If the Cincinnati Bengals want to avoid extending their current losing streak to five games, then they'll need to defeat the visiting New York Giants this Sunday. The Giants are coming off of a loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week and have yet to put up back-to-back weeks without a win, while the Bengals most recently fell to the Denver Broncos.
Yes, the Bengals are playing host to both Peyton and Eli Manning in back-to-back weeks and, interestingly enough, will need to approach Eli's Giants in a similar manner to which they played Peyton's Broncos.
Here's the game plan for the Bengals this week.
Cut off the Deep Passing
The Pittsburgh Steelers got it right against the Giants offense last week—cut off the deep passing and cut off the Giants' chances for scoring. New York quarterback Eli Manning managed to throw just three passes of over 20 yards last week—two to Hakeem Nicks and one to Victor Cruz—and none of them connected. As such, the Giants were held to just 20 points and Manning to only 125 passing yards. This is exactly what the Bengals must do in order to win this week.
They tried a similar approach last Sunday against the Broncos, keeping Denver's receivers well-covered and cutting off the field, and they did a fairly good job of it. Peyton Manning went deep just three times and connected only once, a 45-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas.
The elder Manning has had a better time of passing in the past few weeks, as well, so Cincinnati's effectiveness in preventing him from going deep should translate well to their similar attempts against Eli.
Interestingly, Cincinnati's best cornerback last week was also their worst. Terence Newman notched two interceptions of the elder Manning but also allowed two touchdowns. He was followed closely by Leon Hall, who allowed all six passes thrown his way to be caught, albeit for no scores. Clearly, the key was limiting yards after the catch—they gave up just 128, which wasn't terrible, considering the one-two punch of Thomas and Eric Decker as Peyton's biggest targets.
The Giants rely heavily on their passing game to pick up the majority of their yardage—they are ninth in the league in passing yards per game, as compared to 15th in rushing yards. With Eli incredibly hard to sack—he's been sacked just nine times, the least of any quarterback in the league—the best way to stop their passing offense is to stop their receivers.
All the Bengals need to do is play Nicks, Cruz and the rest of the Giants receiving corps as they did their Broncos counterparts last week and they can hold the Giants to low yardage and likely few points.
The A.J. Green Show
For all of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's issues this season, he's been helped out immeasurably every game by his best receiver, A.J. Green. At 735 yards, Green has the sixth-most receiving yards in the league, and he's tied with Green Bay's James Jones with the most wide receiver touchdowns thus far, with eight.
There's been a lot of talk about the Giants defense, mainly their high-pressure front seven, but lost in the discussion is how poorly their secondary in particular has played the pass. As long as Dalton can get the ball out accurately, there's no doubt he'll be able to exploit New York's 26th-ranked pass defense as long as he can get the ball to Green.
The only comparable receiver the Giants have faced thus far is Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson, to whom they gave up 128 yards and a touchdown on five receptions earlier this season.
Clearly, the Giants struggle even when they know who needs their best coverage, so the Bengals must find ways to keep Dalton protected from New York's pass rush and make sure the ball gets into Green's hands early and often.
Last week, Green caught seven of nine passes thrown to him for 99 yards and a touchdown, despite Dalton being sacked five times. Against an even worse secondary, Green should have a monster day, again likely augmented by the safety valve that is tight end Jermaine Gresham, who had six catches for 108 yards last week.
Obviously, Dalton cannot throw deep with every drop back, and the Bengals will need to augment their passing with runs from BenJarvus Green-Ellis. But if Cincinnati is going to win, the Dalton-to-Green connection needs to be the focal point of their offensive attack.