When defensive end Carlos Dunlap said, "It's a primetime game so our great players gotta' be great", it struck a nerve. Cincinnati hasn't played well in primetime games, nor the playoffs. For whatever reason, players play below expectations and it makes us think that the issues is mental, or psychological in nature. Cincinnati actually has great players but for whatever reason, some play below part when the lights go bright.
Normally we'd reserve these pages for an Andy Dalton has-to-improve-primetime perspective. However, that storyline is like the freebee letters that you receive on Wheel of Fortune... a forgone conclusion. We're just not highlighting it as much anymore.
Geno Atkins: When this season comes to its conclusion, the narrative for Geno Atkins will focus more on recovery and rehabilitation after having his knee surgically repaired. Currently with three quarterback sacks, if the fifth-year defensive tackle doesn't add another sack to his stat sheet this season, he'll match a career-low three sacks from his rookie season.
In addition to his pedestrian production this season (compared to his other seasons), Atkins hasn't shown much during primetime this season. If we combine Cincinnati's games against the New England Patriots and the Cleveland Browns, Atkins has three total tackles, no quarterback sacks and only two pressures.
With all due respect to Atkins, who is one of my favorite players for his unassuming personality, Monday's game against the Denver Broncos is when/where greatness raises.
Whoever is playing right tackle: Clint Boling and Marshall Newhouse have started at right tackle since Andre Smith departed and yet the recently-signed Eric Winston could start there against the Broncos. Whomever is playing there, figure that their assignment will be a heavy dose of Von Miller, who ranks third among all outside linebackers in the NFL with 44 quarterback hurries and third overall with 18.5 quarterback sacks.
Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will enact a gameplan that will apply quick passes, power O counters, and screens. We wouldn't be surprised if Mohamed Sanu is throwing the football once in a while. However, Miller is a powerful presence for Denver's defense. If Winston starts, it will be a huge challenge for him.
...and center: If the Cincinnati Bengals want to run the football they'll need to account for Terrance Knighton. Rookie Russell Bodine has had a roller coaster season.
Giovani Bernard: One of the more excitable players from the 2013 season, his rookie campaign, Bernard has fallen on rough times during the second half. Along with missing three games with hip and shoulder injuries, he's been set aside for Jeremy Hill, who has become the de facto primary back.
Because Cincinnati created a huge lead early against the Browns last week, Bernard posted 100 yards from scrimmage (79 yards rushing, 24 yards receiving) for the first time since cruising to 157 yards against the Carolina Panthers (with 137 yards rushing). Bernard has generated 100 yards from scrimmage four times this season, with three during Cincinnati's first five games.
The Reys: Let's not confuse Vincent Rey as "great", but he's a player that's stepped into Vontaze Burfict's significant shoes this season by leading the team with 103 tackles. Nor would we ever confuse Rey Maualuga was a potential hall-of-famer at this stage. He's still still struggles mightily in coverage and leads the team with 12 missed tackles.
The Broncos have increased their production in the running game, averaging 164.8 yards rushing per game over the last four games with a 4.5 yard/rush average.
The Bengals, on the other hand, have improved recently. In four of the past five games, Cincinnati's defense has allowed 75 yards rushing or less -- which coincides with Rey Maualuga's return from injury.
Pass defense: Peyton Manning. That's the quarterback Cincinnati is playing. Peyton Manning. Secondary must play great. I'm not really putting much more effort into a point so blindingly obvious.