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.
Bengals Wide Receivers vs. Buccaneers Secondary
The Bengals’ wide receivers are having a rough season outside of stalwart A.J. Green and rising star Tyler Boyd. Even Green has begun to struggle with drops after a hot start to the season. Boyd has emerged as the legitimate weapon opposite Green that 2017 first round pick John Ross was supposed to be. Ross was finally seeing the field to start the 2018 season but is having injury problems once again. He has hardly proved worthy of being the ninth overall pick for the Bengals.
The secondary of the Buccaneers is one of the worst of the league. Giving up over 400 yards and 32 points per game, Tampa Bay is lucky they have one of the more explosive offenses in the league to offset the dreadful defense. The secondary play is a big reason for those terrible numbers. Cornerback Brent Grimes is showing his age at 35 while playing with a lot of young players. Rookies Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart flash talent but are otherwise playing as well as first-year defensive backs can be expected to. Second-year safety Justin Evans is becoming a very good player and has the lone interception on the team. This is a young and weak secondary that can be exposed.
The Bengals need to attack the secondary of Tampa Bay as much as possible. Until the game against Kansas City, Cincinnati was scoring plenty of points as their offense was rolling. There is no reason A.J. Green shouldn’t have a huge day against an aging Grimes and a ton of younger players. I expect Boyd to have a big day also. With the strides he has made as a route runner and as a player overall, Boyd should have no issues finding open space against the Buccaneers.
Bobby Hart, Offensive Tackle vs. Jason Pierre Paul, Defensive End
I feel as if I talk way too much about Bobby Hart, but his play on the field gives me no other choice. It needs to be said every week until he is taken off the field, he might be the worst starting offensive tackle in the NFL. Average or better pass rushers have a field day against Hart, seemingly without much effort. There isn’t much else to say, Hart is a liability on the offensive line.
Jason Pierre Paul may not quite be the dynamic edge rusher he was a few years ago, but he still very dangerous. He should draw the attention from the Bengals as the only player with more than 2 sacks on the entire Tampa Bay defense. Pierre Paul is on pace for double-digit sacks with 6 already. Ever since the fireworks accident that left his right hand mangled, he has not been the same player. It speaks to his talent that he can lose fingers on one hand and still be a potent pass rusher in the NFL.
I fully expect Pierre Paul to line up across from Hart and have a field day. He has the speed to blow by Hart and his sloppy mechanics. Pierre Paul has the power to square up Hart and drive him back into the quarterback. The Bengals better have some pass blocking help on the right side in this game.
Bengals Edge Rushers vs. Buccaneers Offensive Tackles
The production has been up and down for every Bengal pass rusher not named Geno Atkins. Carlos Dunlap still brings consistent pressure but has trouble finishing for the sacks. Michael Johnson provides little to no pass rush and isn’t even the run defender he used to be. Carl Lawson, Jordan Willis, and Sam Hubbard are the future of the Bengals edge rushers. The numbers aren’t there for these guys but turn on the tape and watch these guys blowing up plays on a weekly basis.
Average. Mediocre. Just good enough. Those are all accurate descriptions of the offensive tackles for Tampa Bay. Right tackle Demar Dotson is very inconsistent but plays well enough to hold down a starting job. Speed tends to give Dotson issues. Left tackle Donovan Smith was one of the rising stars at the position last year but seems to have hit a bit of a wall in his development. He may have even regressed a little bit. Speed can also be an issue for Smith on the edge but he is a very good run blocker that can generally hold his own against most pass rushers. The trouble is above average or better rushers can have their way with Smith at times.
The Bengals should hold an advantage in this matchup and that is very important. This Buccaneers offense can score a lot of points in a hurry. A potent pass rush will slow down quarterback Jameis Winston and his dangerous group of wide receivers. Tampa Bay cannot run the ball to save their lives so that means the Bengal pass rushers need to pin their ears back and go after Winston. Attack those offensive tackles and force Winston to make bad decisions like he tends to do.
Bengals Defensive Backs vs. Buccaneers Wide Receivers
After getting torched by an unreasonably good Kansas City offense, the Bengals defensive backs need a bounce-back week in a bad way. William Jackson III is still not having that breakout season we all expected from the young star. He is playing well but not great. Dre Kirkpatrick is getting worse by the week and is one of the worst tacklers I’ve seen at this level. Safety Shawn Williams is playing like everyone expected, an average strong safety that hits hard and tackles well. Jessie Bates III is the x-factor. He is blossoming into a top-tier playmaker before our very eyes. Turn on the tape and don’t listen to people who say that he isn’t making an impact.
Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Desean Jackson, and Adam Humphries form one of the most dynamic receiving corps in the league. Jackson is getting up there in age but is still a threat as a speedster. Mike Evans has developed into more than just a 50/50 jump ball specialist and that should scare every corner he lines up against. Chris Godwin has become an important piece in that offense in his second year. He is overtaking Jackson as the number two option behind Evans.
A banged up Bengals secondary against an elite receiving corp is bad news for the Bengals. Starting slot cornerback Darqueze Dennard will not be playing and Kirkpatrick will also be banged up. This is a bad week to not have all your corners healthy. It will be interesting to see if Jackson can hold his own against an elite player in Evans. Bates becomes very important as the Buccaneers love to throw downfield and Winston is a risk-taker. There should be ample opportunity for Bates to create some turnovers.