An extended break from any kind of job can be both productive, as well as a setup for gaining rust. Think about when you take a vacation from your respective profession. It's great to unplug, relax and do some things that are personal preferences, rather than push paperwork and catch up on filing. However, as many may know, upon returning to work, the dreadful feeling of being behind on things creeps in.
Now, we all know that football isn't like most other jobs. It's far more physically-tolling and those breaks, be it a full bye week or a mini-bye because of a Thursday Night game, usually help immensely. It's possible that the team has used the extensive time to rest their bodies and begin to look at the next week. The one wild card that could swing momentum in either direction is the extended period of time that the Bengals have had to dwell on their awful primetime loss at home to the Browns.
Even with the extra days of rest, the Bengals go into Week 11 pretty gimpy. That doesn't bode well for a Cincinnati team that is just 1-2 on the road this year as they go up against a Saints team that lost its first home game since 2010. What will the Bengals need to achieve to sneak out a win against Drew Brees and his dangerous crew?
Get A Big Play In An Unlikely Fashion:
In case you haven't heard, Bengals cornerback/kick returner Adam Jones is the top vote-getter in the AFC as a return man for the Pro Bowl. It's amazing what happens when coaches decide to actually put players in scenarios in which they excel, isn't it? Though he doesn't have any touchdowns yet this season, Jones does have three forty-plus-yard returns, either by a punt or kickoff. A big play from Jones on special teams will help to quiet the usually raucous New Orleans crowd.
The defense has had trouble hanging on to potential interception opportunities this season. Emmanuel Lamur, Leon Hall and others have been primary culprits in this dubious distinction, but that needs to change on Sunday if the Bengals want to come out on top. Last year, when the offense was struggling, the defense had a knack for making huge plays to get everyone hyped up and get higher play from everyone (last year's re-match against Cleveland at PBS particularly springs to mind). That hasn't been the case in 2014 and it has made the errors and poor play on offense seem even more exaggerated. A turnover, especially one returned for a touchdown, would be huge for the Bengals.
Totally Dominate the Turnover Margin:
Drew Brees is atop the NFC in terms of passing yards, but he also leads the conference with 10 interceptions. Add two more lost fumbles to his 2014 resume and opposing defenses have opportunities to get the ball. In order to take advantage, it will require a consistent pass rush and solid coverage downfield--not exactly the fortes of Cincinnati's defense this season.
With the Bengals' defense sitting at 30th overall and the offense at 20th, mistakes will need to be at a minimum on the road. Andy Dalton can't have another three-interception game and Jeremy Hill will need to learn from his benching after his first NFL fumble. If the Bengals hover around being even with the turnover margin, they won't win. Cincinnati will need to have created at least two more turnovers than New Orleans to have a shot in this one.
Effectively Utilize the Bengals Passing Game:
Pass the ball. You heard me right. Common sense would say that Cincinnati will need to pound the rock and keep Brees off the field. It's a sensible theory, but the Bengals face a Saints defense that is No. 11 against the run, but only 24th versus the pass. Throw in the fact that one of the Saints' best corners, Keenan Lewis, is ailing and that weather won't be a factor in the dome, and the Bengals should have much more success this week passing the football.
I'm not advocating a shootout between Dalton and Brees, as we all can probably guess the outcome there. Balance will definitely be needed, but teams can't win in the NFL if they can't pass the ball. Hue Jackson can't let his quarterback and the rest of the offense crawl back into its shell and be uber-conservative. My only caveat to this is the Marshall Newhouse effect. If Andre Smith can't go, the offense will need to make adjustments to give Newhouse as much help as possible on passing plays.
Coverage From Emmanuel Lamur And Leon Hall Versus Jimmy Graham:
The Bengals have faced some of the league's best tight ends so far this season and it hasn't gone well for them. Players like Tim Wright and Gary Barnidge had coming out parties against the Cincinnati defense, so going up against Jimmy Graham this week is a bit frightening. Graham already has seven touchdowns this season and will need to be monitored by the Bengals defense consistently.
Lamur and Hall will likely be the primary defenders tasked with covering the towering tight end on Sunday. In the last couple of seasons, even with the myriad of injuries he's suffered, Hall has proven to be a solid slot corner. He has had his struggles this year, but it's likely that he'll be watching Graham in those situations. To even the height factor, Lamur will also be shadowing No. 80 and that one will be interesting. Lamur has two interceptions on the season, but also has had a number of others bounce off his hands.
Having Lamur and Hall running with Graham and not getting pushed around will be key this Sunday. Graham will get his shots, but if they are able to keep him under 75 yards receiving and out of the end zone, that should go far in helping propel the team to a win.
Clamp Down On The Run:
In what may very well decide the game, the Bengals' 31st-ranked rushing defense goes up against the No. 6-ranked Saints rushing attack. Former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram has had a career renaissance this season, as has racked up three straight 100-yard rushing games, six touchdowns and a 4.8-yards-per-carry average. In the eyes of New Orleans, I'm sure they are thinking that it's about time.
Regardless, this Bengals rushing defense is a shadow of its former self. The unit has given up 100-plus yards rushing in each of their last seven games, as tackling, injuries and coaching have combined for terrible results. Based on the Saints' injuries, it sounds like Ingram will be the focal point once again this week, so the Bengals will need to be prepared for a hard-nosed running style. Something has to give here and whichever side does will likely be a big step toward a loss.