The Bengals are coming off their bye week and are ready to get back into planning and strategizing for the second half of their 2016 season. At 3-4-1, the Bengals shouldn’t have had much if any shot at making the playoffs at this point. But, due to poor performances from their AFC North opponents and having four division games left to play, the Bengals are only a game and a half out of first place (as the Ravens already played their Week 9 game) in the division. Therefore, it isn’t crazy to suggest that a second half improvement could lead to a division title and the No. 4 seed in the playoffs.
Given the fact that the Bengals still play the Steelers once and the Ravens twice, the Bengals are more or less still in control of their own destiny. But, taking advantage of that control is going to require playing much better in the second half of the season, which begins with taking down the 5-3 New York Giants on the road for the first time in franchise history. To do that, the Bengals will need to take advantage of these key matchups.
Bengals’ secondary vs WR Odell Beckham Jr.
It’s hard to say exactly how the Bengals are going to cover Odell Beckham Jr., who has established himself as one of the best young wide receivers in the NFL. For the most part, the Giants’ offense is very containable if you can slow him down (44 catches, 676 yards, five touchdowns).
Unfortunately, the Bengals’ secondary hasn’t exactly been encouraging this season. Their starting cornerbacks, Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick, are currently ranked No. 98 and No. 102 in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, respectively. Things have been somewhat better from safeties George Iloka and Shawn Williams, and the Bengals have seen a surprisingly high level of contribution from reserve cornerback Josh Shaw. But, it’s still going to be a very tough matchup.
The Bengals’ cornerbacks absolutely must step up this week if they want to contain Beckham Jr. the way they contained other high-end wide receivers like DeSean Jackson (37 yards vs Bengals), Julian Edelman (35 yards vs Bengals), and Antonio Brown (39 yards vs Bengals).
TE Tyler Eifert vs Giants’ safeties
One of the Bengals’ biggest problems on offense this season was the absence of tight end Tyler Eifert (for Weeks 1-6), who is a highly effective red zone target. In his first game back (Week 7 vs Browns), he didn’t look like his old self (one catch for nine yards). It only took a week for him to get back to speed though as in Week 8 against the Redskins he exploded for 102 yards and a touchdown on nine catches.
The Giants have a very good safety tandem in Landon Collins and Andrew Adams. However, one area that the defense as a whole has struggled with has been keeping a check on talented tight ends. In fact, just last week, they let the Eagles’ tight end Zach Ertz lead the team with eight catches for 90 yards, including one particularly impressive 30 yard catch in the first quarter.
Tyler Eifert’s potential as a tight end is through the roof in any given game. If he can take advantage of what has the potential to be a very favorable matchup, it could turn into a very long day for the Giants’ defense and become a very successful day for the Bengals’ offense.
LB Karlos Dansby vs RB Rashad Jennings
Perhaps the single most exploitable hole for the Giants is their rushing game. The Giants currently rank dead last in the NFL in terms of rushing yards per game (68.2). They also rank third to last in both rushing touchdowns (four) and average yards per run (3.2).
Karlos Dansby has experienced his struggles this year, but one area that he has been particularly effective in is bringing down the ball carrier. He currently leads the team in tackles this season (34), and doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon. The Bengals’ rushing defense hasn’t been electrifying this season (ranked 23rd, 116.1 yards allowed per game), but they don’t need to be stellar to compete with the Giants’ rushing attack.
Forcing the Giants into a one-dimensional offensive strategy could backfire given the prowess of Beckham Jr., but it could also rattle the historically mistake-prone Eli Manning. This season, Manning ranks seventh in the NFL in interceptions thrown (eight) despite only throwing 12 touchdowns. That’s the worst touchdown-interception ratio among all quarterbacks with at least 12 touchdown passes thrown.
Given how bad the Giants’ running game has been this season, the Bengals shouldn’t have too much trouble containing the attack. Where the matchup gets interesting is considering if they can sufficiently take advantage of the hole in the Giants’ offense to create a headache for their opponents. If so, the Giants will need to try to win the game with stout defensive play.