The 3-4 Cincinnati Bengals put their season back on track last week with a win over the Cleveland Browns and got help with losses by both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. But, there is still more work to do this week as they travel to London to take on the 4-3 Washington Redskins.
With the Ravens and Steelers both on bye this week and up against one another next week, the Bengals have a golden opportunity to make up some serious ground in the AFC North this week. A win over the Redskins would set them up to receive quite a bit of help next week. A Ravens win over the Steelers would reduce both teams to the same record as the Bengals (4-4), although head-to-head tiebreakers would technically keep the Bengals tied for second place. A Steelers win over the Ravens would also keep the Bengals in second place as the Ravens lost to the Redskins in Week 5 and the New York Jets in Week 7.
That said, for any of those scenarios to work out, the Bengals are going to have to climb back to .500 on the season with a win over the Redskins this Sunday in London. Aside from divisional matchups, which are always unpredictable, the Redskins might be among the toughest opponents remaining on the Bengals’ schedule. Therefore, it is going to be absolutely crucial that the Bengals pay close attention to these key matchups:
RB Jeremy Hill vs Redskins No. 25 run defense
2016 hasn’t exactly been a stellar year for Jeremy Hill. Yes, he is currently averaging a very impressive 5.2 yards per run. But, that has a lot to do with how well he played against the Browns last week. He recorded 168 yards and a touchdown on only nine carries, which absolutely skyrocketed his average production. That was the only 100+ yard game he has had this season.
The only other game that has even come close was when he broke off for an impressive 97 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries against the Broncos in Week 3. That’s it. Otherwise, for the most part, he has been lucky to break 30 yards and any touchdowns in a single game.
But, Hill has an interesting matchup this week. The Redskins aren’t quite as bad as the Browns when defending against the run. But, they are only ranked two spots ahead of where the Browns were last week, before Hill ran them all the way down to No. 31. Could we see a repeat of, or anything close, to Hill’s 176 yards from last week? If so, it could turn into a very long day for the Redskins in their London debut.
LDE Carlos Dunlap vs RT Morgan Moses
This matchup is less of an exploitable hole for the Bengals to take advantage of, and more of a battle between two high-end competitors to see who comes out on top. The Redskins’ offensive line has given up the fourth least sacks in the NFL so far this year (10), while Carlos Dunlap has recorded the third most among defensive ends (five).
With Redskins left tackle Trent Williams likely playing but hampered by a knee injury suffered last week, Bengals right defensive end Michael Johnson might have an opportunity to play well and take some of the pressure off Dunlap. If this matchup comes down to the very talented and productive Dunlap vs the very talented and productive Moses, something is going to have to give. The fallout will likely have a huge impact on the effectiveness of either team this week.
WR A.J. Green vs CB Josh Norman
It’s looking like Redskins cornerback Josh Norman, who was knocked unconscious following a brutal (though, unintentional) collision with Marvin Jones in Detroit last week, is going to be ready to play against the Bengals this week. Given the Redskins’ heavy use of man coverage in their defensive schemes and Norman’s place on the Redskins’ depth chart, that means he will most likely be matched up against NFL reception leader A.J. Green this week.
In addition to recording the most catches so far this year (50), Green has the second most receiving yards (775), no turnovers, and three touchdowns to boot. Norman got off to a hot start with the Redskins this year, allowing zero catches on four targets to elite wide receivers in Dez Bryant and Antonio Brown. But, he fell off in Week 3 against Odell Beckham Jr, allowing 121 yards on seven receptions. He also allowed Beckham to get open for twice in the end zone, but Eli Manning wasn’t looking in his direction at the time. Norman has the 12th most passes defensed this season (eight), although he hasn’t recorded more than one tackle in any game during the past three weeks.
Norman will look to get back to his early season form this week, but it will be tough going up against a player like A.J. Green who is so incredibly talented and also so heavily relied upon by an offense that doesn’t have many more proven and reliable pass catching options. With this exploitable matchup and Hill’s aforementioned potential this week, the Bengals have a very strong chance to have another big offensive day in London.