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 Interior Offensive Line vs. Raiders Interior Defensive Line
A much-improved offensive line for the Bengals recently has been anchored by the center and guard positions. The injury to left tackles Cordy Glenn and Jake Fisher has forced left guard Clint Boling to the outside. Trey Hopkins has slid into that vacated left guard spot and played well. Rookie Billy Price will put up some of the ugliest reps you’ll see, but he will follow them up with good plays. Consistency is key for Price. Right guard Alex Redmond is one of the worst pass blocking guards in the NFL. While he has improved in that area, it’s his run blocking that keeps him on the field. It’s not uncommon to see Redmond driving defensive linemen at least 5 yards down the field.
The Raiders defensive tackle group is very underrated – the talent on the inside gets lost in the rest of a very bad defense. Jonathan Hankins is no All-Pro, but he is a very good player. Rookie Maurice Hurst is not getting the attention he deserves. A prototypical penetrator, Hurst lives in the opponent’s backfield. He has also shown the technique and strength to be a good run defender. Fellow rookie P.J. Hall isn’t quite the impact player that Hurst is so far, but he hasn’t been a bad one either. Justin Ellis is strictly a run stopper but a good one.
The Bengals offensive line may have their hands full against Oakland. Hurst is going to present an issue for Hopkins and Redmond as a pass rusher. Redmond will probably lose more reps in that matchup than any other. Hankins will give Price all he can handle in the run game. Hankins is a big, strong, technical run defender that Price and his teammates will find very hard to move off the ball. Cincinnati needs to establish dominance early on in this showdown in the trenches.
Joe Mixon, Running Back vs. Raiders Linebackers
Joe Mixon is looking dynamic on a weekly basis at this point. If he played on a better team, in a bigger market, then he probably is getting his name mentioned with some of the best running backs in the league. The outstanding vision he displayed in college has reemerged in 2018. His athleticism only takes him so far, it’s his ability to see the hole and attack it that separates him from other players. He’s as dangerous as they get when he can get to the second level of a defense.
Oakland might be the only team that has worse linebackers than Cincinnati. A plodding group of Marquel Lee, Jason Cabinda, and Tahir Whitehead doesn’t strike fear into any offense. The athleticism is severely lacking, something the Bengals should know all about. This is a group that can be assaulted in the passing game due to their lack of coverage ability and overall speed. They are a contributing factor to a putrid Raider defense.
After a workhorse performance that saw him hit 100 yards rushing, Mixon could be in for another big day against the Raiders. The way his line has been run blocking means he will more than likely find his way to the linebackers at the second level. Mixon is more than good enough to take full advantage of guys like Lee, Cabinda, and Whitehead. The Bengals love to get Mixon involved in the passing game also, which spells huge trouble for the Raiders linebackers.
Carlos Dunlap, Defensive End vs. Brandon Parker, Offensive Tackle
The Cincinnati defense is very bad but playing much better in recent weeks. Some of that credit can be given to veteran Carlos Dunlap. Dunlap has been on a tear the last few games. He uses a deadly combination of speed, strength, and length to attack offensive linemen. Lesser offensive tackles are overwhelmed by Dunlaps’ talent, even better tackles have their hands full when facing him. He doesn’t quite have the bend to turn the corner and finish like he used to, but he still has plenty to get pressures on the quarterback.
Rookie offensive tackle Brandon Parker has been predictably bad so far in 2018. Parker was thought to be a reach in the third round and is proving that though correct. All athlete and not much a technician is not a winning combination for NFL caliber offensive linemen. The size and athleticism are both there for Parker, but everything about his play is sloppy. He has had problems with just about every sort of pass rusher he has come across.
The Bengals have moved Dunlap around the defensive line more often this season. They may want to consider keeping him lined up across from Parker in this game. There is no reason for Dunlap to not dominate him in every way. Getting the pass rush going is the key to this Bengals defense playing and Dunlap will be the catalyst against Oakland.
The Bengals Linebackers vs. Jared Cook, Tight End
This is the one game of the season where the Bengals linebacker corp won’t be the worst on the field. That doesn’t mean they still aren’t almost as bad as it gets. I mention every week about the injuries that have decimated the position, but even the starters weren’t playing well. Nick Vigil has come back from injury and continued his trend of making tackles a few yards downfield instead of around the line of scrimmage. Jordan Evans still flashes athleticism but has no clue what to do with it and Hardy Nickerson may be the most limited of them all as far as athletic traits.
Jared Cook is having a career year for the Raiders and it’s not hard to see technical With the trade of wide receiver Amari Cooper, Cook has been the only consistent weapon left for quarterback Derek Carr to throw to. Combine that with the shift towards a more dink and dunk offense under Jon Gruden and that means more looks for the talented tight end. Even at age 31, Cook is still showing that athleticism that has made him such a polarizing player for teams.
Cook should be in for another big day to add to his career year. His size and speed will be too much for any of the Bengal linebackers. Vigil might be the only guy with the speed to keep up, but he isn’t technically sound enough to handle the savvy veteran. Cook has become a better route runner than he used to be and that coupled with his athleticism and physicality usually lead to him winning one on one matchups.