The Cincinnati Bengals head into Washington this Sunday, hoping to double their early season win total, while holding onto first place in the AFC North -- and with some luck, holding onto first place all by themselves. However the Redskins are by no means a push-over. We've identified five match-ups of interest (that doesn't necessarily feature the superstars of the game).
RT Andre Smith vs. LOLB Ryan Kerrigan. When it boils down to it, this match-up could be the most significant of the game for Cincinnati's offense. Maybe we're being a little dramatic, but not by much. Kerrigan is having as fine a start to the season as anyone, already generating nine quarterback pressures, three hits and two quarterback sacks. He's disrupting and strong with a quick enough inside step to beat an offensive tackle like Smith.
Despite that, Smith has had a decent start to the 2012 regular season. He arguably gave up two sacks to Haloti Ngata against Baltimore, but it was more related to assignments and communication than talent. The first Smith was taking a standard drop anticipating an outside rush from the outside linebacker when Ngata split the B-gap with Kevin Zeitler blocking in. On the second Ngata attacked the B-gap with Zeitler blocking when a linebacker looped around. Zeitler pushed the rusher over to Smith and took on the blitzing linebacker. Smith didn't react in time, still focused on the blitzing linebacker when Ngata beat Smith through the gap for a quarterback sack.
Oh my god, that's terrible. Must have been his contract holdout in 2009. Sure. Our point is this: When locked into a man without stunts, loops and basic defensive trickery, Smith is playing strong. The rest of it are things that can be coached. Either way Kerrigan could have a huge impact on Sunday if Smith doesn't play at the top of his game.
From Joe Goodberry: Kerrigan has a jab step outside, plants his left foot and drives back inside towards the quarterback with a bull rush. Andre, sometimes gets too wide in pass pro. That leaves the inside open and could leave him off balance & vulnerable.
WR Andrew Hawkins vs. DeAngelo Hall and DeJon Gomes. Last week against the St. Louis Rams, the Washington Redskins struggled against Danny Amendola, who played a majority of the game in the slot during three-wide sets, posting 15 receptions for 160 yards receiving and a touchdown. And the week before it was a combination of Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Devery Henderson, with a majority of the slot snaps coming from Colston, who posted 71 yards receiving on four receptions.
Andrew Hawkins currently leads the team with 142 yards receiving and second, behind A.J. Green, with ten receptions. For much of the first two weeks, DeAngelo Hall and safety DeJon Gomes defended the slot receiver, along with spot coverage from linebacker Brian Orakpo during base defense, who went on Injured Reserve earlier this week.
LG Clint Boling vs. DE Stephen Bowen. Much like Andre Smith, Cincinnati's starting left guard will have his hands full against Stephen Bowen, who is more of a power rusher that often lines up in the B and C gaps. Bowen already has a quarterback sack and three deflected passes at the line of scrimmage. Last year he generated a career-high 6.0 quarterback sacks, five hits on the quarterback and 13 pressures.
LB Rey Maualuga vs. RB Alfred Morris. Normally we'd point out that Rey Maualuga doesn't necessarily face the opposing running back; instead he'd have more confrontations against the opposing fullback and offensive linemen, players trying to develop lanes for the running back. However Maualuga has been blamed, punched, kicked and bruised since the start of the regular season. If there's a player on the Cincinnati Bengals right now that could use a personal victory, we can't think of anyone more worthy than Maualuga. But first he'll have to help lead a defense against a very productive rushing offense.
And it's our hope that Maualuga takes the frustrated energy into an old school bout of aggression to prove himself during a contract year.
DE Michael Johnson vs. LT Trent Williams. Johnson will have his hands full this weekend, squaring off a Pro Bowl caliber left tackle in Trent Williams. But Johnson has done alright against Pro Bowl offensive tackles this year, generating an early quarterback sack against Joe Thomas last week with a move not unlike a ninja. Williams had a fantastic showing against the New Orleans Saints, but allowed a quarterback sack last weekend against the St. Louis Rams.
Here's the thing with Johnson. We don't see much success as a straight-line pass rusher with someone like Robert Griffin III in the pocket. Instead it has to be a controlled sense of contain, closing the pocket but not forgetting a contain assignment once Griffin steps outside the pocket.