Since the Bengals lost the 2015 Wild Card game to the Pittsburgh Steelers, they just haven’t recovered. It’s been evident over the past two years, but 2018 looks to be a major season of change for Cincinnati.
Before that change commences, the Bengals have one more game of the season against the rival Baltimore Ravens. If the club wants to finish strong for Marvin Lewis, there are some major keys to a win.
A confident Andy Dalton:
When you look at the 2017 stat sheet for Dalton, it has the appearance of being pretty efficient. He’s had another 3,000-yard campaign, with 22 touchdown passes against 12 interceptions, but there have been issues on his end and with his weapons.
We’ve seen Dalton get skittish with the multitude of injuries to his counterparts and it has been reflected in the team’s 6-9 record. Dalton was also sacked five times and threw four interceptions against the Ravens back in Week 1, so his keeping calm against Baltimore’s opportunistic defense will be paramount.
Audition for 2018, don’t look ahead to it:
Because of injuries and the team being out of playoff contention, there are a number of new faces getting playing time as the 2017 season closes. Guys like Alex Redmond, Christian Westerman, Josh Malone and many others are trying to make a good impression to close out the year for whoever is Cincinnati’s head coach in 2018.
However, for the Bengals’ veterans, they very well could be making “business decisions” to take it easy, avoid injuries and have an overall lack of focus with the team out of contention. If they want a win and/or to avoid an embarrassment like the season opener against these same Ravens, effort will need to be present from the “leaders” of the squad.
Keep making Joe Flacco looking like “Captain Check-down”:
Flacco has to be one of the most polarizing quarterbacks in the league. He has a Super Bowl ring and has played some of the best football in NFL history during the postseason, but through large stretches of the regular season, “Elite Joe” is non-existent.
Cincinnati has had a penchant of getting after Flacco in the rivalry, but the Ravens’ signal-caller still is a guy who either goes for it all with a long bomb, or checks down to a number of players. Danny Woodhead is back for the Ravens after missing the season debut, so he’ll need to be watched, but if Cincinnati’s defense can keep things in front of them, it plays to their strengths.
Play the talented, younger players:
Lewis has had a reputation of preferring his trusted veterans over potential boom-or-bust youngsters, but that has to change with the season down the drain. Guys like William Jackson, who has had a great season, Carl Lawson and some of the other aforementioned youngsters on offense should be given proper chances to see what they truly have in certain spots for 2018.
This also plays into the previous point of certain veterans who may have already hung their caps up for the year. A lot of young players are either playing for new contracts, or significant roles in 2018.
There’s no pressure, so play like it:
Cincinnati isn’t going to the postseason. It’s a hard pill to swallow, perhaps more difficult than that of 2016, but this is still a “pride game” for the Bengals.
This isn’t a game in primetime and it isn’t a do-or-die situation for Cincinnati, so the finale should be one where the players have fun and play loose. Often times, that’s the best way to get a win—by letting instincts and love of the game take place of over-thinking and paralysis by over-analysis.