The Cincinnati Bengals and 49ers have quite a storied history for two teams that don’t regularly play each other. Aside from two Super Bowl clashes, these two have had other big-time regular season affairs, such as one a couple of years ago in Cincinnati.
They face off for another this Sunday in San Francisco, with both teams needing a win to get their seasons back on track. To get the inside scoop on the team, we tapped the knowledge of Ryan Bainbridge over at SB Nation’s Niners Nation.
1.) AC: It seems as if at least three major players are potentially out this week in Trent Willams, Brock Purdy and Deebo Samuel. What’s the latest on these three and how can San Francisco overcome their potential absences and get a win?
RB: Purdy was a limited practice participant yesterday, which is a good sign. He remains in concussion protocol and his status is truly to be determined. It feels like we may not know until closer to Sunday.
If he can’t go, Sam Darnold steps in under center and we get our first look at the new backup. This is the best system and talent Darnold has ever gotten to play in as a pro, so there’s reason for optimism. Darnold is more physically gifted than Purdy but hasn’t shown the same aptitude for quick processing, which is vital to Shanahan’s offense.
It won’t be easy to win without Purdy, but I don’t think fans are expecting a complete disaster if Darnold has to get the start. Williams hasn’t practiced and his status is questionable as he heals up his ankle. This would be a big blow for the Niners, as Williams is the best left tackle in the league. Jaylon Moore got the start for him in last week’s loss to Minnesota and generally performed well ( 74.5 PFF grade, 1 pressure, 1 hurry allowed).
But not having Williams in the lineup affects how the offense can operate and it may force Shanahan to use more help against Cincy’s dynamic edge rushers. Deebo Samuel is out. He has a hairline fracture and isn’t expected back until after the team’s bye week. Deebo is incredibly versatile and the team misses his yards after the catch and overall difference making with the ball in his hands.
We haven’t had another receiver step up in his absence yet, but Brandon Aiyuk has shouldered the load of almost the entire passing game as he has shown all the traits of a true number one receiver this season. Jauan Jennings and Ray-Ray McCloud III carried the bulk of responsibilities left by Samuel’s absence.
2.) AC: Charvarious Ward struggled quite a bit last Monday night against Jordan Addison and he has had some issues when he was with the Chiefs going up against the current Bengals wideouts, as well. What can he and the rest of the defense do to improve upon those problems and stifle Cincinnati’s passing attack, which has been inconsistent this year itself?
RB: Ward has been one of the better 49ers cornerbacks in recent memory. His physical play style fits the defensive identity in San Francisco. The interception he grabbed Monday night was a perfect example of this, as his strength in press coverage threw Jordan Addison off of his route and Cousins couldn’t fit the ball to his rookie receiver.
But, obviously, Ward allowed the big catch before the half to Addison and it was one of his weaker moments this season. Of course, defensive coordinator Steve Wilks rightfully took the brunt of the blame for this, as his aggressive blitz call left Ward in an unnecessary one-on-one matchup. Regardless, 49ers fans don’t see Ward as the liability he was in Kansas City a few years ago.
Pro Football Focus has him as the 15th highest graded corner this year, among those having a minimum of 150 snaps. But any cornerback playing against the Bengals trio of pass catchers and a healthy Joe Burrow will be tested. Pressing Ja’Marr Chase doesn’t seem to work out very often but disrupting the timing of Cincy’s passing attack will be key. That means coverage and pass rush have to be married and generating pressure with the front four is crucial to the secondary getting the job done Sunday.
3.) AC: We know about a myriad of stars on both sides of the ball for the 49ers, but who are a couple of emerging players with whom the Bengals faithful may be unfamiliar but will hear about this Sunday?
RB: This is a tough question because so many of the starters are veterans or well known around the league. I’d say on offense, left guard Aaron Banks is a former second round pick that showed flashes last year but has been inconsistent at best in his second season as a starter. His PFF grade isn’t good but he has yet to allow a sack and is a really strong run blocker.
On defense, sophomore edge Drake Jackson started the season off with a bang, recording three sacks against Pittsburgh. But his play dropped off (along with the rest of the defensive line) and the arrival of Randy Gregory has stunted his playing time. Overall, this is a roster that was constructed with an obvious eye on capitalizing on a Super Bowl window, so a lot of capital was spent on acquiring and retaining elite talent. Because of that, very few young players have gained enough playing time to be worthy of consideration for this answer.
4.) AC: Whether or not Purdy plays this Sunday, what is the growing sentiment for him long-term with this team? He got off to a hot start this year, but things have been a struggle the past two weeks. Are people still optimistic that he’s “the guy”, or are doubts creeping in that teams have caught up with him now that there’s about a year of film on him?
RB: I would be lying if I didn’t think there were any “doubters” about Purdy, even in the Niners fanbase. Let’s be honest - he hasn’t even started 20 games yet! It’s hard to call anybody anything after barely one season.
Especially in the last two weeks, he’s shown some signs of regression, which should be expected. He was on a historic pace to start his career. I don’t think it’s fair that he is receiving the hate he has gotten for two poor performances when the rest of his time as the starter has been nearly all good.
We know Purdy is physically limited. But the talk about the possibility of Darnold taking Purdy’s job if he does well against Cincinnati is completely overblown. Purdy is this team’s franchise QB until proven otherwise. Against Cleveland he drove the offense down the field and set up a game-winning field goal.
Against Minnesota, he had his worst outing from an accuracy standpoint but still made some plays that had San Francisco in position to win the game. He will never be Mahomes or Allen or these other alien quarterbacks but from a processing and decision making standpoint he has been everything Niners fans could ask for.
5.) AC: The line in this one has been all over the place because of the injury news. As of Thursday, the line is 49ers -3.5, per DraftKings. How are you seeing this one playing out, and what do you make of the spread?
RB: If this were in Cincinnati I would be more concerned. But I think the Niners will put their previous losses to bed and play a really physical game, getting back to their style of football. I like them to win and if it’s only a 3-4 point spread, I would take them to cover, even with the injuries. With Cincinnati coming off a bye, it’ll be another close contest like their 2021 matchup. In that case I would say I see it as a one-score affair. But the San Francisco defense will rebound and keep the Bengals passing attack unsteady as it has been to start the year. SF 27 - CIN 20.
Our thanks to Ryan Bainbridge for the chat here and to his Niners Nation colleague, Jason Aponte, who joined us on The Orange and Black Insider podcast this week! Go check out their site for the other side of our conversation.