Bengals who could play a bigger role during second half of season

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The Cincinnati Bengals came out of the gates hot and had a shot at the AFC’s top seed, yet now leave the bye about as flat as it gets.

One of the big reasons? An apparent struggle to adapt, mix it up and keep innovating on both sides of the football. Other teams saw the film and adjusted.

Coming out of the bye, one way to fix this sort of issue is to change things up and get bigger showings from different names. Here are a few players who could have bigger roles in the coming weeks.

RB Joe Mixon

Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Mixon (28) celebrates after a touchdown run during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

It almost sounds silly to say a guy with 636 yards and seven scores on a 4.2 average could see an even bigger workload. But Mixon has been superb despite not playing behind the best line and that’s a thing the coaches could look to lean on, especially in the interests of wearing down defenses in cold weather. If the efficient Mixon handles a big load because he’s squatting on leads late, it means the Bengals are winning.

S Jessie Bates

Cincinnati Bengals free safety Jessie Bates (30) plays the field against the Minnesota Vikings during an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. The Bengals won 27-24. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Let’s address the elephant in the room. A star safety like Bates hasn’t much played like one and he knows it. He told reporters that his contract status played a role in his poor first half. If he’s got his mind right and is back to his usual self, the struggles could turn into big boons instead, which would have a massive ripple effect on the rest of the defense.

CB Tre Flowers

Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Tre Flowers (33) in action during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

The recent waiver claim had a critical showing for the Bengals already. He’s a subpackage player, sure, but he’s already shown he can have a big impact on certain matchups by coming onto the field as a third safety or something similar. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him get an uptick in snaps, especially if coaches want him to rep at corner over Eli Apple.

CB Vernon Hargreaves

Nov 26, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Houston Texans cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (26) celebrates a broken up play during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of possible Apple replacements, Bengals coaches have already hinted that the new arrivals at corner will see an uptick in reps during practice while they compete for playing time. Hargreaves wasn’t great in his last stop, but he might be worth a look instead of Apple with Trae Waynes still out.

OL Hakeem Adeniji

Cincinnati Bengals offensive guard Hakeem Adeniji (77) during an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)

Adeniji took the starting job at right guard from second-round rookie Jackson Carman pretty much as soon as he was available and on short notice. He wasn’t great, but coaches have already said he’ll get another chance to start. That’s two line coaches now that have loved Adeniji and if he puts up a solid showing after a full week of practice, it’s hard to see him letting go of the job.

Edge Khalid Kareem

Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Khalid Kareem (90) before an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

Kareem, a fifth-rounder in 2020, got off IR a couple of weeks back and already pushed aside a guy like Wyatt Ray as an active player on gamedays. He had a fantastic preseason before another shoulder issue. And with the defense struggling to consistently get pressure (besides Trey Hendrickson), he could be in line for a much bigger snap count.

WR Tyler Boyd

Oct 31, 2021; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd (83) looks on before the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

One of the league’s best slot receivers had just two targets in his team’s last outing. That left Bengals coaches trying to explain why it happened. Boyd is third on the team in targets behind Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, which makes some sense for an offense that wants to stretch the field. But with the weather colder and the team needed to do new things that aren’t on film, Joe Burrow and the offense could prioritize chain-moving looks underneath with Boyd much more often starting this weekend.

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