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Bengals at Panthers: 5 players we should be watching

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The Panthers represent the first of many hurdles for the Bengals continuing their hot start. Here are the five players that need to step up in order for them to return home with a victory.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The football Gods decided to balance out the Bengals fortune this week by bestowing numerous injuries during and after the team’s 2-0 start. Several key players could or will miss their upcoming road game against the Panthers, and some familiar faces will have to step in for the entire game in order to come out of Charlotte with a win.

Here are the five Bengals we think you should focus on in your viewing of the game.

Giovani Bernard

What in the world is going on in the Bengals running back room? Starter Joe Mixon had arthroscopic surgery last Saturday that removed a small particle from his knee and was slated to miss potentially multiple games. Now his return is entirely up to him as it was revealed he actually just had a slight meniscus tear.

On Monday’s practice, we learned that Tra Carson tore a hamstring and has since been waived, and in his place came free agent signee Thomas Rawls. The fourth-year player failed to make the Jets roster this preseason after an injury-filled three year run with the Seahawks, but won a spot after the Bengals worked him and three other running backs out earlier this week.

Now it’s Bernard, the man who is supposed to take over for Mixon, dealing with a knee injury of his own. Bernard was limited in yesterday’s practice and it’s unclear as of now if he’ll be 100% for Sunday’s game. If he is, how he fares in an increased role against a Luke Kuechly-lead defense on the road will be crucial for the Bengals red hot offense.

John Ross

The offense has been very good, but outside of his touchdown catch in Week 1, Ross has mainly been a bystander to all the success so far.

Ross ranks fifth in targets with six and has only caught two of them. He simply hasn’t been an integral part of the offense, even though he’s been getting separation more times that he’s had the ball come his way.

The potency of the offense speaks to Ross’ lack of contribution and yet still putting up 61 points, but we’d like to see Ross have a game like Tyler Boyd just had against Baltimore pretty soon.

Before that happens though, Ross needs to re-establish trust with his hands, as he’s turning into a body-catcher. As we’ve seen in the preseason and Week 1, all it takes is one play for Ross’ to make a lasting impact on the defense. A breakout game against the Panthers speedy defense would be very welcomed.

Alex Redmond

As Trey Hopkins takes over at center for Billy Price in the coming weeks, Redmond has his own issues he’s still working through. Through two weeks, he’s been one of the worst pass-blocking guards in the league, and has allowed the most pressure from any Bengals offensive lineman.

It’s not been all bad for Redmond, but his good reps have been just as prevalent as his bad ones. The beginning of his first season starting is mirroring Hopkins’ 2017 season minus the injury Hopkins suffered early on.

During the first handful of the games Hopkins started, he also went through a rough patch but eventually started to play a lot more consistently near the end of the season. The hope is that Redmond follows suit and he can provide more consistency.

Redmond has shown he’s at the very least capable, and going up against Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short will be a monumental task for him this week.

Sam Hubbard

Is Michael Johnson playing? We don’t know, but we do know he’s somehow practicing this week after it was reported he’d be sidelined for a little while with a knee injury. Johnson may not end up suiting up, and if that’s the case, Hubbard will be counted on to play around 50 snaps again like he did last Thursday.

The Bengals defensive line as a whole has a huge responsibility going up against the best dual-threat quarterback in the game in Cam Newton. Specifically for force players on the edge like Hubbard, they need to stay discipline on reads and options and not allow Newton to get past the edge. For Hubbard’s third game of his career, he’ll have his hands full in that regard.

Luckily, the Panthers are having pass protection issues all over their offensive line, so Hubbard could record his second sack of his young career as well.

Dre Kirkpatrick

In fairness to the eldest member of the Bengals secondary, his first two games have been about as good overall compared to his counterpart William Jackson. But the head-scratching moments always seem to happen when the ball comes Kirkpatrick’s way.

As expected, Kirkpatrick has been tested more than Jackson thus far, especially deep down the field. John Brown beat and lost to Kirkpatrick a couple times in last Thursday’s game, as Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco showed he did want to test Kirkpatrick in that matchup.

Newton is even more aggressive in pushing the ball vertically, and we could expect a similar performance from Kirkpatrick because of it. Panthers wide receiver and former Baltimore Raven Torrey Smith is currently 9th in the NFL in Average Targeted Air Yards per NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats, so Kirkpatrick might have a full day of trailing on vertical routes with Smith.