LSU north is coming home for a weekend.
The Cincinnati Bengals not only have obvious connections to the 2019 college football national champions, a few of their notable starters have history with the New Orleans Saints. It’ll be all smiles and nostalgia leading up to kickoff, and all business from then on. Here are some storylines, baked in matchups, to watch for.
Joe Burrow vs. Demario Davis
If there’s a time for Burrow to get hot, it’s now. In the venue where he cemented one of the greatest seasons in college football history, and in the state that became his second home, Joe Shiesty needs to return for Cincinnati. A playoff run won’t be possible without it. Play calling has been the center of attention for Bengals fans, but he’s been far from perfect this season. Part of the blame falls on his shoulders; he is the quarterback after all.
The captain of the defense he’ll face remains one of the most underrated players in the league. Davis is somehow still a do-it-all linebacker at the age of 33. He’s stout in coverage, and has amassed three sacks and seven pressures through just five games. Burrow can’t afford to miss him blitzing.
Ja’Marr Chase vs. Bradley Roby
Burrow may be a legendary adopted son of Louisiana, but Chase grew up in the Bayou. His roots were planted in Harvey as he became a prodigy at Archbishop Rummel, and an icon at LSU. The National Championship was the final bullet point on why he could sit out an entire season and still be the fifth-pick in the following NFL Draft. But it’s not been as glamorous in his second year in the league.
Chase has been on the border of frustration since starting the year strong in Week 1. He’s averaging just 1.36 yards per route run since Week 2, and defenses are allocating ample resources to keep him underneath them. Will things change this week? With no Marshon Lattimore in the lineup, another former OSU cornerback may have to contain Chase. Roby has allowed a passer rating of just 61.3 when targeted, but has been penalized three times and has missed four tackles on the year.
Eli Apple vs. Chris Olave
Have crowds ever gone out of their way to jeer an opposing cornerback before? We might see that with Apple. The former Saint has burned his bridge with the New Orleans faithful after playing just 10 games with the franchise. It seems like the Saints’ fanbase has the most hatred for the Bengals’ defensive back. We’ll see if that hatred translates to added decibels from the stands.
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The Saints’ offense is down many receivers for this game, and they may not even have Olave, who’s questionable with a concussion. If he does play, it’ll be important for the home team to get him involved in opportune situations. Isolating him against another former Buckeye should be in their plans. The Bengals rarely leave Apple alone on an island, but against a rookie (albeit an extremely talented one) there might be some chances.
Vonn Bell vs. Andy Dalton
Will the Bengals ever defeat their former franchise quarterback? It’s genuinely improbable that Dalton is set to face the team that released him in the 2020 offseason for the third time in as many seasons when he’s yet to join a new team as a starter. That he’s exclusively joined NFC teams just adds to the absurdity.
Dalton, to his credit, has been playing solid ball for the Saints. He’s PFF’s fourth-highest graded passer since Week 4 when he took over for the injured Jameis Winston. He’s also thrown the fifth-highest percentage of turnover worthy passes since then, which is great news for Bell, who has three interceptions in the same timeframe.
Bell’s newfound ball-hawking ways has boosted an already stingy Bengals defense, and he’ll undoubtedly be looking to pick one off in the stadium he once played inside regularly. Don’t forget—he also caught an interception in Ohio State’s Sugar Bowl victory against Alabama almost eight years ago inside the Superdome.