Coming off a bye, the Bengals will be traveling to East Rutherford for a Monday night showdown with Eli Manning and the New York Giants. The Giants are right in the hunt for the NFC East at 5-3 through 9 weeks, and will be a great test to see what this Bengals team is really made of. Fortunately for Cincinnati and their subpar run defense, the Giants are dead last in the league in rushing yards per game. That said, any offense that features a Super Bowl champion quarterback and a dynamic top receiver in Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. has to be respected. In order to pick up a much needed victory, these five Bengals will need to shine.
1.) Andy Dalton
Dalton is coming off of one of his worst performances this season against the Redskins. A couple of costly turnovers shut the door on two likely Bengals scoring opportunities, including a drive in overtime to win the game. But make no mistake, for the majority of this season and last, Dalton has proven to be the leader this team needs. The team will be counting on him to come through on a big stage on Monday night, and as evidenced in recent primetime games, this stage is not too big for the native Texan. With A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert looking as good as ever in addition to a ground game starting to emerge, you have to like the way this Bengals offense is shaping up for the second half.
2.) George Iloka
Quietly underperforming this year is Iloka, whose blame often gets shifted to the new starter Shawn Williams, even though Williams is usually caught recovering for his teammate’s mistakes. At 6’4”, Iloka is a monster among defensive backs, and having that intimidating presence back there is certainly helpful, but not at the expense of missed coverages and bad communication. Hopefully the entire secondary was able to straighten things out over the bye, as the unit as a whole has scored a failing grade through 8 games. Iloka was given a new $30 million deal in the offseason, but we’re still waiting for him to deserve it.
3.) Jeremy Hill
Jeremy Hill is coming on pretty strong heading into the back half of the 2016 season. Right now he’s averaging 5.0 yards per carry, just behind his rookie pace of 5.1 yards, and he’s headed for a 1,000 yard season. It took a while for him to find a rhythm, and we’re hoping he can sustain it for the rest of the year, but I think he’s going to get the job done. Kevin Zeitler has done a great job in the last few weeks of opening some holes for number 32, and if the rest of the front five can elevate their performance just a little bit, there’s a huge amount of potential to be unlocked. An underlying story about Hill and the running game has been the nagging injuries he’s been suffering the past few weeks. Hopefully he is well rested as some of his recently impressive performances were cut short due to injury. If he’s on the field more, the Bengals will find more success.
4.) Dre Kirkpatrick
Kirkpatrick will likely be matched up one-on-one with Odell Beckham Jr. for much of the game as he is usually the corner penned with tracking the other team’s top threat. Number 27 has been hit or miss since he’s donned black and orange stripes, but he’s proven he’s more than capable of shutting down premier threats like Antonio Brown. I feel Kirkpatrick is a player who does best on the big stage, and a primetime Monday night game in New York is one of the biggest stages you can get. Kirkpatrick’s performance is not only critical to this week’s game, but for the rest of the season. After allowing a staggering 458 yards through the air to Kirk Cousins and the Redskins, the secondary continues to be a weak point on a very shaky defense.
5.) Geno Atkins
One of the culprits for a secondary that isn’t able to make plays is a pass rush that doesn’t give them any help. With just 16 sacks through eight games it’s pretty reasonable to say the Bengals haven’t been putting opposing quarterbacks under much duress this season. With just 3.5 sacks so far, Geno Atkins is looking in the face of a down season. The seven sacks he’s on pace to achieve are well behind the 11 he had last year, and his career high of 12.5. Granted, 7 sacks is a pretty solid number for an interior defensive lineman, but Atkins just isn’t your ordinary interior defensive lineman. The general play and disruptiveness of the defensive front tends to trend with the play of Atkins. The Giants will be missing starting guard Justin Pugh this Monday, and Atkins is going to be looking to feast on his replacement.