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.
Joe Mixon vs. Kansas City Linebackers
Running back Joe Mixon started the 2018 season as one of the hottest players on this Bengals team. He brought better decisiveness than he did last year and ran with incredible confidence. An injury resulting in a knee scope brought that very good start to a brief halt.
Two games later, Mixon came back and picked up right where he left off. He runs with a mean physicality, while also having the speed to blow right past defenders. As a receiver, he’s one of the more dangerous weapons in the NFL. Cincinnati is throwing the ball very well overall this season, but shouldn’t be shy about making Mixon the focal point of their gameplan.
Kansas City’s two starting middle linebackers in their 3-4 defense are Anthony Hitchens and Reggie Ragland. Two big thumpers in the middle who are adept at sifting through traffic to meet ball carriers at or near the line of scrimmage. They’re also two of the only linebackers in the league who are worse in pass coverage than Cincinnati’s unit. Hitchens tends to stay on the field more often and is the better player overall, but he’s still a liability in coverage on most downs.
If the Bengals want to win this game, they’ll need to isolate Mixon against Kansas City’s inside linebackers. The passing game is where the most damage could be done – Mixon is twice the athlete that Hitchens or Ragland are. We know Cincinnati loves screens, and they’ll be a good way to get Mixon into space against those guys. They shouldn’t be afraid to split Mixon out and let him work one-on-one against the ‘backers if they can draw that matchup. I fully expect Mixon to dominate if the Bengals just give him the necessary touches.
Right Side of the Bengals Offensive Line vs. DL Chris Jones and EDGE Dee Ford
Right guard Alex Redmond is one of the worst pass blocking guards in the entire NFL. For being such a strong, mauling run blocker, he sure can’t anchor in pass protection. Quick interior penetrators will go right by him because of his slow feet and hands, power rushers will go right through him because of his poor balance. The man flanking him to his right is even worse. Even with his best performance coming against a very good player in Pittsburgh Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt last week, Bobby Hart is still one of the worst offensive linemen in the league. He has slow feet, looks incredibly weak from the waist down, poor hand placement, and just looks confused on a play by play basis. Redmond and Hart are one of the worst offensive line tandems around.
Chris Jones is listed as a defensive end but is versatile enough to move all around the Chiefs’ 3-4 front. A 6’6″, 310-pound monster on the interior, Jones can do a little bit of everything. The other rising star on the Chiefs’ defense is Dee Ford, an edge rusher. While he logged 10 sacks in his 2016 season, Ford’s production has been inconsistent due to frequent injuries. He appears to be healthy and becoming a force off the edge in 2018.
Redmond and Hart are in for a very long game. Jones moves around the line of scrimmage but I have more faith in left guard Clint Boling to hold his own than I do Redmond. If the Chiefs are smart they will line up Jones across from Redmond as much as possible. The way Ford has been playing this season is bad news for the Bengals and especially quarterback Andy Dalton. Hart is just outright bad 99% of the time and I fully expect Ford to magnify that on Sunday night. There had better be some quick strike passes ready to go or some running back and tight end help on the right side.
Jessie Bates III vs. Patrick Mahomes II
Safety Jessie Bates III is having an impactful rookie season for the Bengals. His performance in the offseason led to the Bengals releasing longtime starter George Iloka. He’s rewarded Cincinnati for taking that leap of faith in him thus far. The Draft Network’s Jon Ledyard lays out how good Bates has been here. Quarterbacks need to be aware of Bates’ position if they have any desire to throw down the field.
If you haven’t heard of what Patrick Mahomes is doing to the NFL this season, you haven’t been paying attention. With his rocket arm, a fantastic offense schemed around him, a great supporting cast, and much better accuracy than people expected from him, Mahomes is having a simply magical breakout year. He’s calm and collected in the pocket, picking defenses apart with throws that few other quarterbacks can make. If a team manages to pressure him and flush him from the pocket, he extends the play, keeping his eyes downfield until one of his weapons becomes open. Keep him in the pocket and hit him – hard. That’s how you begin to beat him.
This game could turn into a chess match between Mahomes and the Bengals secondary. I believe Bates could be the key piece in that match. The Chiefs love to get their receivers vertical and Bates could help contain that. Cincinnati likes to keep Bates as a single high safety because of his range and intelligence on the back end. Kansas City could try to attack that look if they feel Mahomes and electric wide receiver Tyreek Hill can get by Bates. If Bates can keep disciplined eyes and not shade one way or the other, he has the range to take away those vertical routes.
Cincinnati Edge Rushers vs. Kansas City Offensive Tackles
The Bengals have had very good defensive line play for a majority of the season. The rotation on the edge is especially strong going about five players deep. Carlos Dunlap is the rock-solid starter on the edge that is the most reliable of the starters. He never has big stats but is very underrated as an edge rusher. Michael Johnson is the other starter and really shouldn’t be starting. He had one big season and has been mediocre up to this point, he may not even be mediocre anymore. Second-year players Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis should be playing much more on the edge. Willis is the better all-around defensive end but Lawson is the more dynamic pass rusher. Rookie Sam Hubbard has worked his way into the rotation and deservedly so. Whether on the edge or the interior, he has been an impact player in 2018.
Kansas City tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz are probably the most underrated offensive tackle tandem in the NFL. Fisher isn’t anything special at left tackle but has developed over the years into a rock solid player for the Chiefs. Rock solid is very hard to come by these days at left tackle. Right tackle Schwartz might be the best right tackle in football but nobody talks about him. Not enough credit is given to these guys and their contributions to the offense and the ascension of Patrick Mahomes II. Keeping the quarterback clean is paramount and these two do it very well.
After a pathetic showing against the Steelers in week 6, the Bengals pass rushers need to show up this week. A primetime game against the most explosive offense in the league means there will be an emphasis on the pass rush. Johnson cannot be allowed to play more snaps than Lawson, Willis, and Hubbard. If Lawson can get on the field more, I believe he can attack Fisher and get some hits on Mahomes. Dunlap moving across the line of scrimmage will be important to watch because he will provide an interesting matchup for both Kansas City tackles. If these pass rushers cannot beat the Chiefs tackles, Mahomes may very well pick the Bengals banged up secondary apart with ease.