The Cincinnati Bengals open their season on Sunday on the road against the Cleveland Browns, kicking off their 2023 campaign that hopefully ends with Joe Burrow hoisting the Lombardi Trophy overhead as orange and black confetti rains from above.
Here are five Bengals players to watch, and why, in their Week 1 matchup against the
Joe Burrow, QB
You know why the franchise quarterback is first on the list: the calf.
Burrow didn’t take any snaps throughout the preseason due to a calf strain he suffered early in camp. He is practicing now, but we haven’t seen any practice footage of him throwing on the run or rolling out of the pocket. Coaches say he’s “day to day,” and, while he says he’s good to go, and the general sense is he’s going to play, we don’t know if he’s going to be 100 percent or not.
If he isn’t, he could have a hard time moving in and out of the pocket, which wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing when Myles Garrett is coming off the edge. Hopefully he is 100 percent and we’ll see that on Sunday.
Chris Evans/Trayveon Williams, RB
The Bengals lost Samaje Perine this offseason to free agency, and since he was their passing-down back, and the best pass blocker out of the backfield, it will be interesting to see who takes his place. Will it be Trayveon Williams or Chris Evans?
Williams was lost during the preseason thanks to a high-ankle sprain suffered a few weeks ago, so he didn’t get to take any snaps, but Evans did, and he wasn’t too bad. He was the highest-graded runner, per PFF, on the team with a rushing grade of 77.0, and he was the team’s highest rated pass blocker with a score of 81.1.
We haven’t gotten to see either Williams or Evans in an expanded role during the regular season, but that will change on Sunday as one of these two will see the field often.
Chidobe Awuzie, CB
Awuzie has received the green light for Sunday afternoon. He’s coming off an ACL injury that required surgery and ended his 2022 season early. He didn’t take any snaps in the preseason, but he has gradually worked his way back in practice. Sunday will be his first official action since his injury and he’ll be facing off against Amari Cooper.
Facing Cooper isn’t the same as facing Tee Higgins or Ja’Marr Chase in practice, but he has had 1,000-yards in three of the last four seasons, and he’s an excellent route runner who knows how to get open. This will be a good first test for Awuzie and his knee.
DJ Reader, NT
Reader has made a name for himself as one of the best run-stopping defensive tackles in the NFL. He has helped the Bengals defense shut down the opposing running backs time and time again, and one of the reasons the Bengals have gotten such quality play from linebackers Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson is because Reader requires so much attention from the offensive line that he enables the linebackers to play freer than when he’s not in.
Reader will need to be on his game again as he’s going to be asked to take on Browns running back Nick Chubb, one of the best at his position in the league. He’s coming off five straight 1,000-yard seasons and has scored 48 touchdowns in the last five years. Cleveland’s offense flows through Chubb, so disrupting the run game will be a must for the Bengals defense.
Dax Hill and Nick Scott, FS/SS
This will be the first real game without Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell. They’ve been replaced by Hill at free safety and Scott at strong safety. We got to see a little of them during the first drive of the team’s second preseason game, but we’ll get our first real good look at them on Sunday. If I were looking to exploit a weakness the Bengals defense may have, it’s at their young safeties.
I fully expect there to be some growing pains for Hill and Scott, but their athletic ability will hopefully limit the damage their inexperience could potentially cause. We’ll get our first look on Sunday.
What players will you be keeping a closer eye on when the Bengals take on the Browns on Sunday?