New York Giants at Cincinnati Bengals: Opponent Breakdown and Preview

The Giants don't see the Bengals very often, so let's take a look at their personnel, their strengths and their weaknesses on offense and defense.
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This Sunday, the Giants are looking to make history.

In the ten meetings with the Cincinnati Bengals, the home team has never lost.

Well, the Giants are the visiting team this weekend, and with their focus squarely on emerging from Week 12 with a 1-0 record, the objective is crystal clear.

“We’re just trying to keep our feet right where we are,” said receiver Sterling Shepard. “We’re going into every week, going into every practice with attention to detail, just trying to stay present in the moment. We’re not really looking forward to anything. We’re just trying to go 1-0 every week.”

The Giants are owners of a modest two-game winning streak, are 16-23-0 coming out of a bye. But as head coach Joe Judge likes to say, what happened last week--let alone in years past--isn’t necessarily indicative of what will happen in the future.

The Giants are heavily favored by the oddsmakers for the first time all season, making this game the very definition of a trap. However, Judge has been emphasizing to the players the importance of not buying into their press clippings.

“If you start reading headlines and you want to believe the good, then you better be ready to believe the bad because a lot of the same people are writing two different stories about you weeks apart,” Judge said.

“You can’t go with the rollercoaster up and down. Whatever is said on the outside of the building may have some truth to it, but at the same time, we can’t let that dictate how we prepare or the flow that we have and the mindset that we have.”

The message appears to have been received.

“The urgency is up in my voice because the urgency is up on the team to win this game, to finish this game,” said defensive back Logan Ryan. “To start the game well and there’s plenty of things to work on. We’re not number one in nothing in the league. We have a lot of ways to go there.”

Can they continue their journey against the Bengals? Let’s take a closer look.

Bengals Offense 

The Bengals have been trying to put on a brave face in the wake of having lost quarterback Joe Burrow, the face of their franchise, and a young promising player who did many things well enough to mask some of the team’s more glaring deficiencies. Still, the process is a bit of a two-way challenge.

On the one hand is the sense of loss, especially how Burrow was injured. But safety Von Bell believes that the team can rally around Burrow’s injury.

“It makes you want to play with more intensity, more enthusiasm. You want to do it for him,” Bell said.

“You know what he gave for the team. You know how much he put into it through the ins and outs of the week through preparation, through his body, through everything, mentally, physically, and emotionally.

"It just makes you want to go harder and that’s what guys need to see because of what he really put into this game and how he got to that point and where he comes from. That’s what makes you want to go harder for your teammate.”

Whether they can or not depends on several factors and who they start at quarterback (reports are that Brandon Allen will get the start ahead of Ryan Finley).

Allen, promoted off the Bengals practice squad after the Burrow injury, has a history with Taylor from their time together with the Rams. The 6-foot-2, 209-pound Allen was a sixth-round draft pick by the Jaguars in 2016 out of Arkansas.

Since entering the NFL, Allen has recorded three starts under his belt, all with the Broncos last season, for whom he has a 1-2 record as a starter. He has completed 39 of 84 pass attempts (46.4% for 515 yards and three touchdowns to two interceptions, and has ten career rushing attempts for 39 yards.

“The thing you see with (Allen) is he’s a confident player back there,” said head coach Joe Judge. “He’s a very accurate passer, he’s knowledgeable within the system. He can make the guys around him better by distributing the ball.”

“He’s got experience in the system. That’s why he’s here, played a lot of football over the course of high school career, college career, done a really good job,” Taylor said of Allen.

“He’s always had a great approach. My first exposure to him was he was always on the practice squad. You’d see him taking reps of stuff that wasn’t necessarily in our system, but you could see some of the timing and the anticipation he threw with it. He’s just always had that ‘it’ factor to him, I think that he’s probably carried throughout his entire life as a baseball player and as a quarterback.”

Allen is more decisive with the ball in his hands, and he’s not afraid to use his mobility to get himself out of trouble if his pocket collapses.

And speaking of the pocket, the Bengals offensive line has been an issue for them. They’ve allowed 36 sacks this season, second-most behind the Eagles, who have 40.

Giant fans will recognize a familiar name starting on the Bengals offensive line, Bobby Hart, the Bengals’ right tackle. Hart’s 25 total pressures are the second-most allowed by a Bengals offensive lineman this season, trailing left guard Michael Jordan’s team-leading 31

The Bengals also have veteran Quinton Spain on the roster, whom they could plugin for the struggling Jordan.

Last week against the Washington Football Team, the Bengals gave up four sacks as part of 12 quarterback hits. The Giants’ pass rush has registered 31 sacks (tied for fifth in the league) as part of 71 total pressures, making the Giants pass rush vs. the Bengals offensive line a key matchup in this game.

The Bengals running game has had its share of struggles as well. The unit is currently averaging 101.9 yards per game but was held to just 70 yards by the Football Team. They are missing Joe Mixon, who is on injured reserve with a foot injury. They could also be without Gio Bernard, who is on the injury report with a concussion.

If Bernard is inactive, the expectation is that Samaje Perine will carry the rushing load for the Bengals. Perine, who played two seasons with Washington (2017-18), has 24 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown this season. Perine, who is more of a between-the-tackles runner, has averaged 2.21 yards per carry after contact. He’s also recorded four receptions for 14 yards.

The strength of the Bengals offense is its receivers, as led by second-round draft pick Tee Higgins. Higgins, the Bengals deep threat, has caught 43 of 70 targets for 629 yards and four touchdowns. The rest of the receiving corps includes veteran AJ Green, who has recorded 35 out of 75 pass targets for 357 yards and a touchdown.

Then there is Tyler Boyd, the Bengals slot receiver who has recorded 69 receptions out of 86 pass targets for 710 yards and three touchdowns.

The Bengals lead the NFL in running 11-personnel packages (77%); that percentage jumps up to 81% on passing plays. However, they have had success on 49% of those 11-personnel sets as a whole and 48% on passes.

Still, given their heavy reliance on 11-personnel, figure the Giants, who by the way have 15 takeaways this season (8 interceptions, seven fumble recoveries), will likely counter with a lot of nickel defense in this one. 

Bengals Defense 

Once upon a time, the Bengals defensive front used to be a unit that created fear in opponents. But those days appear to have passed due to injury and age.

Geno Atkins, a Pro Bowler, hasn’t been right since suffering a shoulder injury in the preseason, causing him to miss four games. Margus Hunt has also had a season to forget between suffering a knee injury and a round of COVID-19, the latter from which he returned to action last week against the Washington Football Team.

Outside of defensive end Carl Lawson, who leads the Bengals with 4.5 sacks and 21 quarterback hits—both numbers that lead the team by a mile and a half—the Bengals pass rush has struggled, averaging 1.3 sacks per game, which puts them 28th in the league.

The Bengals, whose defensive coordinator is former Giants defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo, has called for a blitz on 30.8% of their pass rushes this season, which puts them toward the middle of the pack league-wide (13th). What they have to show for it is just 68 quarterback pressures, 31st in the league.

All is not lost for the Bengals on defense, though, as a strong case can be made that its defensive secondary is the saving grace.

Giants head coach Joe Judge described the Bengals defensive backs as being “very opportunistic,” and noted that the Bengals play a great deal of press-man coverage.

“They make you work for everything you’re going to get,” Judge said. “Our receivers are going to have a challenge ahead of them this week. We have to win, we have to get open, we have to finish catching the ball. They’re very competitive going all the way to the ground to get that ball off you.”

The Bengals have recorded nine interceptions this year, which ties them with the Seahawks and Browns (for reference, the league leaders are the Steelers with 15 and the Bucs with 14). But because of their aggressiveness, the Bengals have also surrendered 22 touchdowns this year, second-most behind the Dallas Cowboys.

Now in his third league season, free safety Jessie Bates III is having his best year to date. Bates’ pass target completion percentage of 46.2% leads the team as he’s allowed just 12 out of 26 pass targets to be completed against him for 115 yards (9.6 yards per completion) while allowing two touchdowns. He’s also a solid tackler—he has 68 tackles to his name as he tries to record his third straight campaign with 100+ tackles.

Strong safety Von Bell is coming off his most productive game of the season last week, a 14-tackle day with one pass defense. 

Bell isn’t much of a ballhawk—his five passes defensed ties his career-high set last year—but he’ll draw the occasional assignment as a blitzer. He has already blitzed 24 times this season (seven times shy of his career-high in 2018 with the Saints) and has produced three pressures.

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