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TONY’S TAKE – FIVE THINGS TO KNOW FOR BILLS-BENGALS

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EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – SEPTEMBER 15: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Josh Allen #17 and Frank Gore #20 of the Buffalo Bills in action against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on September 15, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Welcome to Week Three of the NFL season. Here at 300 Level Media, we will attempt to inform and educate our readers about the Buffalo Bills’ upcoming opponent and what each team might do to emerge victorious.

The Bills’ third game of the 2019 season will take place at New Era Field as they face the Cincinnati Bengals. Here’s what you should know:

BUFFALO’S DEFENSE STILL DOMINANT

The Bills’ defensive unit is more or less the same as last year’s group, except for rookie defensive tackle Ed Oliver stepping in for the now-retired Kyle Williams. Schematically, they rely on basic zone coverages after the snap, but before the snap it is complex – safety rotations to disguise their coverages keep opposing quarterbacks guessing and selective pressure looks at the line of scrimmage are Sean McDermott’s calling card (those blitz looks are usually in the A-gaps from their linebackers – for more info on McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s defense, please read: https://fromthe300level.com/2018/08/pressure-package-how-the-late-buddy-ryan-has-influenced-the-buffalo-bills-defenses-for-over-20-years/?fbclid=IwAR3iYcnJ5qvl8shWHkZJVNO50VJXPeaEx8k0-Rk1VWV_Qx2OEfsAn2NY_ys).

Over the last two weeks, Buffalo sent more blitzes after Sam Darnold and Eli Manning than they normally do – especially from the slot, and multiple zone blitzes were also utilized. Not only did the game plan hold their passing games in check, but running back Le’Veon Bell had just 3.5 yards per carry and only 60 yards rushing in Week One (Saquon Barkley had 107 yards on just 18 carries last week).

Nickel cornerback Taron Johnson will miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury, and his duties have been split up between Kevin Johnson, Siran Neal and Dean Marlowe.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – SEPTEMBER 15: Dawson Knox #88 celebrates with Frank Gore #20 of the Buffalo Bills after Gore’s touchdown during the fourth quarter of the game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on September 15, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

BILLS’ OFFENSE CONTINUING TO PLAY WELL

Buffalo’s investment in adding help for Josh Allen along the offensive line and at the skill positions were on full display over the last two weeks against the New York Jets and New York Giants. The offensive line – once viewed as potentially the worst in football – was a dominant force, blowing people off the line of scrimmage and opening holes for running backs Devin Singletary and Frank Gore.

John Brown has brought speed and downfield playmaking ability to Western New York and Cole Beasley is a reliable security blanket while playing the Wes Welker/Julian Edelman role that is emphasized in Brian Daboll’s Patriots-style system. In an offense that is built upon concepts involving option routes from the slot, downfield routes from the outside, deep dropbacks and alignments that create favorable matchups, Allen has much more to work with than he had at this time last year.

Singletary will miss Sunday’s game against Cincinnati with a hamstring injury and T.J. Yeldon, the former Jacksonville Jaguar, is expected to fill his role. Which is capable of doing, especially in the passing game – Yeldon had two 50+ catch seasons in his four years in Jacksonville.

CINCINNATI, OH – SEPTEMBER 10: Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals throws a pass during the second quarter of the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium on September 10, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

BENGALS’ OFFENSE, DESPITE INJURIES, UNDERGOING A FACELIFT

For the first time since 2003, the Cincinnati Bengals have a new coach – former Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor. Taylor employs a version of his former boss Sean McVay’s offensive system, which relies on smaller, quicker linemen who can work in unison and push defenders horizontally on outside zone stretch plays, while leaving cutback lanes for running backs. Countless tailbacks have had success in it, and most of the runs are executed out of “11” personnel (one tight end, one back). The idea behind this is to spread defenses out and create more room to run against nickel and dime defenses.

Unfortunately for the Bengals, beyond rising center Billy Price the team doesn’t have much to work with along their offensive line this year. Rookie first round pick Jonah Williams is out for the season after having shoulder surgery in the summer and former Bill Cordy Glenn will miss Sunday’s contest due to a concussion. Which means that running backs Joe Mixon and Giovanni Bernard, one of the better tandems in football, are operating beyond a dangerously thin unit that employs the likes of former Bill John Miller (who has struggled throughout his career) and journeymen Andre Smith, John Jerry and Bobby Hart (who noticeably struggles against bull rushers like Jerry Hughes).

Passing-wise, the Bengals are aligned with the West Coast offense’s principles. A ball-control passing game that can eat up clock while stretching teams horizontally rather than vertically, this version of the system features mobile quarterbacks who can move within the pocket, especially on bootlegs, rollouts and play-action. It also will have its skill players line up anywhere on the line of scrimmage to try and get defenses to declare their coverages, and also aligns wide receivers close to the offensive line in order to give them more space to operate and to block on running plays. Their passing game makes excellent use of intertwining route combinations, especially ones involving posts, crossing patterns and flood concepts with pass options at the deep, short and intermediate levels.

Andy Dalton enters his ninth season as the Bengals’ starting quarterback and his results have been mixed. Dalton possesses average arm strength and accuracy, and while presnap he is intelligent enough to figure out coverages and blitzes, after the snap is quite another story. Teams can have success against him if they disguise their intentions while the play clock is winding down, and Dalton also has a history of suboptimal pocket awareness and mobility.

Wide receiver A.J. Green, arguably one of the NFL’s top ten wide receivers when healthy, is out with an ankle injury and has missed considerable amounts of time over the last few years to various ailments. Cincinnati does have deep threat John Ross, shifty slot receiver Tyler Boyd and talented but injury-prone tight end Tyler Eifert at their disposal though.  

CINCINNATI’S DEFENSE NOT QUITE WHAT IT USED TO BE

Cincy’s defense, once a strength of theirs under former coach Marvin Lewis, is in decline. They still have longtime stalwarts like former All-Pro Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap on their defensive line, but they don’t have much depth beyond those two.

At linebacker the Bengals are average. So-so former Bill Preston Brown and Germaine Pratt are their starters there, and at safety they are below average, with the inconsistent Shawn Williams and undersized Jessie Bates at those positions.

Cornerback is the biggest strength of this unit, with two solid defensive backs in William Jackson III and Dre Kirkpatrick manning those spots.

MUSINGS

  • The Bengals have been throwing the ball a league-high 76% of the time because of the injuries to their offensive line. They haven’t been able to run the ball and Dalton has been sacked nine times – second-most in the league. Look for the Bills to use plenty of subpackages featuring multiple defensive backs and dare Cincinnati to run at them.
  • Could the Bills target their tight ends – Lee Smith, Tommy Smith and Dawson Knox – a lot on Sunday? It’s certainly possible, given the Bengals’ mediocrity at linebacker and safety.
  • According to Andy Benoit of the MMQB, the Bengals have a red-zone play in their playbook called Plus Birdie. In the words of Benoit, “’Birdie’ is a three-receiver route combination….. it’s essentially a skinny sluggo (slant and go) route for the slot receiver, his landmark being the nearest upright, with the QB throwing the ball high in the back of the end zone.” Could we see this play on display on Sunday?

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