A bye week is not a week off.
What can the Bengals do with over the bye week to prepare them to make a run in the second half of the season?
Injuries have really built up for the Bengals and while they aren’t going to come out of the bye week with a mysteriously healthy D.J. Reader, hopefully they can come out of the bye week in a little better shape than they went into it.
The defense has suffered a number of injuries and the entire Day-1 starting offensive line missed last week’s game. Hopefully the injury report shrinks drastically in the next week, but it’s not just about injuries. These guys have been working hard for months now. At this point, although not everyone is injured, everyone is hurt and fatigued.
Cornerback Darius Phillips is a great example. He left last week’s with an injury, but he has been banged up all season and doesn’t seem quite himself. Hopefully some rest will do him good, and he can step up his game for the back-8 of the season.
Watch a lot of film
Quarterback Joe Burrow is having an incredible rookie season, but he still has a lot to learn. Without an opponent to prepare for this is an excellent time for Burrow to focus on himself. He should spend extra time watching film and evaluating his own performance with the assistance of the offensive coaching staff.
The offense struggled against the Baltimore Ravens, whose defense threw a lot of new things at Burrow. This is a great opportunity for Burrow to revisit that film. He must learn fast because he faces another formidable defensive foe in the Pittsburgh Steelers following the bye.
Hakeem Adeniji made his first career start last week, filling in for the injured Jonah Williams at left tackle. The Bengals did a great job of scheming to protect him, allowing him to use mostly quick pass sets. Although he showed excellent footwork and athleticism, he also got beat quite a few times, particularly with inside moves.
It is ideal that this came right before the bye week. If Williams was healthy, and they had a game the following week, the coaches would probably not spend much time watching last week’s film with Adeniji. Although his development is important, there is a finite amount of time in a game week and you have to use it getting the guys who are going to play ready to play. The bye week gives offensive line coaches Jim Turner and Ben Martin ample time to watch film one-on-one with Adeniji and help him to correct his mistakes.
Sort out the deep OL
If the Bengals offensive line can get healthy it will suddenly be incredibly deep. In addition to Adeniji at left tackle, the Bengals started Fred Johnson at right tackle last week. He did some very good things in pass protection. He could get the start if Bobby Hart is still injured following the bye, although I don’t see him taking the position from Hart anytime soon. Like Adeniji, Johnson is a work in progress.
Where it gets really interesting is at guard. The team is waiting for Xavier Su’a-Filo to come back. He was the starting right guard in Week 1, but has been injured ever since. After trying a few others at the position Alex Redmond has brought some stability, but recent additions Quinton Spain and B.J. Finney could factor in.
The team has been very high on 2nd year left guard Michael Jordan, but he has had some struggles. Spain played most of the game at that position last week and had some nice flashes. He could challenge Jordan for that spot in addition to competing for the right guard position.
The bye week is a great time for self-evaluation.
Last season the Bengals offensive coaches famously altered their scheme on the flight home from London (and the bye week that followed), leading to a much better run game in the second half of the season.
We could see something similar as the Bengals run game struggled much in the early part of 2020 as well. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has done a good job of changing week to week in response to the plethora of injuries that the defense has had, but that could also be an area where we see a season altering change.
Prepare of Pittsburgh
The Steelers have a game this weekend; the Bengals do not.
Pittsburgh plays the struggling Dallas Cowboys on Sunday and will likely come into Week 10 undefeated. This combined with knowing they have won the last 9 matchups between the 2 teams will give the Steelers an abundance of confidence.
The Bengals need to spend this extra time preparing for the Steelers and take full advantage of having an extra week to prepare. The coaching staff should have a pretty good handle of what the game plan will be already, and they may have shared some key components with the team.
The Bengals have not beaten the Steelers since the 2015 regular season.
Zac Taylor needs to change that. If they can figure out a way to beat the Steelers, it would be a huge step forward for this franchise.
They have extra time. They need to use it.