Week 8 provides an unprecedented situation for both the Washington Redskins and the Cincinnati Bengals, as both travel to London, England for a big matchup for both teams. Neither has traveled to a different continent for a football game before, and while those of us on the west coast are groaning at the start time, it still provides a fun and different venue for fans of both teams.
A matchup of similar squads with familiar ties pits the 4-3 Redskins against the 3-4 Bengals. Here are the biggest facets to a Cincinnati win in the U.K. against Washington.
Shake off the fun sightseeing and lethargy:
It’s a different week for both teams, filled with disadvantages. While the teams might have a little fun checking out the sights of London, long travel and an unfamiliar venue for both teams provide a disadvantage. The Bengals have a longer-term disadvantage because Week 8 in England is technically a home game for Cincinnati, even though it won’t be played in the friendly confines of Paul Brown Stadium.
Though this game is one with critical individual matchups, it might be more of one based on will and mental toughness. Adjusting to a different time zone and getting past some of the fun festivities of the week will be critical for a Bengals team that sometimes lacks focus in big games.
Build off of last week’s success in the run game:
There’s nothing quite like getting a soft team on the schedule to get back to winning ways. The Bengals took it to the Browns, especially in physical aspects up front on the offensive line, with Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill imposing their will. The backs combined for 248 rushing yards (168 by Hill and 80 by Bernard), to go with 9.5 yards per carry and two touchdowns, which was a big storyline in the Bengals’ win.
Though it may not seem like it on the surface, the Redskins are dangerous on offense. They employ a two-headed rushing attack of their own, as well as a couple of solid wide receivers and the dangerous tight end Jordan Reed, who appears to be playing on Sunday. With the Bengals’ pass defense struggling at times this year, Cincinnati would be best-served to ride the two backs to another win.
Give Jay Gruden some different looks:
In the five keys last week, we made a similar point as the Bengals took on a head coach who was undoubtedly familiar with many aspects of the club in Hue Jackson. Though the maligned Browns made a valiant effort in Week 7, the Bengals’ talent and ability to use new weapons like Brandon LaFell threw Cleveland through a loop.
Though Gruden didn’t work with multiple position units in his Cincinnati tenure as Jackson did in his recent stint, Jon’s younger brother still knows Marvin Lewis’ tendencies and what he likes to do on both sides of the ball. Using new weapons, as well as Ken Zampese using more of Jackson’s creative tendencies than the ones he assisted with in Gruden’s stint from 2011-2013, needs to be seen this Sunday.
Using those split out offensive linemen, feeding Bernard in the passing game and using weapons other than A.J. Green should help. While feeding Green is always a good plan, cornerback Josh Norman looks like he’ll play this week, so new wrinkles might need to be found by Andy Dalton.
Play hard for four quarters:
One of the unfortunate aspects of this weekly feature is the usage of longtime football cliches. “Playing four quarters” is one of the oldest in the books, but the Redskins have a penchant from playing from behind and either getting back into a contest or winning it. Last week, the Redskins lost to the Lions, 20-17, but they scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, including a Kirk Cousins rushing touchdown to take the lead with 1:05 to play.
Who can also forget the game where Cousins had his infamous “You like that?” postgame quote after heading to the locker room with a late win against the Buccaneers when the signal-caller led the Redskins his team to an improbable 24-point comeback last year? Dalton has a similar comeback quality, so even if the Bengals get a lead, they need to make sure their team focus is on point to disallow a possible Washington comeback.
Safety play is paramount:
Again, to borrow a key from last week regarding the tight ends, the theme remains the same, but for the opposing defenders charged with guarding those positions. Tyler Eifert finally suited up last week, but only had one catch for 9 yards in limited action. He’ll see more snaps this week, so Duke Ihenacho and Will Blackmon will need to keep a watchful eye on No. 85.
Meanwhile, the Bengals heavily invested in both of their starting safeties this offseason, but it hasn’t translated on the stat sheet. The Bengals are ranked at a decent No. 12 against the pass this year but George Iloka and Shawn Williams have combined for just one interception this year and it was fumbled away, in addition to other possible picks which were dropped (basically all by Williams). As mentioned earlier, Reed might be back, so these two athletic pass-defenders need to shadow him—particularly in the red zone.