The Bengals are making their 2016 homecoming after a 1-1 road stint to start the season. The Bengals defense has looked like their typical selves even without star linebacker Vontaze Burfict. On the other side of the field, the offense lacks balance and is heavy on the pass, but Andy Dalton looks to still be in his 2015 form and leads the NFL in passing yards. Coming to Cincinnati is the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, but with a new quarterback in Trevor Siemian, and some injuries including one that will keep DeMarcus Ware out of action. The Bengals are in a good position to win, if they can capitalize on their opportunities ahead. To do that though, the team will likely need big days from these players.
1.) Jeremy Hill
Through two weeks, the Bengals haven’t been able to muster up much of a ground game, with only 103 yards on 37 attempts. That’s an average of just 2.8 yards per attempt. Yikes. The Bengals will likely need to run well against a Denver defense that has been surprisingly lenient in run defense, allowing 120 yards per game on the ground. A big day on the ground for the Bengals will likely include some Giovani Bernard as well, but the ground game usually lies on the shoulders on Hill. If he can get some better blocking this week and find some holes I’d expect him to have his first 100 yard game of the season.
2.) Rey Maualuga
The middle man in the Bengals 4-3 linebacking group is known for being an excellent run stuffer. He’ll need to contain C.J. Anderson this week to help one-dimensionalize the Broncos and make Siemian take on more of a role. Currently the Bengals rank last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, but their 4.2 yards per carry allowed puts them at 20th in the league. For the last few years it’s been a fact that the run defense suffers when Burfict isn’t on the field, but Maualuga will need to lead the way for one more week before Burfict comes back. Rey didn’t see many snaps in Week 1 against the Jets, but was used regularly against Pittsburgh and did a good job. Hopefully he can build off of that performance.
3.) Tyler Boyd
Boyd was perhaps the most successful Bengals wide receiver during Week 2. With Denver having boundary corners Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. covering A.J. Green and Brandon LaFell he might need to be again. Boyd will likely be matched up with Denver’s Bradley Roby and his success in the slot will go a long way in determining how the Bengals offense will do. He’s going to be relied on to pick up some third downs in this game. Harris Jr. is also a very good nickel corner and may move into the slot if Boyd starts to get hot. This would be Boyd’s first chance to face one of the top corners in the league.
4.) Cedric Ogbuehi
Ogbuehi is starting just his third NFL game on Sunday. He has to block his former Texas A&M teammate Von Miller. That’s not exactly a great assignment. He’ll likely be getting some help in pass protection all day against Miller, but sometimes that doesn’t even matter. Miller is the best defensive player in the entire league for a reason. In my opinion, Miller is the closest thing the NFL has seen to Lawrence Taylor since LT left the league. To Ced’s credit, his best asset is his pass protection. He’s athletic and uses good hand technique to fight off pass rushers so he may be able to hold his own. But Miller is coming off a game with three sacks and a forced fumble. Ogbuehi really needs a good showing to keep Dalton off of his backside.
5.) Andy Dalton
Speaking of Dalton, here’s the man himself. Offensive coordinator Ken Zampese hasn’t been shy about his trust in Dalton, shown by his career high 54 pass attempts last week. Should the run game continue to sputter as it did the first two games, Dalton is going to have to carry the load on his shoulders. He’s certainly capable of doing it, with 732 passing yards and a 64.3 percent completion rate he’s looking great. That said, I hope it doesn’t come down to that as it makes Dalton’s and everyone else’s job easier if the team can run ball well. But with 103 team rushing yards through two games it doesn’t look like it’s panning out that way this season. Regardless, the Red Rifle is going to come out firing and I don’t expect him to have many problems even against a really good Broncos secondary.