The Cincinnati Bengals host the Buffalo Bills this weekend for the second time this calendar year. The last time these teams met in Cincinnati was on January 2, a Monday night affair that ended up canceled due to the on-field collapse from cardiac arrest of Bills safety Damar Hamlin. That was a Week 17 game in the 2022 NFL season, and in between, the teams met once in Buffalo, a 27-10 blowout in Cincinnati’s favor.
If the Bills are going to flip the script and leave Cincinnati with a win this week, they’ll need need to slow down some of the Bengals’ top performers. Especially on offense, these Bengals have really found their stride, and they have a plethora of players who can give the Bills fits. Defensively, there are some players who the team needs to watch out for thanks to how they’re used in defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s scheme — a scheme that has troubled Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen in the past.
Here are our five Bengals to watch this week.
QB Joe Burrow
This generation’s “Joe Cool” has all the makings of a superstar. Burrow has great accuracy, the ability to keep calm in the face of enormous pressure, and enough talent to win a game with his arm from the pocket. What he isn’t, though, is terribly mobile — and even though he’s improving from a calf strain that sidelined him for the preseason, if the Bills can make him throw the ball quickly, they can force him to make mistakes. Burrow is at his best when his wideouts have time to develop their routes and he can read the defense. If Buffalo’s pass rush can win early, especially with just the front four rushers, they can really win the advantage and slow down the passing attack. Head coach/defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is more aggressive than former defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, so there is sure to be more blitzing from the Bills than there was the last two times these teams met. If Buffalo can shift their defensive look and hit Burrow often, they’ll be in good shape.
RB Joe Mixon
Another big key to the matchup is forcing the Bengals to be one-dimensional. If the Bills allow Mixon, who averages a neat four yards per carry this season, to run wild, then it’s going to be a long day. Mixon is not a huge breakaway threat, but he can definitely make the Bills pay if their linebackers don’t fill their gaps — or the Bengals’ offensive line wins at the line of scrimmage. As a whole, Cincinnati is one of the least-efficient rushing teams in the NFL, ranking just 24th in yards per attempts and 29th in total rushing yardage. The Bills can’t let this be a game where the Bengals’ ground game breaks out of that rut.
WR Ja’Marr Chase
The speedster is a threat to score from anywhere on the field, and he leads the Bengals in every receiving category — targets (85), catches (60), yards (656), and touchdowns (4). In the cancelled game last regular season, Chase was unstoppable — cornerback Tre’Davious White was unable to keep up with him. In the playoff matchup at Highmark Stadium, Chase caught five passes for 61 yards and a touchdown. None of the Bills’ corners have the speed to hang with him man-to-man, with the potential exception of slot corner Taron Johnson, but the scheme overall will need to be what wins in coverage against Chase. If I were the Bills, I’d force someone else to beat me, whether it’s Tyler Boyd in the slot (who will be matched up with Johnson, presumably, for much of the night) or Tee Higgins on the other side. Higgins is in the midst of a rough season, with just 19 catches for 218 yards and two touchdowns on a career-low 45.2% catch rate. Don’t let Chase be the guy who beats you.
LB Logan Wilson
Josh Allen’s college teammate is also the “mirror/spy” linebacker that Cincy will likely use. Like most teams, the Bengals are sure to commit someone to following Allen to try and limit his ability to scramble and extend plays — and Wilson has the size, speed, and strength to handle his old teammate. Wilson is having a fantastic season, currently leading the Bengals in tackles with 57 and interceptions with three, and he’s second in pass breakups with five. Wilson is sure to be a big part of the defensive scheme, so the Bills need to try and confuse his keys, whether through motion pre-snap, odd formations or personnel groupings, or by flooding his area of the field with coverage responsibilities. Wilson has the potential to dominate the middle of the field, but the Bills have the personnel to limit his impact.
CB Mike Hilton
I’m picking the slot corner over a big pass-rush specialist like Trey Hendrickson or Sam Hubbard. That’s not to say that I don’t think Cincy’s pass rush is dangerous — it most certainly is. However, when these teams last met, Hilton was a nightmare coming off the edge on blitzes, and he’s also an incredibly strong cover guy in the slot. Given that both tight end Dalton Kincaid and wide receiver Khalil Shakir had huge games last weekend, it’s wholly possible that Hilton’s blitzing is limited this week in order to ensure that the Bills’ new weapons are covered. However, I think it’s more likely that Anarumo makes the Bills beat his strength rather than trying to adjust to what Buffalo does. If the Bills can’t come up with an answer for the speedier rusher off the edge — especially when Hilton blitzes on Allen’s right side, thereby limiting his ability to scramble that way — it will be a long day. They were burned on a blitz from a defensive back last weekend against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Antoine Winfield Jr. came to disrupt a naked bootleg. Along with all of Cincinnati’s front-seven players, the Bills’ protection scheme needs to account for Hilton on each snap.