September 2, 2014

Preview: Bengals @ Seahawks

I have had a difficult time deciding exactly how I feel about this week’s game with the Seahawks. Frankly, it’s because the Seahawks are completely inconsistent from week to week. Will they be the team who dropped 36 on the Giants in NY 3 weeks ago? Or will they be the team who mustered an entire 3 points in Cleveland in one of the worst NFL games of the past decade?

The Bengals typically struggle on the West Coast. Then again, this team isn’t your typical Bengals. With Cedric Benson suspended for this game, the keys for the Bengals will come down to two factors: the production of the Scott/Leonard/Peerman and the dominance of the defensive line. Oh, and then there is always the question of whether or not the Seahawks can get much from their banged up guys in key positions.

When the Seahawks have the ball…

Twice the Seahawks have broken out for 30+ points in games against the Giants and Falcons, teams from the NFC East that I would not expect to struggle against a team like Seattle. But in two road games against the AFC North (Pittsburgh and Cleveland), they have dropped a whopping 3 points combined on their opponents. Too bad this game isn’t in Cincinnati.

QB Tarvaris Jackson v. injury. Jackson currently ranks between Donovan McNabb and Kyle Orton in passing yards. With the poor numbers for the crew that (supposedly) protects him, that is not a big surprise. He was participating with the first team yesterday, but I suspect that is driven as much by Charlie Whitehurst’s 35 passer rating against Cleveland as it is by him being ready to return. Look for Zimmer to throw at Jackson every blitz combination in the play book, plus maybe a couple that he draws up in the dirt during the game.

Offensive Line:

The Seahawks’ O-line has allowed 23 sacks in 6 games, more than double the number surrendered by the Bengals. Mike Zimmer’s 8-headed monster will be enthusiastic to add to that number. Will this be the week that Carlos Dunlap records his first sack(s) of the year?

C Max Unger v. DTs Domata Peko and Pat Sims. The Seahawks favor running up the middle. If Unger is able to handle Peko and Sims solo, the running game should gain enough traction to cause problems. But if Peko and Sims can force the Seahawks to give Unger help, then Atkins and other guys behind him could have a very good day.

Running Game:

Football Outsiders ranks the Seahawks’ O-line as #30 in run blocking, and they have rolled up a meager 483 yards in rushing this season. 80.5 yards per game. They managed only 68 yards rushing against Cleveland. can Marshawn Lynch give them a little more punch at home?

RB Marshawn Lynch v. LB Dan Skuta. With lingering back issues that scratched him from last week’s game, I am skeptical that Lynch will be at full potency this week. Skuta was a serviceable replacement for Maualuga against a less-than-potent Colts’ rushing attack. If Lynch can get even get through the defensive line, Skuta should take care of business.

Passing Game:

After being limited to 150-200 yards passing in his first 3 games this year, Tarvaris Jackson appeared to be getting on track before being injured against the Giants. But now the Seahawks face the question of whether to try to get something out of Jackson and risk further injury to him, or to go with Charlie Whitehurst, who passed for all of 97 yards against the Browns. Tough choice if you are a WR for the Seahawks.

WRs Doug Baldwin and Sidney Rice v. CBs Leon Hall and Nate Clements. These two have been the most productive of the receivers: 330 yards for Baldwin and 264 yards for Rice. Neither has as many yards as Jerome Simpson (353), let alone A.J. Green (453).

TE Zach Miller v. LB Thomas Howard. Miller was a nice TE while in Oakland, but things have not shaped up well for him in Seattle. He has 62 receiving to date. Unless Pete Carroll designs several new pages for their play book geared solely around Miller, I trust Howard to keep Miller in check.

When the Bengals have the ball…

Give Pete Carroll’s record at USC, it makes sense that he is building the defense first. And, much as it pains me to say about someone from USC, I respect the method because he is doing it right. They have the skill to make the running game tough, and the Bengals will have to throw to open up the run.

QB Andy Dalton v. poise in the noise. Qwest Field is notoriously loud. I recall after the Bengals played there in 2007, one of the players said it was the loud stadium in which he had ever played. I don’t know if it is fact, but I have heard that the stadium was specifically designed to direct crowd noise toward the field. These conditions will test Andy’s poise as he tries to change plays in an environment where shouting instructions is virtually useless. Despite that, however, I look for Andy to have another solid passing game.

Offensive Line:

I was nearly giddy with how well Whitworth and (most especially) Smith held up against Freeney and Mathis. After those two, Seattle’s ends should seem like a cakewalk by comparison. The challenge will be in the middle and controlling the line of scrimmage to open holes against a team built to stop the run.

C Kyle Cook v. DT Alan Branch. I could write nearly the same thing as I did for Unger v. Peko. If Cook can hold his own, the RBs will benefit. If he needs help, the Bengals will be looking to run Scott and Leonard to the edge as well as make short passes that are almost the same as a run outside.

Running Game:

While everyone points to how easy the Bengals’ schedule has been, no one notes that the Bengals have been through the gauntlet when it comes to run blocking teams. Seattle makes the 4th team in the top 10 of FO’s list of running blocking defensive lines, along with Denver, SanFran and Jacksonville, which may help explain why the running game has not gotten the production we would like.

RBs Bernard Scott, Brian Leonard and Cedric Peerman v. LB David Hawthorne. I am very curious to see how Jay Gruden mixes up the use of these three and how productive they are in the carries they get. The longer we go, the less sold I am on Cedric Benson. Benson isn’t bad, but I’d like to see more of someone who can hit more than singles. Anyone who can do something this week will earn more touches.

Passing Game:

If run defense is the strength of the Seahawks, pass defense is not, ranking around Denver and Buffalo (Andy’s 2 best games, btw).

WRs A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson v. CBs Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: I looove how the WRs block now. And it is coming back to benefit them on other plays. This year the Bengals are far more effective in the passing game. yes, much of that goes to the change at QB, but some of that goes to WRs who will block when their number is not called (unlike the two primary receivers for most of last year).

TE Jermaine Gresham v. LB Leroy Hill. I love the player into which Gresham is developing. He forces teams to defend the middle. If you need a reminder, think back to Daniel Coats. *shudder*

Special teams…

P Jon Ryan v. P Kevin Huber. Jon Ryan? Wasn’t he the guy in Pretty In Pink? Or was that Jake Ryan?

K Steven Hauschka v. K Mike Nugent. Call it a push.

As difficult as Qwest Field will make the game, I don’t see the Seahawks as healthy enough to get it done. If Jackson were coming off of his third 300+ yard passing game and Lynch were running like he used to, I would be a lot more concerned. But the NFL demands guy playing at 100%, and the Seahawks just aren’t good enough all around to compensate for a couple of key guys being hobbled.

The one risk for the Bengals is the game that we all fear is looming but have no idea when it will strike. The one where are the rookie mistakes come together and swirl into a vortex of agonizing frustration. That game is coming. But I don’t think it comes this week.

Final Score: Cincinnati 23. Seattle 13. (Welcome back to first place, boys. You’ve earned it.)