CINCINNATI -- When Vontaze Burfict returned after his three-game suspension last season, the expectation was that he would immediately lift the run defense to another level.
Unfortunately for the Bengals, they ran into Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott -- a red-hot rookie who ran all over Cincinnati for 134 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-14 loss to the Cowboys.
With so much resting on this game against the Bills this week, a similar performance by a running back would be a disaster.
The Bills don’t have an Elliott-type rookie this year, but they do have LeSean McCoy, and they attempt to run the ball more than anyone in the league.
With Jordan Matthews, one of their top receivers, out with an injury for the next few weeks, it’s a good bet they’ll be leaning heavily on the run game again. That’s where the Bengals hope Burfict will make a difference this time.
“He’s a physical presence in there,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said of Burfict.
The Bengals aren’t quite ready to say it out loud yet, but the game against the Bills could be a make-or-break week for their season.
That’s what Bengals coach Marvin Lewis alluded to in his post-game speech after the Bengals beat the Browns.
"Let's get ready for the Buffalo Bills,” Lewis told his team. “That could put us... you know where that could put us."
Where that could put the Bengals is at 2-3 before their bye week.
The Bengals, coming off their first win, need this one badly. It would mean they go into their bye week 2-3 before traveling to Pittsburgh to try to chip into the Steelers’ hold on the AFC North.
But the Bills, considered to be in a rebuilding year prior to their surprising 3-1 start, aren’t going to make that easy. They’ll come into Cincinnati with the league’s top-scoring defense, allowing only 13.5 points-per-game.
Buffalo is capable of making the Bengals’ inconsistent offense miserable, and the defense is going to have to pick up the slack. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther figures he’s got the entire unit clicking at just the right time, and Burfict is just one more addition to his bag of tricks this season.
“We've got guys at all three levels of the defense that can play multiple positions because I tell them every week: It's Week 4 and I think every guy on our defense that's been active has played some snaps,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. “So it's like those video games those guys play, the warrior games they play. You've got a bunch of weapons in your bag so each week it might be a different weapon to knock that opponent down, and it may be more base snaps or more nickel snaps. I'm happy with where we're at right now.”