The Cincinnati Bengals are favorites in their matchup against the Carolina Panthers. However, the Bengals must be conscious of a few players who can single-handedly turn a Who Dey Sunday into a nightmare.
When the Bengals have the ball
Unfortunately for the Bengals and Joe Burrow, Brian Burns was not traded away from Carolina at the trade deadline.
Burns is on a pace to have the most sacks of his career this season. He leads the Panthers with five sacks. He also leads the team with 18 quarterback pressures.
Another problem that Burns presents is while the offense will focus on him, that could free up someone like defensive tackle Derrick Brown to get to the QB. Brown has one sack for the season but is second in Carolina’s defense with eight pressures.
The Bengals will have to get better play from Jonah Williams than he provided Monday night. Williams struggles against elite pass rushers. This could be the case once again when Burns comes to town.
If Burns can speed up Burrow’s processing, we should hope he does not throw it in the vicinity of Jaycee Horn. Horn is a coverage specialist allowing a terrific 39.4 QB rating when targeted. Quarterbacks have smartly shied away from throwing against him, opting to target Donte Jackson and C.J. Henderson instead.
Jackson and Henderson allow a QB rating of 116.0 and 93.2, respectively, when targeted.
That isn’t to say Burrow should not target Tee Higgins against Horn, given a clean pocket. We should all have confidence in Higgins’ ability versus whoever is guarding him.
But if the pockets are not clean for Burrow to pass out of, it may be wiser to make the less risky pass attempts to Tyler Boyd versus whoever is attempting to cover him.
Shaq Thompson / Fankie Luvu
The Panthers love sending linebackers Shaq Thompson and Frankie Luvu on blitzes. They lead Carolina with 19 and 18 blitzes, respectively. However, they only have one sack and four QB pressures between them. That is the good news.
However, that has not prevented them from being the team with the seventh-highest blitz percentage per dropback. Thompson and Luvu will surely bring some pressure to an offense still struggling to protect its star quarterback. Also, they have undoubtedly seen that certain Bengals running backs struggle to pass block effectively when called upon to do so.
When they do blitz, the Bengals must slide the protection correctly, and the running back, whoever it may be, must execute his blitz pickups. If not, it could be a long day against two pressure-happy linebackers.
When the Bengals are on defense
It was the throw heard from around the world. P.J. Walker threw an on-target bomb to D.J. Moore to tie that game against the Atlanta Falcons. Even Burrow had the highest of compliments when he said, “Oh my gosh, unbelievable throw. One of the best I’ve ever seen to be honest with you.”
Walker should be headed to Cincinnati with a 2-1 record as a starter. And he would be if it were not for Carolina’s kicking game. Walker is bringing a 93.4% passer rating with him.
The Panthers have scored 21 and 34 points in the past two weeks. They are an offense that may have found something with Walker at the helm. Unfortunately, that is terrible timing with the Bengals' secondary banged up.
Other unfortunate news for an injured secondary is D.J. Moore is having a renaissance in Carolina now that P.J. Walker is at quarterback, along with Christian McCaffrey and Robbie Anderson no longer being there.
McCaffrey and Anderson are still second and third for the Panthers in receiving targets. However, both are no longer with the team after being traded away.
The Panthers will need receivers like Shi Smith and Terrace Smith to step up. But until they do, Moore is the biggest concern for a Bengals secondary that must deal with the loss of their best cover corner in Chide Awuzie.
When the Bengals special teams unit is on the field
An often overlooked aspect of any game is special teams. We tend to take this part of the game for granted. Nevertheless, the Panthers have Johnny Hekker, a punter capable of putting the Bengals' offense in a precarious position. And if that name sounds familiar, it is probably because of this…
Or, any one of these…
This year, Hekker is fourth in the league with 17 punts inside the 20. That will be an important detail if the Bengals are incapable of long drives like they were against the Browns.
Nailing punts inside the 20 is nothing new for the former Rams turn Panthers punter. During the 2020 season, ESPN’s Mina Kimes broke down what having a punter of Hekker’s quality can do for a team.
Hekker is also averaging 49.2 yards per punt which ranks him seventh in that category.
Special teams coaches must be acutely aware of a punter who can flip the field, pin an offense deep in their own territory, or can turn a fourth down into a first down with his arm. Darrin Simmons and all players on special teams must be mindful of Hekker. If not, he could make a play that costs Cincinnati the game.
It is essential that the Bengals come away with a victory this Sunday. To do that, they must find a way to stop these Panthers from taking over the game. It is imperative that Cincinnati heads into the bye week on a positive note.
What is grief if not love persevering after a Bengals loss? Who Dey?!