The Cincinnati Bengals' season opener is on Sunday against their in-state rival, the Cleveland Browns. Can you feel the magic, the excitement?
We're finally going to be watching the Stripes play meaningful football again, and hopefully, they'll end the year by hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in franchise history.
I'm getting too ahead of myself. Week 1 is just around the corner, so let's instead focus on the Bengals' upcoming matchup vs. their bitter divisional adversary, the Cleveland Browns. They are heading into the season with greater aspirations than before, especially with notable additions like Elijah Moore, Za'Darius Smith, and Dalvin Tomilson. Not to mention former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson playing his first full season (barring injury or further suspensions) since 2020.
They haven't been an easy opponent for Cincy in the '20s so far, and that probably won't change. So, besides the obvious answers like Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase, who needs to step up against Cleveland to ensure the Bengals win this 100th edition of the Battle of Ohio?
Dax Hill and Nick Scott
I decided to put these two together because they both are the starters for the safety positions and are replacing key contributors to the defense in Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates III, who migrated south to Carolina and Atlanta respectively during the offseason.
With that in mind, 2021 first-round pick Dax Hill and former Los Angeles Ram Nick Scott are going to have to step up and help keep this defense as dominant as it has been the last two years.
Starting with Hill, his rookie season was predictably underwhelming. He spent most of it sitting behind the two ex-Bengals mentioned above, and in the limited times he did see the field on the defensive side of the ball, the Michigan product did not look impressive. Most of his snaps came on special teams instead, where he really didn't do anything of note except rack up penalties. Seven, to be exact.
However, to completely write him off based on a rookie season where he barely saw the field would be ludicrous. The good news is that he looked much more comfortable and adjusted this preseason, his most impressive play being a pass breakup against Green Bay, a play which he flashed some incredible speed.
As for Scott, he's spent the last four years with the Rams and has been a serviceable safety, nothing less, nothing more. His PFF grade is pretty mediocre, and looking at the advanced stats, he gave up 601 yards and allowed a 118.5 passer rating when targeted. As the lone veteran of the safety room, Scott is going to have to improve his play this year as he officially begins his time as a Bengal this Sunday.
I'm not expecting them to completely replicate the same production as Bates and Bell did, at least not right off the bat, but they will have to play well to ensure the defense doesn't falter,