The wait between the Week 8 tie in London and the Week 10 matchup in New York feels about as long as the wait between January 2016 to Week 1 this season, doesn’t it? Perhaps it’s the disappointment Bengals fans have had to carry over the periods of time, but, Cincinnati has a huge matchup in front of the national audience this week.
The Giants are 5-3, but no one is really sure just how good they actually are. A win by the Bengals would bring more questions to New York, while supplying a little bit of hope for Cincinnati. Here are some of the biggest keys to a Bengals victory this Monday night.
Marvin Lewis bucking trends and having his team prepared:
The Bengals’ head coach has done many good things during the last 13 years, but great performances in primetime and off of bye weeks are not his strong points. Lewis is 5-7-1 off of byes as the Bengals coach (4-3-1 more recently), while the team has had many embarrassing performances in his tenure on the national stage.
Whether you think those performances point to a pattern or occur purely by chance, something needs to change this week for the Bengals to start making a push toward the team’s sixth consecutive playoff run. In post-bye games and primetime games, Lewis’ teams have not played sound football, often making mistakes that don’t normally occur.
Turnovers will need to be limited, as will penalties, which have been the norm in similar scenarios. At 5-3, the Giants are the type of solid team the Bengals haven’t been beating in recent primetime contests, so crisp play will need to be executed for Cincinnati to get to 4-4-1.
Continue to run the ball well:
In 2014, the Bengals suffered a ridiculous amount of injuries on both sides of the football. However, they still made the playoffs, largely thanks to a great running game on the backs of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. Their improved roster health in 2015 led to a franchise-tying best record of 12-4, but through last year and up until Week 7, the team struggled with the same kind of consistency.
The past two weeks, Bernard and Hill have come alive behind improved blocking and more decisive moves on their part. Bernard remains the multidimensional back that is the constant unsung hero of the Bengals, but Hill has quietly, but greatly improved off of a subpar 2015 season. The ball hasn’t even left his hands for a fumble opportunity this season, and he’s still averaging 5.0 yards per carry through eight games.
The Giants are actually pretty decent at stopping the run this year, as they are currently ranked ninth in rushing yards allowed per game (93.9). The big guys up front for Cincinnati will really need to pick it up from the eight-game sample size this year, and if Hill and Bernard can keep the explosive Giants offense off the field, it should bring positive results for the Bengals.
Make “Bad Eli” have an appearance:
Much has been made of the dichotomy of the good and bad appearances from Andy Dalton in his six-year Bengals career, AKA the “Good/Bad Andy” stigma, but the same caricature hasn’t been painted of Eli Manning. Sure, the youngest brother in the NFL’s favorite family has two Super Bowl rings, but there is a bit of bad to take with Manning’s good.
For instance, he’s eclipsed the 20-interception mark three times in his career (2007, 2010, 2013) and already has eight interceptions against 12 touchdowns in eight games this season. If you pressure him and provide sound coverage, he’ll give you the ball. And, if the Bengals can force him to turn the ball over, it’s a facet that will completely take the air out of the home crowd.
Get a huge play from somewhere unexpected:
We talked about it on this week’s Orange and Black Insider, but the Bengals haven’t had those explosive plays this year, aside from A.J. Green. Throughout the five-year playoff run, Cincinnati could rely on a huge play from one of their units if the others were faltering in a game. Whether it was a big punt return from Adam Jones, a game-changing turnover from Vontaze Burfict or a myriad of other fun highlight-reel plays, special teams and defensive game-changing plays routinely happened for the Bengals.
Alex Erickson had a nice return in the Bengals’ last game against Washington, so maybe he can build off of that, or perhaps the defense can frustrate Manning into a critical turnover, or two. Regardless, Cincinnati needs to get back on track and an huge, unexpected play could really fire up the team—not only against the Giants, but for the eight remaining games.
Hang loose and have fun, or play angry?
I personally don’t know the answer here for the Bengals, but it seems like one of the two mindsets is the formula for success in such a critical game for their season. One thing is for sure: the approach to this game, for a multitude of reasons, needs to be quite different than what the Bengals have shown through most of 2016.
On one hand, playing loose and having fun could help them. Perhaps a half-decade of major expectations and a tumultuous offseason has brought a sense of “playing tight” this year, thus a disappointing 3-4-1 first half of the season. Jones has assumed the mantle of a leader and with it has come getting into guys’ faces for mistakes. Maybe it’s time for smiles, laughs, having some fun and the big plays will come.
On the other hand, it’s crunch time. If the Bengals want to make the playoffs for the sixth straight year and keep that championship window open a little longer, they might need to be more business-like. Furthermore, maybe a more lax approach could work better in the friendly confines of Paul Brown Stadium, but they are on the Giants’ turf this Monday night.
We’ll see, but a different approach and change of pace are needed.