Boy, some bad news has really stolen some of the momentum away from a team that was beginning to build a little excitement. Sunday’s game will be a test if this team can push through the distractions and focus on beating a 49ers team with its own set of problems. Here are my keys for the Bengals to notch a win in the home opener. (Feel free to add your own keys below.)
The Bengals will beat the 49ers if they…
…can find some success running the ball. A 100-yard day for Benson does not seem likely against the #1 rushing defense in the league right now. But SF has not yet faced a RB with a game like Ced’s. (They have only faced Marshawn Lynch (Seattle) and Felix Jones (Dallas), 2 RBs that Football Outsiders rates in the bottom 8 of 38 backs with 16+ carries. Ced is #13.) And Marvin admitted this week that he needs to do a better job of getting the ball to Bernard Scott.
…convert 3rd downs. Gresham and Caldwell have to find soft spots in the secondary, because Dalton and Green were such a potent combination last week that SF will send help to whomever is trying to cover Green. Gruden needs to keep every option on the table. Another 1-of-11 day on 3rd down will result in another loss.
…control the line of scrimmage on defense. They need to rebuild from a rough game in Denver and play SF like they played Cleveland. SF’s O-line should provide them a good opportunity to shake their groove thing and wreak some havoc.
The Bengals will be in trouble if they…
…let Ted Ginn Jr. run wild on returns. SF will struggle to move the ball. Remember, they are averaging 231 yards/game of offense. Long fields will result in punts, not points. Special teams must keep Ginn contained kickoffs through the endzone, punts toward the sidelines, and sound tackling.
…allow Dalton to be pressured regularly. Boling and Livings will have their mettle tested by a D-line that will seek to rattle Dalton’s timing. Frequent hurries, QB hits, and sacks will lead to plenty of 3rd-and-longs and busy day for Huber. Or worse. I am concerned that we could see Dalton’s first lost fumble, especially if it should give SF a short field.
…lose track of TEs Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. John Thornton postulated this week that Walker could a factor if the Bengals key on Davis. They do need to be constantly around Davis, but they can’t release Walker in doing so. Hall, Clements and Jennings must hold their own against a mediocre receiving core so that the rest of the seconday knows where these two are at all times.
Other factors to consider…
– It is the home opener. Players always want to be at their best in their first game in front of the home crowd. These guys believe in each other, and the want the fans to have a reason to believe in them too.
– It is SF’s first road game. They have not had to deal with crowd noise so far this year. PBS may only be 2/3 full on Sunday, but the crowd will still make it hard for an impotent offense to communicate.
– SF does not travel east well. 3-19 in the eastern time zone over the past few years is brutal. It is enough of a factor that they are spending next week at Youngstown State before playing the Eagles next week to get used to EDT.