The Cincinnati Bengals are entering week 2 as they prepare to take on the Cleveland Browns. With every game of the season, there will be things to watch and focus on. Here are five things to watch for in week 2.
1. Can the Defensive Line Play Well?
The key to this game could be the defensive line for the Bengals. They played well against the Chargers and were a huge reason that only 16 points were allowed. What was more impressive was that the line helped the defense give up just 362 total yards without team leader Geno Atkins for the game. D.J. Reader also had to be carted off with an injury midgame.
Against the Browns, the defensive line can make a huge impact. With Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb, the Browns were able to run the ball in their season opener. If they didn’t fall behind early, the Browns may have been able to rely on the running game more, so the Bengals will need to stop the run and that starts with the line of scrimmage. It will be an added bonus if they can create pressure on Baker Mayfield, who did not have a good season-opener against the Ravens.
2. Bobby Hart vs. Pass Rushers
Bengals’ fans already knew that Bobby Hart was going to be a weak link on a subpar offensive line this season. His performance still surprised in a negative way, as the Chargers were able to constantly beat him and pressure Joe Burrow. It is going to be a long season for the offense if Hart can’t put out a better performance.
This week Hart will have to go up against Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon, another good pass-rushing duo. Garrett has 30.5 sacks in 38 career games and is one of the best young pass rushers in the league. Vernon is a great sidekick with 54.5 career sacks. Either way, Hart is going to have a tough matchup. His job is to keep Joe Burrow upright, but Burrow could be on his back a lot in this game.
3. Can the Running Game be Established?
One of the reasons the Bengals struggled last season is that they couldn’t get the running game going early in the year. Mixon and the rushing attack eventually got it going, but it was too little, too late. In week 1, Mixon averaged 3.6 yards per carry on 19 carries for a total of 69 rushing yards. That has to improve if the Bengals are going to win many games.
In their week 1 game against the Ravens, the Browns allowed just 107 rushing yards. Baltimore has a high-powered rushing attack, so it was a good effort by Cleveland’s defense. Mixon was just given a big contract and he has run behind worse offensive lines. He needs to have a good game on Thursday to give the Bengals a shot.
4. Will the Bengals Open up the Playbook?
Burrow had a solid performance in his first NFL start. This includes his potential game-winning drive that came up just short. The gameplan seemed pretty simple. Mixon was given a full workload, while Burrow took limited shots down the field. Will week 2 see the Bengals open up the playbook?
With the mismatch in the trenches, Burrow may still need to get the ball out of his hand quickly. The Bengals should try to take some deep shots though, as the Browns do not have a great secondary outside of Denzel Ward. Opening up the playbook requires trust, and while Burrow did make a few mistakes, his play should’ve earned him the right to open up the playbook.
5. Can the Defensive Backs Hold up?
Against the Chargers, the Bengals’ secondary held up really well. They only allowed 208 passing yards and no touchdowns. While the quarterback is journeyman Tyrod Taylor, the Chargers have two great receivers in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. It was a good day at the office for the secondary no matter how the game is looked at.
The team will be facing a similar test on Thursday. Like Taylor, Mayfield hasn’t inspired the most confidence in his career yet. He does, however, have a lot of good weapons to utilize. This includes Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., Ausin Hooper and Kareem Hunt. Mayfield may not throw for an astronomical number of yards, but the Bengals need to limit the amount of big plays they give up to give themselves a chance to win. Mackensie Alexander, Darius Phillips, William Jackson, Vonn Bell, Shawn Williams and Jessie Bates all need to come up big on Thursday.
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