Head coach Zac Taylor believes the Bengals are close. Closer than ever before to finally breaking through to not only get a win, but change the momentum of the season.
However, in the bottom-line world of the NFL, talk of being competitive brings mostly snickers and derision. It's win or lose, and the losers hear about it.
That's why Taylor is resolute that his culture and system will eventually bear fruit and bring a championship culture to Cincinnati.
"This league is hard," Taylor said. "It's very unforgiving sometimes, and we're facing that right now. What we do know is that this is the toughest stretch we're going to go through in our next 20 years here. This is going to be the toughest one. We find out a lot about the character of the people in this building and what the approach is going to be so we can look back on this and say that it made us stronger, because we faced the hardest it was ever going to be — the most adversity we ever face."
As the Bengals visit Oakland for the final time in the foreseeable future, Taylor and company remain optimistic and focused as ever on securing win No. 1.
Here are the three things to watch for the Week 11 tilt.
1. Third Down Conversions – With these two defenses, there are big plays to be had. The Bengals rank last in the NFL allowing 6.7 yards per play, while Oakland is slightly better at 6.1.
Part of the reason for the high numbers is due to both teams struggling on third down. The Raiders showcase the fourth-worst defense on third down allowing opponents to convert 45 percent of their opportunities. Meanwhile, the Bengals are a click behind at 44 percent and have allowed opponents to convert on third down in 11 of their last 19 attempts (58 percent).
The Bengals' ability to get third-down stops will be critical against Oakland and quarterback Derek Carr. Carr is directing an offense that has been on fire of late. The Raiders have scored at least 24 points in six straight games, tying a franchise record for a single season (three times – 1975, 2001 and 2016).
2. Mixon Versus Jacobs – Another interesting storyline is an individual matchup of the league's two most talented running backs in Cincinnati's Joe Mixon and Oakland's Josh Jacobs.
Mixon is coming off a performance last week against the Baltimore Ravens where against many eight-man fronts grinded out 114 rushing yards. Where the third-year veteran has been really valuable is in the passing game with a career-high three touchdown and a 7.0 yards per catch average. Thanks to some continuity on the offensive line, Mixon has improved his efficiency and elevated himself as a top offensive weapon.
Jacobs meanwhile is the front-runner for the Rookie of the Year. He continues to lead all rookie rushers in carries (168), rushing yards (811) and rushing touchdowns (seven). Jacobs' success has mirrored the team's thanks in part to him recording 100-plus scrimmage yards (101) in four of his past five contests.
3. Can The Pass Rush Return – In last year's meeting between the two teams, it was the Bengals that sacked Carr five times. Geno Atkins had three and Sam Hubbard tallied two against an Oakland offensive line that struggled mightily in pass protection last year.
Fast forward to 2019 and Oakland's offensive line looks completely different. With the offseason signings of tackle Trent Brown and guard Richie Incognito, the Raiders have allowed only 12 sacks, the second-fewest in the NFL. The 21 quarterback hits allowed are also the best in the league as they have relied more on play action and a quick passing scheme with Carr.
The Bengals defense is due for a breakout game after recording just five sacks in the last six games. If they can come up with some creative ways to generate pressure, win No. 1 could follow.
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. Eastern.
Television: The game will air on CBS-TV. In the Bengals' home region, it will be carried by WKRC-TV (Ch. 12) in Cincinnati, WHIO-TV (Ch. 7) in Dayton and on WKYT-TV (Ch. 27) in Lexington. Broadcasters are Greg Gumbel (play-by-play), Trent Green (analyst) and Melanie Collins (sideline reporter).
Radio: The game will air on the Bengals Radio Network, led by Cincinnati flagship stations WLW-AM (700), WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530) and WEBN-FM (102.7). Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst).
The game also will air nationally on Sports USA Radio, with broadcasters Ted Robinson (play-by-play) and Doug Plank (analyst).