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.
Tyler Boyd, Wide Receiver vs. P.J. Williams, Cornerback
Tyler Boyd continued his breakout season against a weak Buccaneers secondary with 138 yards and a touchdown. It seems like I’m mentioning his name as a part of a matchup to watch or a stud on a weekly basis. Injuries are taking their toll on the Bengals roster and the wide receiver position has not been exempt. John Ross can’t stay on the field and now star player A.J. Green is sidelined at least two weeks with an injury. Boyd has helped carry the load with the loss of Ross but now must shoulder even more with Green not being on the field to draw attention away. The way Boyd has played of late, I think he is up to the task.
The New Orleans Saints have a decent group of cornerbacks led by rising star Marshon Lattimore. However, not all of their starters should be starters. P.J. Williams was a noticeable weakness in the secondary against the L.A. Rams last week. Wide Receiver Cooper Cupp had his way with Williams for the most part. Playing largely in the slot, Williams has had his struggles this season outside of a pick-6 against Minnesota. Good slot receivers can take full advantage of Williams.
Cincinnati has a very good slot receiver in Boyd. While he can also play outside and may do so more with Green being out, his reps in the slot should lead to the most production this weekend. There is no reason Boyd should not be burning Williams regularly. With the potent Saints offense probably putting up a ton of points, the Bengals should be throwing the ball early and often. Boyd will get his targets, we will see if he can make the most of them.
Bengals’ Offensive Line vs. Saints Defensive Line
The Cincinnati offensive line has been a pleasant surprise thus far this season. They won’t be winning any awards but have outplayed the low expectations set for them. Left tackle Cordy Glenn and left guard Clint Boling have been the rocks of this group. Trey Hopkins held his own at center but rookie Billy Price is finally back this week from a foot injury. That alone should boost the offense as a whole. The right side has been god awful. Right guard Alex Redmond can’t pass block and has a penalty every week. Right tackle Bobby Hart is so awful I’m running out of words to describe how bad his play is. Redmond is doubtful to play against the Saints so we may see Hopkins plugged in at left guard.
New Orleans has a very underrated defensive line group. Stalwart Cameron Jordan is one of the league’s best at defensive end. Maybe not an explosive pass rusher, he is a dominant run defender and still very good at rushing the passer. Rookie Marcus Davenport was really just starting to come into his own as a pass rusher before suffering an injury. With Davenport out, look for Trey Hendrickson to step in and he is nothing spectacular but has shown flashes getting after the quarterback. Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins is quietly one of the better interior rushers in the NFL. His running mate Tyeler Davison is another player that should be getting more attention for his play this year. More of a run stuffer, he is very good at what he does and can push the pocket when needed.
The return of Price gives the Bengals a much better chance to protect quarterback Andy Dalton and give running back Joe Mixon some running room. They really might improve two spots with his return if Hopkins steps in at right guard. The tackles will have their hands full and I fully expect Jordan and Hendrickson both to have their way with Hart. If Cincinnati can give Hart some help on the right side they may actually have a chance against a talented New Orleans front.
William Jackson III, Cornerback vs. Michael Thomas, Wide Receiver
William Jackson III has all the talent in the world for a cornerback. It looks like he is still learning to use all that talent, however. 2018 was supposed to be his big coming out party and that has just not materialized. He is no way playing bad, he just hasn’t turned into the shutdown corner we all thought he would be at this point. He has held his own against some big-time wide receivers this season such as Mike Evans and Antonio Brown, but he just hasn’t been able to crack that upper echelon of corners just yet.
If you aren’t aware of what Michael Thomas has been doing this season, please start watching him. Thomas is blossoming into one of the best playmakers in football right before our eyes. Size, speed, intelligence, route running, the man has it all. He has developed quite the on-field relationship with quarterback Drew Brees and that has only sped up his development. It’s time for people to start talking about Thomas as the best wide receiver in the entire league.
I’m so excited to watch these two uber-talented players line up across from one another on Sunday. Thomas has already established himself as a superstar and Jackson is still looking to get his name into that conversation. The talent and athleticism are there for Jackson to blanket Thomas and keep him under control. The questions will be if the Bengals allow Jackson to shadow Thomas and if he can put it all together this week to help slow down the next great wide receiver.
Bengals Linebackers vs. Alvin Kamara, Running Back
Cincinnati has one of the worst, least athletic linebacking corps you’ll see. Preston Brown is made for the NFL of 20 years ago and should not see the field past first down. Nick Vigil has the athleticism but not the recognition skills. Vontaze Burfict looks like a shell of his former self. On top of all that, Burfict and Vigil are both injured which puts even worse players on the field. Hardy Nickerson rotates in a might be the worst of the bunch. Jordan Evans shows some incredible flashes but can’t do it consistently and is terrible in coverage. Vinny Rey is a rock solid back up but should remain just that, a backup. This group is a big reason for the decline of the defense this season.
Alvin Kamara is electric. He is the best pass-catching running back in the league and has begun to show his talents between the tackles as well. The explosion from the waist down and out of this world balance create the monster that is Kamara. He also sees the field extremely well and can sniff out the soft spots in defenses. Leave him isolated on linebackers and he will dominate every time.
Kamara is going to go off Sunday afternoon. There is no reason he shouldn’t. The Bengals continue to let their linebackers try to cover running backs and they get burned for it every time. There is not one player in the Bengals linebacking group that can cover Kamara, let alone even tackle him. There isn’t much else to say as far as this matchup goes, Kamara wins this every time.