After a turbulent first two seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, Zac Taylor is rewarding the Brown family for the faith they put in him. The Bengals are AFC North champions and will play host to the Las Vegas Raiders in the Wild Card Round of the NFL playoffs this weekend.
The Bengals beat the Raiders on their own turf back in Week 11, but this time there is so much more on the line.
Here are the important factors to keep an eye on this Saturday
The Bengals defense played very well when they faced the Raiders in Week 11. Their only real issue was defending the tight end. Darren Waller caught seven passes on eight targets, picking up 116 yards on the day.
In this clip, Waller finds an opening in the zone defense and quarterback Derek Carr gets him the ball for a big gain.
The Raiders were able to create some explosive plays by targeting their tight ends. Expect them to target Waller early and often this weekend.
In Week 11, they struggled on third Downs, converting only one of seven attempts. They also struggled in the red zone, scoring on just one of three trips. Their lone red zone success was thanks to another tight end, Foster Moreau, who hauled in a 19-yard pass for the score. If Las Vegas is smart, they’ll to look to the tight ends in these situations more often in the rematch.
The Bengals did a much better job against another AFC West opponent’s tight ends two weeks ago. In Week, 17 they held the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce to five receptions for 25 yards with his teammate Blake Bell adding 35 yards on three receptions.
Although the addition of Tre Flowers helped, the Bengals relied primarily on zone coverages in that game. So the difference may have been the defense’s overall development more than just the one on one matchup.
In Week 11 the Raiders scored on a three-play drive which featured passes of 25, 31, and 19 yards, all to tight ends, pulling to within a field goal of the Bengals as the fourth quarter started.
This could have been a turning point, but it wasn’t, because the Bengals responded on both offense and defense. The offense scored on all three of their remaining drives, including a pair of touchdowns. The defense caused turnovers on the next two Las Vegas possessions.
Logan Wilson screaming in to block two guys pic.twitter.com/TuMhKkCqUR— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) November 23, 2021
In this clip, Trey Hendrickson causes a fumble, which fellow defensive end Sam Hubbard scoops up for the turnover.
The Bengals won the turnover battle in the first matchup, and they need to do so again the second time around. Fortunately, both teams have been trending in a direction that’s advantageous to the Bengals.
The Bengals have not turned the ball over in the last four weeks, while their defense has generated four turnovers. The Raiders, on the other hand, have no takeaways, but have given the ball away eight times in the same stretch.
The biggest concern for Bengals fans is always pass protection, and if you watched Maxx Crosby putting on a pass rush clinic on Sunday Night Football last week, you’re even more stressed out than usual.
Here, Crosby bull rushes the tackle back into Justin Herbert with ease, destroying the pocket and tripping up Burrow’s draft classmate.
In this clip, he strikes the offensive tackle, before looping in for the sack. The tackle is helpless to do anything but chase Crosby, and Herbert is in trouble.
You can see similarities to both Week 18 plays in this clip from Week 11.
Crosby strikes Riley Reiff, drives him back, and disengages inside. Yannick Ngakoue mirrors this action at the top of the screen and creates the turnover.
Joe Burrow was sacked three times the first time these teams met, and this time, the offensive line faces the Raiders without Reiff. How offensive line coach Frank Pollack decides to adjust will be one of the keys to this game.
The offensive line may have struggled to keep the pocket clean the first time around, but they absolutely devastated the Raiders with the run game.
Joe Mixon carried the ball 30 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns. It wasn’t just about the offensive line, though. The wide receivers made some great blocks that sprung Mixon for big gains.
Reiff, Hakeem Adeniji, and Trey Hopkins created a nice hole for Mixon to run through here and Tyler Boyd’s block on the nickel back, who lined up in the box, helped to spring Mixon for a nice gain. Although Mixon knocks him off of it, Ja’Marr Chase makes a good block on the corner down field as well.
The offensive line is pivotal to a successful run game, but having a talented running back and good blockers at wide receiver creates explosive plays.
This play features the added dimension of misdirection. Burrow fakes a hand off to the jet sweep, before giving the ball to Mixon. As the jet motion goes left, Stanley Morgan Jr. comes right to lead the way for Burrow. His kick out block springs Mixon for the touchdown.
The Bengals’ receivers are excellent blockers, but obviously their contributions in the pass game are even more important.
The passing attack was efficient, if not thrilling, in the regular season matchup between these two clubs. Burrow completed 20/29 attempts for 148 yards as the team stuck mostly to the quick game. This was an attempt to limit the hits on Burrow.
In the clip above, Burrow found Boyd over the middle for the first down. They need to work the middle of the field heavily in this game. These types of plays at fourteen yards a pop can really add up for an offense and keep the chains moving.
Of course, Chase is the one they really need to get going. He can turn a short pass over the middle into a score from anywhere on the field, and he can win on the outside vertical route for big gains.
They need to give Burrow enough time to get the ball to Chase. Together, that duo can create the game-changing plays that the Bengals need to break their playoff win slump.
The Bengals have lived under the cloud of their playoff win drought for longer than many fans have been alive. Despite how he pulled this franchise out of the abyss that was the 90s, Marvin Lewis will forever be known as a coach who couldn’t win in the playoffs. Andy Dalton may have thrown more touchdown passes than any other Bengal in history, but he couldn’t get the job done when it was win or go home.
This weekend, Taylor and Burrow get to right the first shot at playoff glory. Is it truly a New Dey in Cincinnati?