The undefeated Cincinnati Bengals travel to Orchard Park, New York, to meet the 3-2 Buffalo Bills in a battle of playoff hopefuls. Dave Archibald looks at the fantasy implications of the Bengals offense vs. Bills defense.
Speculation that Buffalo starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor will miss the game with an MCL strain makes the Bengals decided favorites even on the road, but there’s still plenty of intrigue. The Cincinnati offense ranks fourth in points and second in yardage, but they face a tough Bills defense that allows just 5.2 yards per play, good for sixth in the league. The Bengals boast a bevy of fantasy studs but don’t count on them putting up big numbers on Sunday against head coach Rex Ryan’s defense. Here are some unconventional ways they may try to move the ball against the Bills.
Thirty-Seven Pieces of Flare
According to Football Outsiders’ DVOA by Types of Receiver, the weakest point in the Bills’ defense is their coverage of running backs, where they rank 21st. Ryan asks his linebackers to do a lot in the run game and in blitzing the quarterback, which sometimes leaves them in poor position to cover flare routes to the flats. The Tennessee Titans attacked this area in their Week 5 matchup with the Bills:
On 3rd-and-4, the Bills show a heavy blitz look with six defenders on the line of scrimmage. Once the play begins, this leaves only Nigel Bradham (#53) at linebacker depth. Running back Antonio Andrews (#26) lines up to the left of quarterback Marcus Mariota (#8) and runs a flare into the left flat. Bradham has a long way to go and by the time he chases down Andrews, the back has a 15-yard gain. The longest play Buffalo has allowed all season, a 51-yard touchdown catch-and-run by the New York Giants’ Rashad Jennings, came on a similar play.
This is a misdirection look, with the offensive line selling a zone run left while quarterback Andy Dalton (#14) bootlegs right and hits Jeremy Hill (#32) in the right flat, who rumbles for a 12-yard gain. Hill is a capable pass catcher, but his backfield mate Giovani Bernard, who ranks third on the team in catches, is more likely to benefit from this strategy. Neither is a very strong fantasy option against a Bills run defense that is allowing just 82.2 rush yards per game, but Bernard is more likely to add receiving value with plays like this.
Ain’t It a Drag
Statistically, the Bills have defended tight ends well (5th in DVOA per Football Outsiders), but at times teams have attacked their linebackers, particularly with drag routes from their tight ends. The Indianapolis Colts used this concept in the red zone in Week 1:
The Colts send Griff Whalen (#17) in motion at the snap, crossing from left to right. The Bills over-pursue Whalen’s motion, leaving the left side wide open. Tight end Dwayne Allen (#83) lines up tight right and crosses to the vacated left side. When he catches the ball there is no Buffalo defender in sight. The Patriots also used this concept with blocking tight end Michael Williams in Week 2, hitting a 15-yard gain against a Buffalo blitz.
Cincinnati’s Tyler Eifert is an emerging star at the tight end position, on pace for almost 1,000 receiving yards. Eifert had two touchdowns in Week 5 when the Seattle Seahawks blew their zone coverages, but he’ll need to work harder against Buffalo’s man-heavy schemes. The drag is one way to get him easy catches, as they did in Week 4 against the Kansas City Chiefs:
The Bengals line up in a heavy run set with 22 personnel and fake a zone run right. Eifert (#85) drags from right to left, and by the time Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali (#91) realizes what’s happening, it’s too late. Dalton drops in a nice touch pass and Eifert runs for a 30-yard gain.
Eifert is unlikely to go off for 90 yards and two touchdowns as he did against Seattle, but he’s even more unlikely to put up a zero like he did against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3. Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will find ways to attack the middle of the field with his tight end, and Eifert is too talented to be held down long.
A.J. Green: The 6’4” wideout is the NFL’s fourth-leading receiver since entering the league in 2011, but most teams don’t have a cornerback the caliber of Buffalo’s Stephon Gilmore, a former top-10 pick having a breakout season under Ryan. Green often draws safety help to his side, creating opportunities on the other side of the field, but the aggressive Ryan might be content to leave Gilmore on an island with Green. Gilmore’s an emerging star and can hold his own. If you own Green, you’re starting him, but you’ll likely get less than his typical production.
Andy Dalton: The “Red Rifle” has been a revelation in his fifth season, averaging a whopping 9.5 yards per pass attempt. He has too many weapons for Ryan and the Bills to shut down completely, but they might force a turnover or two and limit Dalton’s overall yardage. He could add more rushing yardage than usual this week, as the Bengals occasionally show read option concepts and the Bills gave up a 22-yard run last week when they misplayed the read option. Dalton is startable if necessary, but you probably have a better alternative.
Marvin Jones: Jones is often the beneficiary when teams rotate help on Green – he had a 44-yard catch against Seattle when the free safety was slow to help on a deep route, distracted by Green on the other side of the field. Jones will likely have to do more against man coverage Sunday to produce, a dicey proposition given his inconsistency (two catches or fewer in three of five games) to date and the excellent early play of Buffalo rookie corner Ronald Darby.
Mohamed Sanu: Sanu isn’t a viable fantasy play, but he could end up with a favorable matchup Sunday. The 6’2” Sanu often aligns in the slot, and Buffalo’s slot corner is 5’7” Nickell Robey, one of the smallest players in the NFL. Robey is a tough competitor, but this figures to be a matchup Cincinnati will attack.
Bills Defense: Sit them this week. Cincinnati’s offense will score points, and they’ve done a great job preventing sacks on Dalton.
DFS best bet: No standout choices in the matchup of the Bengals offense vs. Bills defense, but Bernard has a good chance to outperform his $4,600 price tag. Buffalo isn’t a great matchup stylistically for Hill and Bernard can add production in the passing game.
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Dave Archibald knows pass defense, specifically how coverage, the pass rush, excellent cornerbacks, versatile safeties and in-game adjustments can make a big difference.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.