The Bengals face a Chiefs team limping on its last leg. After coming up short in a valiant Monday Night effort, and already feeling downtrodden due to a 1-8 record, it seems logical to assume that Kansas City has checked out on the season.
Last week in Pittsburgh, they found themselves in an ugly game. The Chiefs became the first team I can think of that actually knocked Ben Roethlisberger from the game, and then proceeded to blitz the crap out of backup Byron Leftwich but to no avail. They bumbled along in the rain with terrible penalties and a horrific passing game, but still managed to force overtime. They received the kickoff and then promptly threw a pick that sealed any chance to stick it to their former coach, Todd Haley.
On the flipside, the Bengals are coming off of their most complete game of the past three seasons. The beat down of the New York Giants earns a rousing applause. The secondary, labeled as too slow to guard NFL receivers, completely eliminated any threat of a Giants passing attack, blanketing the New York stars on offense. The linebackers flew around and made tackles and the defensive line put twenty hits on Eli Manning. Twenty! The offensive line blocked like the Great Wall of China, Andy Dalton was accurate, and the receivers showed muscle as they pulled in tough grabs in the end zone. In a word, it was perfect.
How can the Chiefs compete with all their strength and attention this week? They must be deflated in nearly every way after a late, cold, rainy, and oh-so-close loss last week. The 2012 campaign has been an epic bust. Prior to the season, I thought Kansas City would be strong after getting back so many crucial pieces that were injured the season before. Turns out their depth is nowhere near stable enough to win and the coaching staff has been flummoxed by an abundance of turnovers, penalties and bad luck. There are still seven games on the schedule, but these matches are merely formalities at this point. The Chiefs will win at least one more game before the end, but I feel they are too mortally wounded right now to come out on top. The players and coaches are probably wondering what the point of football is these days and who can blame them?
That being said, the Bengals have laid down against lame ducks like this before. The Cleveland loss in Week 5 stills stings like rubbing alcohol on an open sore, and hopefully the acute pain of that game still resonates in the psyche of the Bengal players. The euphoria they earned with the slaughtering of the Giants could be swiftly blown away in the breeze of a letdown in Arrowhead Stadium this Sunday. They must come out with energy and urgency to keep the torch of the season aflame.
If the Bengals defense can repeat even a fraction of their output from a week ago, they will win with relative ease. Matt Cassell has been deplorable this year. I don’t know if it is his backup-quarterback colors shining through or if he’s reached a premature end to his effectiveness in this league, but either way, he looks really bad. The Chiefs will desperately attempt to avoid throwing the ball. For all the negativity swirling around the Chiefs, they can sometimes run the ball well. Their line has been depressingly bad pass-protecting—free agent tackle Eric Winston has made more enemies than friends in KC due to his lackluster pass blocking—but they aren't bad run blockers. They like running to the right behind Winston and guard Jon Asamoah, but Asamoah is out this week and the Bengals defense is good at moving laterally and stopping the stretch handoff and other long-developing running plays. Jamaal Charles is shifty, fast, and elusive, but because he goes outside on most of his runs, I find him less of a threat against this defense. Instead, I find Peyton Hillis to be a larger threat, both literally and figuratively. The Bengals have struggled against straight-ahead runners this season. Jonathan Dwyer and Montario Hardesty both tore off big gains against Cincinnati, running straight ahead. Sometimes KC gets too cute with Hillis and asks him to make the same kind of runs that Charles excels at, but from what I've seen, these attempts result in very limited success. The Bengals must be stout up the middle, andwith a healthy Pat Sims in the fold, that seems to be a doable mission.
When the Chiefs are forced to pass, I expect them to be mauled by the Cincinnati front four. I've seen a couple of different men line up at left guard for the Chiefs and each one seems to pass protect poorly. If these guards play at their standard back-up level, Geno Atkins will feast upon their unfortunate souls. And if that isn't bad enough for KC, Carlos Dunlap appears to have awoken from his midseason slumber. The pass rush continues to be the most feared facet of this entire Bengals roster and they should really hit their stride against such a maligned group.
Offensively, I wouldn't expect a point explosion. There are still some quality defenders on the Chiefs roster, namely Tamba Hali. Derrick Johnson, Brandon Flowers and Eric Berry are also notable players, but Hali hustles his ass off and is truly a force to be reckoned with. The Bengals offensive line was sterling last week against what many consider one of the best pass-rushing groups in the league, but they cannot let up against Hali and his mates. We all saw what happen to Big Ben, and Andy Dalton surely is not as tough as Roethlisberger.
If they do keep Red clean, though, there’s no reason they shouldn't enjoy at least a moderate amount of success in the air. The Chiefs have been lousy containing opposing tight ends this year and Jermaine Gresham continues to progress in his career, albeit slowly. It’s the other tight end, Orson Charles, though, that I expect to garner some postgame praise for his play. Charles has quietly put together a pleasant rookie season, displaying the ability to be a viable pass catcher and he and Gresham should be able to find an advantage in double tight-end formations on Sunday. No one can contain A.J. Green, so there isn't concern there, and Mohamed Sanu appears increasingly comfortable in his role on the offense. In general, the Bengals passing attack is really their only real way to score points for this team, so I would expect more of the same, but it is vital that Dalton is protected well to really put up some larger point totals. The running game is still a mystery and there is no sign of improvement with the current personnel, so don’t expect much help on the ground this week. Knowing how Marvin Lewis goes about his business, however, against such a turnover-prone team like the Chiefs, look for the Bengals to play ultra-safely on offense and wait for KC to throw a pick or put the ball on the ground.
As it has been proven countless times, nothing ever makes total sense in this league, and nothing is ever that easy, so no one should go into this one feeling certain about anything. Still, this is a bad and worn out Chiefs team with nothing left to play for other than pride and money. The organization can say it isn't giving up, but it’s run by humans who are subject to emotion. They will come out flat and be physically handled by a cautious and focused Bengals team. I don’t expect many points, but I expect a win.
Bengals 17, Chiefs 6
Mojokong—climbing the rungs of the football ladder.