+ We figure if the Cincinnati Bengals are going to defend the Buffalo Bills spread offense, it has to start with the pass rush; supposedly something that football aficionados would declare as obvious.. Last week against the San Francisco 49ers, the Bengals posted five quarterback sacks (four from the defensive line) and an additional eight quarterback hits (six from the defensive line) on Alex Smith. Granted it didn't translate to a victory but it's hard to directly blame the Bengals defense for the loss.
The Bills are simply playing better across the board than the 49ers offense -- and the Broncos offense and the Browns offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the best quarterback the Bengals will face this year and neither the Broncos or Browns sport a better wide receiver group. Fred Jackson is probably the most dynamic running back we'll see in the first half of the season, save for Ray Rice.
So this will be Cincinnati's first test to challenge their third-overall defensive ranking.
Currently the Bengals rank as the league's fifth-best passing defense, allowing an average of 188.3 yards passing per game. Only the Panthers and Steelers have allowed less passes that led to first downs. Sounds great, right? Even though only four teams in the NFL have allowed less 20-yard receptions than the the Bengals, six of the seven 20-yard plus passing plays allowed led to points (five touchdowns, one field goal).
Additionally we wonder if the team's ranking is a little saturated because the offenses that the Bengals have faced are ranked 22nd or worse. Were Colt McCoy, Kyle Orton or Alex Smith a threat to drop 300 yards passing on the Bengals at any point? And it's not like the Bengals have been playing from behind, preventing opposing teams from passing the football. They were leading the Browns early, conclusively winning the game with a 14-point fourth quarter. Cincinnati was either tied or leading the San Francisco 49ers until four minutes remained in the fourth quarter. The biggest deficit the Bengals have faced all season was nine points against the Broncos. Though that's not to take away from the rushing defense shutting down running backs Peyton Hillis and Frank Gore.
All of that being said, the Bengals will need more consistency at cornerback to actively defend against the Bills threatening pass defense; specifically at cornerback.
Cornerback Nate Clements enjoyed a nice reprieve against the San Francisco 49ers, compared to his early struggles against the Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos. On Sunday Clements allowed five of 10 receptions against receivers he covered for only 27 yards receiving -- the longest being an eight-yard reception to Michael Crabtree early in the second quarter -- for an opposing quarterback rating of 56.3. Through three games this year, the former Bills and 49ers cornerback has allowed 225 yards on 16 completed passes, including two touchdowns and a passer rating of 111.5.
Leon Hall struggled against the Cleveland Browns in week one, allowing two touchdowns and an opposing quarterback rating of 125.0. Since then he's allowed only three of seven passes to be completed for 37 yards in the previous two games for an opposing quarterback rating of 69.4 and 39.6 respectively. Combined Reggie Nelson and Chris Crocker have allowed six completions for 82 yards receiving.
Personally I'm eager for this game. I'm not a believer that the Bengals are a bad team; they're developing and growing with each game becoming a step towards something greater. Even the loss to the 49ers was meaningful in the way, hopefully, that develops the team's experience with losing a close game and trying to avoid that feeling next time by winning. And even if the Bengals defense holds the Bills, the offense will need to make significant growth to challenge the undefeated Bills.