FRISCO, Texas – The record will show you the Bengals are 2-2, but you should obviously know better than to underestimate a team that has made five consecutive playoff trips.
This team has playmakers on both sides of the ball, and that's no better represented by two of the players on this week's breakdown – both of whom are near the top of the league at their respective positions.
Here's a look at two of the most dynamic talents the Cowboys will face against Cincinnati, as well as a quick preview of an up-and-coming threat.
Weapon: WR A.J. Green
A natural hand catcher with good focus. It's rare that you see him misplay a ball – though there are times where he has to make an adjustment to a less-than-perfect pass.
He extends to catch the ball away from the frame of his body. The ball doesn't get on top of him. No blind spots to his game. He can make the overhead circus catch as needed. This is a good athlete who is quick in and out of his breaks. Green is also one of the best route runners that these defensive backs will see all season. He was a polished route runner while at Georgia and he has carried that over to his pro career.
He can start and stop in an instant, and he will come back for the ball. He has outstanding sideline awareness. He's got a wiry and strong build to compete for the ball in a crowd, and he has the speed and acceleration to eat up a cushion. This puts pressure on the cornerback right off the snap.
Green adjusts to the flight of the ball – he has such good body control. He catches the ball with the intent to break a tackle or make a defender miss. He can run routes off of motion, and he snaps off a dig route or square in with suddenness. Extremely long arms for the position, and he uses his tall rangy build to his advantage as a blocker on run plays.
Bottom line: Green makes plays on all levels of the field. You have to worry about him, especially with the deep ball. Home run hitter – game breaker. Hard match-up to deal with.
Nemesis: DT Geno Atkins
Atkins is actually undersized for an inside run stuffer, but he has that quick first step. He's a very similar player to Aaron Donald, who I loved coming out of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Like Donald, Atkins was built to play as a three-technique defensive tackle. He has explosive suddenness in his body. He's quick on inside twist stunts. He gets penetration and is disruptive. This is a hard man to block on the move. When he goes with the arm-over move, he puts the blocker out of position. He will stay square along the line of scrimmage, and he doesn't often get hooked up. He is a finisher when he gets into position, as he has the upper and lower body power to drive the blocker back into the pocket -- plays with heavy hands and can jolt the blocker back with a violent punch.
As a result of this, Atkins faces double teams the entire game. He's just so difficult to block when he is one-on-one. His quickness allows him to defeat blockers right off the snap. He can also make himself small and work through creases. He's always going up the field, and it is rare to see him stopped.
I've just written a lot about his pass rush instincts, but he can also redirect when he sees the ball going the other way. He's not going to kill grass by staying in one spot. He is a technique player. He knows how to play with his hands and spin to free himself, and he plays with balance. He doesn't ever get knocked off his feet.
He does a really does a nice job of chasing the ball from behind, and he has outstanding vision to find the ball. He is not often fooled or out of position.
You have to account for Atkins on every snap because of how disruptive he is. This offensive line is better equipped to handle him with the addition of Travis Frederick and Zack Martin since the last time these two teams met in Cincinnati back in 2012.
Under the Radar:WR Tyler Boyd
The rookie has been a solid option for Andy Dalton in this offense. He doesn't have the quickness of Terrance Williams, but he has better hands.
Boyd does a really nice job of finding open space. He plays with his eyes -- knows when to sit down or take his route across the field. Very steady and precise as a route runner. He knows how to present himself as a target, as he will square up to catch the ball.
Since he got to Cincinnati, he has done a better job of making those contested catches, which was a problem for him in college. He used to be a 50-50 player at best in that area, but he will take a hit now and hold on. I have also seen better separation in his game. I like the way that he comes back to the ball, and he does a nice job of plucking the ball and controlling it. He really does have excellent ball skills.
I would not say he is the most explosive player with the ball in his hands, but he gets what he can. He has outstanding sideline awareness, as he knows how to position his body and feet down in order to make a reception. I haven't seen the double moves from him like we did while he was at Pittsburgh. That was a big part of his game in order to get open.
The majority of his receptions have been underneath and in the intermediate range. You have to worry about him making those plays on third down in the middle of the field to extend drives. Boyd is not afraid to do the dirty work.