The Buffalo Bills hit the road for their Week 9 game against the Cincinnati Bengals — a game that could play a big role in how the rest of the season shapes out for both teams. The Bills enter play at 5-3, but in the midst of some adversity on both offense and defense. While their Week 8 performance showed a renewed spark on offense — and a return to 11-personnel groupings — an inability to score points in the second half cast a cloud over the victory. For the third game in a row, Buffalo’s defense was forced to end the game defending their own end zone at the goal line.
As for the Bengals, since beginning the season slow and within a disappointing slump, Cincinnati has won its last three games, and shown continual improvement in all phases — a return to dominant form of previous seasons. The Bengals sit at 4-3, and hoping to continue stacking wins to get out of the basement they’re in within the AFC North. Like Buffalo’s AFC East division, Cincinnati has no shortage of stout competition for divisional supremacy.
This week I was joined by Anthony Cosenza, managing editor of Cincy Jungle to preview this weekend’s game. With Anthony in the hot seat, we tackled everything from the Bengals’ current three-game win streak, to the current state of Cincinnati’s defense, matchups that could favor the Bengals, best paths the Bills could take in limiting the Bengals’ damage on offense and exposing cracks on defense, as well as overall thoughts and how things might play out for this week’s edition of Sunday Night Football.
1. Now seemingly on track and boosted by a finally healthy Joe Burrow, if you had to define what’s behind the Bengals’ three-game winning streak and offensive output, what stands out most to you?
There are a few things but the recovery from the calf injury is first and foremost. Burrow and the team downplayed the injury, but it definitely bothered and limited him throughout the first month or so of the regular season, as evidenced by his inability to both scramble out of pressure situations and planting on that drive leg when throwing deeper passes.
Since the Cardinals game a month ago, Burrow began to look like his old self wherein he navigates the pocket and distributes the ball accurately to a myriad of weapons. That’s another facet of improvement as well recently—other weapons not named Ja’Marr Chase doing their parts. Rookie sixth-round pick, Andre Iosivas has two red zone touchdowns in the last two games, while Tee Higgins is returning to form with other contributions from Tyler Boyd and Trenton Irwin.
Balance has also become crucial. With Burrow’s renewed health comes a highly-potent passing attack, which then in turn opens things up for Joe Mixon in the ground game. We’ll see if it keeps clicking the way it did against San Francisco, but for now, it appears the bye week did wonders for the team.
2. For all the great things to happen to the Bengals in three games prior, their defense still appears to be struggling overall, with below-expected play throughout. What’s changed and what’s repairable in-season?
I don’t know that I necessarily agree with “struggling” per se, but they are playing a different brand of defense than they exhibited throughout 2021 and much of 2022. In their Super Bowl run, they were able to get to the quarterback often and forced punts without a ton of turnovers. Last year was a little bit of everything with a transition to allowing more yards in exchange for big turnover plays (look back to the first two playoff games for reference).
This year, it’s been more of the latter, with explosive, turnover plays being more frequent (third in the NFL in net interceptions), while allowing more yards overall. And, some of those games of a larger volume of yards allowed were in contests where the offense continuously put them in awful situations. In the 49ers’ contest last week, a good chunk of the yards given up were in “garbage time” before the conclusion of each half.
So, yes, I suppose there are struggles, but there are also some improvements. The yards allowed may improve a little bit with the offense’s improvements. Still, there will be opportunities for the Bills’ star-studded offense.
3. What do you see as the matchups (either/both side(s) of the ball) that play to the Bengals’ favor this weekend?
With Kaiir Elam and Tre’Davious White both on I.R., the obvious favorable matchups are the Bengals’ wideouts versus the replacement corners. I’d say the Bills’ injuries at linebacker would also play into the Cincinnati’s favor, but Joe Mixon is currently questionable and the Bengals’ tight ends don’t scare anyone. Defensive end Trey Hendrickson is another I’d normally readily point to, but he’s got an ankle injury and Dion Dawkins is no slouch.
4. If you were scheming to stop the Bengals on offense this weekend and control Cincinnati’s defense, what do your plans entail?
The Bills have some talent on their defensive line, so getting to Burrow and bringing him to the ground (don’t let him escape precarious situations) would be a major key. It won’t be an overly-easy feat this time around, as the Bengals’ offensive line is much healthier and more effective than the group filled with three backups seen in last year’s Divisional Round, but Buffalo’s pass-rush has shown capability with 28 sacks netted this year.
I’d also say it’s a game wherein the Bills’ safeties have to play the game of their lives. Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde are a couple of the best in the business, but with Elam and White out of commission, they’ll need to create frustrations for Burrow. That probably ties in with the pass rush, too.
5. DraftKings Sportsbook essentially has the Bengals-Bills game as a pick’em, with a slight nod to Cincinnati at -2.5. While the Bengals are on an ascending trajectory in recent weeks, the Bills have stumbled and looked to be cooling off. How does the line sit with you, and what do you see as the biggest key to success for the Bengals to emerge victorious in Week 9?
I actually think the line is pretty fair right now. Some Bengals’ faithful are pointing to the games last year, where Cincinnati was starting to control the Monday night game and then cruised to a 17-point road win in the postseason as the barometer for this one. I’m not on board with that sentiment.
For a variety of reasons, I believe Buffalo will play inspired football and their pass rush could be a big problem for Cincinnati this week. I do worry about their accrued injuries though, especially with Cincinnati’s offense ascending, as you noted. I think it’s a coin flip game, but I’ll say Bengals by a field goal (barely covering; probably a similar point margin should Bills win) because of the injuries and it being on their home field.
My thanks to Anthony for providing us some intel on the Cincinnati Bengals ahead of the Sunday Night Football showdown. Be sure to head over to Cincy Jungle where you can read my thoughts on Anthony’s Bills questions.