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Bengals vs. 49ers: 5 players to watch for

Can Andy Dalton and Sam Hubbard keep pace with their Week 1 production?

Cincinnati Bengals v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

You could go through the Bengals’ entire 90-man roster and count how many of the players were with the team in 2015 when they last played the 49ers, but I’ll save you the trouble. There’s not many players left from that game. Hell, most of the roster weren’t even in the league in December of 2015. Some of them were preparing for college football bowl games, or driving home to their parents’ house for winter break. That’s the nature of the NFL scheduling system.

This reality was the same for last week when the Bengals played the Seahawks. Some of the standout performers from that game made our list of five players to watch for against the 49ers.

Andy Dalton

Fun fact: the 49ers are the only team in the NFL that have never given up an Andy Dalton touchdown. The last time Dalton played the 49ers was in 2011; his third career game and also the team’s home opener for that season, which sparked the renaissance of the Marvin Lewis era.

He threw for 157 yards and two interceptions on 17-32 passing in what ended up being a 13-8 loss. Nearly eight calendar years later and Dalton has thrown a touchdown in 98 of his next 119 regular season games, 67 of them being wins.

The Bengals’ veteran quarterback is a topic of discussion this week because he broke the 400 passing yardage mark for the first time in his career last Sunday in a one-point loss. Despite the box score numbers, Dalton had a fairly average performance when looking at Expected Points and Expected Completion %, so there’s even more room for improvement for No. 14.

Against the 49ers, who pose an offensive threat with more potential than the Seahawks, Dalton’s consistency for all four quarters will be crucial. His poise against pressure will also be counted on against a front-four that’s as dangerous as any he’ll see all year.

Giovani Bernard

The good news is that Joe Mixon was participating in the Bengals’ walkthrough on Friday, which indicates that he’ll be active for Sunday’s game. But how much will he actually play?

Bernard is one of the two current offensive starters (the other being Andre Smith) that started against the 49ers when they last played each other in 2015. When Mixon has missed time or has been limited over the last two seasons, Bernard has seen an obvious increase in workload. If Mixon is 100% ready to go, then don’t expect very many touches for Bernard. But, against a potent pass-rushing unit, Bernard should get more reps as a pass protector on third down.

John Miller

There are storylines all over this Bengals’ offensive line: Andre Smith playing for Cordy Glenn, rookie Michael Jordan starting at left guard, Trey Hopkins earning the job at center, and Bobby Hart still somehow starting at right tackle.

Miller has almost been the forgotten man in this unit.

Against the Seahawks, Miller was Pro Football Focus’ lowest-graded player along Cincinnati’s offensive line, primarily because of his lackluster run blocking. Despite Hopkins’ best efforts, second-level blocking was lacking, mostly due to Miller. This is the area the offense needs to improve upon the most this week, and it starts with improvement from Miller.

Sam Hubbard

A player who needs to show no improvement from last week is Hubbard, for obvious reasons. The question is: can he dominate in back-to-back weeks?

It’s tough to create pressure against the 49ers’ offensive line. At left tackle, you have an elite veteran in Joe Staley who, quite simply, has never had a bad season in his now 13-year career. He’s a borderline Hall of Famer if he played for a predominantly winning team. On the opposite side of the line is the much younger and more spry Mike McGlinchey, who is pretty damn polished for being a second-year player.

This game will be a great barometer for where Hubbard is. Not only will his competition be much better than last week, the quarterback he’s trying to sack will get the ball out quicker as well.

Preston Brown

While Hubbard and the the defensive line headlined the defensive effort last week, Brown quietly had a solid first game of 2019. Brown and Nick Vigil were essentially the only two linebackers to play in the game, and both played fairly well in the new scheme. For Brown, who acts as the MIKE linebacker, his role for this week will be crucial.

49ers head coach and play caller Kyle Shanahan loves using running backs in the passing game, but he doesn’t force it if the matchup favors another angle. His offense primarily runs through their stud tight end George Kittle, and the Bengals can either *try to* stop him, or limit running backs eating up yards after the catch. They probably won’t be able to do both.

It will fall on Brown to matchup with running back Matt Breida in the passing game when he releases to the flat off of play action. Those kinds of plays will work whether or not the running game has been “established”, so Brown has to be light on his feet for this one.