Mon, 06 Dec 2021

Media Roundtable: Bengals Looking To Jump-Start Playoff Run In Vegas

Cincinnati Bengals
22 Nov 2021, 20:58 GMT+10

Geoff Hobson

It took the Bengals 47 years to beat the Raiders in Oakland when the 2015 Opening Day win ignited one of their two winningest seasons ever. Now in Sunday's trip to Allegiant Stadium (4:05 p.m. -Cincinnati's Local 12), the 5-4 Bengals hope to accomplish the feat on their first try in Las Vegas against the 5-4 Raiders and get a step on them in the AFC playoff race.

The Bengals.com Media Roundtable believes what happens in Vegas won't stay in Vegas because the ramifications are so huge for two teams looking to end their two-game losing streaks.

Vincent Bonsignore, who covers the Raiders for The Las Vegas Review-Journal, thinks they can beat anybody they play and if it is the team that broke 3-0 under the departed Jon Gruden, he gives them the edge on Sunday.

The Cincinnati contingent sees the Bengals putting their bye week to good use and rebounding on both sides of the ball. Mike Petraglia, who covers all things Cincinnati for CLNS media, thinks the running game takes the heat off quarterback Joe Burrow against the Raiders' 27th-ranked run defense while Laurel Pfahler, the Bengals beat reporter for The Dayton Daily News, sees Burrow reigniting his explosive chemistry with rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase. Let's go around The Table. As always, ladies and visitors first.

PFAHLER

I've been torn on this one with both teams 5-4 and the Bengals struggling coming out of the bye week the last couple of years. But I also think we haven't seen the team we'll see in the next eight weeks that we saw in the last two games. I think the Bengals bounce back in a game that can really set the tone for the second half and I think the guys know that.

The Joe Burrow of the last two weeks isn't the Joe Burrow we know and I think that's been affecting the defense a little bit. I think they clean that up and the defense will look more like they did in the first seven games and shore up their tackling issues. I just think we saw so much magic between Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase in the first half, I don't think that's gone anywhere and they're going to get that back.

THE EDGE: Burrow and Chase re-discover that first half chemistry and the defense responds in kind. BENGALS, 28-21

BONSIGNORE

The Henry Ruggs situation took a big piece of their offensive puzzle. They're feeling that loss right now. The offense we've seen without Henry looks a lot different than the two previous games, when they played as well as I can remember in my time covering the Raiders in the wins over the Eagles and Broncos.

But they haven't been able to get back to that level since the (Oct. 31) bye week and part of that is the loss of Henry, but they also haven't played clean football. Too many penalties. Too many turnovers. They keep shooting themselves in the foot and that's really the story of the last two games.

If they can get back to playing efficiently, staying away from the silly penalties and turnovers, they have a chance to beat anybody on their schedule. They are a pretty talented team. They've gone to Pittsburgh and won a game. They went to Denver and handled the Broncos really easily. It's not so much where they play and who they play so far this year. They beat the Ravens. What Raiders team shows up? The one that plays elite football and stays away from self-inflicted wounds? Finding that consistency has been the challenge.

THE EDGE: This is such an unpredictable NFL season. I just can't call it. I have to see it first. Not taking anything away from the Bengals. They're an ascending team as well. But the Raiders have shown they can play adequate defense when needed and they've moved the ball on just about everybody. If that's the team that shows up, I think the Raiders have the edge.

PETRAGLIA

The Bengals need to be able to run the ball this week. They need to take some of the burden off Joe Burrow. I think some of the pressure and interceptions that we've seen in the last two games have seen Burrow taking a little too much on his own to try and jump-start the offense. I think getting running back Joe Mixon the ball and running back Chris Evans getting more involved in the offense will take some pressure off Burrow.

I also want to see Joe check down more to his running backs and you can see tight end C.J. Uzomah taking advantage of this Raiders defense. I think the Bengals have not fully utilized the tight ends and the running backs underneath and if he's fully healthy I'd like to see Evans get back to what he did in the Lions game.

As we've heard from cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton, the Bengals secondary has a point to prove this week and I think they play much tighter and take care of Raiders tight end Darren Waller and handle the Raiders passing game.

THE EDGE: I see the Bengals putting up plenty of points and building a big halftime lead. The Raiders score late, but not enough. BENGALS, 31-26

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THE BOTTOM LINE

A bunch of intriguing individual matchups for sure.

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr starts his fourth game against the Bengals against his fourth different quarterback with losses to Andy Dalton and Jeff Driskel and a win over Ryan Finley. Now he faces Burrow, the AFC's leading passer in rankings that have Carr in the fifth spot. Raiders pass rusher Maxx Crosby, who had a monstrous four-sack game in the Raiders win over the Bengals two years ago, has five this season and gets his first shot against a pair of new Bengals tackles in Jonah Williams and Riley Reiff on an offensive line that is ranked tenth in pass blocking efficiency by Pro Football Focus. Bengals cornerback Eli Apple and his secondary looks to rebound from the 60-yard touchdown pass that was such a big play in Cleveland's win over the Bengals two weeks ago. Even without Ruggs, the Raiders receivers can still run and rack up long plays. Bryan Edwards leads the league with 20.7 yards per catch and they all have to contain all-world tight end Darren Waller, a great physical talent looking for this year's break-out game. Apple may find himself matched up with new Raiders wide receiver DeSean Jackson, the 14-year vet Apple used to follow as a young Eagles fan growing up in New Jersey. But Jackson doesn't have 34-year-old legs. He and Chase are two of three players who lead the NFL with six catches of at least 40 yards. Hilton, the slot cornerback, has a huge day inside against Raiders wide receiver Hunter Renfrow. Carr has thrown to Renfrow (69 targets) almost as much as Waller (71) and is seventh in the league in third-down catches.

But the matchup that could be decisive is Bengals running back Joe Mixon pitted against a Raiders defense that has allowed nearly 250 yards rushing in the last two games. Mixon has played them twice since 2018 and has gone off for 215 yards at 5.1 yards per carry.

Both games came against old friend Paul Guenther, the former Bengals defensive coordinator then running the Raiders defense. This is Mixon's first shot at new coordinator Gus Bradley's unit playing his base Cover Three look that can invite some rush yards in an effort to protect the big play.

Bradley's Chargers held Mixon to 69 yards on 19 carries in last year's opener, but the Raiders have given up some big games this season on the ground. The Giants hit them for 149 yards two weeks ago, the Bears beat them without running back David Montgomery and the Chargers' Austin Ekeler chewed them up for 117 yards on just 15 carries.

Mixon is due. He's still the league's eighth-leading rusher despite coming off a bye, but he hasn't had a big game since he gouged Detroit a month ago for 94 yards on 18 carries. He also hasn't carried more than 14 times in the three games since and the way the Bengals have been talking about the run game during the bye, it sounds like he's going to get more.

They're trying to cut down on the turnovers and Burrow's NFL-high 11 interceptions and a heavy dose of Mixon against Cover Three could alleviate some of that. The Raiders are in the same boat. They've had five turnovers in the last two weeks and the Bengals are coming off a three-turnover game against Cleveland.

With each AFC win now almost like two against a playoff competitor, this one could be cautiously played underneath the zones and won with a string of plays rather than two big ones.

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