In the NFL, there are important individual matchups that help to decide each and every game. Whether it’s a position group against another position group, an individual against a position group, or an individual against an individual, these matchups can determine winners and losers. Every week throughout the season, I break down at least two matchups for both the Bengals’ offense and defense against their opponents.
A.J. Green vs. Captain Munnerlyn
Wide receiver A.J. Green is having a monster year so far. Green went off for 3 touchdowns last Thursday against the Ravens. There seems to be a new fire in him compared to the last couple seasons. The last two years have shown us an elite wide receiver that became visually frustrated with the sputtering offenses. There is an energy to Green’s game so far in 2018, his route running is the best it has ever been. He still has some of the best hands in the game and extremely quick feet in and out of cuts for a 6’4″ player. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has been utilizing Green in the slot as well as the outside through two games and the results have been destructive for opposing defenses.
Captain Munnerlyn is almost exclusively a slot cornerback. He has spent the last few seasons as one of the better slot corners in the NFL. In the modern NFL, the slot cornerback position is basically a starting spot and extremely important. Munnerlyn has made a nice career at the slot position but has seemingly fallen off in 2018. The struggles were magnified against a dangerous Falcons receiving corp. Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley could be found toasting Munnerlyn on a regular basis throughout their week two matchup.
With Green spending more time in the slot this season and his domination there, Munnerlyn and the Panthers could be in trouble. The Bengals and Lazor should move Green around the formation as much as possible to get him matched up with Munnerlyn. Green is a big, fast, technician while Munnerlyn is struggling against upper echelon wide receivers and appears to be declining. This may be another dominant performance from Green.
Trey Hopkins vs. Panthers Interior Defensive Line
Bengals starting center Billy Price has been ruled out for the week three tilt against the Panthers with a foot injury. This could be a major problem for the team. Price has had his issues but overall is having a very solid rookie campaign. The man replacing him is Trey Hopkins and there may not be a lot of faith in him. Hopkins lost the training camp battle for the right guard position and struggled when on the field in 2017. With that being said, he did play well in relief of Price against the Ravens. Maybe he has found his more natural position at center, we need to see more to believe he can be a suitable replacement for Price.
The strength of the Panthers defense is the interior of their defensive line. Kawann Short is one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. He has elite quickness and outstanding strength to walk offensive linemen into the backfield. Dontari Poe is in the conversation for the best 1-technique/nose tackle in the entire league. There is no moving him off the ball and he is an amazing athlete for a 6’3″ and 346-pound man. Back up Vernon Butler is a former first-round pick and while he has not fulfilled those expectations he is still a strong, athletic player to have in the rotation.
The Bengals are in trouble up front against the Panthers. Hopkins is making his first start at center and it’s against one of the best defensive tackle groups in the NFL. Poe showed massive push into the backfield against the Falcons. Hopkins has struggled with power rushers in the past and he is going against two of the best this week. If Cincinnati wants to come out of Carolina with a win they are going to need Hopkins to play out of this world good against Poe and Short.
Bengals Defensive Tackles vs. Cam Newton
Geno Atkins is one of the best defensive players in the NFL. He is playing like a man possessed this season. Turn on any Bengals game and you will likely see Atkins in the opponent’s backfield. Andrew Billings is a rising star and appears to have taken the next step. He has always had the power but has added impressive quickness for his size to his game. Eating double teams and getting the occasional push into the backfield is still his primary job but he brings much more to the table now.
Quarterbacks that can run have become supremely important in the modern NFL. Teams don’t want that to be the first instinct of their quarterbacks but it adds a dynamic element to any offense. Cam Newton is electric as a runner. A huge quarterback that can run like a running back is going to be dangerous no matter what. He is still very scattershot as a passer but seems to be fully capable of running his offense despite that.
Yes, speedy linebackers and defensive ends that can contain the edge are very important when defending against running quarterbacks. The interior defensive line is underrated when it comes to stopping a player like Cam Newton. Newton gains a lot of yardage when defensive lines rush so far upfield around him that he can step up and run up the middle. The Bengals need Atkins and Billings to provide the push up the middle that forces Newton into the hands of their talented edge rushers. If Newton gets loose, the Bengals will have problems.
Bengals Linebackers vs. Christian McCaffrey
The Bengals linebackers have been better this season but still inconsistent. Newcomer Preston Brown has been all over the field in the run game but suffered an ankle injury that may keep him out or limit him against the Panthers. Jordan Evans has been very good filling in for the suspended Vontaze Burfict but still has some lapses in coverage that can cost the team. Nick Vigil is the best athlete of the group and has been racking up the tackles, flying around the field making his presence felt. Although inconsistency is an issue for Vigil too.
Christian McCaffrey is an electric playmaker at running back. While he may not be very dangerous as a between the tackles runner, he scares every defense in the league as a receiver. Unreal quickness and amazingly strong hands make him a dangerous threat out of the backfield. He has improved as a pure runner but has been shredding defenses as a receiver in 2018. McCaffrey is the guy that Cam Newton looks to when plays break down, which happens a lot with their offensive line.
The dynamism of McCaffrey is going to cause problems for the Bengals linebackers. A healthy Brown is too slow to keep up with him but Evans and Vigil may have the athleticism to do so. Vigil is the best athlete of all three linebackers. The best options for the Bengals is to put their best athletes on McCaffrey in coverage. Vigil has shown huge strides as an overall player and may be up to the challenge of tracking down McCaffrey, but his inconsistencies could lead to a huge game for the elusive Panthers running back.