Life in the NFL is tough when some of your best players are not available to you, but good teams somehow manage to rally around what they have and pull out the occasional surprising victory. The Pittsburgh Steelers went 3-1 without Ben Roethlisberger in 2010, and won their two games without Antonio Brown last year. Charlie Batch led a big win over the Baltimore Ravens in the pre-Landry Jones era.
The Cincinnati Bengals, who still control their own destiny as far as the AFC North goes with a 5-3 record, despite having already lost a game at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers, will be attempting to go that today as they play host to the New Orleans Saints, who have been one of the best teams in the league this year at 7-1.
The task at hand is building an offense without perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green, whose mere presence on the field has helped see the rise of third-year Tyler Boyd from out of the slot, thanks to the attention that he grabs, similar to Brown for the Steelers. And Boyd step up as JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant did in Brown’s absence a year ago?
Said Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, it’s all about filling the void with creativity. “It’s kind of happened a few times this year already. This is football and it keeps moving, the most important thing is long term we have to keep getting better”, he said. “Somehow we are going to look back on this practice day with who we had practicing today and it will help propel us to what we are going to be later”.
One thing seems pretty sure, and that is if the Bengal hope to secure a victory over the Saints, they are probably going to have to match offense for offense, because the Saints are not likely to slow down for anybody.
New Orleans averages 34.9 points per game this season, the second-best in the league and an amount that in most seasons would seem like a video game. They have scored at least 21 points in every game played, including at least 30 points in six of their eight games.
Interestingly enough, the only teams that have held them to under 30 points this year have been the two teams from the AFC North that they have already faced: the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns. Both lost, but by a combined four points. Four of their five other wins have been by more than one possession.
Stopping the Saints won’t made easy with the injuries they are still dealing with on that side of the ball, however, as Vontaze Burfict, Nick Vigil, and Darqueze Dennard all remain out. The Steelers’ Thursday victory has only added to the pressure for a win today.