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Bengals vs. Cowboys: Bobby Hart’s tall task headlines best player matchups

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A few offensive lineman for Cincinnati have extraordinary tasks to handle against Dallas’ frenetic front seven

Cincinnati Bengals v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

On Saturday, similar to last week’s matchup against the Chicago Bears, the Bengals are playing a team that blew them out the last time they met in the same venue.

The Dallas Cowboys ran over the Bengals in AT&T Stadium back in October of 2016 in a 28-14 victory that was 28-0 at the end of the 3rd period. Running back Ezekiel Elliott racked up 134 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries, and quarterback Dak Prescott threw just 6 incompletions on 24 attempts with an adjusted net yards per attempt of 9.68.

Both teams have changed dramatically since that day, they even swapped offensive line coaches. And if the Bengals want to see a different outcome this time around, these are the individual matchups they must win.

RT Bobby Hart vs LE Demarcus Lawrence

Against the Bears, Hart handled left defensive end Leonard Floyd fairly well in pass protection, but Floyd didn’t look too impressive in his own right. Hart may not get that same luxury against Lawrence, who finished last season with 14,5 sacks and looked extremely disruptive in his limited pass rushing reps against the 49ers.

Head coach Marvin Lewis promoted Hart when he was listed as the team’s starter at the right tackle spot, and you can guess that offensive line coach Frank Pollack has a similar assessment of Hart thus far if he’s still in that spot entering Week 2.

They clearly value his relative stability at the position compared to the roller coasters that are Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, but make no mistake, he’ll be put through the gauntlet against Lawrence. How he fares will tell us if he’s really improved.

C Billy Price & RG Trey Hopkins vs LBs Jaylon Smith & Joe Thomas

The first component that stood out for the Cowboys defense in their exhibition against the San Francisco 49ers last week was how fast their second level defenders were. Leading the charge for the first unit was Smith and Thomas, who gave the 49ers offensive line fits on zone runs at the WILL and MIKE linebacker spots, respectively.

Second level blocking is something we haven’t seen Hopkins excel at in his time at right guard, and we just haven’t seen enough of Price in a Bengals uniform to gauge if it’s a strength or weakness right now. The running game for the first unit could suffer or thrive greatly depending on how the Bengals interior lineman handle them.

WR A.J. Green vs. CB Byron Jones

The athletic marvel that is Jones is playing on the line of scrimmage full-time for the first time this year. Originally drafted to be a safety, Dallas has made Jones convert back to cornerback after doing the opposite in college, and his second game at the position this year will have him go up against Cincinnati’s finest at the receiver position.

Green is a mismatch against most cornerbacks because of the combination of size athleticism and nuance he brings on every route. But Jones’ length, quickness and explosion will be an enticing test for the seven-time pro bowler when he’s aligned out wide against him.

We saw offensive coordinator Bill Lazor use Green all over the field on the first drive of the game last week, and that’s something we should expect every week. Jones may not be asked to follow him around all over the field, but he may be their best chance of containing him.

RE Carl Lawson vs LT Tyron Smith

As impressive as Lawson’s sack-filled rookie season was, the left tackles he beat for those quarterback takedowns weren’t exactly the best in the league. Six-and-a-half of his eight-and-a-half sacks came against Green Bay’s reserves behind an injured David Bakhtiari, first-year players Dion Dawkins of the Bills and Garrett Bolles of the Broncos, and Spencer Drango of the Browns. The quality of his production was nothing to sneeze at, but he had some really favorable competition as well.

The two-time All-Pro left tackle Smith is back to full health after an up-and-down 2017, and represents a much greater challenge for Lawson than faced last year. We should see at least two drives with Smith at left tackle, and on nearly every third-down, keep an eye on how Lawson handles Smith’s length, athleticism and hands.