Bengals vs Saints Preview: Does Cincy Have the Talent to Win?

Injuries, match-ups, keys to the game and our prediction.

AP Photo

After a much-needed bye week, the Bengals host the New Orleans Saints in what should be a tough game. Both teams have played well this year, and they look to continue their respective playoff pushes. After losing A.J. Green to a toe injury, this match-up is even more daunting than it looked at the beginning of the season.

A Look Back

The Saints are coming off a huge victory over the Los Angeles Rams, handing them their first loss of the season. At 7-1, they look like an early Super Bowl contender. The Bengals remained at 5-3 after a close victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week 8, blowing a 34-16 lead before winning the game on a last-second field goal by Randy Bullock. The game was much closer than it should have been, thanks to the return of Ryan Fitzpatrick and a lack of halftime adjustments by Marvin Lewis.

Injury Updates

Despite a long bye week, the Bengals will head into Sunday’s matchup with multiple starters watching from the sidelines. A.J. Green, Vontaze Burfict, Nick Vigil and Darqueze Dennard will miss the game due to lingering injuries. The news isn’t all bad, though. Several players will be making their return, most notably Giovani Bernard, Billy Price and John Ross. Alex Redmond will be a gametime decision as he is still recovering from an injured hamstring.

The Saints seem to have the majority of their roster healthy, with just a few exceptions. Their first round pick, DE Marcus Davenport, will most likely miss the game on Sunday with a toe injury. WR Cameron Meredith will not play either. Safety P.J. Williams didn’t practice on Wednesday, and it remains to be seen whether or not he will suit up against the Bengals. If he can’t play, it would be a huge blow to an already below-average Saints defense.

Match-ups to Watch

Alvin Kamara vs. Bengals Linebackers – Running back Alvin Kamara is having an amazing sophomore season after a breakout rookie campaign. Through 9 games, he already has 917 total yards (490 rushing, 427 receiving) and 12 touchdowns (9 rushing, 3 receiving). The Bengals defense typically allows 128 rushing yards per game, but Preston Brown and Jordan Evans are known for their run-stopping ability. Rookie Hardy Nickerson could see the field as well, especially with Vontaze Burfict out. If the Bengals allow Kamara to roam free, this game could get ugly.

Joe Mixon vs. Demario Davis – The Saints currently have the NFL’s best rushing defense, with opponents averaging just 76.4 yards per game against them. In fact, they haven’t allowed a running back to gain over 100 yards on the ground all year. They’re led by linebacker Demario Davis, who has been one of the top tackling linebackers since he entered the league in 2012. With A.J. Green out, the Bengals should look towards Joe Mixon to be the driving force behind the offense. With Giovani Bernard returning to take some of the pressure off of #28 being on the field almost every play, expect Mixon to have even more energy than usual.

Jessie Bates vs. Michael Thomas – Although the Saints just signed Dez Bryant, it is highly unlikely that he’ll be ready to play by Sunday. The burden of the passing offense will fall on wide receiver Michael Thomas, although that hasn’t stopped him from producing this year. He already has 880 receiving yards to go along with 5 touchdowns, showing people why he’s one of the best wide-outs in the NFL. The Bengals should make sure that he’s double-teamed in coverage, which means that Jessie Bates will be shadowing him over the top. The Bengals have had a problem with big plays lately, allowing long touchdowns to Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson against the Buccaneers. It is crucial that Bates continues to build on his impressive rookie season and limit Thomas’ impact.

Keys to Victory

Take Advantage of the New Orleans Secondary – Despite having the best run defense, the Saints passing defense is on the opposite end of the spectrum. The Saints secondary currently allows 311 yards per game by opposing quarterbacks, good for 29th in the league. This was evident against the Rams, where they blew a 35-14 lead and allowed Jared Goff to tie the game in the 4th quarter. Andy Dalton is in the midst of another solid season, but it’s interesting to see how the offense is going to look without A.J. Green. Tyler Boyd is going to have to overcome increased defensive attention, and John Ross needs to make big plays after missing week 8 versus Tampa Bay.

Limit the Effects of Taysom Hill – Taysom Hill is a wild card. The former college quarterback has been used as a kick returner, quarterback and running back. Most of the time he lines up as a quarterback in a wildcat formation, where his speed makes him hard to tackle. The closest comparison to Hill would be Lamar Jackson, who the Bengals did a solid job against in week 2. When he’s on the field, it’s almost impossible to know what’s going to happen next.

Defensive Line Needs to Pressure Drew Brees – Drew Brees is having an amazing season, throwing 18 touchdowns compared to just 1 interception. A lot of the credit should go to the Saints offensive line, which has been one of the NFL’s best. However, they have all shown up on the injury report this week. It doesn’t seem to be anything serious, but it is still something to monitor. Even if they do play, they will surely not be at 100%. This is where Cincinnati’s defensive line needs to take over in order to secure a victory. Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap need to get consistent pressure, forcing Brees out of his comfort zone. If they can return to their dominant selves, the perception of the Bengals entire defense will change.

Game Prediction

After a big win over Los Angeles, the Saints could underestimate the Bengals. If the Bengals come out strong at home, they can compensate for the loss of A.J. The Saints offense rarely turns the ball over, so Cincinnati is going to have to concentrate on extinguishing big plays and stopping the talented New Orleans rushing attack. If the offense can score early and control the tempo of the game, it’s possible that they could steal a win. On the other hand, the Saints offense has seemed virtually unstoppable through 8 games. In addition, the Bengals defense hasn’t showed that they’re capable of dominating a game, and they’re still dealing with injuries to key players. If the Bengals can’t generate pressure, they have no hope of stopping Drew Brees.

My Prediction

Bengals – 24

Saints – 30

The Bengals are playing against one of the best teams in the league, and they haven’t shown anything to prove that they can hang with any Super Bowl contenders. This game isn’t going to be as bad as the Chiefs disaster, but it could get out of hand fast. One a positive note, the Bengals next 3 opponents are all under .500. Who dey!

Written by Zach Bachar

New Yorker, college student, lifelong Bengals fanatic. WHODEY!

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