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Key Matchups: Cincinnati Bengals at Las Vegas Raiders

Which team will keep pace in the playoff race?

The Bengals head to the Sin City to take on the Raiders on Sunday after a much needed bye last week.

Cincinnati is just one game out of first place in the AFC North at 5-4, but after dropping two in a row, they need to iron out some of their issues with eight games to go in the season.

Vegas has ridden their own roller coaster this season. They looked to be a favorite in the AFC West until suffering back-to-back losses to the Giants and Chiefs in recent weeks. The team has also faced issues off the field with former head coach Jon Gruden and legal discrepancies resulting in the releases of Henry Ruggs III and Damon Arnette.

Both teams are looking to get back on track in their respective quests for the playoffs. 

Let’s take a look at the key matchups to watch in Week 11.

Joe Burrow vs. Raiders Defense

Joe Burrow was sacked five times and hit 12 times against Cleveland in Week 9. Myles Garrett did his damage, finishing with 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits, but the Browns’ defensive backs were able to exploit the backfield from the secondary all day.

It doesn’t get any easier this week for Burrow. Yannick Ngakoue and Maxx Crosby are the NFL’s best pass rush duo. Ngakoue (47) and Crosby (45) are respectively first and second in quarterback pressures in the NFL. The two have a combined 11 sacks.

Cincinnati leads the league with 10 passes of 40+ yards. The Raiders have surrendered only three passes of 40 yards or more this season

Patrick Mahomes threw for 406 yards against Las Vegas in last week’s contest; the most allowed by the Raiders’ defense this season. The key to Mahomes’ success was short passes. All but three of Mahomes’ 35 completions were 15 yards or less with a majority being behind the line of scrimmage to five yards beyond the line. Two of Mahomes’ three completions for more than 15 yards were touchdown passes of 38 and 22 yards.

Sunday’s game could be an opportunity for Burrow to clean up his turnover issues. The Raiders have just four interceptions. Short passes will give Burrow more control should he have to mirror Mahomes’ performance.

Burrow against Las Vegas’ pass rush is the matchup of the game. The winner of this battle should put their team in the best position to win.

Advantage: Bengals (slight advantage with Burrow having the bye week to prepare)

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Bengals Offensive Line vs. Raiders Defense

Cincinnati’s offensive line had their roughest outing since the start of the season against the Browns.

The pocket consistently collapsed, losing their battle in the trenches. However, the unit did open holes for Joe Mixon to average nearly five yards per attempt and two touchdowns, but the Bengals’ deficit forced them to throw and play catch-up.

Jonah Williams and Riley Reiff will have their hands full with Ngakoue and Crosby coming off the edges. The two tackles have been solid, but the offense will need to lean on C.J. Uzomah and Drew Sample throughout the game to help block as well as Mixon and Samaje Perine in the backfield.

Crosby is Pro Football Focus’ highest graded pass-rusher. The last time Crosby faced the Bengals, he sacked Ryan Finley four times as a rookie in 2019.

Even with Mahomes’ impressive performance against the Raiders in Week 10, they pressured the quarterback on 22% of his dropbacks. Prior to that, Las Vegas had a pressure rate of 30% or higher in eight consecutive games

The Bengals offensive line going up against Las Vegas’ defensive line is a significant mismatch. Hakeem Adeniji will get his second start at the right guard position in an attempt to continue to build stability at the right guard position and along the line, but this defensive line is dominant.

Advantage: Raiders

Bengals Skill Players vs. Raiders Defense

Defenses are now paying attention to Ja’Marr Chase. The rookie has been held to nine catches for 81 yards and one touchdown in the last two games.

Teams are floating a safety over the top to take away Chase’s ability to make plays deep downfield. Tre’von Moehring will fill that role for the Raiders this week. The rookie is only allowing a catch on 37% of targets directed to him. Moehring has added 23 tackles and one interception. 

Even with Chase drawing more attention, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd still haven’t hit their stride in this offense, which needs to change starting this week.

Boyd could have an anticipated breakout game Sunday. A weakness in the Raiders passing defense is defending the middle of the field. Boyd has the ability to take advantage of this weakness by running crossing routes from the slot position. Uzomah could benefit with similar routes too.

Las Vegas is giving up an average of 129 yards on the ground per game. Although it will be imperative to establish a run game and not have a repeat of the Cleveland game, Mixon’s pass-catching abilities may become an important factor in this game if pressure gets to Burrow and the quarterback is forced to dump off the ball.

In the last four games, Mixon has 14 catches for 163 yards and two receiving touchdowns. 

Advantage: Bengals

Related: All Bengals Staff Gives Predictions For Sunday's Game in Vegas

Derek Carr vs. Bengals Defense

Derek Carr needs 278 passing yards to reach 30,000 yards for his career. He is currently averaging 314 yards per game. Cincinnati is giving up 260 passing yards per game.

The quarterback leads the league with 47 passes of 20 or more yards. Containing explosive plays have slipped through on this Bengals’ defense in recent games.

Jessie Bates admitted that stalled contract negotiations impacted his play on the field during the first half of the season.

Bates is hungry to turn things around and there is no better way to start than by eliminating Carr’s chances of going deep. If Bates is able to do that, he will take away a significant part of Las Vegas’ offensive rhythm.

Carr is known for throwing into tight windows with his accuracy. He has thrown over three quarters of the time on target. However, 16% of Carr’s throws have been considered poor trying to force balls into those tight windows as well. He's thrown eight interceptions this season. 

Despite the struggles, Carr has led this offense to be a top-five passing offense. He leads the league with 27 big-time throws according to PFF

Advantage: Bengals

Raiders Offensive Line vs. Bengals Defense

The Raiders offensive line had a facelift this offseason moving on from three of their veterans (Trent Brown, Rodney Hudson, and Gabe Jackson) with the objective of implementing youth up front.

This plan has not unfolded well as Las Vegas is ranked in the bottom half of the league. Carr has been s 20 sacks through nine games and their run game is essentially non-existent.

Kolton Miller has been the bright spot protecting Carr’s blind side. He has allowed just one sack this season. Miller will face off against Trey Hendrickson. Hendrickson continues to dominate as one of the best pass-rushers in the league with 8.5 sacks and 42 pressures.

With Las Vegas’ struggles to establish a run game, D.J. Reader and Sam Hubbard could set the tone early by penetrating the line and making their way into the backfield for tackles for loss.

Advantage: Bengals

Raiders Skill Players vs. Bengals Defense

The Raiders are a passing offense. They have run the ball just on 207 attempts (fifth lowest) compared to 347 dropbacks.

Darren Waller is a game changer, but his production in Las Vegas’ offense has dropped. In Week 1 against Baltimore, Waller caught 10-of-19 targets for 105 yards and one touchdown. Since then Waller is averaging just over seven targets per game. 

Nonetheless, the Bengals pass defense will need to play Waller like they played T.J. Hockenson and Mark Andrews earlier this season with Bates and Vonn Bell stepping up to the challenge. Both were kept out of the endzone and held to under 75 yards receiving.

The matchup to watch in the secondary will be Mike Hilton against Hunter Renfrow. Hilton said Renfrow was one of the better slot receivers in the league with the capability to run routes and get open with his smaller size. The Bengals veteran cornerback compared Renfrow to Wes Welker.

Renfrow is averaging 3.4 yards of separation per NFL Next Gen Stats. The league average in 2020 was 2.86 yards of separation. The receiver’s ability to create space has made him a go-to for Carr. He leads the team with 52 receptions, four touchdown catches, and is tied with Waller with 494 receiving yards.

Hilton plays best when he can showcase his physicality with a bump and run at the line of scrimmage and play one-on-one.

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The Raiders’ offense has missed their spark since Ruggs’ release. In Weeks 1-7, they were averaging 25 points per game with four of those games scoring 30 or more points. In the last two weeks they’re averaging 15 points per contest.

Bryan Edwards has played well this season as a deep threat averaging nearly 21 yards per catch (434 total yards), but not much help has come after that. Kenyan Drake, a running back, is the next leading receiver with 272 yards.

DeSean Jackson made his debut last week recording just one catch on one target for 38 yards. Las Vegas is hoping the 34-year-old can fill the void left by Ruggs.

Advantage: Bengals

Evan McPherson vs. Daniel Carlson

The offenses have the ability to put points on the board. Evan McPherson has accounted for 60 of the Bengals points. Daniel Carlson has booted 70 of the Raiders points.

Both kickers have missed field goals (Carlson 2; McPherson 3), but none closer than 40 yards out.

This game could come down to the legs of McPherson and Carlson. If that’s the case, each team has the utmost faith in their kicker to come through.

A dome is also nice for kickers as the colder-weather months approach.

Advantage: Tie

This game has the potential to be a shootout. Although the Bengals have the advantage in a majority of the matchups, they have just a slight edge in a variety of areas. On paper, Cincinnati and Vegas are almost evenly matched.

At this point of the season, losing three in a row puts either team in a hole to climb out of to make the playoffs. Both teams are vying to turn things around and stay relevant in the playoff hunt.

For more on this matchup, watch the video below. 

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