November 4, 2023

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Thad’s Three Things: Bills at Bengals

6 min read

Three things occupying my thoughts as I prepare to have a ringside seat yet again for one of the NFL’s elite regular season game…

In House Help

The shine is going to be on the new guys defensively this week, but the potential for significant impact is better with a player who was already in Buffalo–Von Miller.

I don’t think it’s fair to expect Linval Joseph and Rasul Douglas to be fully versed in everything they have to do after only a couple days in the defense, That goes especially for Douglas. The McDermott scheme is heavily communication based–as is most zone defenses. It works best when everyone knows where everyone else is.

Douglas played heavy zone in Green Bay, so the transition should be much smoother than it would be with other defensive backs (Yep! That’s why they traded for him). Douglas will be in good shape real soon, but it’s probably not going to be this week.

Joseph might still be fine anyway. His job is to occupy space. At 340 pounds, he can roll out of bed and do that. The Bills do play a one gap defense, which is more attack oriented than the two-gap leaning system Joseph operated in Philly. The get-to-know-the-defense process should still be quicker.

I think there’s good reason to believe Miller could take a big leap this week. He did look noticeably better against Tampa Bay. There were multiple reps where you saw some burst and some strength.

For the first time since he’s been back, he’s had extra rest between games. Miller’s return was a trip to London, a Sunday night game, a road trip and a Thursday game. Not ideal for a 34 year-old that admittedly did not have a training camp to get ready.

Maybe the rest allows Miller to play more like the guy who dominated the first half of last year. I’m not sure if we’ll see 100% of that player at all this season, but 80-90% would be a big improvement.

It would make a huge difference in a game where the opponent has top players to burn at the skill spots and the Bills have a coverage group very much in flux. Probably more of a difference than any of the new guys can make so soon.

Play It Again, Ken

The offense was much better last Thursday. The question now is whether that performance is repeatable.

I have serious doubts. Carl Jones and I talked earlier this week about how often Tampa Bay mistakes figured in the Bills’ success.

Cincinnati defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is one of the best in the game. He’s on a “bonus” year with the Bengals the same way Brian Daboll had one in Buffalo when he did not land the Chargers head coaching job before the 2021 season. It’s unlikely the Bengals will be as forgiving as the Bucs were last Thursday.

I still want see the Bills do a lot of what they did against Tampa. Going again with more up tempo stuff can potentially force Cincinnati to simplify what they do defensively and maybe negate some of that Anarumo genius.

I expect the Bills want to keep Dalton Kincaid consistently involved. The athleticism has been evident the last two games, beyond even the highlight receptions. If there’s anybody on this offense that has a chance to be an elevator, it’s the first round rookie.

More quick decisions from Josh Allen would also be swell. Get the offense into the rhythm they keep talking about as a goal. It’s a big part of what made this offense go early this year and a lot of what worked against Tampa Bay. I’m quite interested to see what works against an opponent from a higher weight class. And not just for this Sunday.

Beware An Early Avalanche

Remember the Bills playoff loss last year? Of course you do. (Sorry for bringing it up).

The Bengals scored touchdowns on their first two drives and the Bills spent the rest of that snowy afternoon chasing the game. It’s actually something Cincinnati has done fairly often lately. Six of their last seven wins have begun with points on their first two possessions, with at least one ending in a touchdown.

This was the Cincy formula the last two weeks. They took control against Seattle and San Francisco early and spent the rest of the game just leaning on both teams until they cracked. Two really good opponents.

The Bengals didn’t look great offensively for long stretches in both games, but they got in front and were allowed to dictate. Whether it’s shutting Joe Burrow and company down on those first two drives or keeping up offensively, the Bills can’t be chasing again this time.

Betting Things

Back in the black Thursday night when the Bills held Rachaad White under 46.5 yards. I’m now 7-1 with Bills prop bets this season and ahead 6.6 units.

Tougher one this week, but I do think the Bills get plenty of offensive snaps. Cincinnati’s defense is bottom five in yards allowed per pass and per run. They’re also 24th defending third downs. The Bengals’ success has come forcing turnovers (5th most in the league) and in the red zone (11th best).

The Bills aren’t much of a big play offense, but are plenty comfortable with the 10 or 15 play drives. With yards to be had, let’s bet on the guy likely to have the most Bills touches–James Cook. The line on combined yards for Cook in this game is 70.5. He’s topped that in six of eight games so far this year. The only misses were against the Jags and Jets.

I don’t think Cincinnati has that level of defensive domination in them for this game. So, we’ll lock our bet in on the over for Cook at -115.

The Pick

This is going to be an amazing game. It’s really honestly a privilege and a thrill to be on the field for so many of these. I’m looking forward to Sunday almost as much as I was looking forward to the Monday nighter last year.

It’s great quarterback against great quarterback. Very good coaching staff against very good coaching staff. And the stakes are pretty high for smack dab in the middle of the season. Winner of this one goes right back to the top of the heap in the AFC next to the Chiefs (And the Dolphins if they beat Kansas City. KC owns property at the “top of the heap” so they stay there even with a loss. Hosting five straight AFC Championships will do that).

This will also be a return to the site of where Damar Hamlin collapsed and suffered a cardiac arrest last season. It will absolutely have an affect on the Bills. I was on the field when that happened and I can feel emotions welling up just thinking about being there again. There’s no way it won’t be a thing.

The Bills understand that, but have good reason not to be concerned. As A.J. Epenesa pointed out, the Bills get to see Hamlin every day. They get to see his smile. They get to watch first hand the continuing good the incident has sparked, much of it courtesy Hamlin himself. They know the happy ending better than anyone, so they can better handle returning to the site of that incredibly scary moment.

It’s highly unlikely Hamlin will dress for the game, but his good friend Dane Jackson relayed what Hamlin says should be the plan for the Bills return to Paycor Stadium: “Get a win.”

Even if Douglas plays, the Bengals passing game is still advantage Cincinnati. With Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, there’s always a matchup advantage for Burrow to exploit. It’s something Cincy enjoys against every team, every week.

Outside of a hiccup against the Seahawks, Joe Mixon’s rush totals have been steadily climbing as well. While Joseph can help with that, it’s hard to expect high level play from a 35 year old fresh off his couch.

I think the Bengals have the slightly better roster and the slightly better coaching staff. Anarumo is probably the best coordinator among both teams in the game, by just a bit over Sean McDermott.

Cincinnati has won three in a row. They’re hot and coming off an impressive win, becoming the only team so far to hand the legendary Brock Purdy a loss at home. They’re also at home. Put all that together and I’m going to take the Bengals in this one 30-21.

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