The Cincinnati Bengals have dug themselves into a deep hole after losing four consecutive games. The high hopes of this team that started 3-1 seemed to be dashed in the midst of this free-fall.
Bengals players and staff, however, are not convinced that their season is over and will continue to press on.
The Bengals had a heartbreaking loss to the Denver Broncos last week despite playing some of their best football since Week 4. Quarterback Peyton Manning was just too much for Cincinnati to handle as another game was lost.
This week, Cincinnati faces another Manning—Peyton’s brother Eli of the New York Giants. Eli Manning is not quite the quarterback that Peyton is, and the Bengals should have key aspects of their game ready for this particular quarterback.
Let’s take a look at five improvements that the Bengals can make to come away with a victory against the Giants.
The Bengals have one of the best pass rushes in the NFL this season, but that did not show last week against the Broncos, as they failed to get to quarterback Peyton Manning.
Eli Manning has been known to buckle under heavy pressure at times, which forces him to throw off his back foot and deliver some errant passes. Being that the Bengals secondary is shaky at best, this will be a crucial element of the Bengals’ game plan for Sunday.
The Giants have a strong offensive line and a solid running game and will do their best to keep pounding the ball and running screen plays to keep this pass rush contained. The young guns of the Bengals defensive line need to find ways to get to Manning early and often and force mistakes.
Durability also comes into play here, as Manning has not been as spectacular in the fourth quarter as he has been in past years. If the Bengals can get a good rotation going and keep their starters fresh, pressure on Manning late in the game will be that much more perilous for the quarterback.
It is very fair to say that the Bengals have not had consistent linebacker play at all this season. Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga has been one of the worst inside linebackers in the NFL and has struggled in all phases of the game.
On a bright note, undrafted free agent Vontaze Burfict has been a pleasant surprise this season and is on pace to break the Bengals' single-season tackles record for a rookie. Last week, the Bengals also debuted fellow undrafted free agent Emmanuel Lamur, who had a very solid game and was great in coverage.
Good coverage by linebackers will be particularly important in this game, as Manning relies heavily on his tight ends and running backs on passing downs. Linebackers will have to stay in tight coverage to avoid yards after the catch.
Stopping the Giants running game will also be key for the linebackers. They need to focus on staying in their lanes and closing the holes created for the backs.
If they can contain Ahmad Bradshaw the way they contained Willis McGahee last week (he had 66 yards rushing) and force Eli to become one-dimensional, the Bengals pass rush and secondary will be the beneficiaries.
Winning the turnover battle will be as important as ever in the matchup against the Giants this week. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is still searching for his first game without an interception this season.
As long as the offensive line can keep Dalton upright, this is one game where this can certainly be attainable. The Giants secondary has not been solid this season and has missed its mark numerous times while giving up big plays.
Since his three fumbles in two games earlier this season, BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been controlling the ball very well. He has not fumbled since and is starting to look more like the product that came out of New England.
Terence Newman recorded two interceptions against Peyton Manning last week, and safety Chris Crocker also has two on the season. The rest of the Bengals secondary needs to step up to the challenge and put themselves in positions to make a play on the ball.
Not only do turnovers get a team hyped up, but they also lead to points and winning the field position battle. This will be very important this week against a high-powered Giants offense.
This season, one of the largest factors of Bengals drives stalling has been penalties. Once the offense gets rolling down the field, it has shot itself in the foot with a holding penalty or a false start on countless occasions.
After the onslaught of holding calls against the offensive line last week, the Bengals enter this week tied for second in the NFL for most holding penalties this season.
The offense has been a major concern of Bengals fans everywhere, as they have pointed fingers at play calling and turnovers. However, these penalties are the root cause of the Bengals' offensive woes.
After a big penalty, Dalton seems to try too hard to get the Bengals back into position and forces the ball into tight windows. Once the Bengals are also buried too far behind the original line of scrimmage, plays tend to get more conservative sometimes, as the coaching staff does not want to risk a turnover.
A clean game by Cincinnati will be one of the driving factors to success this week. If the Bengals can stop these self-inflicted errors, they can be much more of a threat for the duration of the season.
For quite some time now, the Bengals have been criticized by fans and pundits alike for their sloppy play in the red zone. Offensive play calling tends to get too “cute” when the ball is in this area of the field.
Especially in goal-to-go situations, the Bengals need to revamp what they are trying to do in order to get into the end zone.
For example, on a 1st-and-goal, Cincinnati could simply rush up the gut with Green-Ellis. Two things can happen. Either he gets stuffed for a one or two-yard gain, or he scores the way he has been known for since his days in New England.
If Green-Ellis does not get in, it will set up a great play-action play for Cincinnati. Lining up in a goal-line package with Jermaine Gresham and Orson Charles on the same side as well as fullback Chris Pressley in front of Green-Ellis in the backfield would be the perfect package here.
Running a play fake to Green-Ellis and having Gresham and Charles’ routes go into the end zone with Pressley running in the flat will give the quick-armed Dalton three choices for a score.
Even if this play is covered, the surprisingly quick Dalton could try to scramble for a score as well with all of those big bodies blocking in front of him.
This is only one idea, and it is a relatively simple one. This play is utilized to perfection by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Bengals adapting simple, yet effective plays like this would certainly help put more than three points on the board after a trip to the red zone.
By making these adjustments, the Bengals should have a very fair chance to get a victory over the visiting Giants, thus bettering their record to 4-5 on the season, with Kansas City next up on the slate.