Bengals Preview, Week Eleven: New Orleans
It seems very difficult to come up with a reason why the Bengals will win on Sunday.
For starters, their quarterback is in the dumps right now after a royal stinker a week ago to Cleveland. Andy Dalton posted career lows in everything including approval rating. His coaches rushed to defend him after the deplorable showing, but a lot of ground was lost in terms of having confidence in the Red Rifle.
The rest of the team is sour, too, it seems. Not so much in Dalton, but in the team collectively. Veteran players have aired their frustration to the press about some of the younger guys folding when bad things happen to them. This week serves as a pinnacle moment in terms of their cohesiveness as a group to rally together and make the most of a brutal second half.
As far as player analysis goes, it doesn't look good there either for the Stripes. It seems that Mike Zimmer took a heaping amount of toughness and sheer physical strength with him to Minnesota. In fairness, injury has made this Bengals roster from a great one to a decent one, but the old Zim Clan used to pull up the boot straps when the going got tough. Where is Pat Sims when you need him?
One of the biggest disappointments has been their inability to stop the run. The angry Mark Ingram awaits to run roughshod over Cincinnati the way he has his previous three opponents. The front four have not pushed the pile backwards they way they used to and it seems that Rey Maualuga's absence has proven that he is a capable run stopper.
When the Saints have to pass, they of course employ the remarkable Drew Brees, who has similar physical characteristics to Dalton and is who we all hoped No. 14 would blossom into, but Brees is unflappable in the pocket and plays with terrific confidence. Dalton's flaps were present for the world to see a week ago.
The Bengals will need big plays on defense for a chance to win: a pick six, a sack fumble, maybe both.
On offense, the Bengals must become more reliable on third down. There are times when a third-and-seven seems light years away from becoming achievable for this group and that has to change. Marvin Lewis himself questioned why the playcalling went so steadfastly away from the run when things were going completely south in the passing game against the Browns. For this team to stay on schedule, they need a back who can grind out four yards a carry. Both Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill are exciting young players with big-play ability, but neither can be described as genuinely reliable yet. One might wonder if BenJarvus Green-Ellis might be able to help the situation. He was not explosive, but the guy could grind.
As far as the passing game, it seems like nobody gets all that open these days. How many eight-yard passes require amazing contested catches just to pick up a first down? When you watch teams like Philadelphia and even New Orleans, their guys are wide open running across the middle of the field. It should come as no surprise then that both of those teams have capable tight end play. Jermaine Gresham has cemented his limited potential as a pass-catcher this season. In a perfect storm for him to demonstrate that he can be a quality option in the passing game—in a contract year, no less—the man has shown limited, or perhaps no growth at all. Tyler Eifert would fix so much of the offense, so quickly, but his mending elbow seems to be taking its time.
If there is a weakness to the Saints defense, then it lies in their secondary. Keenan Lewis has graded well this season, but on tape he looks awfully susceptible. He's pretty iffy to go on Sunday anyway which then brings out the backups which in theory are even worse. Of course, Marshall Newhouse in pass protection may eradicate any deficiencies the Saints secondary may have if he plays like the revolving door he mimicked last week in his first start with the Bengals. If Dalton can actually feel calm and confident when he drops to pass, he could hurt the New Orleans defense, but if he is badgered on every other attempt, Kevin Huber will likely have another busy day.
If the Bengals are going to make noise this year, it starts on Sunday. Even if they lose but play well, it could be a plus, but get shelled again when the pressure is at its highest, and no one will keep any trust in their ability to compete as a real playoff team. They probably shouldn't, but I think they will surprise us all and pull out an improbably victory.
Bengals 26, Saints 23
Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor
Photo via Bengals Facebook page