem to this point, though, has been the offensive line.
There’s a screenshot circulating around the internet of a sack the Giants had on Andy Dalton. The image shows Dalton being swallowed up by four New York pass rushers, while every Bengals blocker is either on the ground or trying to block some nonexistent pass-rushers behind Dalton. This kind of thing can’t happen anymore. Additionally, Cedric Ogbuehi needs to prove to everyone he isn’t the draft bust he’s now labeled as.
The Giants, the league’s worst rushing attack, torched the Bengals for over a hundred yards last week. In the dying moments, as the Bengals desperately tried to make a stop to give their offense a chance for a one-point comeback, Rashad Jennings broke off a 23-yard rush that ended the game for the Bengals. It might have ended their season too, if not for the historically bad performance of the AFC North to this point.
If Cincinnati struggled to stop the Giants on the ground, unless something changes, watching them try to stuff LeSean McCoy might be like watching a plaster wall stop a wrecking ball. McCoy and the Bills are living in a Rex Ryan fever dream. Losing Sammy Watkins appears to not even matter, as they can just pound their opponent into oblivion with their unstoppable run game.
Tyrod Taylor‘s speed also spells a problem for the Bengals’ defense. Quarterbacks comfortable outside the pocket always seem to do a number on Marvin Lewis squads. Even undrafted Browns quarterback Kevin Hogan went for triple digits rushing against the Bengals in Week 7. Expect a linebacker spy to keep Taylor in check.
If the Bengals want any hope for this game (and the rest of their season), they need to finally establish their running game. Hill and Bernard need to somehow find a rhythm with a lackluster line. On the defensive side, watch for more nickel blitzes this week, as the Bengals’ linebackers have been repeatedly exposed in coverage this year.
This is the most important game of the seasons for the Bengals. Hopefully, they won’t make it the last important one.