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KEY TO VICTORY: Can Saints Pass Rush Take Advantage of “Reshuffled” Bengals O-Line?

Constant and relentless pressure on the quarterback. For the New Orleans Saints defense and the other defenses around the NFL, that’s usually the main goal of every team; which is to make the opponent QB’s life completely miserable every time that he drops back in the pocket to throw the football.

And when (7-1) New Orleans faces the (5-3) Cincinnati Bengals in a few short hours from now, they’ll be seeking to do that very thing to 8th year veteran QB Andy Dalton (21 TD passes with 8 interceptions for 2,102 yards and a 92.9 QBR); who like most NFL quarterbacks can get “rattled” and is prone to making mistakes / turning the ball over when that pressure is applied.

With Bengals perennial All-Pro WR AJ Green expected to miss today’s game due to an injury, Dalton will be looking to compensate for his absence 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.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

However, one thing that could work to the Saints’ advantage today is that the Bengals offensive line is extremely vulnerable, after being forced to reshuffle their starting line-up due to injuries.

After injuries to former Ohio State University All-American and Bengals rookie 1st-round pick center Billy Price (Week #2 vs, Baltimore) and left guard Clint Boling (who suffered a back injury late in the first half of the Bengals’ win over Tampa Bay two weeks ago), Cincinnati’s O-Line has been forced to move players around in the hope that they can keep the 31-year old Dalton adequately protected.

3rd year Bengals offensive guard Christian Westerman ended up replacing Boling in the line-up in that game against Tampa, but unfortunately the Bengals went three-and-out on each of their first four series of the second half.

While Westerman is a capable lineman with the potential to be an All-Pro caliber player himself someday, it was clear to those who cover the Bengals team that the losses of Price and Boling altered the chemistry of their unit, and later today when the ball is kicked off in cold and blustery south central Ohio, it likely will be altered yet now once again.

Photo courtesy of The Cincinnati Inquirer

Price is expected back in the starting line-up today from the foot injury he suffered against Baltimore; which means that back-up center Trey Hopkins, who did an excellent job in Price’s absence the past few weeks; will likely move to right guard in place of Alex Redmond — who unexpectedly suffered a hamstring injury during the Bengals’ practice on Monday and is listed as doubtful for the game.

As noted by WKRC anchor / Bengals beat writer Richard Skinner, that now gives Cincinnati two “new” starters to go along with left tackle Cordy Glenn: Boling, who will be back, and right tackle Bobby Hart; and how quickly they are (or aren’t) able to gel together will be a key to today’s highly-anticipated contest.

The Bengals O-Line has given up (46) total sacks, which ranks them 17th overall in that department.

“They continue to keep getting better as they play together,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said to reporters the day after the team’s most recent game (against Tampa Bay on October 28th, before their Bye Week).

“We still have some occasional miscommunications or bad plays, but I think as a group they’re collectively getting it, they’re understanding it, and they’re coming up with some personality. We’re going to need it. So yeah, from that standpoint, it’s something just like everything else in this building that we have to continue to build upon.”

If that so-called building is expected to continue today, they’ll have to do it against an improving Saints pass rush that despite its lack of getting to the QB (only 25th overall in sacks with (30) of them), has been able to generate consistent pressure in the past few games, most notably from the interior of the Saints D-Line by 3rd year DT Sheldon Rankins.

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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