Real. Live. Football.
The Bengals travel to Oakland to open their 2015 season on the road. We often talk about west coast trips being hard for the team and the struggle that comes with that. We also stress the importance of winning the games you should win, starting fast and all of the other cliches that don't really matter once the football is snapped for the first time.
This is a winnable football game for the Cincinnati Bengals. Here are the 5 keys to victory.
Whether the Bengals start with the ball or not, they will benefit from being on the plus side of the scoreboard. As we saw in the two games in which the Bengals dominated in the preseason, the starting offense efficiently moved the football en route to a touchdown. This accomplishes multiple things for the Bengals. One, they set the tone and can take the breath that comes only when you know what you are capable of. Two, they can quiet the rabid Raiders fans and put the pressure on a young quarterback who has a lot to prove.
Eliminate the big plays on offense
The Raiders have two wildcards they are hoping pay out this season. One is the No. 4 overall pick in the draft out of Alabama in receiver Amari Cooper. Many eyes will be on this young pro in the hopes that he is good enough to bolster a below-average offense from last season. Allowing him the opportunity to burn you on a big play could spell disaster for a team on the road in a hostile environment.
The other weapon is young running back Latavius Murray. Last season in three starts, Murray complied 424 yards at 5.2 yards per carry. Allowing the Raiders' offense to gain momentum on the ground essentially takes the Cincinnati play-makers on the offensive side of the ball out of the game.
Temper the Mack
On the defensive side of the ball, the Raiders boast an outstanding player in Khalil Mack. He is the type of player who could cause a lot of trouble this season for opposing quarterbacks. He has a knack for getting pressure on a quarterback and forcing throws before the route is developed. Not only is Mack a force on passing downs, he is also a strong run stopper. If the Bengals don't account for Mack, he could cause trouble for this offense.
Run the ball
There is so much hype around Jeremy Hill, I am nervous the Bengals will try and outsmart everyone by leaving him out of the offensive game plan. We have seen questionable decision making like this in the past. The Bengals need to feed the ball to Jeremy Hill and allow him and his energy to wear down the Oakland defense.
If the Bengals establish the run and force the Raiders to try and stop Hill and Giovani Bernard, the whole offensive playbook opens up and this could be a fun game for the fans. Don't you want to see Hill dance in the endzone and Dalton just step on the throat of Raider Nation with precision passing in the second half? Yeah, that's what I want also.
Sure, this could be a copy and paste in each week's keys to victory write up from here until eternity, but this is especially true in Week 1. Last season we watched how an offense was changed on the fly as Tyler Eifert tried to separate the top of his arm from the bottom and we lost him for the season.
Injuries are always bad and last season we saw how decimated this team became at the end of the season. But, they can be especially traumatic in the first game of the season. An injury to a playmaker could be enough to let the wind out of the sails of this team and allow a team like the Raiders to sneak away with a win.
How do you see this game playing out? What needs to happen in your view so the Bengals begin the season on the positive side of the record books?