Sunday, October 13, 2013

Four Point Stance: Bengals at Bills


The long-awaited return of Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd is finally here, though his start will be slightly overshadowed by the departure of another big name, rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel.

Manuel is slated to miss a few weeks with a knee injury, which he sustained during the team's Thursday night loss to the Browns in Week 5. His absence opens the door for practice squad quarterback Thad Lewis, who got the nod by coach Doug Marrone earlier this week over backup Jeff Tuel. Marrone noted Lewis's option-style signal-calling and ability to make plays with his legs as reason for the decision, as Tuel completed less than 50 percent of his passes and was sacked twice in his short time on the field.

The change under center will put serious pressure on the team's run game, which faces a still test. The Bengals have allowed fewer than 100 yards on the ground per game thus far, and their secondary has played equally as well, surrendering just six touchdowns through the air while snagging five interceptions. Lewis and Co. will have to mix it up against an aggressive squad, which may prove difficult with a couple key receivers (Stevie Johnson, Marquise Goodwin) on the mend.

When the Bills have the ball: 
Buffalo's run game has been top notch this season despite being a bit banged up, averaging more than 150 yards per game. Look for a heavy dose of Buffalo's ground duo, who said this week they're looking forward to the pressure Cincy is sure to bring up front. With the pressure will come an opening for rollout, option and playaction plays from the mobile Lewis, who will look to improve on the team's still-dreadful third-down percentage and red-zone play, which are ranked 29th and 22nd, respectively. Conservative throws and avoiding turnovers will be key for the inexperienced quarterback, so look for the likes of Scott Chandler and T.J. Graham to have busy games in the middle of the field.

When the Bengals have the ball:
Wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton have been out of sync all season, though Sunday may be the perfect opportunity for the two to have a breakout performance. Green will likely go up against a heavily bandaged Stephon Gilmore, who will be covering the deadly receiver one handed. While the team's rushing attack hasn't performed as well as in year's past, a match-up against the league's 22nd-ranked run defense bodes well for Geo Bernand and BenJarvis Green-Ellis, particularly if they can get outside the tackles, where the Bills are allowing five yards a carry. Extending drives and scoring in the red zone have been the staples for this offense, though it may prove difficult against a defense that is ranked fifth in the red zone and 10th in takeaways per game.

Marquise Goodwin. While the rookie has missed four games with a hand injury, he's likely to play Sunday and looks to have a busy day on special teams. The Bills have had only four chances to bring the ball out this season after proving to be rather deadly in the return game last season. That is likely to change this week, however, as Cincinnati has the third-lowest touchback percentage. Goodwin's breakout speed as a returner and a receiver is the main reason he made the team's final roster, and against a team who's allowing opponents to start drives around the 23 yard line, he may be able to break off a big run or two and shorten the field for his new quarterback.

Buffalo holds a slight advantage over the Bengals all-time (15-12), which includes two playoff losses. The Bills are a solid 9-3 against Cincinnati at the Ralph, and they've won 10 of their last 11 meetings. The last time the two met was nearly two years ago to the date, with Green and Jermaine Gresham combining for 188 yards and a touchdown while the Bengals rushing attack put up 171 yards of their own. Cincinnati went on to win the game 23-20 despite Buffalo's 17-3 lead at halftime.

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