As the NFL season wears on, each game becomes more and more important. Personally speaking, as you get older, time seems to go by at a much faster pace (did I just sound like an elderly man there?). This is why I’m shocked that we’re on the cusp of Thanksgiving in 2016 and we’re already on Week 10 of the football calendar.
The importance of each game has to be weighing heavily on the Cincinnati Bengals right now. After five straight postseason appearances and many believing this could be another special year, a 3-4-1 start in 2016 is bringing both questions and doubt on their roster talent.
Since their Week 8 tie to the Washington Redskins in their first foray in international play, it’s been both time for relaxation away from football and introspection over their bye week. The team noted that issues are prevalent, and that’s why they signed Wallace Gilberry back to the team and worked out five other players during the break.
While Gilberry should help an inconsistent Bengals pass-rush this year, the vast majority of possible improvement will come from improved coaching and players digging deep to play better football. Do they have the wherewithal to do it, though?
Even though Cincinnati will have had an extensive break by the time they take the field on Monday night, a road game against the New York Giants is a difficult test as the Bengals try to right the ship. And, as it is every time Marvin Lewis’ squad suits up on the national stage, the primetime stigma with the Bengals is a topic of conversation.
Colin Cowherd, a nationally-syndicated sports talk radio host and fervent Bengals-basher, as well as a past recipient of the Orange and Black Insider “Hater of the Week” award, actually has one area he harps on in which I tend to agree with. Cowherd gauges the success of a coach both in their performances in big games and how their teams perform off of bye weeks. Noting the extensive preparation coaches go through in time off, as well as their ability to get their teams to rise to the occasion in big games, it’s a sentiment that makes quite a bit of sense.
At the college level, Cowherd notes the success of Nick Saban and Urban Meyer because of their longtime success in both scenarios. In the NFL, Cowherd also looks to Andy Reid and Bill Belichick as the beacons of success in these areas. Unfortunately, Lewis hasn’t fared well in the same type of games, harboring a 5-7-1 record off of bye weeks. along with the well-known failures in primetime games.
Whether or not you like and/or agree with much of what Cowherd says on his show, Lewis and his Bengals go to MetLife stadium encapsulating both of his criteria used for grading coaches. And, aside from a general contest pinning Cincinnati against the Giants on the road being tough enough as it is, the two trends going against Lewis in his tenure as head coach makes it even tougher.
I won’t go too far into the primetime issues because it seems to be a very divisive topic amongst fans. Some believe the struggles are the team resembling its coach who shrinks in the spotlight, while others believe that the primetime stage pits the Bengals against some of the league’s elite and losses are bound to happen. Whatever your stance is on the topic, the bottom line is that if the Bengals want to be a championship team, they need to beat these good teams on this kind of stage.
The Giants have a lot of talent, mostly in their veterans, but no one is quite sure just how good of a team they are this year. Their three losses have come against pretty talented teams in the Redskins, Vikings and Packers, but some of their wins are non-impressive. They beat the Cowboys by a point in Week 1 while Dak Prescott was getting his feet under him as a starter, while also having trouble getting past mediocre teams in the Ravens, Saints and Rams.
On the flip side, however, the three wins the Bengals have under their belt currently have a combined record of 7-20 (Jets, Dolphins and Browns). When going up against the better teams on their schedule with a current combined record of 28-12-1 (Steelers, Cowboys, Patriots, Broncos, Redskins) Cincinnati has utterly failed with an 0-4-1 result.
So, is it a product of going up against good teams, or are we witnessing nothing more than a mediocre Bengals team in 2016? After all, four of those five games where the Bengals either lost or tied were on the road, even when including the “home game” in England.
In this week’s five keys to victory, we looked outside of the box for what is needed for Cincinnati to get their season back on track. Still, individual matchups and statistical placements by the units on each team also play a role in the game.
One matchup to watch is in the running game. The Giants are ranked dead last in rushing yards per game at 68.2, while the Bengals are 23rd against the opposition’s ground attack. Cincinnati is surprisingly ranked No. 7 in rushing offense this year, but the Giants are 9th in defending the run. One of those five aforementioned keys for the Bengals is to continue the recent momentum gained by Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, so this is definitely an area to watch on Monday night.
Probably playing into the league’s decision to make this a primetime game are the stars both teams employ. The two biggest are at wide receiver in the Bengals’ A.J. Green and New York’s Odell Beckham, Jr. Green is arguably having the best season of his career (No. 2 in NFL receiving yards going into this week), while Beckham is at No. 7, despite some early-season hiccups.
But, as it is with almost every NFL contest, quarterback play is of paramount importance. Eli Manning has two Lombardi Trophies to his name, while Andy Dalton doesn’t have any, but both are very productive signal-callers despite that one big difference.
Manning comes from NFL royalty and has put up big numbers throughout his 13-year career, but he is very prone to turning the ball over. Through the first four years of Dalton’s career, he also had this issue, prompting a national caricature of “Good and Bad Andy”.
The truth is that both quarterbacks have been playing some of their best professional football over the past two seasons. Manning had a career resurgence under Ben McAdoo last year, prompting the Giants to promote him after Tom Coughlin’s departure. Dalton had a similar renaissance under Hue Jackson last year, and while he hasn’t had the gaudy numbers we saw from the MVP-like campaign last year, he’s still making plays and taking good care of the football in 2016.
Aside from which defense will step up, the amount of turnovers given up by Manning and Dalton will eventually tell the story on Monday night. Given the Bengals’ No. 21 ranking against the pass, as well as the Giants’ No. 23 ranking in the same category, it should make for a productive night for both signal-callers.
I just still look at the intangible aspects of the game. The Bengals have surprised us before by beating quality teams when we didn’t expect them to, but it almost never happens on the primetime stage. You can call me a conspiracy theorist for continuing to believe in Cincinnati’s inability to win big games in primetime, but until they prove me wrong, I’m sticking to my guns.
Bengals 23, Giants 27
AC — Send me the tinfoil hats and cue “The X-Files” theme.