The San Francisco 49ers are continuing their battle on the road, preparing to take on the 7-5 Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14. With a .750, the 49ers hold the highest winning percentage against the Bengals of any NFL franchise. Although the two teams have a Super Bowl-laden history, there is a sense of unfamiliarity as they're a team San Francisco has only met 16 times. Something the Bengals have in common with the 49ers is their drive to get back into the win column after a tough loss. Last week, Cincinnati fell 41-22 at home to the Los Angeles Chargers. Despite the loss, the Bengals have been a dominant team throughout the season and sit second in their division and sixth in the AFC standings.
"The Bengals are very talented, just as a group. Probably one of the most talented groups we'll see," defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. "They've done a really good job of acquiring talent and adding true playmakers."
The 49ers strength will be tested in their head-to-head matchup against the Bengals, as neither team in Sunday's contest can afford another loss for their record. A short-handed 49ers team must find ways to capitalize against Cincinnati as they look to remain relevant in their own respective postseason push.
In advance of Sunday's game, here's a list of three Bengals "playmakers" the 49ers will need to keep eyes on:
WR Tee Higgins
Higgins' performance has not only become an essential aspect of the Bengals offense but also a competitive force around the league. After posting 100-plus yards in back-to-back games against the Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers, Higgins leads all wide receivers in the NFL with an 89.9 Pro Football Focus grade over the last two weeks.
In Week 13, Higgins recorded 138 yards on nine receptions. His performance will challenge the 49ers pass defense who have been excelling in deep-ball situations – only allowing 6.2 yards per attempt and securing an interception against the Seattle Seahawks last week. However, the 49ers are faced with a more challenging scenario in Week 14, as cornerback Emmanuel Moseley was ruled out with a high-ankle sprain, and the team will look towards veteran corner Dontae Johnson and their two rookie draft picks to strengthen their secondary. It's worth noting, Higgins missed all three of the Bengals practices this week while dealing with an illness, however, Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor feels confident in the wideouts availability for Sunday.
DE Trey Hendrickson
One of the biggest threats to Jimmy Garoppolo's performance in Sunday's game is Hendrickson, who leads the league in quarterback pressures (60), is tied for the most turnovers caused by pressure (five) and has earned at least one sack in eight-straight games (11.5 total). Hendrick currently holds the longest active streak of games recording a sack in the NFL. Garoppolo performs best with a clean pocket, so the 49ers offensive line will need to step up to secure Hendrickson and break his sacking streak.
"I think it's a real good defense," said Shanahan. "They do a lot schematically that keeps teams off base with their fronts and coverages. And their 11 guys play very hard too."
RB Joe Mixon
With 978 total rushing yards so far in 2021, Mixon stands second overall in the league heading into Week 14. Accomplishing at least one rushing touchdown in teach of his last six games, Mixon has grown his total to 12 touchdowns this season. The running back has already captured the attention of 49ers linebacker Fred Warner.
"The guy, in particular, that obviously I've got to focus on is Mixon. I played against him back in 2019, played against him in high school during seven-on-seven tours and you see it still to this day – the ability to catch the ball in the backfield, the shiftiness, he's a bigger back so he's going to run through tackles. We've got to make sure we're on point," said Warner.
Added special teams coordinator Richard Hightower: "They play sound. They play relentless. They get after it. They've been good for years and it's going to be a huge challenge for us, but we're excited for the challenge. We can't wait to play these guys. I'm just telling you. So it'll be fun this week."
Sunday's matchup will be one of the most impactful games this season as both teams fight for postseason chances and the 49ers look to get back on track. Kickoff is set for 1:25 p.m. PT at Paul Brown Stadium. For ways to watch the head-to-head matchup, click here.