Well, Week 10 wasn’t fun.
As a fan, I don’t like late afternoon games. It reminds me of daylight savings time. I get so used to emotionally investing in 1 p.m. games, since that’s when Cincinnati usually plays, that when they play at 4:25, it feels like I’m in some weird, exhausting twilight zone. Last Sunday I felt the usual 4 p.m., post-game emotional exhaustion I’ve come to expect, except the Bengals hadn’t actually played yet. Then they, you know, got trounced 36-10. And let me tell you, 4 p.m. Bengals frustration has nothing on 8 p.m. Bengals frustration. Muscle memory, man.
But, it’s time to turn the page. This week kicks off an exciting stretch of winnable games for Zac Taylor and company.
Whether we realized it or not, the Bengals were running through quite a gauntlet of games the past month. Over the past five outings, Cincinnati has faced the likes of Indianapolis, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland (x2); four teams with a combined record of 27-9. Their next four games feature opponents with a combined record of 13-24. This stretch is a massive opportunity for the team to rattle off some wins and for Taylor to prove he is the guy who can be trusted to continue turning the franchise around.
It’s a new season, and it starts this afternoon in Washington against a football team that’s probably overlooked because of its poor 2-7 record. In all reality, the Washington Football Team has one of the better defenses in the league that’s led by a stellar pass rush, as well as a young offense that has some explosive pieces.
I’ve got a lot to share about Cincinnati and Washington and this meeting between the #1 pick and the #2 pick, but before we get into the game preview, let’s recap some news from the week.
Joe Mixon has been placed on the Injured Reserve
Well, the writing was on the wall after missing three straight games and having no positive developments reported in his recovery. We knew something fishy was going on, and it became even more clear yesterday when this news broke.
Bengals’ RB Joe Mixon will miss at least the next three games after being placed on injured reserve today.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 21, 2020
It seems like the team is handling the situation well in terms of putting Mixon’s health at the forefront of its mind, but it does make you wonder just how severe an injury this is and if we’ll see him in the backfield again this season.
#Bengals RB Joe Mixon is doing everything he can to get back on the field, but the goal is to make sure he’s 100% healthy when he returns. Foot injuries can be tricky. Source said the belief is his stay on IR will be just 3 weeks, and he’ll return for the end of the 2020 season.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 21, 2020
It’ll continue to be the Gio Bernard and Samaje Perine show for the foreseeable future. Both have been productive on the ground, but neither are nearly as explosive as Mixon. Get well soon, Joe.
The Takk McKinley experiment failed…
Last week, I wrote about how the Bengals claimed former first-round pick Takk McKinley on waivers. It was a low-risk, high-reward move that was going to bring a fresh presence into one of the league’s worst pass-rushing units. Until it wasn’t.
Takk McKinley failed his #Bengals physical. He goes back to waivers.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) November 17, 2020
McKinley had been struggling with a groin injury since Week 2, but the reason for his failed physical wasn’t made public by the team. In the meantime, the Cincinnati defensive line remains starved for talent.
Geno Atkins welcomes second child
Atkins will be back in the lineup today after missing last week’s game versus Pittsburgh for personal reasons. It’s now is quite clear what those were.
For those of you asking about Geno's absences for personal reasons…. https://t.co/QwznmfDvWp
— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonATH) November 18, 2020
Congrats to the Atkins family!
Trae Waynes hits rehab field
The Bengals big-ticket free agent acquisition made his way to the rehab field this week. Waynes tore a pectoral before the season began and has yet to put on a Bengals uni, or even really be around the team, as The Athletic’s Paul Denher Jr. detailed this week.
There’s no guarantee he plays at all this season, but this development in his recovery is a step in the right direction.
Bengals/Washington Football Team talk coming just as soon as I figure out how to measure success for the rest of this season…
Moral victories are for minor league coaches. @JoeyB
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) November 19, 2020
Four things to know
1. In the past 10 years, when the #1 and #2 overall picks have met in their rookie seasons, #2 overall picks are 4-0. Ndamukong Suh’s Lions topped Sam Bradford’s Rams in 2010. Luke Joeckel’s Jaguars defeated Eric Fisher’s Chiefs in 2013. Marcus Mariota’s Titans beat Jameis Winston’s Bucs in 2015. And Mitch Trubisky’s Bears took it to Myles Garrett’s Browns in 2018. Today, #1 overall pick Joe Burrow is out the buck the decade-long trend against #2 overall pick Chase Young.
2. Joe Burrow was once compared to Alex Smith. When Burrow committed to Ohio State back in 2014, then OSU coach Urban Meyer compared him to former #1 overall pick Alex Smith, whom he coached at Utah. “It was exciting for me,” said Burrow in a press conference this week. “He was a #1 pick and that’s where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be. And obviously, it ended up happening.”
Smith has had a long road to becoming a starter QB again after suffering a horrific leg injury that threatened his life. Burrow spoke on Smith’s comeback journey and said he’s looking forward to having a conversation with him after the game today.
3. Washington has the best pass defense in the league. The Football Team only allows a league-low 194.7 passing yards per game, which is due to a number of factors. First off, they have a solid secondary with cornerback Kendall Fuller and safety Landon Collins. Fuller has four picks this season and Collins has been involved all over the field, recording two sacks, as well. But even more impactful than their secondary is their pass rush. The WFT gets after the QB, evidenced by the team’s 28 total sacks. They just don’t give you time to throw the ball. Montez Sweat has 5 sacks, Ryan Kerrigan has 4.5, and rookie Chase Young has 3.5. It’s even more impressive when you consider defensive coordinator Jack del Rio only blitzes 29.9 percent of the time.
4. Both franchises have had a rough go of it recently. Check out this stat:
Entering Week 11 of 2018, Washington was 6-3. Then Alex Smith was injured. Since then, Washington is 6-26. Only one team during this stretch has been worse — Cincinnati. The Bengals are 5-26-1. They play one another Sunday.
— John Keim (@john_keim) November 16, 2020
Woof. The Bengals can pull a game closer to getting out of the cellar this week.
Three players to watch
1. J.D. McKissic, Washington RB
The running back getting all the shine in Washington is star rookie Antonio Gibson, and perhaps rightfully so. But you can’t forget about McKissic, who has been QB Alex Smith’s primary target in this Washington offense. McKissic is a de facto wide receiver, and he’s received 14.5 targets per game since Smith took over. Covering running backs out of the backfield has long been a challenge for Cincinnati defenses, and it will undoubtedly be a major part of Washington’s game plan today.
2. Samaje Perine, Cincinnati RB
Perine has quietly been very productive over the past few weeks. Against the Titans he ran for 32 yards on 10 attempts, then he went for 48 on seven versus Pittsburgh. That’s 3.5 yards a carry over his last two outings, and he should have ample opportunity today when Bernard steps off the field. If there’s any way you can beat Washington’s defense, it’s on the ground, so I bet Perine will see 10+ carries today.
3. Terry McLaurin, Washington WR
The second-year WR out of Ohio State has been awesome this year. He’s a budding star and has recorded 787 yards on the season and three touchdowns. Every time McLaurin touches the ball, he has a chance to take it to the house, making this matchup with the Bengals secondary very favorable for him. Even though they’ll be in a better position than last week when they were down to just three healthy cornerbacks, William Jackson III and the Bengals could be in for a rough time trying to stop McLaurin.
Two names to know
1. Chase Young, Washington DE
Not only was he picked right behind Burrow in the draft, but both spent time together at Ohio State in college. Both are also in the thick of rookie of the year races. Young’s been good this year, racking up five tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
However, he’s been cold as of late. Young only has one sack in Washington’s last five games, but he’s got a chance to get back on track today versus a weak Cincinnati offensive line. The #1 vs #2 pick storyline will undoubtedly be discussed in the broadcast, especially if Young gets in the backfield and disrupts Burrow.
2. Logan Wilson, Cincinnati LB
Wilson has seen his role increase each week for the Bengals, and last week he was on the field for the most defensive snaps in a single game of his rookie season. In this week’s matchup with Washington, I expect to see that trend continue. Alex Smith targets his running backs a lot out of the backfield, and I think some of that coverage responsibility will fall to Wilson. I’ll bet we see him in close proximity to J.D. McKissic all afternoon long.
One way the Bengals can win
First and foremost, they must bend but not break on defense. Alex Smith is a smart, efficient passer, and the chemistry is still developing between him and this Washington offense. He’s going to move the ball consistently on Cincinnati, even if it’s through tons of quick passes and check downs. Surrendering field goals, not touchdowns, would go a long way in giving your offense every opportunity possible to get the best of a hard-nosed WFT defense.
Also, the run game needs to be a factor for Cincinnati’s offense. Washington ranks 21st against the run, allowing 126 yards per game. Even more, WFT linebackers are tied for third-worst in the league with 30 missed tackles. Oftentimes, a great way to counter a superior pass rush is to run the ball, and I expect to see Cincy give Bernard and Perine lots of work today. Last week against Pittsburgh, the duo averaged nearly 5-yards per carry, but the game got out of hand quickly and forced the Bengals to throw a ton. This doesn’t feel like a game that will be a blowout either way, so Taylor should have plenty of freedom to pound the rock all he wants.
This is a big one. The Bengals are winless in road games under Taylor, and that trend has to end during this stretch of games. No better time than today.
1 p.m. on CBS. See you there!