Can the Niners Relive Their 80’s Dominance of the Bengals?

The San Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI in 1982 & again in Super Bowl XXII in 1989, & Bengals fans have never forgotten. I can’t blame them, as they’ve never won a Super Bowl, or even been to another one since! The 49ers have had ownage, with a 12-4 all-time record vs the Bengals. Let’s see if that will continue this Sunday in Cincy!

The bad news is that the Bengals have elite weapons on offense in WRs Jamar Chase, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, TE C. J. Uzomah & RB Joe Mixon, who is one of the best backs in the league.

The good news is that QB Joe Burrow dislocated (or broke) his pinky finger on his throwing hand last Sunday vs the Los Angeles Chargers. He had to leave practice on Wednesday, but was able to take snaps & throw on Thursday (officially listed as limited), but he didn’t hand the ball off. Burrow said that he will play, but players often say that & then don’t play, or even end up on IR. It’s also good news for the 49ers that the game was flexed form 10:00AM to 1:25PM PDT start time. 10:00AM pacific starts are typically rough on west coast teams – especially coupled with cross-country travel.

Even if Burrow plays, as promised, he may not play as well as he has been playing this season. Turns out that even when playing well, Burrow is leading the league in INTs, with 14. He is also third in interception percentage at 3.7%, only ahead of rookies Justin Fields (4.0%) & Zack Wilson (4.5%). His sack rate is very high too, at 8.7% (29th in the league, or bottom 3). This would all be more encouraging, if the 49ers starting CBs weren’t Josh Norman & Dontae Johnson. Three of the last four Bengals’ game-opening drives have ended in a turnover! The 49ers would do themselves a huge favor if they’re able to make that four of the last five on Sunday. They need to steal as many possessions as possible.

Tee Higgins had career highs in receptions (9) and receiving yards (138) last week vs the Chargers. The week prior. he torched the Pittsburgh Steelers for 114 yards. Jamar Chase is like the Bengals’ version of Deebo Samuel. He has 958 receiving yards & 8 TDs on the year. Higgins & Chase will be very tough for Norman & Johnson to cover. The Bengals’ offensive line has been banged up, but might be getting healthy this week with RT Riley Reiff (limited in practice Wednesday & Thursday), C Trey Hopkins (limited in practice Wednesday & Thursday) & LG D’ante Smith (designated to return from IR on Wednesday) all possibly returning from injuries.


LT Jonah Williams is much better than RT Isaiah Prince, so expect Nick Bosa to line up more over the RT than usual. If starting C Trey Hopkins can’t make it back, backup C Trey Hill is a weak spot for D.J. Jones, Arik Armstead & Arden Key to exploit. Tee Higgins “tweaked” his ankle vs the Chargers last week. It sounds minor, but he missed practice on Wednesday & was limited on Thursday. The Bengals’ rushing attack is ranked 17th, passing offense is ranked 10th & scoring offense is ranked is 8th in the NFL. We can expect their passing ranking to improve vs after Sunday’s game vs the 49ers’ depleted secondary

The Bengals’ run defense is ranked 4th overall, but their standout LB Logan Wilson, who wears the green dot, was also injured vs the Chargers & so was CB Chidobe Awuzie. CB Trae Waynes is eligible to return from IR, but it will take more than just him to fix the Bengals 27th-ranked passing defense. They tighten up as they get into the redzone, as their scoring defense is much better (#12th overall). Trey Hendrickson (13 sacks) is on an 8-game sack streak & is a lot like Nick Bosa. He may line up against Tom Compton, which definitely means trouble. Even if Hendrickson lines up in front of Trent Williams, then Sam Hubbard (9 sacks) will be able to line up vs Tom Compton.

Getting Deebo Samuel back would be a huge help for the 49ers’ offense, but that seems unlikely as of now. Starting RB Elijah Mitchell’s presence would be big too (concussion & knee), but unfortunately neither of them have practiced as of Thursday. Any team with a good run defense is already a problem for the 49ers’ offense – even with Deebo Samuel & Elijah Mitchell in the backfield. The problem is that Jimmy Garoppolo can’t throw deep, or even outside the numbers. This allows defenses to stack the box & crowd the middle of the line, which clogs running lanes & makes blitzers tough to identify, since LBs are already close to the line of scrimmage prior to the snap. This allows any opposing teams’ run defense to look better regardless of their rankings coming into the game. The easy blitzing hurts the 49ers’ passing game as well.

Special teams will have to improve for the 49ers if they want any shot at winning this game. After giving up kickoff return for a TD & missing a FG vs the Vikings, they then allowed a fake punt to go for a TD, missed a PAT & lost a fumble on a kickoff return vs the Seahawks. This is exactly how teams lose close games.

For the 49ers, LBs Fred Warner & Marcell Harris both appear likely to return. RB Jeff Wilson Jr.’s knee (limited on Wednesday & full on Thursday) will be important to keep an eye on, as JaMycal Hasty is currently the only healthy RB for the 49ers. The team also signed veteran RB Brian Hill to their practice squad, so he could possibly be called up prior to Sunday. We’ll also have to keep an eye on DE Dee Ford (back), as he must be activated by Thursday 12/17 or his season is over. DT Maurice Hurst (calf), RB/ST Trenton Cannon (concussion) & LB Dre Greenlaw (groin) also are candidates for injury returns.

With starting CB Emmanuel Moseley out (ankle), the 49ers will need to develop rookies Ambry Thomas & Deommodore Lenoir quickly. Josh Norman & Dontae Johnson can’t be the long-term CB solution if they want to make the playoffs this year. Thomas seems to be ahead now, after Lenoir started out as the stronger of the two to begin the season.

One thing that would really help the 49ers’ run game would be a QB who can run and also throw deep and outside the numbers. Anyone know where we could find a QB like that?

Another thing that would help tremendously, would be limiting turnovers.

As of now, I’m predicting a Bengals win. The 49ers will not relive their 80’s dominance this Sunday, but I will update my official score prediction, just before gametime. Jimmy G is no Joe Cool.

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