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4 best player matchups to watch in the Bengals vs. Colts Week 1 game

The Bengals No. 1 cornerback faces off against one of the best deep threats in the NFL, and a ball hawk returns to the field against Andy Dalton.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

For whatever it’s worth, the Bengals are coming off an impressive 3-1 preseason. Two of those wins involved the starters looking sharp, and sparked optimism for the passing game and the pass rush going forward. But the game-planning for the Bengals and their opposition begins now, and we’re really going to see how strong or weak this Bengals team is when they face the Colts on Sunday in Indianapolis.

Luckily, they start the season facing a Colts team with a lot of unknowns. Their quarterback hasn’t played real football in over a year. Their offensive line is just as shaky as the Bengals. Their receiving corps is reliant on one really good game breaker, and their defense is extremely inexperienced.

The Bengals have a chance to make a statement on Sunday by bringing home a win in a venue at which they haven’t won since 1997. These are the matchups that we think will be crucial in securing a victory.

QB Andy Dalton vs FS Malik Hooker

The Bengals franchise quarterback was not a popular fantasy draft pick this year. But if you are in the daily fantasy market, some think he has the most attractive matchup out of all passers for Week 1. Dalton and the Bengals offense have historically had success against weak defenses, even if they are common opponents who they’ve recently played. The Colts’ defense can be classified as weak, but they do have a baller in the back of their secondary.

A former Ohio State Buckeye, Hooker played a quality seven games in his first season as the Colts free safety. He tore his ACL the week before the Colts played the Bengals in Week 8 of the 2017 season, and missed the rest of the year because of it.

Hooker is back and ready to come out strong for his sophomore run. Dalton will have to always be aware of where he’s patrolling down the field before he lobs up some deep balls to wide receivers like A.J. Green and John Ross.

WR T.Y. Hilton vs CB William Jackson

Hilton is not like many No. 1 receivers, the Colts use him from the flanker spot and the slot a considerable amount as opposed to keeping him on the line of scrimmage at split end. His lack of size makes him suspect to facing press coverage, and with a free release, he’s dangerous to stack any cornerback in the league on a vertical route.

He did just that against Jackson last year when they faced off the one time.

Jackson’s biggest weaknesses from last year involve being too passive at the line of scrimmage in catch coverage and biting on double moves. He’s shown to be far more comfortable playing off coverage and locking onto routes rather than play straight-up bump and run coverage. But the more space you give Hilton, the more likely he can make a fool out you, like he did against Jackson last year.

Based on what we saw from the preseason, it appears as Jackson won’t be following the opposing team’s best receiver. The Colts would be smart to keep Hilton away from Jackson and have him work over the middle on deep digs and posts, but odds are Hilton will be matched up against Cincinnati’s No. 1 cornerback more than just one time like last season. The battle should be intriguing to say the least.

TE Jack Doyle vs CB Darqueze Dennard

Sticking with the Bengals secondary, me saying the Bengals are consistently burned by tight ends is not a hot take. Look no further than what Doyle did to the Bengals defense last year: 12 receptions, 121 yards and a touchdown, with the vast majority of those yards coming through the air as opposed to after the catch.

The Colts new head coach, Frank Reich, was the offensive coordinator of the Eagles offense that took the league by storm last year, and also elevated tight end Zack Ertz’s game in his scheme. Doyle is not the athlete that Ertz is in the receiving game, but as the Bengals defense has shown, that doesn’t matter that much.

Reich’s scheme with the Colts has continued to use Doyle in the slot a good amount. And while he’ll certainly be lined up against the Bengals linebackers most of the time, he’ll also most likely see Dennard across from him on passing downs.

The Colts don’t have many options at receiver outside of Hilton, so Doyle and fellow tight end Eric Ebron could be heavily featured against a defense that has known struggles defending the position. Dennard is beginning his contract year, and has one of his toughest tests out of the gate.

LG Quenton Nelson vs DT Geno Atkins

I’ve been excited about this matchup since the draft when the Colts took Nelson sixth overall.

There’s not much to explain here. One of the very best pass-rushers in the league, period, will be face-to-face with one of the best guard prospects to come out of college in recent memory. Oh, and he is also starting his first regular season game.

Atkins’ bread and butter is his power, via his bull rush. Nelson made fools of college defensive tackles when they tried to bull rush him, he has a knack for giving up no ground and locking onto rushers with his vice grips for hands. But Nelson isn’t going up against college kids anymore, he’ll struggle against the power and natural leverage that the 30-year-old Atkins possesses.

Nelson has enough technique and strength of his own at just 22 to avoid it becoming a one-sided battle, but it’ll be an absolute war nonetheless.

What are the matchups you are most excited to watch?