While the offense may not have been firing on all cylinders in Week 4, A.J. Green and Andy Dalton certainly were. The defense saw a needed boost in energy and performance with the return of coveted linebacker Vontaze Burfict and shutdown Miami’s offense. The team will be looking to get to over .500 for the first time since Week 1, but will have a tough test against Dallas. Ohio State standout Ezekiel Elliot is running wild behind an extremely impressive Dallas offensive line and Dak Prescott is doing surprisingly well in the pocket. If Cincinnati wants to leave Arlington with a victory, the team is going to need big contributions from these five players in Week 5.
1.) Tyler Eifert Cincinnati’s resident touchdown machine should be returning this week after an ankle injury suffered in the Pro Bowl. The Bengals certainly miss him as the team has been downright miserable in the red zone through the first quarter of 2016. Scoring a touchdown on only 30.77% of their red zone trips puts them at 31st in the league, only ahead of the injury plagued Minnesota Vikings . With 13 of his career 15 touchdown receptions coming last season the entire fan base will be hoping 2015 wasn’t just a flash in the pan for the Notre Dame graduate. Update: Yeah, we can just cross this all out, for now.
2.) The Entire Offensive Line
It’s cheating, I know. But I don’t care. I can’t single out Russell Bodine, I can’t call out Cedric Ogbuehi, because it isn’t just them. In fact, Russell got a really nice grade from Pro Football Focus last week with a 75.6. The problem, in my opinion, isn’t on a singular player at all. There’s inconsistent performances across the line. On any given play it seems like one of the players on the Bengals’ front five is confused or missing an assignment. The cohesion of an offensive line can’t be understated - these guys hold the entire fate of the offense in their hands. They will dictate if the offense wins or loses games. Just look at Dallas. Their offensive line is so efficient and impressive that they’re 3-1 and the #3 offense in the NFL with a rookie quarterback AND rookie running back.
3.) Josh Shaw
One of rookie Dak Prescott’s favorite targets is the elusive Cole Beasley who is often working out of the slot. That mean’s Shaw is going to need a big day to eliminate him as Beasley has bailed out the Dak Attack more times than I can count. It seems like every time Dallas is in a third-and-five or third-and-six, these two are hooking up for a first down. After being drafted in the fourth round out of USC, Shaw has looked like an absolute steal. He’s been so good that a lot of people complaining the Bengals didn’t retain Leon Hall for his slot skills have been all but silenced. There are certainly changes going on with this team with new talent, but Shaw has made the transition so smooth, you barely even notice a difference.
4.) Rey Maualuga
Ezekiel Elliott has been doing what most Ohio State fans could have seen coming for a long time - dominate. As the team’s resident run stuffer, it’s going to be Rey’s job (along with the infamous Burfict) to shut the young back down. The Bengals have already faced the likes of Matt Forte, DeAngelo Williams, and C.J. Anderson already, but Elliott is quite possibly the best back they’ve seen to date. That’s in credit due to his great offensive line, with All-Pro center Travis Frederick skillfully leading them. Geno Atkins and Domata Peko are good enough to take up blockers and free Maualuga up most of the time, so he’s going to have to fill the hole when presented with those opportunities. Because when Elliott gets in space, he’s almost impossible to bring down from behind.
5.) A.J. Green
Should things not pan out to be as balanced as I’m hoping, the team will once again have to rely on the magician on the outside. Brandon Carr will likely try his best to contain the best deep threat in the NFL, but that’s easier said than done. If there’s one thing Ken Zampese has done really well in his first season as offensive coordinator, it’s finding ways to get #18 the ball. I expect him to continue to do that for the rest of the year, but this is just a matter of whether Green is allowed to be a weapon, or if he is forced to be THE weapon. Either way, he can handle the pressure.