The Bengals are banking on some local knowledge Sunday (4:25 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) when they play in Dallas with a couple of former Cowboys.
Left tackle La'el Collins gave pass-rush tips to NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons last season and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie practiced against new quarterback Cooper Rush all four years he was in Dallas before signing with the Bengals in 2021.
Awuzie, a second-round pick in 2017 when Rush was a priority undrafted free agent, was also an Opening Day starter twice with current Cowboys starting cornerback Anthony Brown and also practiced against Pro Bowl wide receiver CeeDee Lamb.
And, of course, Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase's previous matchup with Cowboys Pro Bowl cornerback Trevon Diggs in college has been well documented.
"That's not a bad idea to ask him," said Chase before practice this week when asked if he'd talk to Awuzie yet about the Dallas defensive backs. "But I know Trevon a good bit. We faced each other."
Collins, who made 71 starts in six seasons with Dallas, was just coming back from a suspension last year when Rush won his lone NFL start in Minnesota. Collins took four snaps in the 20-16 victory, but the thing he's raving about is the Bengals defense.
"We've talked a little bit, let them line up and do what they do," Collins said before Thursday's practice. "When they all on the same page, it's a hell of a defense. I'm very confident in them knowing what they need to do to go out there and do what they need to do … He's definitely a quality player, a great guy. He's there for a reason. He can go out there and do some special things, just like any opponent you got to make sure you are ready to go."
When it comes to Parsons, Collins can even offer some rarer insight. Parsons has praised Collins for working with him last year after the Cowboys made him the 12th pick in the draft and Collins can see him using his advice:
"They've got to respect you in one aspect."
"I think he's really starting to get a feel for rushing off the edge," Collins said. "He knows what he wants to do. He's still very raw, but super talented. One thing about it, it's a physical game. This isn't sitting at a table playing chess or checkers, it's about who is going to hit who first."
Cowboys Pro Bowl edger Demarcus Lawrence told the Dallas press Thursday he'll enjoy seeing Collins again, but he also offered a warning after Steelers edger T.J. Watt had a big day against the Bengals.
"He struggled last weekend so I'll send Micah over there to him," Lawrence said. "I'll be over there regardless."
Lamb was a rookie in Awuzie's final season in Dallas.
"Great dude," Lamb told the Cowboys media. "He's a great athlete. Very athletic. Very strong. His point of attack ability to impose his will of the opponent is great."
But clearly Parsons is the centerpiece of their preparation after he dumped Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady twice in last Sunday night's opener, giving him 15 sacks in his first 17 games. Both came over the left tackle (and one injured Donovan Smith) in a game Pro Football Focus also had him for three other pressures and an absurd win rate of 29 percent.
But he'll be all over the place. Last year he lined up nearly 500 times at linebacker and 374 times on the defensive line, not to mention 29 snaps at cornerback. PFF had him at 40 snaps on the D-line against Tampa Bay.
"He's got a crazy get-off and speed," said Bengals left tackle Jonah Williams. "His speed and athleticism is elite for any position, but especially for an edge rusher. He poses a lot of challenges."
Talk about playing chess. Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan says Parsons controls the board.
"He's a really dynamic player … He's incredibly versatile," Callahan said. "He's a great rusher. He can run sideline to sideline as an off-the-ball linebacker. He can rush against tackles. He can rush against guards. He's a horrible mismatch for a running back in protection. He is as dynamic a young player on defense that I've probably seen in a while in terms of a guy that can really disrupt the game from any spot on the field. He's a really unique chess piece for them and he kind of makes their whole defense go."
The Bengals are looking to shore up their protection after Watt and the Steelers got good pressure on Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. But according to Pro Football Focus, Collins allowed just one pressure on 71 passes last Sunday after he didn't start practicing until late August.
Collins doesn't usually let the quarterback go down. Last year in Dallas, he allowed two sacks on 509 pass rushes.
"He did (well)," Callahan said of Collins' Bengals debut. "There were some things he probably admittedly will say he needs to do better. We helped him because that's a tough matchup for every tackle in the league, so we helped with Watt as much as we could. For the most part he held his own. You can see the lack of time in camp and playing, you can see that on the tape. As far as what he did and how he played, I thought he answered the bell against a really hard matchup for him. He was physical in the run game, did some really good things and I think the more he plays the better he's going to get."
There may be a reunion at A&T Stadium. But it's going to be brief. Collins sees it as another business conference when it comes to hugs and handshakes.
"I hadn't thought that far," Collins said. "I'm so locked in on the game plan. I talked to a lot of those guys all the time. It's not like I haven't spoken to them since I left."
QB MATCH: Bengals fans always get a little nervous when their club faces an inexperienced quarterback.
According to Elias, the Bengals are 14-21 against quarterbacks making their first or second career starts and Pro Football Reference has them for 7-11 in this century. Last Halloween, when Cowboys quarterback Cooper Rush won his lone NFL start in Minnesota, the Bengals lost in New York to Jets quarterback Mike White's spectacular NFL debut.
Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson says the game against White won't be used as an object lesson as Rush replaces Dak Prescott.
"We're not living in the past," Wilson said.
It's not like Rush is a mystery. Wilson notes he's been with the team so long (2017) that he was there when Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore was a quarterback. It doesn't figure to be like 2019 in Pittsburgh for the Bengals when Mason Rudolph went 24 of 28 in his second NFL start in a Steelers scheme that had markedly different plays from what it used with the injured Ben Roethlisberger.
And then there is Rush's Minnesota tape where he's throwing a five-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Amari Cooper with 51 seconds left to win it.
"He's played for them and he's been in the system for a long time," said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor. "He knows everything and how they want to do it. They obviously have a lot of trust in him. Jason Garrett took him to New York with him so that goes to show you that they liked him there and then they brought him back to Dallas so that tells you a lot you need to know about a backup quarterback that's in their system."
While the White game is out of the mind, there is plenty to study on Rush even though he's thrown just 63 NFL passes.
"He's been with Kellen for a long time," Taylor said. "He's been with Dak for a long time so you expect him to be able to operate the offense the way that they want it operate. So there's no guy that's invested as he is. We expect to see a good player on Sunday and them put him in position to help their team try to be effective."
When Rush beat the Vikes, he got 23 carries from running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard with Zeke going for 50 yards on 16 of them and the Bengals are expecting to see plenty of them.
"Two good backs," Wilson said.
CHASE REGIMEN: Count Taylor as another guy shaking his head over Chase's endurance in last Sunday's opener. He's hoping he won't have to do that to him again if Tee Higgins is back from his concussion and back-up slot receiver Trent Taylor's hamstring is better.
"I can't even tell you how impressive it is for a guy to go 95 snaps," Taylor said. "The humidity that we dealt with as the rain came and went. I probably lost 10 pounds out there … He had to play every snap. He wasn't a guy who was trying to get out. He's that impressive and someone in really great shape and that's a credit to him."
Chase, who went into the game at 208 pounds, doesn't know how much he lost. But, remember in the spring when he talked about training with a track coach in the offseason?
"That was the reason why. Right there. I made an improvement on last year," Chase said.
It shows you how much a year in the league has meant to him.
"If I was mentally ready, I'd probably go get it," Chase said of last year. "I was more mentally ready to go this year, actually. There was a lot more going on last year than this year. I'm more comfortable."
And to think all his massive plays came late. ("At the end of the game, crazy, right?") But he says his conditioning isn't where he wants it.
"Almost. Almost. I'm not in that great shape," Chase said. "I'm still bending over in a game. I can't do that. Almost there."