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What to watch for in 'MNF': Bengals-Giants

Marvin Lewis has been standing on the Bengals' sideline for a long time.

When Lewis coached his first game with Cincinnati back in 2003, first-year Giants head coach Ben McAdoo was an offensive assistant at the University of Pittsburgh. Eli Manning was in the midst of his senior campaign at Ole Miss. Odell Beckham was 10 years old.

Flash forward more than 13 years later, and Lewis' Bengals will be taking on all three in a Monday night affair that the 14-year head coach can ill-afford to have his team lose.

Here's what to watch for when the Bengals (3-4-1) travel to MetLife Stadium against the Giants (5-3) on Monday Night Football:

  1. For those whose favorite position in football is wide receiver, you're in luck with this prime-time matchup. Since 2014, Beckham (98.0) and A.J. Green (87.4) are third and fourth respectively in receiving yards per game. It's fair to argue that no wideout has meant more to his offense this season than Green. The sixth-year receiver has been targeted on 31.3 percent of his team's throws (second in NFL) and has the highest percentage of his team's receiving yards compared to anyone else in the NFL at 38.1.

What makes Green so difficult to defend is how many different ways he can beat you. He excels at getting open, and has an outstanding catch radius on short and intermediate throws. He was able to routinely beat Josh Norman's press coverage at the line of scrimmage two weeks ago, and even forced a few flags to be drawn by the Redskins corner. Green is elite as a deep threat, leading the league in 2016 with seven receptions of 30+ air yards. He's also dynamic in the open field: He's sixth among all wideouts with 271 yards after the catch and seventh among wideouts in forced missed tackles per Pro Football Focus.

Green will be the toughest wideout the Giants secondary has faced thus far. Cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are two big reasons for New York's fourth-best 6.5 yards per attempt allowed, a drastic improvement from last season's 7.7 mark. If they can prevent Green from having a big day, the Giants fortunes would greatly benefit: Cincinnati is 0-4 this season when Green has fewer than 100 receiving yards.

  1. The No. 1 wideout on the other side is no slouch either. Despite a perceived slow start, Beckham's 676 receiving yards (sixth in NFL) and five touchdown catches (T-seventh) are still numbers envied by nearly all. He does, however, only have 44 catches on 80 targets. His reception percentage has plunged each year in the league: 70.0 percent his rookie year to 60.8 last season to 55.0 heading into this Week 10 contest.

Reggie Nelson's departure to the Raiders this offseason has been a big loss for the Cincy pass defense. Bengals safeties George Iloka and Shawn Williams have been brutal in coverage. Corner Adam Jones' play is catching up with his 33-year-old age, and the team is still waiting for former first-rounders Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard to develop into shut-down corners. Beckham seems to always deliver huge prime-time performances (25 catches, 406 yards and 3 TDs in four career MNF games), and this is a secondary ripe to be burnt.

  1. The Giants went on a spending spree this offseason on the defensive side of the ball, and it has paid dividends early on. The G-Men have the NFL's second-most improved defense in 2016 in terms of points per game allowed, cutting it from 27.6 to 20.5. The unit's best player this season, however, wasn't a new acquisition. It's second-year safety Landon Collins. Collins became the first safety to win Defensive Player of the Week in consecutive games since Troy Polamalu back in 2010. He's the only player to lead his team in tackles (69), sacks (3.0) and interceptions (3). He's been a force in both passing and running situations, and has only missed five defensive snaps all season. At just 22, Collins appears to be one of the league's brightest up-and-coming stars.
  1. The Bengals are one of three teams to rank in the top 10 in both passing and rushing yards per game. Yet, they're a disappointing 21st in scoring offense (20.9 points per game). So what gives? Over the first month of the season, Cincy scored a touchdown on 30.8 percent of red-zone trips, last in the league. That number has jumped to 52 percent, but it's still a far cry from 2015's 65 percent success rate. The key to the improvement has been the return of tight end Tyler Eifert. The 6-6 target missed the first six games of the season, and had established himself as Andy Dalton's favorite target near pay dirt. Eifert has 13 touchdowns on 23 red-zone targets, the highest mark of any player.

Another key factor leading to the Giants' defensive improvement, though, has been their defense inside the 20. New York possesses the top red-zone defense in the league. The unit has allowed a touchdown on just 39.3 percent of red-zone drives after a rough 53.9 percentage last year.

  1. Olivier Vernon was one of the most expensive free-agent signings in 2016, however the Giants defensive end has just two quarterback takedowns through eight games. The pass-rushing extraordinaire, who had 25.5 sacks the previous three seasons, is a microcosm of New York's early struggles at generating pressure. But while the Giants are tied for last with 11 sacks, they've heated up with seven over the past three contests.

Protecting Andy Dalton has been a major issue for the Bengals, as the Red Rifle has been disassembled 25 times, the second-highest sum in the NFL (Andrew Luck is the only QB to be sacked more often at 33). Can Vernon and Co. take advantage of Cincy's leaky offensive line?

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