Anthony Cosenza, the managing editor from Cincy Jungle, answered five questions to help us get a better idea about the Bengals and 49ers this afternoon.
1.) Joe Burrow and the offense have gotten off to a slow start this season, averaging less than 17 points per game. What has been the biggest hurdle for them repeating their offensive production from a year ago, where they scored almost 27 points per game?
It’s so many factors. The calf injury Burrow sustained in the summer was probably worse than most let on, and you could see that No. 9 just wasn’t able to plant, or dance out of pressures anywhere near as successfully as we’ve seen in years past. We’ve seen more signs of it in the past two wins and the hope is that the bye week has gotten him close to 100% healthy.
Additionally, some play-calling issues have reared their ugly head, as well as inconsistency in the run game. Cincinnati needs to commit to a capable second running back and utilize them to their respective (and hopefully versatile) strengths behind Joe Mixon. The oft-maligned offensive line has been way ahead of the units from the past couple of years, but they’ve been inconsistent at times.
Throw in injuries and a slow start from Tee Higgins and you can see it’s a little bit of everything. Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan sounds like a guy who has been working ardently on the fixes through this bye week, though. We’ll see.
2.) Outside of Trey Hendrickson, Cincinnati’s defense is full of very good players, but not really any superstars. Who is a player on that side of the ball that doesn’t get enough national attention in your opinion that could jump into that pro-bowl conversation?
Well, veteran Sam Hubbard has long been a solid presence along the defensive line, being one of the more well-rounded edge players (against the pass and run) in the league. Nose tackle D.J. Reader is one of the best in the business and the team’s two mainstays at linebacker, Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt, have also become a couple of the better players in the NFL at their positions.
I know you asked for one, and I’m now going to give you a fifth one, but second-year safety Dax Hill has stepped into a starting role and played well. He can play deep safety or line up in the slot, so he’s a guy 49ers fans may not be familiar with because he’s young and largely sat on the bench as a rookie. But, his first-round talent has been showing early in this season.
3.) The Bengals offensive line has gone under some transition and been the focus of a lot of scrutiny the last few seasons. How is that unit performing this year, and how do they match up with the 49ers front four?
The Bengals have invested significant capital in their offensive line since that atrocious one they fielded in Super Bowl LVI against the Rams. In the 2022 offseason, the Bengals brought in four new starters (three in free agency and one in the draft) and it still came with mixed results.
This last offseason, Cincinnati made a huge move in signing Orlando Brown, Jr. to be their left tackle. The move pushed Jonah Williams to the right side, with the interior staying the same from last season.
All in all, they’ve played better than the previous couple of units, but it has been far from perfect. I know that sacks aren’t the end all be all for metrics in offensive line play, but they’re in the top-10 teams of least sacks allowed this year (14).
Center Ted Karras brings tenacity and leadership, while Williams flanking right guard Alex Kappa has been working well. Second-year man Cordell Volson is still finding his way, but if the unit can get a little more consistency, we’ll see a vastly improved group from those of 2021-2022—even if a lot of the cast is similar to last year.
4.) Which San Francisco player, on either side of the ball, worries you the most in this matchup?
I hate to be obvious, but, Nick Bosa. Williams has been a decent pro, but when he has lined up against the league’s elite rushers (Myles Garrett, T.J. Watt, etc.), it’s been a mixed bag, at best. Cincinnati needs to keep the 49ers’ defensive line at bay for their best chance to win. They’ll continue to try to utilize the quick-passing to negate the pass-rush, but the line and Williams will need to hold up.
George Kittle is worrisome on the offensive side of the ball, as one of the league’s elite tight ends. I’m interested to see who defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo lines up to defend him this week. Hill seems like a solid option, but there is a notable size difference there, and while Pratt and Wilson have shown strong pass defense prowess, that also seems like a mismatch.
5.) DraftKings sets the total in the game at 43.5 on DraftKings Sportsbook, with the total back up to 5.5. Are you taking the over or under, and which one would be more beneficial to the Bengals chances of winning?
This is extremely tough to call because of the injuries on San Francisco’s side. The last time these two teams faced off, the total was 49 (26-23) and I kind of feel that that’s right about where I’d have it.