The Las Vegas Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals will both be fighting for their first playoff win in a long time during Wild Card weekend this Saturday. Before the monumental game, Patrick Judis of Cincy Jungle was kind enough to answer my questions about the Bengals for Raider Nation.
1. Joe Burrow has been on fire for most of this season but production-wise, his worst game of the year came in Week 11 against the Raiders. Did Las Vegas’ defense do something different to defend Burrow that gave him issues and do you think that will play a factor this time around, too?
It seemed like the plan going into that one was to wear down the Raiders run defense by pounding Joe Mixon into the line of scrimmage early and often. He had a season-high 30 carries, and they all weren’t pretty.
I really think Burrow has done a good job of checking into the right play. He has also done a way better job at avoiding whatever option the defense is looking to take away. So if Las Vegas comes out and shows a ton of light boxes, Burrow and the offense won’t hesitate to take the path of least resistance.
2. The Bengals have a couple of 1,000-yard receivers in Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. How have they managed to balance their workloads, especially while also incorporating Tyler Boyd into the offense? Is there a particular coverage or type of defensive back that gives them trouble collectively and/or individually?
It really has turned into whoever gets single coverage is getting the ball. I am convinced Ja’Marr Chase can’t be stopped consistently in one-on-one coverage. It also doesn’t help defenses that Tee Higgins has done an incredible job of making his catches at the highest point. If those two on the outside get in rhythm with Burrow that is just game.
Boyd really has become an unsung hero. We haven’t really seen him have HIS game yet on the season. He just catches everything that comes his way. I would say he and Hunter Renfrow are two of the more underrated slot receivers in the NFL. Burrow does know that if the defense makes the mistake of leaving a linebacker or safety on Boyd that he can make them pay.
The short of it is if Burrow gets in the zone like his last two games and is reading the defenses perfectly, you just have to hope and pray your offense can keep up.
3. With the Bengals’ passing game catching fire lately, how has that impacted running back Joe Mixon? Has it opened up opportunities for him on the ground, has he lost touches, or have they been using him the passing game more?
It has impacted his touches quite a bit. Not always in a bad way. The ideal is that he ends up with around 20 touches. In the last couple of games when Burrow went crazy, Mixon had a combined 13 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. He has seen way more advantageous fronts to run against than all of 2020 when teams just keyed in on stopping him.
Unfortunately, with the pass rush the Raiders have it is more likely he will be left in for pass protection, which he has improved on.
4. One thing that I think is different about this Raiders offense than in Week 11 is their running game has been much better as their offensive line has improved as run blockers, so how stout is the Bengals front against the run? And specifically, their defensive line?
D.J. Reader has turned the defense from one of the worst run defenses to one of the best. Teams just can not run inside on the Bengals. Linebacker Germaine Pratt has also been great at reading where the running back is going. He is also one of the strongest tacklers I’ve ever seen.
Overall, the Bengals' front seven has been fairly stout most of the season against the run. There was a stretch where they struggled with missed tackles, but since then everyone — including defensive backs — has been making their plays in the running game.
5. I know Chidobe Awuzie has put together a career year this season, but I am curious about Cincinnati’s No. 2 corner. It looks like they’ve been trying guys like Eli Apple, Vernon Hargreaves and Trae Waynes over the last few weeks. Is there someone who has stood out from that group, or outside of it? Is that spot a potential concern heading into the playoffs?
It is Eli Apple. Waynes lost his job due to Apple being a solid (and sometimes even good) corner this season. Hargreaves is interesting, but he seems more like depth right now than anything else.
We will probably see more Trae Flowers than Waynes and Hargreaves in this game. He has been the guy they try to match up with dynamic tight ends — which the Bengals have seen so many of this year —and Darren Waller certainly fits that bill.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Hargreaves has more competition for the outside corner position if he returns next season, but Waynes is almost certainly getting cut after this season. The Bengals love their former first-round defensive backs, and it appears Apple could be the next in a long line of many who have revived their careers in Cincinnati.