CINCINNATI – Forget curses, Bo Jackson, Kevin Walker, Jeremy Hill and Zac Taylor’s playoff debut. If the Bengals intend on beating the Las Vegas Raiders this Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium and advancing in the playoffs for the first time in 31 years, they’ll need to check at least several of the following boxes.
Rain, sleet, snow or sun, the Bengals are going to have to manage the elements and not give Derek Carr and the Raiders offense short fields. They did get lucky on the opening possession of the Week 11 game in Vegas when the “fire department” known as the Bengals “quick-change” defense came to the rescue and held the Raiders to a field goal when Joe Burrow fumbled on a strip sack on the opening drive, setting Vegas up at the Cincinnati 9. Taking care of the football also means playing keep away. The Bengals had the ball for 37 minutes and 20 seconds to the Raiders’ 22 minutes and 40 seconds. Cincinnati had 23 first downs to 13 for Las Vegas in the 32-13 win on Nov. 21. The Raiders defense is coming off a game Sunday night in which they were on the field for 88 snaps over 70 minutes. By the end, they looked gassed (see Mike Williams’ 47-yard catch-and-run on fourth down in overtime). You take the points anyway you can score them but wearing the Raiders down early wouldn’t be a bad start. The forecast calls for overcast-to-partly cloudy skies, upper 20s, with very little chance of precipitation and only a slight breeze for the 4:30 pm ET kick on Saturday.
Maxx Crosby is an ANIMAL 😤pic.twitter.com/r4nhfmeFNX
— The Game Day NFL (@TheGameDayNFL) January 10, 2022
This simply means keep them honest by running the ball effectively and passing on your terms. The Bengals held Ngakoue to one sack and Crosby to one quarterback hit in Week 11. That was a huge reason the Bengals came out on top. The Raiders also didn’t have Darius Philon on the nose in Week 11. He was out injured and won’t play this week after suffering a season-ending patellar tendon injury Sunday night. That’s a big loss for the Vegas interior line.
“Really good then and really good now,” Zac Taylor said Monday. “We knew that going into the time we played them last time, that I’ve got a lot of respect for those two guys and the guys in the interior as well. And again, it’s all packaged together. They do a really good job in coverage. Their backers understand, they’ve been in the scheme for a while, (Denzel) Perryman especially and those guys in coverage as well. So, it all blends together. They do a good job taking away the easy stuff, making it hard on you and allowing those guys up front to get their one on ones and go attack the quarterback, and it’s as good a group as you can play against. Those two edge guys really bring it and they’re really stout inside and have some good pass rush tackles as well.”
SE ALEJAN 🤩
Joe Mixon logra escaparse para su segunda anotación en el partido #NFLxFOX
Bengals 29-13 Raiders
— FOX Impacto NFL (@FOXImpactoNFL) November 21, 2021
Anyone who watched Sunday night’s epic against the Chargers knows what these edges, coached up by longtime guru Rod Marinelli, can do against a quality offensive line. This is where the likes of Isaiah Prince and Jonah Williams need to have their ‘A’ Game ready. There needs to be tight ends and running backs chipping in (literally) if Burrow is to have any chance. Draws and play-action passes could be helpful in freezing them for at least a second, and as Burrow has shown, sometimes that’s all the extra time he needs to get the ball out and downfield.
“The effort they play with is a trademark of Rod Marinelli’s,” Brian Callahan said. “That’s who he is. Any defensive line he’s ever coached puts that on tape. They’re physical, fast, they’re all the things that you want your line to be. You can tell. Same for us. When your best players are your best workers and your most dynamic effort players, that makes a huge difference and means you’ve got a pretty good team. That’s what they have. Those guys lead the charge, Maxx Crosby is relentless, Yannick is the same way and they’ve got a bunch of guys who can play in the same manner. Then you add Denzel (Perryman) in there to back those guys up, and then you have a pretty formidable front that plays with passion and intensity. You can see that drives their team, those two guys and that front carry their entire team offense defense, special teams. They’re a pretty special group.”
Strip-sack aside, Burrow had one of his most impressive games managing the situation and taking what the defense was giving him. At Vegas in Week 11, he was 20-of-29 for 148 yards and a touchdown and couldn’t have been happier afterward with the win. The Raiders defensive coordinator is Gus Bradley, he of the single-high safety Cover-3 that had its origins in Seattle. He, though, will call more than just the Cover-3, especially on second-and-long and third downs. While single high coverages (Cover 3 and Cover 1) are Bradley’s go-to’s on 1st and 2nd down, the experienced defensive coordinator will change things up on passing downs, especially against the best quarterbacks, of which Burrow is certainly included. As we saw in Week 11, the Raiders will switch to Quarters, Cloud (a Cover-2 often used against Chase) and Cover-5 (Man underneath and safeties over top). BD Williams of Silverandblackpride.com has an outstanding breakdown of all of this.
The Raiders are going to do everything in their power to ensure that Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins don’t beat them over the top. But Tyler Boyd, C.J. Uzomah, Joe Mixon and Chris Evans could have lots and lots of space underneath. Boyd caught five passes on six targets for 42 yards in the first half in Week 11. Evans had a catch, so did Uzomah while Samaje Perine had two. Get the drift?
With a potentially lighter box, Mixon could do early what he did late against the Raiders in November. Gash the defense in man looks. He had 26 yards on 11 carries in the first half before finishing with 123 yards on 30 carries. That’s 97 yards on 17 second-half carries as the Bengals took advantage of the Raiders run defense.
Mixon puts the Bengals up 10-6!
— Bovada (@BovadaOfficial) November 21, 2021
In other words, replicate as much as possible, the game plan against Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and the Chiefs in the second half. The Bengals leaned on Tre Flowers to cover Kelce and he helped contain Kelce to just five catches for 25 yards. Hill had six catches for 40 yards. The Bengals have been very effective this season at not letting speedsters burn them deep for explosives, with the notable exceptions of Davante Adams, George Kittle and Mike Williams. Waller had a monster game in Week 11 but the Bengals held him to four catches for 52 yards in the first half. Waller finished with 116 yards but many of those yards came as the Bengals had control of the game in the second half.
Carr completed 20-of-36 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns. But he was also sacked three times and hit five other times. Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard each had a sack and a quarterback hit in their Week 11 matchup. Josh Jacobs ran for just 37 yards on nine carries. With Logan Wilson healthy, this should be a game where the Bengals feel comfortable pinning their ears back and getting after Carr and making things speed up.
Taylor has done a remarkable job of getting to the playoffs in his third season. He deserves full marks for that. What’s critical now is that he stays true to who he is, doesn’t do something out of character and leans on a staff that has had a great season in preparation and game management. That starts with offensive coordinator Brian Callahan and defensive signal caller Lou Anarumo. Be bold when the situation calls for it, manage the game to the situation and, most importantly, lean on your team’s strengths.
“You have to be true to yourself. I’m not a yeller,” Taylor said Monday. “I like to think that my demeanor really overall doesn’t change. I’m sure early in my career when I was a graduate assistant I tried to coach in certain ways or do things that were out of my personality, and players can see right through that. As I’ve gained years as a coach of experience I’ve tried to learn from that and just be true to myself.
“I think that the players respect that. If they see you being genuine and you are who you are – I’ve seen coaches come in all shapes and sizes, all different personalities and players respond to all different types as long as they’re being genuine and honest and helping the player get better and being honest with how they’re coaching a player. I don’t yell. If I do yell something is wrong and I think people would know that. That’s just how I’ve chosen to approach things and right or wrong that’s how I go about it.”