It’s time to fill up on fish and chips and The Clash, because the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins are in London, England for a critical Week 8 matchup. Both teams have had spells of poor play and now in the midway point of the season, they have a critical game to pave the way for the rest of both of their 2016 campaigns.
Washington is at 4-3, while the Bengals are at 3-4, and both teams seem to share quite a bit of both similarity and familiarity. When we talked to Ken Meringolo of SB Nation’s Hogs Haven this week, he corroborated the accuracy of a national comparison of Andy Dalton to Kirk Cousins. Both can make plays with their legs, both are accurate passers and both can lead their team to comeback wins in any given game.
After getting smoked on Monday Night Football by the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1, Washington lost a Week 2 heartbreaker at home to the now-resurgent Dallas Cowboys. Questions about Cousins’ decision-making became abundant, as he was making poor throws not seen from his breakout 2015 campaign.
But “Mr. You Like That?!” began to strike again as the team won four straight, including two critical division wins against the Giants and Eagles. Heartbreak occurred again last week though, as the Redskins defense collapsed in the final minute to give up a late lead and the eventual game to the Lions.
The Redskins are dangerous for the Bengals this Sunday for a variety of reasons. Cincinnati’s pass defense is 12th in the league, in terms of passing yards allowed per game, but the secondary play has still been inconsistent. They now are charged with going up against the receiver duo consisting of the explosive DeSean Jackson and the savvy Pierre Garcon, along with an improving Cousins. Aside from that, Washington seems as if they will be getting three more stars back this week in tight end Jordan Reed, offensive tackle Trent Williams and cornerback Josh Norman.
Meringolo wasn’t as glowing of praise on the overall Redskins defense outside of Norman, but edge rushers Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy have six sacks apiece this year. Murphy’s output is especially impressive as those six sacks in 2016 are equal what he amassed in his first two pro seasons with Washington, while Kerrigan has a solid 53.5 sacks through five and a half seasons.
And, if you’ve been following the Bengals under the Marvin Lewis era, you’d note the struggles even the best offensive line units he has employed with Cincinnati have had against 3-4 defenses like the one the Redskins put out on the field. Whether it has been the Ravens, the Steelers, the Broncos or the Patriots, speed off the edge and unexpected defensive looks up front have confused the Bengals’ offense, both before and during the Dalton era.
Like last week with the Browns and Hue Jackson, the Redskins might have an advantage over the Bengals in familiarity within the coaching ranks. One could make the argument that Lewis and his staff has the upper-hand, but with their sometimes-reluctant ways to make adjustments, it gives former Bengals offensive coordinator and current Redskins head coach, Jay Gruden, the possible formula to make Dalton uncomfortable—especially with Kerrigan and Murphy. After all, he was the one who molded Dalton into a viable franchise quarterback, even if it was Jackson who took him to the next level from there.
However, this doesn’t mean the Redskins are looking at a cakewalk, either.
A.J. Green is having arguably the best season of his career, which won’t make life easy on Norman and the Washington secondary. To boot, the Bengals’ running back duo of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill reverted to the juggernaut-like form we saw from them in 2014, as they combined to gash the Browns for 248 rushing yards and two touchdowns last week.
The star-studded Bengals defense has been solid at times, but also overall disappointing, given what we’ve seen from them in previous years. Still, defensive end Carlos Dunlap is on pace for another Pro Bowl berth with five sacks this season, Vontaze Burfict is gaining momentum from his three-game suspension and Geno Atkins, while inconsistent, still has those patented “wow” moments.
Still, with all of the big-name starters both teams employ, Sunday in the U.K. might be more of a test of overall roster depth. Can slot corners on either team step up? Will Margus Hunt and Will Clarke continue to pressure an opposing quarterback as rotational defensive linemen? Can Tyler Eifert be a an effective weapon in his second game back from injury?
Obviously, there are a number of on-field matchups that both teams needed to have been studying, but this week might come down to will and mental preparedness more than anything. The Bengals and Redskins might get to sightsee around London a bit and both have had now had long trips across the Atlantic Ocean. Both have a disadvantage, but Cincinnati’s has a more long-term effect as the contest at Wembley Stadium takes one game at Paul Brown Stadium away from the Bengals.
Getting past possible fatigue and distractions has been difficult for most teams when they play in England. Much like we’ve seen in games played on Thursday nights, turnovers and sometimes-sloppy play has littered the NFL’s experiment abroad. Most attribute this to the overarching effects from traveling to London from the States.
It’s going to be a close one, folks—one where it might come down to who has the ball last. These two 2015 division winners will go toe-to-toe and it should make for an entertaining contest, even for those of us having to be up at the break of dawn on the west coast.
Redskins 30, Bengals 31
AC — London calling to the faraway towns, now war is declared and battle come down.