The Cincinnati Bengals have some work ahead of them. With the absence of Andy Dalton at the helm, the Bengals just may look like another team. Backup AJ McCarron has vowed to take the reins and lead the Bengals (10-3) to the wins they need. This weekend, the San Francisco 49ers (4-9) will be gunning for the playoff-minded team from Ohio. The action will be fast and furious. The 5 keys to a win are simple and straight forward.
Protect AJ McCarron
This may seem like a typical plea for the O-line to do their job, but it’s not. The Bengals need to step it up and have a spectacular day of protection against the Niners. As it stands, San Francisco is going to be home for the Holidays. Nothing would make their dinner table more complete than to knock McCarron from the game. Hue Jackson has stated the offense won’t change for McCarron. Jackson is a coordinator who stands behind his words. That means the Bengals will have McCarron dropping back at least 30 times. Plan on a heavy dose of blitzes, for the kid from Alabama.
AJ to A.J.
The Bengals have weapons of mass destruction. They have one of the most lethal receiving tandems in the NFL. The game plan will have to feature the talents of A.J. Green and company to help set up other phases of the game. Green has been on fire. In the last two games, according to stats from ESPN, he has 260 yards on 11 catches and two touchdowns. His yards per catch average is a wicked 23.6. McCarron should find him wherever he’s at on the field. Establishing the deep threat early will keep the Niners away from the line.
The running game
Jeremy Hill has been coming around lately. That’s a good sign, moving towards the playoffs. Giovani Bernard is always a speedy threat coming out of the backfield and in space. But relying too heavily on the ground game will make the Bengals just as one-dimensional as constant passing. The key is to have a balanced attack that will have the 49ers defense guessing what’s next. There’s no need to become predictable because Dalton won’t be under center. Give McCarron the opportunity to audible into runs to show he understands the offense.
The Bengals gave up 33 points to the Steelers, but there’s no need for major concern. The circumstances for that score were unforeseeable. Looking at the numbers provided by Pro Football Reference, the Bengals’ defense is still playing at an elite level. Despite injuries mounting, Cincinnati has been able to put a stout unit on the field and limit their opponents where it counts. The Bengals’ defense is ranked No.2 in points allowed, with 17.3 a game. There’s no reason the score should get out of hand. Geno Atkins will be matched up against center Daniel Kilgore. He was active for the first time last week against Cleveland. The Browns had nine sacks. The Bengals ends and Atkins should have career days.
In a season that has seen Dalton standing on the sideline, this isn’t just filler material. While the Bengals can clinch a playoff spot with a win, it isn’t absolutely necessary. But in order to keep pace for at least the No.2 seed in the AFC, a win will go a long way. Adam Jones, Tyler Eifert and George Iloka are key players that need to be healthy for the stretch run. If the Bengals get an early, big lead on the 49ers, it would be wise to use subs to finish the game.
Monday will be flashback time, to see how the Bengals performed under the keys.
[Feature Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images]