As promised, here is the second part of the ongoing series of taking a pre-preseason look at the Bengals schedule. In part 1, we took a look at the first 4 games of the upcoming season that could give the Bengals a much needed quick start to the season. The toughest match-up in those first 4 games currently appears to be in week 3 when the Defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers come calling into Paul Brown Stadium. Now we are going to look at the next 4 games which start and end with games against the Baltimore Ravens.
Week 5 of the season is a road game to Baltimore, against what many people considered last season the best defense in the league. And at one time, they were ranked as such, but finished the season second to the Steelers in total defense, allowing 261.1 yard per game. What was unexpected was the offense performing at the level it did. It finished a modest 18th overall in total offense averaging 324 yards per game, which was slightly better than the Steelers. The Ravens offense also finished ahead of the Steelers in scoring 24.1 point per game to the Steelers 21.7 points. The biggest surprise of last season was the play of rookie Division I-AA (I know, it has changed to FCS, puke) Delaware Blue Hens Joe Flacco, who helped stabilize an offense that was considered prior to last season anemic at best. But this past offseason may have had the biggest impact on a team known for defense. ILB Bart Scott signed with the New York Jets, and the Ravens still have yet to resign Terrell Suggs who received the Franchise Tag. Suggs has filed a grievance against the Ravens who designated him a Linebacker instead of Defensive End, which results in a salary difference. An agreement has been made splitting the difference, but the NFLPA has not OK'd the deal. Just as the series record with the Browns is even, the overall record for this series is also square at 13-13. However, over the past 9 confrontations, the Bengals own a 6-3 record against the Ravens.
Week 6 presents the Bengals with a rematch of last season's debacle in Houston, which the Texans won 35-6. In that game, the Texans pretty much did what they wanted on whatever play they wanted to run. Some prognosticators had the Texans finally making the playoffs last season, but a slow start put them in a hole they never were able to climb out of. But with a 4-1 finish, expectations of making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history should become prominent. With a high powered offense, expectations could become reality. Matt Shaub developed rapidly last season under the tutelage of third year head coach Gary Kubiak sparking the offense last season that finished 3rd overall with an average of 382.1 yards per game. But the defense proved to be the Texans Achilles heel finishing 22nd overall allowing 336.6 yards per game. Knowing the defense needs improvement, the Texans 2009 draft focused on that area taking SoCal OLB Brain Cushing in the first round and then drafting DE Conner Barwin from Cincinnati in the second. Both are expected to make in immediate impact. The Texans 2009 free agency season looked to have a youth movement flavor with the releasing of 11 year pros Ahmad Green and Ephraim Salaam and signing DE Antonio Smith (5 years NFL experience) from Arizona and OLB Cato June (6 years experience) who was released from Tampa Bay. Since the Texans entered the NFL in 2002, they have met the Bengals a total of 4 times with the Bengals owning the better end 3-1.
Week 7 brings another NFC North foe hailing from the Windy City of Chicago. The Bears, over the past few years have seen their share of ups and downs, from an appearance in the Super Bowl against the Indianapolis Colts, to struggling just to figure out who the better quarterback was between Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman. With the trade of Kyle Orton to Denver for Jay Cutler, Rex Grossman is now considered odd man out waiting to be signed. If he had any hopes of becoming the starter, they were dashed when the trade was made. The irony of this match-up is that the Bengals were slated to face both Orton and Cutler this season, but in different uniforms prior to the trade. The 2005 game against the Bears may not have been an offensive domination by the Bengals (244 yard total offense), but it became the second game in a row the defense picked off 5 passes in a game for 2005, winning 24-7. Last season, the Bears played more like Cubs as the offense finished the season 26th overall averaging 295.5 yards per game and the defense finished 21st overall allowing 334.7 yard per game. But the Bears did take a step at improving the defense, if you call their first pick overall coming in the 3rd round (68th overall) a step at improvement, by taking DE Jarron Gilbert from San Jose St. They did get a compensatory pick for the 3rd round taking WR Juaquin Iglesias from Oklahoma. In free agency, the Bears looked to improve their offensive line with the signing of Orlando Pace who was released by the St. Louis Rams after 12 years of service. This game will be the 9th time they have met with the Bengals owning a 5-3 record in the series.
Week 8 brings the bye week; hopefully the injury list will not be full of players placed on IR as it has been the past couple of years.
Week 9 is a rematch against the Ravens, this time in confines of Paul Brown Stadium. This will be the third home game in a row for the season and will allow the Bengals no travel for an entire month. Under Marvin Lewis, the Bengals have not responded well after the bye week compiling a 1-4-1 record that includes a 2003 victory over Baltimore and last season's kissing of their sister against Philly. In rematch games against the Ravens held at home, the Bengals hold a 5-3 record with the last victory coming in 2006.
If the Bengals get off to a respectable start in the first 4 games, this could help the Bengals build on the momentum they have established. It would depend on how well they respond against the Ravens, a team that surely will be one of the favorites to win the division. If the Bengals somehow sweep these games, this could help them gain more confidence going into the final 8 games of the season.