Let's face facts.
The Cincinnati Bengals will be without Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert, and A.J. Green is expected to join them on the sidelines on Sunday. Green, Jones and Eifert accounted for 52 percent of Andy Dalton's completions last year, 60 percent of his yards and 70 percent of the team's passing touchdowns. Green is currently the team's leading receiver with 17 receptions, 314 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
All of that is gone. Just... gone.
Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati's No. 1 receiver against the Carolina Panthers (if Green sits), also has 17 receptions, 234 yards receiving, two touchdowns and the league's only perfect passer rating. Cincinnati's third-best receiver this year, running back Giovani Bernard, has 14 receptions and 158 yards receiving. So in truth, the Bengals will still have two of their three leading receivers on Sunday.
However, we're having a hard time seeing Cincinnati depending too much on the air. And the Carolina Panthers, who have remarkable access to the same things that you do, know this. Head coach Ron Rivera is a defensive-minded head coach and by challenging Cincinnati to air it out by beating the run.
Carolina's rushing defense is allowing a league-high 5.4 yard/rush average and 129.6 yards rushing per game -- ranked 24th in the NFL.
"I think guys just aren't doing what we need to do right now," said middle linebacker Luke Kuechly earlier this month. "It is simple things. A lot of it is gap defense. Guys not in their gaps. It's one person here, one person there. And you can't have a good defense with one guy not in his spot."
Cincinnati gained 170 yards rushing against the Atlanta Falcons in week two, a season-high. Bernard and Jeremy Hill combined for 164 yards on 42 carries that weekend. The last time that Cincinnati surpassed 200 yards rushing in a single-game was Nov. 25, 2012 against the Oakland Raiders. Their season high in 2013 was 165 yards against the Buffalo Bills.
This won't be a game of strategy; it'll be a philosophy of toughness and Cincinnati needs to unload. They're pissed off (just listen to Andrew Whitworth and George Iloka). Even if the Panthers know that Cincinnati's biggest impact players is in their running game, the offensive line will win out of sheer will power.