Preseason has come and gone, and the Bengals travel to Indy to face the Colts. Can the team start on the right foot? Here are the positions to watch.
Position battles have been won, questions have been answered, and the Cincinnati Bengals head to face the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1 of the 2018 season. Most of the media outlets have this team projected to finish near the cellar of the league. Eager to prove doubters wrong with a revitalized offensive line and healthy playmakers, look for the Bengals to be a pleasant surprise. Here are storylines to follow heading into their first road test.
Bengals Receivers vs. Colts’ Secondary
Proven top 5 wide receiver A.J. Green leads a receiving corps against a Colt’s secondary that is not very hyped coming in. Ranked last in the league by Pro Football Focus for 2018, most of the current lineup is pretty inexperienced. Led by Ohio State alum Malik Hooker who is coming off an injury plagued season, it will be hard to match up with the size and speed the Bengals possess.
With Green and Tyler Boyd on the outside, a key piece will be speedster John Ross. This will be the first of hopefully many for Ross, who looks to finally breakout and stretch the secondary by forcing double teams. Also look for Tight End Tyler Eifert on crossing routes and running backs Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard to thrive on the screen passes. We also could see the debut of rookie favorite Auden Tate in favorable red zone situations. Although he may not be active, we can still dream.
Bengals’ Pass Rush
One exciting story to unfold has been the dominance of the Bengals’ defensive pass rush. Throughout the preseason the opposing backfield has been pressured from both sides of the line and even right up the middle. Notable stars have been Andrew Billings and Carl Lawson, who will see limited playing time.
The three-headed monster of Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, and Michael Johnson will test Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck in his comeback debut. Now that Dunlap and Atkins have been signed, Luck and other quarterbacks will definitely keep their head on a swivel. This will be the most intriguing battle to watch and the offensive line for the Colts will have to cover all angles. I expect all three to get in the sack column early and give the secondary chances for interceptions.
Bengals’ Offensive Line
A position that has plagued the Bengals for years is finally decided and ready to prove what everyone feels is going to be a terrible group by seasons’ end. With two rookies Billy Price and Alex Redmond starting, this group is going to have to protect Dalton and establish a run game that lacked in 2017.
With newly acquired Cordy Glenn nursing a shoulder injury, I expect that he will play well and help mentor this young group. With this unit, I won’t believe it until I see it, but a good test will be against this inexperienced Colts defensive line, which includes former Bengal Margus Hunt.
Jessie Bates’ First Start
All eyes will be on rookie free safety Jessie Bates as he makes his first start in the secondary. Coach Lewis has confidence that Bates can adjust to the next level well and provide that safety help down the field. Since Lewis doesn’t usually start rookies on defense, this shows complete trust and optimism that Bates can be the future.
He will make mistakes and sometimes misread coverage, but with experience he will get better. Remember, he’s a Day 2 rookie. Bates and the rest of the secondary will have to worry about Pro-Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton, as Luck prefers him especially on deep passes. If he and fellow safety Shawn Williams can keep Hilton in front of them, cornerbacks William Jackson and Dre Kirkpatrick should have great games respectively and keep Hilton in check.
What Impact will Tyler Eifert Have?
Coming off an injury-plagued few seasons, Eifert hasn’t been able to post great numbers since his 2015 campaign where he went to the Pro Bowl. Signing a one year contract this past offseason, this year is to prove he deserves to be the tight end moving forward. With Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah waiting in the wing, Eifert needs to have a healthy and productive year.
During training camp and preseason, the team has been cautious with playing him. If Eifert can return to form, this offense becomes even scarier. Look for him to be targeted early and often in the red zone.
Prediction for Week 1
With the Bengals not being looked at to make an impact, this season is a redemption tour. Facing a Colts team that is inexperienced and trying to protect Luck, both sides of the ball should thrive in this game. With a new coaching staff around Lewis and players like A.J. Green looking to start strong, the Bengals win big 27-14 and start the season 1-0. Also check out the varying fan predictions for the match up as well!