New Orleans Saints fans: welcome back to the week of the dreaded "trap game".
For those not familiar with that expression, in sports terminology the phrase "trap game" is defined as a game that is usually played the week before having to play a tough or highly-ranked opponent the next week. Teams have a tendency to look past a lower-rated opponent while thinking ahead to the following week's game.
In this particular case, the opponent that the Saints might get caught looking ahead to are actually two teams: the defending World Champion Philadelphia Eagles, who the Saints will face in the Superdome next week; and their hated and despised arch-rivals the Atlanta Falcons — who they play the week after the Eagles on Thanksgiving Night.
But before the red-hot (7-1) Saints (winners of 7 straight games in a row) can even worry about that game, the Saints have to stay focused on playing THIS WEEK'S opponent the (5-3) Cincinnati Bengals — who the Saints will face when they head north up to the "Queen City" this weekend.
Naturally the next question then becomes:
Will the Saints let their guard down this week at Cincinnati?
They'll be facing a rather inconsistent Bengals team that's coming off their Bye Week after having narrowly escaped with a 37-34 escape win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two Sundays ago (their first win in the team’s last three games).
Nevertheless, the Bengals home stadium (Paul Brown Stadium, named for the team's founder) is one of the tougher road venues in the entire sport of Pro Football; and New Orleans will no doubt be challenged yet again by another team with a winning record that's fully capable of pulling off an "upset" over the NFC South Division-leading Saints squad.
The key to preventing such a disaster from occurring will likely once again be up to the Saints defense; a unit that most observers would agree will need to rise to the occasion and make big plays to stop the short-handed but still dangerous Bengals offense.
While the Saints offense should do their normal damage against the struggling Cincinnati defense that ranks last in the league by giving up 319.4 passing yards per game, the Saints defense has certainly been "up and down" this season; and will have to be thoroughly prepared for whatever Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor tries to throw at them.
The biggest challenge from Lazor and Cincinatti's perspective will be how to replace their superstar WR AJ Green; who suffered a toe injury during their game against the Buccaneers almost two week ago. He''s expected to miss this game and likely next week as well. Green had a team-high 687 receiving yards and six touchdowns through the first eight games, and replacing him isn't an easy task,
The Bengals will likely have veteran QB Andy Dalton (21 TD passes with 8 interceptions for 2,102 yards and a 92.9 QBR) compensate for the loss of Green by spreading the ball around to a variety of capable back-up receivers in Green's expected absence, which undoubtedly will be heavily aided by the play of talented RB Joe Mixon.
Despite missing two games, the 2nd-year Bengals running back is on pace to gain nearly 1,500 yards from scrimmage this season. Mixon has done most of his damage on the ground, averaging 84.8 yards rushing per game; which makes him the 5th-best rusher in the entire League.
But unfortunately for the Saints, he doesn't necessarily always do his damage against opposing defenses on the ground alone,
The speedy Mixon — who starred at the University of Oklahoma — is certainly a very dangerous player out on the edge; and it will be interesting to see whether or not the Bengals and Lazor will decide to possibly even line him up at wide receiver; in a concerted effort to keep the Saints defense off-balance and get him the ball on some "jet sweeps" and a few other plays that could leave New Orleans somewhat vulnerable.
Cincinnati ran the ball effectively against the Buccaneers 2 weeks ago, especially in the 1st half of that contest when Mixon was given the ball regularly on a handful of carries. And while the run game struggled at times for the Bengals in that game a week ago, when ever their O-Line was able to block well, the numbers in the running game did see a dramatic increase.
The Saints secondary will have to remain on their toes as well to defend against the pass, in spite of the absence of Green.
In his place, former University of Pittsburgh star and Bengals third-year WR Tyler Boyd is the player that has "stepped up" to fill the team's #1 WR role, and he actually has more receptions than Green (49 to 45) does.
Boyd is currently enjoying a career year, having already having set a career high in yards (620) and touchdowns (5).
Boyd had a "break out" performance in Cincinnati’s 37-34 overtime win against Tampa, after he caught 9 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown. It was his already his third 100-yard receiving game this season.
Given those accomplishments, Saints starting #1 CB Marshon Lattimore should draw the assignment in coverage one-on-one against Boyd; although that could change during the game depending on specific situations.
On the other side of the field, Saints 3rd year CB Eli Apple will most likely be faced up against Bengals #2 WR John Ross, the former University of Washington superstar who is considered one of the fastest WR's "speed-wise" in the entire NFL.
But Ross is returning to the Cincinnati starting line-up this week from a groin injury that's cost him multiple games, which probably means that Apple will be given that assignment.
Bottom line: despite their injuries, this Bengals offense is still very capable of putting up some points; and New Orleans will have to continue their outstanding play of the past 3 weeks in impressive wins over Baltimore, Minnesota, and the Rams, if they hope to escape the "Queen City" with an 8th straight win.
Just so long as the Saints don't get caught looking ahead and right past this still-dangerous Cincinnati team, then chances are good that they be able avoid becoming a victim of the "trap game".....