The Bengals return to Paul Brown Stadium for the first time in 28 days Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Fox 19) to play the Giants and in 2020 that might as well be 35 years as they grapple with a new world.
It was 35 years ago when Giants quarterback Phil Simms lit up Riverfront Stadium with 513 yards for the most passing yards ever against the Bengals in a game. Boomer Esiason's three touchdown passes survived the onslaught in Cincinnati's 35-30 victory. The Bengals.com Media Roundtable doesn't foresee an air show on a Sunday the New Yorkers face a backup quarterback in his first start of the season.
In a matchup of the two longest tenured NFL team web site writers, Mike Eisen of Giants.com gives the edge to Simms' resourceful descendant Daniel Jones, currently the team's leading rusher on an offense coping any way it can without running back Saquon Barkley and the help of a steady defense.
NFL Sirius radio host John Clayton thinks Jones pulls it out, but wonders if he can do it before putting the Giants in jeopardy with turnovers.
Locally, Wayne Box Miller, host of the Bengals Radio Network's pre-game, postgame and halftime shows, calls a win like he did a month ago before they beat Tennessee the last time they were at PBS. This time he sees the Bengals defense standing in for Joe Burrow making life tough on Jones' offensive line. Meanwhile, ESPN.com Bengals reporter Ben Baby is unable to see many points for a Cincinnati offense trying to get timed up just days removed from Burrow's season-ending knee injury.
Let's go around The Table. As always, visitors and the alphabet first.
As we know the 3-7 Giants are a half-game out of the NFC East lead, so this is actually a big game for them with the second-place Eagles playing Seattle Monday night. There's a good chance when the weekend is over they could be in first place. But they have to win the game.
Quarterback Daniel Jones has been their offensive MVP with eight touchdown passes while leading them in rushing. He already has more rushing yards by a Giants quarterback in the Super Bowl era with six games to play and he's coming off two turnover-free games.
The defense has been playing well. The players really like playing for coordinator Patrick Graham. They're sixth in run defense and 12th in points allowed, so they've played well all year. The front is pretty good and that had been a focus for them. They stop the run and that's going to put pressure on which ever quarterback the Bengals play. Most of them play both tackle and end with Leonard Williams leading them with five sacks and leading the team in pressures. They line up all over the place.
Plus, two veteran free agents they brought in, inside linebacker Blake Martinez and cornerback James Bradberry, are playing really well. Bradberry is one behind the league-leader in passes defensed and with 96 tackles Martinez is tied for third in the league.
THE EDGE: The Giants offense has been pretty efficient lately without mistakes and they've been complemented by a defense that's playing really well. GIANTS, 24-16.
You can see Daniel Jones put up the numbers but he can also put up bad numbers and that's turnovers. And also the pressures and hits. It's kind of ironic. It would have been great if Joe Burrow had gone against Daniel Jones because that number surfaced before Joe went down. They were tied for the most hits (72) on a rookie quarterback in his first nine games since 2000. Daniel Jones will get hit if they can put pressure on him and be forced to make mistakes.
In the case of Bengals quarterback Brandon Allen, the hope, and the hope may not be there with running back Joe Mixon on injured reserve, is that they can rely a little more on the run and not pass the ball 40 times. If Burrow were playing, I'd go the other way and pick the Bengals and that's not a knock on Brandon Allen. That's just a lot to ask with the offensive line shakeups and the limited running game without Joe Mixon.
THE EDGE: The advantage goes to the Giants, but they can be their own worst enemy. GIANTS, 24-21
It's going to be a real interesting game because of what is going on with the Cincinnati offense. Not only do you have a backup quarterback that is projected to be Brandon Allen, but because of COVID and what you had to do with Joe Burrow, he's had very limited familiarity with receivers he'll be throwing to on Sunday. Couple that with some changes potentially on the offensive line with no Mixon and it's going to really be on the defense to win this game.
The Bengals will have Mackensie Alexander probably back in the slot, but they're still going to be hurting for cornerback depth with COVID and various situations. They'll probably have a better secondary than they've had in recent weeks. Still it comes down to if they can disrupt quarterback Daniel Jones enough.
If you're the Bengals and Brandon Allen, the good thing is the offense is going to look what it has looked like. You want to make a lot of quick reads. Short, intermediate passes. Get the running backs involved. I think head coach Zac Taylor does a good job using 11 personnel with one running back and one tight end in so many different ways.
With running back Giovani Bernard expected to play on Sunday, I imagine there are going to be a lot of different ways to use him and Samaje Perine to kind of manufacture yards. If it's something the Bengals have been good at its holding on to the ball building drives. The key to the game is if Brandon Allen can move the ball down the field and the Bengals can eat up as much clock as possible. That's going to put them in a pretty good position to shorten the game and, honestly, I think that's going to be the blueprint for the rest of the year.
THE EDGE: With how well Daniel Jones and his offense is playing and the uncertainty revolving around Brandon Allen I just don't think the Bengals can do enough this week to make it a really close game. GIANTS, 24-10.
I think it's going to be a day for the Bengals defense to have a chance to make a statement game. But they've got their work cut out for them because Daniel Jones has proven he's a dual threat. Those runs against Tampa Bay and the Eagles show that he's really fleet of foot. But if they're going to show they're more than Joe Burrow and they're going to miss him it's time for everyone else to make statement that, 'We've got some value.'
When you look at the Bengals rush defense, for the most part they've kept it in check. This team reminds me a lot of the Giants in that both have been in the game in the last quarter, the last five minutes. It's not like people are blowing them out by 20, 30 points each week. I think the play of Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell have been really good and that's turning into a really good safety tandem in the back of that defense. Cornerback William Jackson III is playing well of Iate and if they can have a healthy front they can make things tough for a Giants offense without running back Saquon Barkley. If the Bengals can force third-and-longs consistently, it gives them a really good chance get some more offensive snaps.
If you can do that, the Bengals still have some talent on that side of the ball. You've got a running back like Gio who I have been really impressed with and Tyler Boyd is one of the top three slot receivers in the league. I'd love to argue with anyone about that. And I don't think wide receiver Tee Higgins is going to have back-to-back sub-par games. The quarterback is going to have to get the ball out of his hands quickly and you have to rely on your slot play for that and you've got a good weapon waiting on you in Boyd.
THE EDGE: I picked the Bengals to beat Tennessee and everybody thought I was crazy. I think they have a chance to win here because the defense can get them in third-and-longs and put pressure on Daniel Jones with guys like Bell, Bates and Jackson being in position to make some plays in the secondary. BENGALS, 21-19
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Bengals' improving improv offensive line and the Giants' soap opera of an offensive line take center stage Sunday.
The Bengals, who have averaged 4.6 yards per carry in the last three games they've had to re-shuffle the O-line because of injury and illness are expected to start their fourth straight different line behind what could be their third different quarterback.
Meanwhile, after Giants head coach Joe Judge reportedly had verbal altercations with offensive line coach Marc Colombo over micromanaging and rotations, Dave DeGuglielmo makes his debut coaching the New York O-line after Colombo got canned during their bye. Which means rotations win out and supposedly former Bengals right guard Kevin Zeitler, recovered from a concussion, is going to be involved in one with Will Hernandez and rookie Shane Lemieux.
Guard is an interesting spot for the Bengals, too. Head coach Zac Taylor left open the possibility that Quinton Spain could start at his third different line position in the last three games in replacing left guard Michael Jordan. The 6-4, 330-pound Spain who has started at right tackle and right guard the last two weeks, respectively, has sold the Bengals on his ability to move people and they've run the ball pretty effectively since he started playing in the win over Tennessee when Spain played all but the first series in a game the Bengals rushed for 118 yards against the AFC South leaders.
The ability to team inside with right guard Alex Redmond would certainly give them some punch in the run game against New York's sixth-ranked rush defense and maybe keep that momentum of the past three games going on the ground. In that stretch Perine has picked off 99 yards on 22 carries and he goes against a Giants defense he hit for 100 yards on a career-high 24 carries in his rookie year of 2017.
That run game figures to be a big part of the game plan given that Zac Taylor, according to reports as early as Wednesday morning, is starting Brandon Allen in place of Burrow. Allen, on the practice squad all this season until Monday, has been shadowing Burrow and back-up Ryan Finley in case of COVID and had little time hooking up with his receivers until this week.
Also on familiar turf is Bengals right tackle Bobby Hart, making his first start since injuring his knee in the last series of the Oct. 25 game against Cleveland. It's his first game against the team that drafted him in the seventh round in 2015 and where he made his first 21 NFL starts.
That line pushing the run figures to be a big part of the game plan given that Zac Taylor, according to reports as early as Wednesday morning, is starting Brandon Allen in place of Burrow. Allen, on the practice squad all this season until Monday, has been shadowing Burrow and back-up Ryan Finley in case of COVID and had little time hooking up with his receivers until this week.
You think the Bengals O-line has been newsworthy the last three weeks? The Giants O-line and their coaching feud has been a staple of the Big Apple's dreaded back pages.
Amid the drama Jones has been sacked eight times the past two games. But he didn't turn it over, stopping an ugly stretch in the first eight games he had nine picks and four fumbles.
Have those two games snapped him out of it? Since the Giants took Jones with the sixth pick in the 2019 draft, he has a line of 32 touchdown passes with 21 interceptions along with 25 fumbles, 15 of them lost.
The Bengals, with just 13 sacks, need some of that. They've only got two forced fumbles and one of those came from edge rusher Carl Lawson. Lawson, who leads the NFL with 14 quarterback knockdowns, is in a featured matchup with Andrew Thomas of the Giants, pegged by Pro Football Focus as the left tackle allowing the most sacks with six.
Lawson and fellow edge players Sam Hubbard and rookie Khalid Kareem, off his first NFL sack last week in Washington, have to keep Jones' legs in check. He's averaging nearly eight yards per carry and popped one for 80 last month.
Check out which offensive line ends up in the spotlight. There's the winner in this one.