One of the biggest compliments to the Cincinnati Bengals after keeping Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in check Sunday was the Bengals’ defense’s ability to neutralize Super Bowl quarterbacks in 2013.
When speaking with ESPN before Sunday’s 1:00pm kickoff against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Cincinnati Bengal’s head coach Marvin Lewis talked about the schedule and the caliber of NFL teams they would be facing in 2013.
“When the schedule came out, I think I counted that we played 10 of the last 12 Super Bowl participants,” coach Lewis told ESPN. “Obviously with that comes very good quarterbacks and generally experienced football teams.”
So far this season, the Bengals are 3-0 against Super Bowl championship teams. And big thanks goes to the defense that has held Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady to 63 percent passer rating with two touchdowns and four interceptions. The Bengals’ defense was able to break Brady’s touchdown scoring streak of 52 consecutive games in a defensive clinic at Paul Brown Stadium last Sunday in the 13-6 win over the Patriots.
However, the Bengals have traded tables this season by being 3-0 at home and 0-2 away. Between 2011 and 2012, the team was 11-5 on the road vs. 8-8 at home. With novice quarterback Thad Lewis at the helm for Buffalo, the timing would seem perfect for the Bengals to notch an away victory, but history tells us the Bengals have their work cut out.
In order to change the road-loss stigma, the Bengals are going to have rely on some typical, and not so typical, key aspects.
With the Bengals’ defense starting to steam roll like it did in 2012, the front line could have a field day with Lewis who was recently promoted from the practice squad to replace injured quarterback EJ Manuel. In just one NFL start, Lewis was 22 of 32 for 204 yards, with one touchdown and one interception in a loss against the Steelers on Dec. 30 last year. Chances are good the Bengals will rattle the young quarterback.
After the win over New England, the Bengals defense ranks seventh in the league in points scored at 17.4 a game. The unit will have to show off its 10th-ranked ground game because the Bills rank 3rd in the league in rushing yards at more than 152 yards per game. Seven-year veteran Fred Jackson leads the Bills in rushing yards with 309 yards on 65 carries and four touchdowns.
C.J Spiller leads Buffalo in rushing attempts with 74. Although his stat line isn’t as impressive as Jackson’s at this time, the fourth-year running back is coming off his first 1,000 rushing yard season and gives the Bills a 0ne-two punch in the ground game that a lot of teams are adopting.
With Thad Lewis being a member of the Bills for only five weeks, coupled with the possibility of veteran receiver Stevie Johnson out with injury, the only real threat the Bills pose is on the ground. If Geno Atkins, Domato Peko and the rest of the line can stop Jackson and Spiller, Bengals should get the first road victory of 2013.
2. Which offense will we get?
It was said in last week’s pregame article that Andy Dalton usually comes out and has big games after disappointing ones. Well, last week was the exception to the rule and the third-year quarterback went without a touchdown pass for the second consecutive week – it is only the second time in his career he’s done so. Fortunately for Dalton, the Bills defense is a lot worse than the Browns and Patriots, ranking 18th or lower in passing, rushing, total yards and points allowed. If Dalton is going to get out of his funk, and get comfortable with his star reciever A.J. Green again, Ralph Wilson Stadium is the place to do it.
3. Speaking of Green
A.J Green has gotten out to one of his slowest starts in his three-year career with only one game with 100 yards or more receiving which was the Week 1 loss to the Bears. Green hasn’t come close to getting to 100 yards in the four weeks since, and has only had one catch of 20 yards or more since then.
In all fairness, the offense has been anemic in just about every aspect – including blocking – the past four weeks, and Dalton hasn’t been targeting Green as often. There clearly has been some disconnect between the two, but the suggestion that it could be lack of chemistry or something besides teams effectively challenging Green is nonsense.
Dalton and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden do have to find a way to get Green going, and with the team facing a league average passing defense, now is a good time.
Part of the reason Green hasn’t been getting his usual amount of touches is because Dalton has been spreading the ball around to his other weapons with varying results. Part of that is the looks that defenses are giving him by trying to neutralize Green, another part is Dalton has so many options now.
Two of those options are TE’s Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert. Both are big, fast, hard to tackle and have good hands. For whatever reason, Eifert wasn’t targeted very often against Green Bay and Cleveland; yet, whenever he gets the ball over the middle, it seems often times that he is wide open and gets 20-plus yards – he’s had receptions of 22, 29, and 61 yards in three games.
A huge indicator about how the highly praised duo is being utilized is that neither one has a touchdown catch this year. One of the biggest reasons the Bengals drafted Eifert in the first round was to have a tandem TE set that would be devastating in the red zone. So far this season, red zone passes to TE’s have resulted in an interception by Dalton last week. Eifert and Gresham may not make or break the offense in Sunday’s game against the Bills, but if the Bengals are serious about making a deep playoff run, they are going to have to utilize their TE’s in the red zone.
5. Does history repeat itself?
For those stat nuts that take in every aspect of the game to make predictions, the Bengals have lost the last six appearances in Buffalo, and have only one win out of the last 11 meetings (2011). Some people will use team history as a way to gauge outcomes.
Out of all the stats, I believe this to be the most irrelevant. Now, if we are talking season series history, that is one thing, but how a football team plays another over a decade is of little relevance, especially in football.
In an attempt to overcome “history,” the Bengals will probably change their stroke of misfortune in New York and win out against an overmatched Buffalo team 24-10.