This Sunday’s game not only involves two teams in the midst of the playoff push in a packed AFC, but a game that features two quarterbacks that could be a part of the top dozen quarterbacks in the league. It feels good to say that on this end. Anthony Cosenza of Cincy Jungle has been there awhile. We sat down with our sister site in advance of Sunday’s game to get the lowdown on the Bengals and how they are feeling at the midway point.
Battle Red Blog: The Bengals have been playing much better football in recent weeks. What has been the key to their turnaround this season?
Anthony Cosenza: The biggest key to the Bengals’ turnaround has been Joe Burrow getting back to 100% from the calf injury. After the win over the Bills, Burrow was asked postgame about the biggest difference of what he can currently do that he couldn’t before and his answer was simple: “run”. His scrambling ability to evade pressure and sneaky effective talent to rush for the occasional first down weren’t available at his disposal early in the year, nor was his ability to plant well on the leg, causing both throwing issues and limiting them to running plays only out of shotgun. They’ve since been able to diversify their looks and Burrow has been able to drive more throws.
On the other side of the ball, the defense hasn’t been put in nearly as many precarious situations because of increased offensive efficiency. They’ve also embraced their identity as a unit that will give up yards, but limit overall points and create the big play via turnover.
The units from 2021 more heavily relied on quarterback sacks and just getting off of the field instead of the big play, but that has changed a bit this year.
BRB: Who are some players on offense and defense that we might not be familiar with but will have a huge impact on Sunday?
AC: On offense, keep an eye on tight end Tanner Hudson, who was called up to the active roster last week. He’s a big target with good hands who could grow into a decent ancillary weapon in this offense after grabbing some catches against the Bills. Rookie sixth-round wide receiver Andrei Iosivas has a couple of touchdowns over the past few games, so he might be one to watch.
On defense, second-year cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt grabbed a starting gig this year and he has largely played excellently. He has three interceptions this year (all in wins) and a forced fumble.
B.J. Hill flanks former Houston Texans nose tackle D.J. Reader on the interior of the line and he can provide problems. Keep an eye out for this year’s first-round pick, Myles Murphy, too, who started to come into his own last week as a reserve rusher.
BRB: Stroud’s performance on Sunday was the talk of the NFL. How do you see the Bengals playing him and the Texans offense? Are you concerned?
AC: Stroud has been one of the most impressive players in the league this year. The fact that he has thrown just one interception this year is insane and he might be in the MVP discussion as a rookie, so yes, I’m concerned.
And, he’s done it without a ton of star power at wide receiver (still some solid names in the group, though), which makes his rookie work that much more impressive. But, as I mentioned, Cincinnati has been creating turnovers regularly, ranking second in the league in interceptions, so that makes this chess match intriguing.
While he’s shown a lot of poise as a young quarterback, it will be interesting to see how he responds to pressure, if the Bengals are to achieve that. I assume the Bengals will want to show potentially confusing looks, while letting their physical and talented corners do their thing.
BRB: The Bengals are in a dogfight with everyone in the AFC North. Who do you see as the Bengals primary competition? Secondarily, which team in the division do Bengals fans enjoy beating the most?
AC: In almost any year, I’d say the answers to both of your question is the Pittsburgh Steelers. There has been a lot of bad blood over many years, with Pittsburgh largely-dominating the rivalry in the Marvin Lewis era, but things evening out more in the Zac Taylor/Joe a burrow era.
But, while the answer to your second question still remains to be the Steelers, the biggest threat in 2023 has to be the Ravens. They are playing well and already beat the Bengals in Cincinnati back in Week 2.
But, yes, the division is highly-competitive and physical. I expect the Steelers, even with their perceived shortcomings, to be in it at the end because they always are, while the Cleveland Browns look scrappy and have had Cincinnati’s number of late.
BRB: In no surprise, DraftKings Sportsbook has the Bengals (-6.5) as favorites to win this game. Do you see them covering? Are there any other wagers you feel comfortable recommending in this game?
AC: Honestly, I hate a lot about this game for the Bengals. Not only are the Texans a sneaky good opponent, but this game is situated right smack in the middle of the big Sunday Night game against Buffalo and a huge road clash against the Ravens on the Thursday after Houston and Cincinnati battle it out.
To boot, Ja’Marr Chase has a back injury, which has brought concern and affected the DK line. Still, Cincinnati has been clicking, the Bengals are at home and they were able to handle the Bills with Chase being a small factor then getting hobbled.
I’ll take the Bengals, but would stay away from the line on this one because I think Houston will give them all they can handle.
We want to thank Anthony for taking the time to answer our questions about the Bengals and the upcoming game with the Texans. The Bengals are in the midst of a dogfight for the AFC North division as all four teams sit at .500 or better. They can ill afford a hiccup now in their quest to repeat as AFC North champions. We want to wish Anthony and the Bengals the best of luck for the rest of the season. As always, we hope that luck begins on Monday morning.