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Bengals vs. Saints: 4 matchups to watch for as Cincinnati eyes win No. 6

Two of the most efficient receivers in the NFL are taking the same field on Sunday, and each are the subject of an important matchup the Bengals need to win.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

What do you get when two of the worst defenses face off against each other in a cold November matchup? Hopefully, a close game, despite one of the team’s possessing the league’s hottest offense.

The Bengals host the Saints on Sunday in hopes to extinguish their seven-game winning streak and somehow keep pace with the complete offensive attack the Saints deploy on a weekly basis. No one (aside from Cleveland of all teams) has been able to hold the Saints offense down, and even in that Week 2 game against the Browns, they still put up 21 points.

Since drafting wide receiver A.J. Green, the Bengals have averaged just 20 points per contest when Green did not play. Sunday’s game will be Green’s 11th missed game in his career, and one that the Bengals cannot score less than 20 and hope to win the game. Here are the matchups on both sides of the ball that the Bengals need to at least relatively hold their own in to give them a chance at coming out on top.

WR Tyler Boyd vs. CB P.J. Williams

To be perfectly honest, the Bengals’ offensive game plan could drastically change without Green in the lineup. Could that mean moving Boyd out of the slot for the majority of his routes? It’s possible. Until we see it happen though, we should expect Boyd to operate inside or at least in a reduced split where he’s succeeded this season.

Boyd will be the focal point of the offense regardless where he begins his routes, and if he’s in the slot, Williams is the guy he’ll be going up against. Our own Matt Minich broke down how the Bengals can exploit Williams in coverage yesterday, and it’s clear that Williams is a good matchup for Boyd. Expect Boyd to finish with plenty of targets, with most of them resulting in catches when he’s got Williams covering him.

RG Trey Hopkins vs. LB Demario Davis

Despite being in the bottom six with the Bengals in expected points contributed by the defense, the Saints posses the league’s best run defense. That’s how putrid their pass defense has been this year, and a testament to why defending the pass is monumentally more important than defending the run.

Regardless, the Saints have some playmakers in their front seven and Davis is a strong catalyst in that second level. He’s far and away the Saints most active run defender, and the majority of his tackles are stops for the defense.

Alex Redmond is officially listed as doubtful for the game, so Hopkins will be filling in for him at right guard if Redmond can’t play. Hopkins will have tough matchups against defensive linemen Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata and even Cameron Jordan when the Saints are in their nickel packages, but Hopkins has been solid when playing center for the injured Billy Price. Now, Hopkins will retake his spot at right guard for the time being.

Redmond’s run blocking and ability to drive out second level defenders has been his saving grace this year, and Hopkins needs to show he can still do it from the right guard spot. He needs to locate and get his hands on Davis whenever he climbs to the Saints linebackers on the front and backside of the play, because Davis will wreck the Bengals running game if he’s unoccupied all game.

RB Alvin Kamara vs. LB Jordan Evans

When it comes to defending the Saints offense, it’s really a matter of picking your poison. To start, they possess perhaps the game’s most lethal dual-threat running back in the game in Kamara. For running backs with at least 300 touches dating back to the beginning of last season, Kamara leads them all with an average of 6.8 yards per touch.

Kamara’s third in yards from scrimmage since he entered the league, which is impressive enough as it is. The fact that he only has 17 touches more than his backfield partner Mark Ingram makes it all the more incredible.

Quarterback Drew Brees has established tremendous chemistry with Kamara as a target out of the backfield and out wide. When he’s in the backfield, Brees likes to have Kamara run texas routes and option routes at linebackers, and it seems to work every time.

The Bengals’ issues covering pass-catching running backs were exposed in their entirety when they faced Kareem Hunt and the Chiefs in Week 7. Hunt hauled in five receptions for 55 yards and two touchdowns, along with a multitude of broken tackles, and the Bengals had no answer to stop him.

Their best option remains Evans, who is the Bengals most athletic linebacker with Nick Vigil still injured. This is a matchup that the Saints will look to exploit, and the Bengals need to find a way to minimize the inevitable damage.

WR Michael Thomas vs. CB William Jackson

At last, two stars from the 2016 NFL Draft class will face off against each other on what’s expected to be a cold afternoon next to the Ohio River. Jackson has recently picked up the slack from his less-than-impressive start to his sophomore season, but he’ll matchup on multiple occasions against a receiver in Thomas who is having a season like other this year.

Thomas has reeled in 70 of his 79 targets this season, which puts him on pace for 124 receptions on 140 targets. He’s caught 88.6% of his targets, and he’s tied for 11th in the league in targets. Since 1992 (when started tracking targets) no receiver with at least 100 targets in a season has ever caught more than 77.2% of their targets. That record was set by former Patriots slot receiver Wes Welker in 2007, when he averaged 8.1 yards per target.

Thomas is currently averaging 11.14 yards per target. To claim Thomas is efficient with his targets is the understatement of the season.

The reality with Jackson is that he’s not the most physical cornerback. He’s able to get his hands around the receiver and disrupt passes, but he’s going to match a physical receiver in most bump-and-run situations. Thomas’ game is completely physical-based. He doesn’t always get separation, but he’s always open regardless. He’s the epitome of being a possession receiver, and Jackson really needs to rise to the occasion when Thomas enters his zone.