“The if theory”.
It’s what the Cincinnati Bengals’ brain trust preached to its fan base ever since the Zac Taylor hiring at head coach. The premise is if they remain largely healthy, this is a playoff-caliber roster.
Unfortunately, the dreaded injury bug that plagued the 2018 campaign has stuck around The Queen City once again this year. A.J. Green is set to miss a couple more games with an ankle issue, while the team’s first-round pick, Jonah Williams, might not play a snap in 2019. Others important ones have accumulated, including dings to Cordy Glenn, Auden Tate and, most recently in Week 1 to Joe Mixon.
Even so, the Bengals showed some surprising moxie in that Week 1 clash against the Seahawks. They traveled across the country for the season kickoff and into one of the most treacherous venues in the league, yet nearly came out victorious after being hailed as two-possession underdogs.
In almost every scenario, a loss—even by one point—does not elicit moral victories at the professional level. Yet, a semblance of those feelings have begun to surround Zac Taylor’s Bengals team.
Andy Dalton, one of Bengaldom’s favorite whipping boys, had a career day against a stout Seattle defense with 418 passing yards. Taylor and new offensive coordinator Brian Callahan came up with schemes to consistently get receivers open, despite not having Green. These plays, at least for the first week, also masked a number of deficiencies on the offensive line, as Dalton looked extremely comfortable playing pitch-and-catch, even though he was sacked five times.
Cincinnati’s defense was historically bad last year. Teryl Austin was supposed to be the next hot name in the league, but under his tutelage, the Bengals’ unit was dreadful. It improved after he was ousted and Marvin Lewis took over, but not in a way to write home about.
New defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, in his first true NFL stint at the job, had the Bengals’ defense playing well last week. They sacked Russell Wilson four times, grabbed a turnover and allowed just 232 total yards.
It’s safe to say that the locker room feels about as good about their team as possible after coming off a loss. Can a team be over-confident after a loss? If so, this week could become a disaster, if the Week 1 fool’s gold loses its shine.
This week, the Bengals host the 49ers in a very enigmatic matchup. It pits two up-and-coming head coaches in Taylor and Kyle Shanahan head-to-head with quarterbacks who fit their systems well.
The Niners come into Week 2 feeling pretty good about themselves. San Francisco cruised to a two-touchdown win over Tampa Bay, including a breakout game from 2019 No. 2 overall pick, Nick Bosa. He had a sack, as the rest of the defense nabbed three interceptions off of Jameis Winston.
After hearing all preseason about the major issues with Jimmy Garoppolo, he played a somewhat-steady game in the win. San Francisco is looking to ride a similar formula to a 2-0 start this week: minimal mistakes by their quarterback, grind out tough yardage on the ground, get George Kittle involved and let the talented defense frustrate the opposing passer.
However, the Gold Rush Crew come in limping as well. Bosa missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday, while the club is also down to just Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert at running back. Jerick McKinnon, the Niners’ prized 2018 free agency acquisition, is on I.R. before the season began for the second consecutive season, while Tevin Coleman got hit with the dreaded high ankle sprain in Week 1.
Is there such a thing as a must-win game so early in the season? Well, seeing as how this is the lone home game for the Bengals in the month of September and that teams who start 0-2 have about a 12 percent chance of making the postseason in recent years, then, yeah, Cincy’s got to have this one.
Both the Bengals and 49ers employ a high number of star players for two squads that missed the 2018 playoff bracket. However, quite a few of those players for both teams are currently hobbled.
In terms of X’s and O’s and matchups, this game will come down to a number of facets. Eric Davis, the former 49ers Super Bowl champion defensive back, recently told us: “You know what? On both sides of the ball, if you look at the center/guard exchange and being able to stop that inside pressure.
“No quarterback likes to get hit right in ‘the beak’,” Davis continued. “Both of these quarterbacks (Dalton and Garoppolo) play differently when they have that pressure right in their face. I think both of these defensive coordinators are going to try and do that to the other, so I think that the way those offensive lines are able to handle that is going to be important.”
Davis also noted special teams as a serious contributor to the outcome of Week 2. Unfortunately, Cincinnati endured a roller coaster ride from that unit against Seattle, with a critical missed field goal and a lost fumble on a punt return.
But what this contest may more specifically come down to is which team can be more successful with the players they are forced to use in the wake of injuries. Two of the best young minds in football are squaring off this week in Taylor and Shanahan, so it will be up to them to get their teams to play to their respective strengths, while hiding their weaknesses.
Taylor’s boys seem like a bunch who feel like they are close to something great. They rattled the cage last week in the Pacific Northwest, but break out of the three year-old chains this week in more cozy digs.
49ers 18, Bengals 23
AC — No ifs, ands, or buts.