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5 Bengals to watch for against the Saints

The Bengals got healthier over the bye week, but are still relying on their depth to overcome recent injuries.

Cincinnati Bengals v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

After learning wide receiver A.J. Green’s foot injury will require him to miss the next couple of games, the Bengals have seen more good news than bad on the injury front. For the last several weeks, the offense has had to endure several injuries that have incapacitated key members for multiple games. October was not a very healthy month for the team overall, but as they begin play in November, a few starters will be returning to the field.

To start, they face quite possibly the best team in the NFL in the New Orleans Saints. Here are the players we are excited to see back on the field and hopefully step up in place of other injuries.

RB Giovani Bernard

The last time the Bengals played the Saints, Bernard didn’t take the field as he was nursing a hip injury that caused him to miss a month’s worth of games. Four years later, Bernard has missed the entire second quarter of this season with a knee injury he suffered in Week 4 against the Falcons, and is hopeful to return to the field against the Saints’ top-ranked rushing defense through Week 9.

In Bernard’s absence, the Bengals have only had the remaining two running backs on the active roster activated in Joe Mixon and Mark Walton. Wide receiver Alex Erickson has been the emergency third back, but he only has one carry in the time Bernard was sidelined.

Walton in the mean time has done very little when relieving Mixon in the backfield, and getting Bernard back in Walton’s place should help when facing a defense that gives up just 3.4 yards per carry. Just a reminder, Bernard had the fifth-highest success rate for running backs on running plays starting from under center through Week 4 (with at least 20 carries).

Bernard’s snaps will likely be limited with this (potentially) being his first game back, but without Green on the field, Bernard should also get a fair amount of opportunities in the passing game to compensate for the loss of Green.

WR John Ross

Speaking of compensating for the lack of Green, Ross has a pretty important task in that regard as well. In the same when Bernard injured his knee, Ross hurt his groin while catching his second touchdown of the season and his career and it caused him to miss the following two games against the Dolphins and Steelers. He returned for their Sunday night disaster against the Chiefs, but was a non-factor as his groin started to bother him again.

Now after two-and-a-half weeks rest, the word on Ross has been encouraging.

Having the injury-stigma following you around can’t be fun, but the Bengals can’t afford to limit Ross in the hopes that they preserve his health — not when they won’t have Green for an undetermined period of time. He needs to show out against the vulnerable Saints defense and give fellow wide receiver Tyler Boyd space to operate if the Bengals hope to keep up with quarterback Drew Brees’ offense.

C Billy Price

For the first time since Week 2, the Bengals first-round pick will be out on the field snapping for quarterback Andy Dalton. In the weeks leading up to this point, the signs all pointed towards Price returning to his starting spot at center, despite backup Trey Hopkins performing well in his stead.

The Saints have been so consistent against the run because of the bodies they have in the middle of their front seven such as defensive tackles David Onyemata and Tyeler Davison. With that said, in their three games since their Week 6 bye, they’ve given up a 51% success rate to the opposing team’s leading running backs.

The 38% success rate they’ve allowed against running backs running up the middle in that timeframe remains as stingy as it’s been in that area all season, but this is a good opportunity for Price to show his value. Rust from Price should probably be expected, as this will be his third career game and start, but the standard Hopkins set is the benchmark for someone who is as highly touted as Price.

DE Jordan Willis

Now that we’ve gone over the players returning from injury, let’s talk about someone who will benefit from another player’s injury. With Carl Lawson out for the year with a torn ACL, Willis is set to see an increase in snaps going forward. The Bengals could’ve made a move before last week’s trade deadline or a transaction over their bye week to acquire an additional edge rusher, but they stuck with the personnel they have, like they almost always do. This is good news for Willis, but is it good news for the defense as a whole?

Through the first half of his second season, we’ve yet to see the jump from Willis as a pass-rusher. As a matter of fact, he hasn’t even been as good against the run as he was as a rookie last season. Willis’ opposition will be arguably the league’s best tackle duo in left tackle Terron Armstead and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, so Willis is already facing an uphill battle. Without Lawson, someone needs to step up, and Willis will be given the chance to do so first.

DT Adolphus Washington

Admittedly, no one has really talked about the newest member of the Bengals’ defensive line. Washington was brought from the Cowboys’ practice squad late in September following defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow’s torn ACL and subsequent move to injured reserve. He’s been active for just three games since his arrival in Cincinnati, but he’s gotten better in each game he’s played.

Everyone who isn’t Geno Atkins or Carlos Dunlap needs to do more for the Bengals’ pass rush, and Lawson’s injury opened a door for Washington on third down. He recorded his first sack of the season in their Week 8 win against the Buccaneers and a couple of pressures along with it. Washington has earned our attention from this point forward, let’s see if he can continue to play solid football against a stout offensive line.