The Bengals have some work to do. Based on the injuries to key players last week, Cincinnati needs to win the winnable games remaining on their schedule to take the AFC North. There is still a chance that the Steelers could take the division. This would be worst case scenario. So what can the Bengals due to win this weekend's game against the 49ers? Here are our 5 keys to victory:
There may be a gut reaction tendency to say the Bengals need to limit the passing game and focus solely on the running game due to Andy Dalton being out. This would be a mistake. The Bengals have the more talented team on Sunday and limiting part of your offense would easily give the opposing team a blueprint to beating you. Imagine you prepare a young quarterback all week with the idea that he is going to be a game manager and hand the ball off the majority of the time; if for some reason the 49ers stopped the Bengals' running attack, the offense could implode.
Continue the mix of run and pass that the Bengals have used to get to this point. A 50/50 split is ideal. Now, these passes don't need to be moon shots down the field, but high percentage throws that will keep the defense honest.
Run the ball
Wait a minute WhoDeyFans, you just said not to focus on the run! Yeah, the Bengals shouldn't focus on the running game, but they would be foolish not to utilize it. Last weekend the San Francisco 49ers were shredded on the ground by the Browns who boast one of the league's worst rushing offenses.
The 49ers gave up 481 yards to Cleveland and 230 of those came on the ground. The Bengals would be foolish not to test the run game early. If there is success then sure, run all day. Just don't make it the game plan coming in. Handing off is easy, there isn't a mind set shift to continue to run the ball.
Feed the D line
Cleveland also does not have the defensive front that the Bengals have and they were able to accumulate nine sacks against the 49ers. They only have 26 for the whole season. Blaine Gabbert should be running for his life on Sunday. The best way to win this game? Keep San Francisco from scoring. The 49ers only had a field goal until the Browns gave up a garbage time touchdown with less than two minutes left in the game. The Bengals' defensive lineman (I am looking at you Carlos Dunlap) should be ready to feast on the west coast this weekend.
Cover the tight end
San Francisco is not without any weapons. Young tight end Blake Bell got his first action with the team last week and led all 49ers receivers. Sure, it was only 49 yards, but tight ends have become game changers in today's NFL. Athletic guys who catch passes and can't be covered by ends or linebackers.
The Bengals can't allow the 49ers to extend drives on fourth down. This has been a problem recently and a player like Bell could create some mismatches.
I know, right? The Bengals are in the home stretch of their fifth consecutive playoff appearance. When they get there, health is going to be a major factor. Andy Dalton is already out for an undetermined amount of time and the Bengals really can't afford to lose any more players. An injury free game is key this weekend.