The Chiefs face the Bengals on Sunday at Arrowhead in a game that has a plethora of storylines waiting to be written. First, there’s a group of angry and organized Chiefs fans planning to “Blackout Arrowhead” and fly another banner over the stadium. Then we have a scrappy Bengals team fighting for a second consecutive berth in the playoffs and coming off a win over the defending Super Bowl champs facing a Chiefs team that honestly beat itself against a wounded Steelers team and was eventually done in by an overtime turnover in primetime.
And how could we forget the overbearing storyline of this season? No, not the one where the Chiefs hadn’t gained a lead yet this season (we actually had what some experts call a “two-possession lead” on Monday, whatever that is). I’m talking about the fact the Chiefs are still in the Barkley/Smith race, meaning they are still in play for the number one overall pick. And while I don’t think there’s a way on God’s green Earth that the Chiefs are worse than the Jaguars,* they also haven’t given me much hope that they can win another game the rest of the season.**
**And if you want to point to the Steelers game as a turning point with this team and a sign of wins-to-come, I will ask you to look at this year’s close loss to the Ravens and what happened next.
But, as a Chiefs fan and a blogger, I have to stay positive (or would I get more views if I was constantly negative ….?), so I think if the Chiefs were to go on a little run and get some wins, this Bengals team would be the one to do it against (although, I’m hungry for Matt Barkley in a completely heterosexual way and going on a run would probably eliminate the team’s chance to get him).
So, let’s take a look at the Bengals.
To describe the Bengals offense, I want to take you down a hypothetical trip down memory lane. The year was 2007, and the Chiefs were a mixture of new and young. Brodie Croyle, a 2006 third-round pick, was battling for the starter’s position at quarterback and Dwayne Bowe had just been made the team’s first round pick. Now imagine if Brodie Croyle, instead of losing the starter’s battle to Damon Huard (but gaining a lot of male respect because of his hot wife, which I still remember as the star of Hard Knocks) went on to throw for 3,398 yards, 20 TDs, 13 INTs, and be a Pro Bowl substitute player. Now imagine if 1,057 of those yards and 7 of those TDs went to Bowe. And finally, imagine if the team made the playoffs that season.
I imagine that’s the kind of excitement Bengals fans experienced when rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green did just that last season. Dalton, the 2nd round pick, got his shot to lead the team thanks to Carson Palmer finally having enough with the Bengals organization and deciding he’d rather feign retirement than go back to work.* Dalton took advantage of his opportunity, and soon emerged as one of the rising young players at the QB position.
*Yes, there are teams more ill-run than the Chiefs. But the Bengals have been able to distract the fans from this thanks to their first two 2011 picks.
A.J. Green, the number four overall pick in 2011 out of Georgia, didn’t just establish himself as one of the rising young players at his position (Green also made the Pro Bowl his rookie year); he established himself as one of the best wide receivers in the game. And while it’s true that the Bengals don’t really have any other receiving threats outside of Green* (second leading receiver from 2011, Jerome Simpson, left Cincy and jumped to Minnesota as a free agent this summer, although he probably should have heavily considered the Broncos), the fans are excited about the potential of Mohamed Sanu, the team’s third round pick out of Rutgers in 2012. So far, Dalton and Green’s numbers look like this: 2,239 yards (64.4 completion %), 18 TDs, 11 INTs/58 catches, 820 yards, 9 TDs.
Jermaine Gresham, the 2010 first round pick out of Oklahoma, is the next biggest receiving threat after Green. He was the fourth leading receiver in 2010, the third leading receiver in 2011 (his Pro Bowl year), and currently is the second leading receiver this season with 37 catches and 448 yards. The only other tight ends that has catches this season for the Bengals is Orson Charles, the rookie out of Georgia.
After back-to-back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons out of running back Cedric Benson, the team decided to part ways and acquire Patriot’s free agent BenJarvus Green-Ellis.* BenJarvus hasn’t had the impact they were hoping for – 3.4 yards per carry, only 3 TDs but 2 Fumbles lost – but does have 537 yards, so he’s pretty close to the Benson pace.
*Who, thanks to east-coast biased media, we all know is nicknamed “The Lawfirm.”
Before the season began, Rotoworld ranked the Bengals offensive line as the third best in the league. And although the power-zone unit hasn’t quite lived up to that ranking in the advanced metrics – Football Outsiders has them as the 11th best run blocking and 22nd best pass protecting unit – they are still very good. From left to right: Andrew Whitworth, Clint Boling, Jeff Faine, Kevin Zeitler (second of the Bengals two first round picks in 2012), and Andre Smith (Bengals first round pick in 2009).
Currently, the Bengals rank 10th in passing yards per game (252.9) and 25th in rushing yards per game (93.7).
The Bengals used quite a bit of 2012’s draft picks on defensive players, but that’s not because of team struggles in 2011. Cincy actually finished 7th overall in total defense that season. But Cincy was in the position to take the best players available, so they decided that upgrades to their defense would only help. Dre Kirkpatrick was the team’s first selection in 2012, and was hoped to help replace the loss of Jonathan Joseph, who left for the Texans before last season. But the rookie suffered a summer injury and has just now started playing again, only having one recorded tackle. Luckily for the Bengals, they have done a good job filling their defensive backfield.
While NFL.com’s depth chart and the team’s depth chart disagree on who starts where (I’ll trust the team’s website), it still includes two-time Pro-Bowler Terrence Newman at left cornerback, 2007 first round pick and 2009 All-Pro selection Leon Hall at right cornerback, 11-year veteran Nate Clements making the adjustment from CB to strong safety,* and former 2007 Jaguars first round pick, Reggie Nelson, at free safety. The depth behind the starters is excellent as well, including Adam “Pacman” Jones (too many jokes opportunities here to decide between) and 2012 5th round pick George Iloka from Boise State.
Now let’s move to the linebackers, who went through some change this season. Former number nine overall pick from 2008, Keith Rivers*, was traded to the Giants. Then, thanks to injury, one-time first-round-projected-turned-undrafted-free-agent Vontaze Burfict gained the starting role by week five. Ray Maualuga, famously known as the third USC linebacker taken in 2009 draft, sures up the middle while Manny Lawson, the 2006 first round pick by the 49ers, plays strongside linebacker.
But for the Bengals, it starts up front with defensive tackle, Geno Atkins, who made his first Pro Bowl in 2011. He is surrounded by Domata Peko, Carlos Dunlap, and Michael Johnson on the defensive line. Second round pick, Devon Still, plays in a reserve role while Robert Geathers and former Chief Wallace Gillberry come in on situational downs. The starting front four have already contributed 16.5 sacks,* while the backups have contributed another 5.5 (Gilberry with two).
*Atkins responsible for 7 of those.
Currently the Bengals are 19th in passing yards allowed per game (234.7) and 20th in rushing yards allowed per game (118.3).
Mike Nugent – Kicker: 15/17
Kevin Huber – Punter: 41.5 net yards per punt