November has been an interesting month for the Cincinnati Bengals. Though the team has gone 3-1 so far in games this month, including two impressive ones on the road, the lone loss to the Cleveland Browns makes everything feel out of whack. Marvin Lewis' club faces its fifth game before the calendar turns to December and this one is more important than it initially looks.
The main reason for its importance lies in the competitive nature of the AFC North division. The Bengals' foe this week has one of the worst records in the league, but one stumble could bring disaster to their playoff chances. Week 13 also has some tough match-ups for Cincinnati's rivals, so great headway could be had if the Bengals do their job and win a game that most think they should. We take a look at some of the biggest keys the Bengals will need to achieve in order for them to be victorious against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Shake Off Potential Fatigue From Holiday And Three Straight Road Games:
It's never fun for an NFL team to play three straight games on the road, and teams coming away from stretches of the schedule like that rarely go 3-0. In fact, the Cincinnati Bengals have never done it in nine times that the franchise had to make that kind of trek. That's why a face-off against a struggling Tampa Bay team makes that streak seem easy to be broken.
Though football players likely don't treat their bodies the way that most of us do on Thanksgiving, it's probably easy for younger players to get distracted over the holiday--especially when being on the road so consistently. Fatigue and a lack of concentration could seep in because of the extensive travel, so the Bengals players will really need to hone in and continue their solid film study that has shown up on the field the past two games.
Hide/Help Marshall Newhouse As Much As Possible:
We hate to point out an individual player in a team-oriented sport, but the loss of Andre Smith is going to hurt. Granted, Newhouse did a good job limiting J.J. Watt to no big plays last Sunday in Houston, but it took everything he had to make that happen, with each play seeming like an adventure. Oddly enough, the Buccaneers are ranked higher in quarterback sacks than the Texans this year (19th and 23rd, respectively), so Hue Jackson and Co. will need to devise a plan to help out Newhouse as much as possible.
Tampa Bay doesn't have a singular dominant threat like Houston's Watt, but there are a few guys that could give the offense trouble. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Kevin Brock, as well as H-Back Ryan Hewitt might all be lined up next to Newhouse for additional assistance. Quick passing schemes and other devised plays that could confuse the Tampa defense could also be used as ammunition. Newhouse was pretty confident this week, but we'll see if that is just talk, or if he has the walk too.
Get On A Lesser Opponent Early:
If there is one constant that we saw with the 1990s Bengals, it's that they gave up when down early. Bad teams tend to get that "here we go again" mindset if things don't go their way during the initial stages of the game, so planting that seed into the Bucs' minds could make the game a relative walk in the park as the clock winds down.
Imposing their will with the running game, as they have done for the past two games, would be a devastating blow to Tampa Bay's psyche and is a good place to start for Cincinnati. Avoiding turnovers, sacks and dumb penalties are also other things to avoid. In short, as long as the Bengals do what they need to do and don't shoot themselves in the foot, they should be in good shape by the time the second half rolls around.
Find A Way To Cover Tampa's "Twin Towers":
As he built during his tenor as head coach in Chicago, Lovie Smith prefers his wideouts to be huge. With the Bears, Smith deliberately brought in both Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, and both brought a dynamic edge to their offense. With Vincent Jackson (6'5", 230) and rookie sensation Mike Evans (6'5", 231), Smith has the same type of look to his offense down south.
Evans and Jackson have combined for 10 touchdown grabs and over 1,500 yards receiving, and that's with major issues and limitations at quarterback this season. Both thrive on the big play as evidenced by Evans' 17.2 yards per catch, and Jackson's 14.1 number, so these big boys know how to get behind defenses. The Bengals' corners have a significant height disadvantage here, with only Dre Kirkpatrick being over six feet tall (6'2"). There might be some creative things that will be used to get some size on Tampa's wide receivers, but we'll see what Paul Guenther draws up.
Aside From The Obvious Reasons, Avoid Interceptions:
This key is basically one that, when used generically, can be applied weekly to any team's game plan. However, there are two lesser-seen reasons as to why this should be an emphasis this week. First, the Buccaneers struggle with this facet, grabbing only eight this season--good for a 22nd ranking in the league. So, Andy Dalton shouldn't have an excuse to take care of the football this week after throwing four interceptions (one a pick-six) the past three games.
Secondly, Tampa Bay has three touchdowns on interception returns this season, tied for the best in the league. In short, when a quarterback makes a mistake against them, huge plays have a tendency to happen. Dalton and the Bengals can't have this happen on the road, nor can they give life to a flailing team to keep them in the game.