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5 keys to a Bengals victory over the Bills

Week 11 is a must-win for both the Bengals and Bills in order for the teams to keep their playoff hopes alive in 2016. Here are five critical areas for the Bengals on Sunday.

Cincinnati Bengals v Buffalo Bills Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

It’s Week 11 and the Cincinnati Bengals are hanging on to their playoff hopes by a thread. After the Steelers lost on Sunday against the Cowboys at home, it paved way for the Bengals to climb back into an open AFC North race if they could win on Monday Night Football. Instead, a one-point loss to the Giants has them looking up at both Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

The “one game at a time” mantra has to be what is being preached inside of Cincinnati’s locker room right now, especially when the upcoming clash at Paul Brown Stadium this Sunday is a must-win for both Cincinnati and Buffalo. That being said, here are our biggest keys to a Bengals victory over the Bills this week.

Corral Buffalo’s shifty athletes:

Much has been made about the Bengals’ defensive performance this year, especially in the area of team speed on the unit. The Bills employ a number of nimble weapons on offense. It’s in this key where there are a couple of sub-points.

For quarterback Tyrod Taylor, one of the biggest keys will be in how the Bengals’ line can both pressure him and in their ability to limit the damage he can do with his legs. Michael Johnson has largely disappointed this season, but this might be the type of game where he excels. If he can set the edge and play contain well, as he has done often over the years, it could make for an effective day on defense.

At the skill positions, Percy Harvin is back and it sounds like he’ll be starting for Buffalo, so improved play and tackling ability in the secondary is also of paramount performance. Meanwhile, LeSean McCoy and Mike Gillislee are having outstanding seasons running the football, so the linebackers will also need to be on point.

Use the two-headed rushing attack:

In Weeks 7 and 8, the Bengals ran through the Browns and Redskins for 423 total rushing yards. While some of those yards were by Andy Dalton, the vast majority came on the legs of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. While the Giants have a more formidable run defense than the units of Cleveland and Washington, Cincinnati made the inexplicable decision to run the ball just six times in the first half on Monday night.

There are two reasons why the Bengals should ride Hill and Bernard at home this weekend. First, Buffalo’s run defense is currently ranked a very pedestrian 20th in the NFL, giving hope that lanes will be available. The second is because of the massive pass protection struggles the Bengals have shown this year. With the Bills having the most sacks in the NFL so far this season (30), running the ball effectively will negate a furious pass rush.

Feed your stars and get the ball out quickly:

Because of Buffalo’s pass rush and the aforementioned struggles of the offensive line, quick-hitting passes should be a big part of the game plan—particularly early on. If they can achieve this along with an effective running game, that’s when the big chunk plays will begin to open up later in the contest.

And, both the quick-hitting passes and potential deep balls should be fed to wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Tyler Eifert. These two are the ones most consistently making plays and until the ancillary weapons can prove to get open regularly and come down with catches when needed, it’s time for Dalton to continuously feed his two best receiving options.

Near-perfection on third down and in the red zone:

Rookie offensive coordinator Ken Zampese has caught quite a bit of flak this season because of inconsistency on offense—particularly in the critical scenarios on third down and when in the red zone. In truth, it isn’t all on him, though. Sacks given up, accrued penalties and other issues have put the offense in 3rd-and-long situations frequently.

The red zone issues disappeared against Washington, but popped up again last week. If the Bengals can execute in these situations, they’ll undoubtedly win. If they don’t, it could be another frustrating Sunday filled with “what ifs?”.

Play loose and have fun in front of the home crowd:

This is a must-win game for the Bengals and they know it. Some of the veterans recently noted that their backs are against the wall and if they want to make the playoffs for the sixth straight season, they need a Week 11 win. It’s a recipe for a team to play tight and make back-breaking mistakes.

It’s time to have some fun and play the brand of football they have become accustomed to since 2011. There are no primetime lights and the Bengals are finally playing a game at PBS for the first time in three weeks, so go out with confidence and get the job done with a smile.