- Don’t turn the ball over
- Rely on the Tight Ends in the passing game
The Bengals defense has been a bend but don’t break defense this season. They have given up 390.8 yards per game, which ranks 26th in the NFL, but have only surrendered 19 points per game, which ranks 5th. The reason they have been able to keep teams off the scoreboard is because they are extremely opportunistic and is one of the best defenses at forcing turnovers (six interceptions and one fumble).
The Panthers on the other hand have done a good job protecting the ball with only five turnovers and this trend will need to continue against Cincinnati. It will be important for Cam Newton not to force any throws and take what the defense is giving him. The Bengals are willing to give up yards and the Panthers should try and capitalize on this.
The secondary is the strength of this defense and I expect them to make life very difficult for Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant. The place to beat this defense is in the middle of the field with the tight ends, an area the Bengals have struggled.
So far this season, the Bengals have given up an average of 7.75 receptions and 92.25 yards per game to opposing tight ends. Luckily for the Panthers they have one of the best in the game, Greg Olsen, who could have a huge game on Sunday. He has been dealing with an ankle injury and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Panthers use a number of two tight end sets with Ed Dickson opposite Olsen. The Patriots did an excellent job of using this formation last week and their top two tight ends combined for 11 receptions, 185 yards and two touchdowns.
- Stop the run
- Contain Gio Bernard
- Pressure Andy Dalton
The Bengals will be without A.J. Green Sunday, who has already been ruled out due to a toe injury suffered in practice this week. This is a huge blow to the Bengals offense as Green is one of the best playmakers in the game. I would expect the Bengals try to come up with an offensive gameplan centered heavily around their running backs and in particular Gio Bernard.
The Bengals have a talented backfield with Bernard, the featured back, and rookie Jeremy Hill, who is the change of pace back. The rookie out of LSU has averaged 4.8 yards per carry but only has 28 carries this year. I would expect to see him get an increased workload against Carolina with the Bengals’ passing attack missing a key player.
The Panthers this year have struggled against the run giving up 129.6 yards per game on the ground. The return of Thomas Davis last week helped keep the Bears’ rushing attack in check, only allowing 85 rushing yards. They will need that trend to continue against Cincinnati.
If the Panthers are able to shut down the rushing attack early, that doesn’t mean Bernard can’t hurt them. He is one of the better pass catching running backs in the NFL and can beat this defense through the air similarly to what Matt Forte did with 100 yards recieving. So far this year, Bernard has 405 yards from scrimmage, which accounts for 28% of the Bengals total offensive yards this season.
One way to slow down Bernard is by disrupting his route out of the backfield. If the Panthers can get in Bernard’s way when he starts his route and affect the timing of the pattern, they will have much better success in containing the Bengals’ running back.
The last thing the Panthers will need to do is find a way to get pressure on Andy Dalton. He has had in fairly easy this year, being sacked only once, and this is thanks to a strong offensive line. The team is going to need another strong game from Charles Johnson, Mario Addision and Wes Horton to help a depleted secondary.
The Panthers will be without both Josh Norman and Bene Benwikere who have already been ruled out Sunday. Cornerback Melvin White looks to be in line for the start opposite Antoine Cason with Charles Godfrey assuming the role as the nickel back. If Dalton has time in the pocket it will not bode well for this Panthers’ defense.