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, Running Back vs. Baltimore Linebackers
When Joe Mixon gets his touches, he is performing like a top end running back. The problem is that Cincinnati is playing from behind so often that they get away from the run game very quickly in most games. The putrid state of the defense has led to a decrease in touches for Mixon. He should be the focal point of the offense, especially with A.J. Green injured, but is not seeing the opportunities. As one of the most talented running backs in the NFL, Mixon needs more touches and will make things happen if he gets them.
The Ravens have two very good inside linebackers leading this stout defense. C.J. Mosely is one of the most underrated linebackers around the league. He is the perfect leader in the middle, he’s an “alpha” player. The physicality between the tackles is very impressive but it’s his range that makes him a great player. Carrying a good all-around game, he is the perfect teacher for rookie Kenny Young. Young has come in and showed up immediately on a defense where that is hard to do. He is a good athlete with sideline to sideline range and coverage skills.
Mixon is going to need to make these two athletic linebackers miss some tackles on Sunday. They’re both instinctive enough to find Mixon before he gets to open field so he has to find ways to get by them or go through them. He is definitely good enough to do so, but they are also good enough to stop him. If Mixon gets some runs by Mosley and Young at the second level, the entire offense of the Bengals will benefit.
Billy Price, Center vs. Brandon Williams, Nose Tackle
The Bengals offensive line performed pretty well with rookie center Billy Price out of the lineup this season. However, his return is a much-needed boost to the group. Price struggled to start the season but got better and better with each snap before his injury. Smart, strong, athletic, he is everything the Bengals need on a weak offensive line. He struggled a tad against a good New Orleans defensive line last week, but so did the whole team. Price has a chance to redeem himself this week.
Arguably the best nose tackle in the NFL, Brandon Williams is an immovable object. He is not much of a pass rusher but doesn’t lose in the run game. Nine times out of ten, he is the stronger man in any matchup. He understands leverage and that only intensifies his strength. People don’t hear much about him because he is not a stat producer. He is the man in the middle of that defensive line that eats up blockers but can also toss those blockers to the side and make plays.
I mentioned earlier that the Bengals need to get Mixon going in order to open up the offense, that starts with the interior offensive line. Price is the key to getting the running game on track. He orchestrates the line calls and will be charged with blocking a monster. Williams is going to give Price all he can handle and then some. Chances are that Williams wins a lot of reps, but don’t count Price out of this matchup. He has the nastry streak required to come back strong after losing a few snaps.
Lamar Jackson/Robert Griffin III vs. Bengals Linebackers
I am convinced the Bengals have the worst linebacker corps in the league. Preston Brown is a man among boys as long as you don’t take him out of the tackle box. In the modern NFL, linebackers need to play in space and sideline to sideline. He is doubtful to play this week so the worse version of him in Hardy Nickerson is set to play. Vontaze Burfict is injury prone and a shell of himself anymore. He looks afraid to hit anyone after all of his suspensions and isn’t attacking plays like he used to. Nick Vigil was improving but still average at best and will be out again against the Ravens. Jordan Evans has the athleticism but not the instincts. The group as a whole is very bad and easily replaceable.
Joe Flacco is listed as doubtful so chances are rookie Lamar Jackson or Robert Griffin III (RG3) will be starting against the Bengals. Jackson is the listed backup, but don’t be surprised if RG3 earns the start. Either way, there is a new element added to the Ravens offense. RG3 isn’t the same running threat he used to be but still brings that element along with decent arm talent at this point in his career. Jackson is electric as a runner and has a bigger arm than people give him credit for. He would be the most dangerous option to run the offense but Baltimore may want to go the safer, reliable route with RG3.
The Bengal linebackers absolutely need to be prepared for the running threat that both Raven quarterbacks will be bringing to the table. Not only do the linebackers need to be prepared for designed quarterback runs, but discipline will be key on scrambles. Staying on their assignment is critical when plays break down because Jackson and RG3 will both extend plays. That is all on top of both being pretty accurate passers as well. Don’t be surprised if Baltimore exploits the Bengals linebackers with quarterback runs.
Jordan Willis, Defensive End vs. Ravens Offensive Tackles
A lot of fans were and still are very high on Jordan Willis. I loved the pick in 2017 because I was thrilled with the Bengals getting an athletic edge rusher. Willis has not lived up to any sort of hype as a pass rusher. He plays a ton of snaps but doesn’t have any effect on plays. Lackadaisical play and a lack of pass rushing moves lead to him getting locked up by offensive tackles a lot of the time. Someone needs to light a fire under Willis because he has the potential to dominate when he plays as though he cares.
Left tackle Ronnie Stanley is becoming a stalwart for the Baltimore offensive line. He excels at pass blocking and keeps getting better and better in the run game. An athletic specimen, he has no issues facing the slew of pass rushers the NFL has to offer. Right tackle James Hurst is injured so rookie Orlando Brown Jr. will be starting. Everyone knows about Brown’s lack of athleticism and historically awful Combine last February. Those factors have not led to poor performance on the field for Brown. While he can struggle with speed guys, his long and strong arms allow him to lock down any pass rusher he gets in his vice grip.
Cincinnati is having pass rushing issues in 2018 and someone needs to step up outside of star Geno Atkins. Carlos Dunlap is playing hot and cold this year and Michael Johnson is not fit to be starting. Willis carries the athleticism to break out and lead this pass rushing group but he is struggling to do so. He will face two good tackles in Baltimore this week and his team needs him to turn it on and have a day. If Willis puts more effort in on the field he can beat Stanley and Brown on a regular basis, but if he plays like he has been it will be more of the same.