The Seahawks open regular-season play on Sunday when they host the Cincinnati Bengals, marking just the third time these teams have met in the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era, and the first meeting at CenturyLink Field since 2011.
To learn more about the Bengals under first-year head coach Zac Taylor, we reached out to Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Dobson with five questions about Seattle’s Week 1 opponent:
Q: How have Andy Dalton and company taken to Zac Taylor’s offense? Just how much change is the new head coach making across the board after such a long run under Marvin Lewis?
Hobson: There has been a massive overhaul on both sides of the ball, spearheaded by the largest coaching staff in Bengals history and led by Taylor’s new offensive playbook that appears to be plucked from the Rams grease board the Hawks know well.
Taylor has done a nice job getting his players to buy in, and they have responded positively to a new regime after 16 years under Lewis. On defense the players have been raving about how first-time defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has simplified things after a confused, lost year last season led to a No. 32 finish. On offense leaders like Dalton, A.J. Green and Joe Mixon have been praising the creativity and multiplicity of the scheme. They kept their offense and defense as vanilla as could be in the preseason, but they had to be pleased with the offensive returns. Green and John Ross, another starting wide receiver, didn’t take a snap. Tight end Tyler Eifert, one of Dalton’s top targets, didn’t have a catch. Mixon, their bell-cow running back, had one carry. But Dalton, who didn’t get sacked and took one shot, began the preseason with a TD drive and ended the preseason with a TD drive completing 68 percent of his passes averaging eight yards per attempt.
Q: With A.J. Green out to start the season, who steps up to fill that void? And on a related note, what are the expectations like for local favorite John Ross heading into his third season?
Hobson: It’s Tyler Boyd and a cast of thousands. Boyd, a third-year slot-type receiver, is coming off a 1,000-yard season. They desperately need Ross, their 2017 No. 1 pick out of Washington, to use his record-setting combine speed to give them another threat. His career has been slowed by injuries, just as his preseason was this year when a severe hamstring took him out of training camp until last week. But there’s confidence Taylor’s scheme can find a way to unveil his prodigious talent after two seasons he has a curious career stat line of 21 catches, seven for TDs. In the department of Something Marvin Would Never Do, Taylor has announced that undrafted rookie Damion Willis, a 6-3 deep-ball tracker out of Troy, has drawn an Opening Day start.
Q: The Bengals ranked 28th in run defense last year, what changes have they made that will help against a Seahawks offense that was No. 1 in the league in rushing a year ago?
Hobson: The biggest thing Anarumo has done is simplified the scheme because the personnel is still pretty intact, but healthier. Their deepest position is the defensive line, where they kept 11 players, among them Pro Bowl sackers Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, as well as two young pass rushers in Carl Lawson and Sam Hubbard. Lawson tore his ACL last year after he racked up 8.5 rookie sacks and new starting right end Sam Hubbard had six sacks in a part-time role as a rookie last year. They’ll keep them fresh Sunday. They like their first three cornerbacks, two are former first-rounders William Jackson III and Dre Kirkpatrick, and safety Jessie Bates III was their first rookie in two decades last year to start every game while logging three interceptions. The weak link is linebacker, where they kept just four.
Q: On the flip side of that, Joe Mixon is coming off a big 2018 campaign, how important will his production be to Cincinnati’s offensive success?
Hobson: Mixon, the defending AFC rushing champ, is absolutely huge for this club and Seattle knows it after facing Rams running back Todd Gurley in this scheme the past two years. They believe they can enhance Dalton’s ability with a big play-action game and that means they really need Mixon to repeat that 4.9 per average of last year. Offensively on Sunday you’re looking at two offenses that trying to do whatever they can to run the ball.
Q: With injuries taking their toll, how big of a concern is the offensive line this week, particularly for a road opener at a stadium known for crowd noise?
Hobson: It’s not a concern. It’s downright scary. Even before camp started they lost the dean of their offensive line, left guard Clint Boling, to retirement, and their No. 1 pick, left tackle Jonah Williams, to a shoulder injury. And now they’re down to their third left tackle Sunday with Cordy Glenn out with a concussion.
But all’s not lost. Although Glenn’s replacement will be Andre Smith, making just his second NFL start at left tackle, he’s an 11-year vet that has played all over the league. Smith will start next to rookie left guard Michael Jordan, a fourth-round pick out of Ohio State and an excellent prospect. The No. 1 line did have just one false start in the preseason. But it’s certainly challenging with four new linemen against that defense in that building. See Mixon, Joe.
The Seahawks and the Bengals will meet this Sunday in Seattle at CenturyLink Field to open up the 2019 regular season. Take a look back at photos from the past twenty games played between the two teams.