The Cincinnati Bengals seek to bounce back from a disappointing home opener as they travel to play the unbeaten Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
Cincinnati gave up 572 yards, including 259 on the ground, and had just 25 yards rushing on 17 carries in a 41-17 loss against San Francisco last week, while the Bills topped the New York Giants 28-14 after squeaking out a 17-16 win in the opener.
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The Bills went unbeaten during the preseason, too, and Sunday marks their home opener.
Here are five things to know about the matchup Sunday:
1. Sense of urgency
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said he has a sense of urgency every game, but the feeling around the team this week is that this is an almost “must-win” game. Cincinnati was close in the opener at Seattle, a 21-20 loss the Bengals very well could have won before the blowout loss at home in Week 2.
After three straight losing seasons and the shakeup with the coaching staff, the Bengals need a confidence boost and beating a quality Bills team would provide a big lift.
“We just have to get back on track,” Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said. “ … We have to do all the little things that are going to allow us to play our best on Sunday. If we win this week, the feeling in this building is a lot different. We were close in Week 1, and then last week got away from us. We have to do all the little things that are going to allow us to be successful and get a win on Sunday.”
The Bengals have lost nine of their last 10 games dating back to last year.
2. Importance of the run
With just 59 yards rushing through two games, the Bengals must get their running game going sooner than later, and this week seems to be an especially good time to do so.
The Bills were the top pass defense in the league last year while allowing just 179.2 yards passing per game, and they currently rank first in yards per pass allowed (4.9). As good as the secondary is, they also placed emphasis on improving their defensive line by drafting Ed Oliver in the first round. Outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander is a solid pass rusher, as well, so Dalton likely is going to need some help from Joe Mixon and company.
“They’re a really good defense,” Taylor said. “They’re really sound. They’re on the same page. You wouldn’t say that they’re over-complicated — they just play with great technique, and they bring the fight to you, so we’re going to need to be sound in our systems and what we’re doing as well. It will be a good test for our guys.”
Mixon has just 27 yards on 17 carries and put the blame on himself, but the offensive line also takes responsibility and Taylor said the whole offensive unit just needs to hit its stride in that area. Chemistry is hard to build with so many changes up front, though. Billy Price likely will be starting at left guard with Michael Jordan expected to be out with a knee injury, and left tackle Cordy Glenn remains out and backup Andre Smith is questionable with a groin injury, which means John Jerry is in line to start there.
3. Stopping the run
On the flip side, the Bengals will need to be sound in their run defense against the Bills. Perhaps the 49ers taught them some things they need to improve in that area.
Buffalo ranks ninth with 139.0 rushing yards per game, but Cincinnati lucks out a bit in that rookie Devin Singletary, who has 127 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries, is out with a hamstring injury. Frank Gore has a team-high 30 carries for 88 yards and one score and still grinds out yards at age 36.
Eyes will be on the Bengals linebackers to show great improvement in Week 3.
“You can’t be sloppy with your fits,” Taylor said. “When you get ahold of these guys, you need to bring him down. Frank Gore (RB) is a tough runner. They have some young, tough runners in there as well, so it’s a good group. They’re going to make you tackle. They’re going to make you tackle on the perimeter, so our defensive backs need to do a good job fitting up and being where they’re supposed to be so that ball can’t bounce outside and get big gains. They’ll make you pay for that stuff.”
4. Limiting penalties
The Bengals keep pointing back to penalties limiting what they can do on offense, so that continues to be a point of emphasis. Holding penalties specifically have been costly, and Dalton said the offense is getting set back too quickly on drives.
“For us, we have to be better on first down,” Dalton said. “We set ourselves back way too many times last week, and that hurt us. When you’re first-and-20 and not being efficient on first down, it makes it tough.”
5. Home away from home
Last year when these two teams met in Buffalo during the preseason, Dalton received a standing ovation and said it almost felt like a home game.
Fans still love him there after his late 49-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd gave the Bengals a win over the Ravens in the 2017 finale, sending the Bills to the playoffs for the first time in 17 years. Donations of at least $550,000 to both players’ foundations were traced back to Buffalo, as Bills fans contributed as a sign of appreciation for ending their postseason drought.
Dalton said that was a memorable experience, but he doesn’t expect so much love this time – in a meaningful game. The Bengals have some familiarity with Buffalo with three players on the team whose last team was the Bills – left tackle Cordy Glenn, a second-year Bengal who is out with a concussion, linebacker Preston Brown, who also is in his second season with Cincinnati, and right guard John Miller, who signed a three-year deal as a free agent this past offseason.
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