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Bengals and Redskins Preview: Set The Edge

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Larry French - Getty Images

From what I'm told, the seats inside FedEx field are a tight squeeze. Leading the league in capacity, Dan Snyder does everything he can to pack them in on Sundays. What he's done recently, of course, is add a premium playmaker and a crown jewel piece to the franchise. Robert Griffin III should keep fans from doing much sitting in those tiny seats for years to come with his electrifying skill set and dynamic ability. Sunday will be his the first true display in Washington. Like a Smithsonian exhibit, Skins fans will marvel at the rare and gifted abilities of RGIII. He fuels excitement. He's a human sports-drink.

On the other end of all of this are the Cincinnati Bengals. After a pitiful opener followed by a tie-loosening win over the Browns, Bengals fans are still waiting for a faith-restoring performance worthy of calming their nerves and relaxing their anxiety about this team. The defense continues to smack of mediocrity and while statistically not bad, Andy Dalton has not been at his best—no matter what the national media say.

There is a lot to be encouraged by within this offense. You can see the growth in this squad and I think they will really begin to come into their own soon. That being said, I feel that the team still isn't entirely on the same page offensively yet. While not taking any real shots, Dalton was sacked six times last week and almost all of them were the result of a busted play or a bad read. The pocket presence that was so sharp for Dalton last year just hasn't been that impressive so far in 2012. He looks freaked out more often and when the first read hasn't been there, there's been no plan B in place to prevent a loss on the play. I still think Jermaine Gresham is vital to this offense and if he doesn't raise his game soon, there will be a gaping void where a major weapon should be and the results will become tangible. Andrew Hawkins has dazzled as most of us Bengal fans expected, but he still seems to be taken too lightly by the opposition. The success of Hawkins has lessened the letdown of Gresham's lack of impact, but Gresham must realize the physical monster that he is. His brain must work with his huge frame and stay focused through the whistle. There's no question that focus is all he lacks.

And while Gresham remains a potential mismatch against nearly every team, I think it will be Hawkins who again will be the difference maker. The Washington secondary is not that great on tape. Danny Amendola absolutely torched them last week, mostly on shallow crossing routes and Hawkins is a similar kind of slot receiver. It was reported that there was some dissension in the ranks within the Redskin coaching staff, resulting in defensive backs coach, Raheem Morris, calling man-to-man plays over defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's zone scheme. If the Skins go back to Haslett and the zone, Baby Hawk is the ideal player to find open spaces underneath and keep drives alive. If they go man-to-man, they will have to match up with A.J. Green individually and that doesn't bode well for any cornerback in the league. Look for Washington to blitz from the safety and nickle spots on third down in order to compensate for the loss of their best pass rusher, Brian Orakpo, out with a torn muscle. I think Dalton will continue to throw the ball often and end up with another day of high yardage, but I would like to see him in even more command of this offense.

Defensively the Bengals must account for the speed of the Washington offense. Even though Pierre Garcon is looking iffy to go on Sunday, the Skins employ other speedsters who they like to get the ball to early and in space. The Redskins run so many of their plays out of the shotgun read-option. They almost always play-action in the shotgun formation, but, of course, sometimes their new running back, Alfred Morris, takes the hand off and runs off tackle. Then RGIII will take it himself and skirt to the outside. Then he will play-action and throw a quick bubble screen to his fast, kick-returner-like receivers. Then he will fake the bubble screen and instead fire it to his tight end, Fred Davis, on a seam route up the middle. So many options.

For the Bengals, the defense has to set the edges on the outside. Carlos Dunlap returns this week to assist a struggling Bengals pass rush, but he and the other defensive ends have to be sure not to get too far upfield or sucked into the scrum of blockers. Keeping RGIII in the pocket and sacrificing up-the-gut runs for outside containment should be the plan against such a dynamo at quarterback. If Mike Zimmer is going to blitz, he should do so from the middle to flush Griffin out into the awaiting ends. Zimmer has used similar strategies for Ben Roethlisberger to prevent him from rolling out and improvising his way into a big play. If RGIII can shake-and-bake his way to the flats and become the duel-threat that Mike Shanahan envisions of him, the slowish Cincinnati secondary has no chance to cover the speed of the Washington passing attack for that long. If the edge isn't set, the points could go up in bunches.

When the schedule first came out, most locked this up as a Bengals win. Now, three weeks into the actual games, there is a new feel to this match-up. Marvin Lewis teams in the past have thrived when the spotlight moves away from his team and onto a more interesting media spectacle like RGIII. The hype is certainly strong with this young Jedi and the expectations are rapidly growing. Those ninety thousand or so fans squished into a giant FedEx box somewhere in Maryland on Sunday will expect fireworks. If they get their wish early in the game, the momentum may spin out of control and allow Robert Griffin III to feel unstoppable. If the Bengals defense can somehow humble him, the respect will swing back their way. There's a lot on the line for it only being Week 3. Many lingering questions should be answered by Sunday night. Hope I got the wrong feeling.

Redskins 31, Bengals 28

Mojokong—a lot to prepare for.