1) Two Bengals starters in the secondary—cornerback Darqueze Dennard and safety Shawn Williams—may not play in the game on Sunday night. How big of a loss is this for Cincinnati and who do you expect to play in their place?
JUDIS: It is a pretty big loss. Tony McRae and Darius Phillips will likely fill in at nickel corner. Clayton Fejedelem will also play the majority of Williams’ snaps. Given the talent of the Chiefs’ passing attack, any injury to the secondary seems crippling. Luckily, it looks like William Jackson, the team’s best corner, will still be able to go, and rookie Jessie Bates III will be able to roam center field. Still, Fejedelem will likely be picked on quite a bit as he is a special teams ace and not a coverage safety.
2) What’s been the Bengals biggest offensive strength and weakness and defensive strength and weakness? Why?
JUDIS: The offense has this habit of getting into a groove where they look unstoppable. Andy Dalton does a great job of spreading the ball around to everyone. It doesn’t end up just being the A.J. Green show, which makes it hard for defenses to really key in on one thing to stop them. The biggest weakness is the right side of the offensive line in pass coverage. The combination of Alex Redmond at right guard and Bobby Hart at right tackle is just hard to watch at times.
Defensively, the pass rush is usually the strength. They had a rough week without a sack against Pittsburgh, but when they are getting pressure on the quarterback, it really has led to success for the entire team. The Bengals wouldn’t have beaten the Dolphins if not for the defensive line’s two touchdowns. Their biggest defense is at the linebacker position. The injury to Nick Vigil was huge. He played almost every defensive snap for the team, and he was having a fairly good season. The unit as a whole just struggles against quicker running backs and coverage.
3) The Bengals changed offensive coordinators last offseason from Ken Zampese to Bill Lazor. What differences have you seen in the Bengals offense and Andy Dalton from last year’s 7-9 team to this year’s 4-2 team?
JUDIS: They move way faster. It isn’t quite a no-huddle, but you can tell they like to speed up when things are going well. Also, the addition of run-pass options has been great for helping alleviate some of the pass protection problems as well as getting out of some bad running plays. In fact, the team seems to struggle the most when they go to a traditional I-formation where they try to go big against the opposing defense. Honestly, Dalton just looks refreshed to be doing something different for the first time since he was drafted by the Bengals.
4) We all know what AJ Green is capable of at wide receiver, but an emerging star this season has been Tyler Boyd. What makes Boyd so hard to defend and what has having another talented receiver on board done for Green’s game?
JUDIS: Green is pretty much what makes Boyd hard to defend. Lazor’s ability to call plays that work against how teams tend to focus coverage on Green (or John Ross when he is healthy) has been huge. It has opened up more situations in which the defense has to focus more than one player on Boyd, which opens everything up for the guys lower than Green and Boyd on the totem pole.
The biggest change that has helped Green is allowing him to run more routes from the slot where it is just schematically harder to double cover him. He has done a lot of damage from that spot this season.
5) How big of a problem do Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap continue to be for opposing offensive lines? How have they looked so far this season?
JUDIS: Atkins and Dunlap are up to their usual tricks. They are even more dangerous when the team brings a five-man rush or is able to get Carl Lawson on the field as well, but there is a reason they get paid the big bucks. Atkins has six sacks on the season and Dunlap is creating game-winning forced fumbles and batting down passes. It is just a matter of getting to the opposing quarterback quick enough.
BONUS: SCORE PREDICTION
JUDIS: 38-35 Chiefs win.
I think the final score ends up being deceiving, as the Bengals score a late meaningless touchdown. The Chiefs offense is just too much for the Bengals, especially in their current condition.