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5 Bengals that are crucial to ending Cincinnati’s losing streak

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The Bengals can get win No. 5 if these 5 players play their best.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Similar to last week, the Bengals will face a defense that is just as bad as theirs on Sunday in the Buccaneers. Already without their best player in Gerald McCoy, the unit also lost their leader in Kwon Alexander last week to a torn ACL. If the Bengals can’t put up points at home in a one-o-clock game against the 32nd ranked scoring defense in the league, we can basically call the season right then and there.

Two of their best offensive players headline the five players to watch on Sunday:

Joe Mixon

In Weeks 1, 2 and 5 (Mixon was inactive in Weeks 3 and 4), Mixon averaged 4.5 yards per carry with a 52% success rate on 20 rushes per game. In Weeks 6 and 7, Mixon averaged 4.8 yards per carry with a 54% success rate on 12 rushes per game. And Mixon didn’t even get going in that Week 5 game until the second half. Giving the ball to Mixon, specifically out of the shotgun, is still working. It’s up to Bill Lazor and Andy Dalton to stick with it.

What’s been even more concerning has been Mixon’s underutilization in the passing game. He’s averaging just 6.3 yards per reception, and just two of his 24 targets past five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. This is inexcusable for how talented Mixon is as a receiver, and with all the injuries the Bengals’ pass-catchers are suffering, it makes perfect sense to unleash Mixon in the passing game, starting against a Buccaneers defense that’s 30th in expected points.

Tyler Boyd

Our own Patrick Carlise (better known as LB3PTMAN on here) came through with very telling splits on Boyd when fellow receiver John Ross was listed on the injury report:

Boyd’s disappearing act he pulled in the Chiefs game cannot continue against the Buccaneers when the team will be without Ross. The data is undeniable, he performs his best when defenses are worried about Ross’ speed and he’s given more space to operate underneath, but the passing game is getting crippled with injuries at the moment. His hot start can’t flame out when A.J. Green can have a dominant performance like last week and the offense only puts up 10 points.

Carlos Dunlap

The good news for Dunlap is that he’s been very efficient in converting his pressures into sacks. The bad news is that he’s not pressuring the quarterback at the rate where used to seeing from him.

Last week against the Chiefs he had an incredibly difficult task trying to get around one of the best right tackles in the game in Mitchell Schwartz. And while he did end up with a sack in the game, it came on a broken play and he was unfortunately flagged for unnecessary roughness after the fact. Schwartz kept him in check for the contest, and the Bengals pass rush struggled throughout because of it.

Regularly, the Buccaneers have a competent right tackle of their own in Demar Dotson, but he’s dealing with a knee and shoulder injury this week. Buy low on Dunlap having a comeback game, because the Bengals defense needs it badly.

Preston Brown

Remember when Preston Brown wasn’t supposed to be on the field for all three downs? Last week with Vontaze Burfict exiting the game early and Nick Vigil still out with a knee injury, Brown lead all linebackers in snaps, and odds are that will be the case this week with neither Burfict or Vigil expected to play.

The Buccaneers are a pass first team without question. They rank sixth in pass attempts and 21st in rushes attempted. We’re going to see Brown a lot in zone coverage in the middle of the field defending the likes of tight end O.J. Howard, and wide receivers Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson over the middle. If he can keep things in front of him and make open field tackles, they’ll be okay. But pass defense comes before run defense in this game, and a lot of that is being placed on Brown with little depth at the position.

Jessie Bates

Speaking of pass defense, the Bengals secondary needs to be more feast than famine this week against quarterback Jameis Winston, who should give them plenty of opportunities for interceptions. That includes with Bates, who was kept quite busy against Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs.

With Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and of course the aforementioned Jackson, Winston has no fear of letting the ball loose deep. He’s perhaps the truest form of a gunslinger we have to watch in the NFL. Bates should’ve picked up a few pointers in film study about Winston’s process and will be on his toes ready to break on any errant passes over the deep middle of the field. If the Bengals can win the turnover battle, they can keep up with the Bucs’ offense. Look for Bates to have more opportunities to create some.