The Bengals are angry and disappointed. They were outplayed last week by a competitor that most still believe is an inferior foe. To some degree, they should be humbled by the experience and, if nothing else, should have learned the lesson that mediocre performances simply will not do in the NFL. This week they are presented with good medicine in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Yes the Bucs won their first two games but it seemed to impress no one. In the games I've seen this year, it's clear that the talent level on this team is still far from where they want it. With few impact players on this team racking up many more wins goes from slim to worse.
Still, the Bengals must play hungry to avoid an even greater disaster than what they experienced a week ago. As shabby as the Bucs appear to be, they are still a group of professionals, and if given the chance, can easily turn the game into another scary affair.
Bucs offense vs. Bengals defense
The best part for the Bucs—at least for their future—is their young quarterback, Josh Freeman. Here is a big strong lad with a big strong arm and two fast and active legs. The worst part is their porous offensive line that forces Freeman to use those legs more than he, or the franchise, would like.
Against Carolina, Freeman avoided multiple sacks and made enough plays scrambling out of the pocket to prolong drives and ultimately score enough points. The Panthers didn't blitz much in that game, but the front four did enough by themselves to keep Freeman from getting comfortable in the pocket. Against the Steelers, Freeman was never sure who was coming after him and settled for far too many check-downs to his backs on passing plays. Tampa Bay's pass protection is simply not good enough to stick with a game plan and any success the Bucs experience this season will come from Freeman's ability to improvise and make plays on his own.
That's why this game is a chance for the much maligned front four of the Bengals to pad their stats some. While Cleveland may have some glaring deficiencies elsewhere on their team, their offensive line is not particularly one of them and the lack of any decent pressure last week was a testament of that. Against this group on Sunday, however, should be a different story, and if Cincinnati can't force Freeman out of his rhythm, it may be a telling sign that they have not improved in that category from last year after all.
Of course Tampa Bay would like to run the ball and protect their young quarterback. Without many decent receiving threats, Cadillac Williams and LaGarret Blount, would like nothing more than to chew up yards and clock when they have the ball. If this offensive line has a strength, it's run blocking, but they aren't maulers per say, and Cincinnati, despite allowing 100 yards to Hillis, is a strong run defense.
The key for the Bengals is forcing the pass on third down and getting real pressure on those occasions. Freeman may very well become a star in this league someday; it's up to the Cincinnati defensive line to ensure that doesn't happen this Sunday.
Bengals offense vs. Buccaneers defense
Without a doubt, this is a defense that can be attacked through the air. There are no real pass-rushing threats along Tampa Bay's defensive line, and, outside of Barrett Ruud, the linebackers are average at best. After seeing Palmer throw accurately against Cleveland's secondary, there's no reason to think he can't do the same in this matchup. The ancient Ronde Barber has surpassed his glory days and is quickly becoming a very slow corner in this league. While the Bucs still show the classic Tampa-2 defensive scheme—a cover-two formation that has been a mainstay in the Bucs' defensive game plan—the speed on that side of the ball simply isn't what it was in the franchise's glory days. The weak spot against this defense is deep across the middle. The Bengals game plan should be focused around Jermaine Gresham as he can find lots of space between the hash marks 20 or so yards down the field. If Gresham isn't there or is doubled, Terrell Owens can use that part of the field and have another big day on similar routes like the ones he had against Cleveland. And if they dare leave Chad Ochocinco alone in single coverage, well, good luck with that.
Of course to make any of that possible, the line must hold up in their own pass protection and allow Carson Palmer to relax in the pocket. If they continue to sputter out on third downs and in the red zone, any team can stay in the game. Outside of X's and O's, of footwork and technique, this line needs to get angry and throw the Bucs defenders around the field. This was a unit that used to be a grizzly bunch of ugly warthogs that made Sundays a brutal affair for the opposition, but lately has been the ones leaving with bruised bodies and egos. The offensive line needs a good showing, and this is a team to regain their confidence against.
Sure, it also would be nice to run against Tampa Bay and maintain field position and time-of-possession, but this is a team that should be attacked with the pass—the deeper the better. Pittsburgh scored four touchdowns in the first half, and coasted the rest of the way to the win. It doesn't make sense to keep the score low and allow a bad team to hang tough and gain confidence heading into the fourth quarter. Against certain opponents, it isn't always logical to go for jugular and run out to a big lead, but it does this Sunday because the Bucs sometimes allow such a thing to happen. Let's end the suspense early this week and have the game wrapped up by the middle of the third quarter. I need an easy game to keep my blood pressure down. They don't all have to be so harrowing.
This is a good chance to send a message that the Bengals aren't just all talk and can blow out an inferior team. Doing so would help Cincinnati's confidence heading into their bye week. After this game, the schedule becomes a trail of thorn bushes and fire-breathing dragons. Marvin Lewis' team isn't exactly in a healthy state of mind these days; a big convincing win in Week 5 is just the elixir they need to clear out the cobwebs.
Bengals 27, Buccaneers 10
Mojokong—this town needs a break after what happened on Wednesday.