It's Week 4 and the good guys have yet to taste defeat. Even though the records of the Bengals' three vanquished opponents is only 3-3 when not counting the Bengals, it's looking like each team may actually be a decent NFL club. The 0-3 Ravens have a point differential of -14. The Raiders are 2-1. Surprisingly, the Chargers may be the weakest team the Bengals have faced thus far, and they are not particularly weak as long as Philip Rivers is at the helm with a bevy of weapons at his disposal.
Week 4 brings the Kansas City Chiefs to town. Despite their 1-2 record, their -10 point differential tells more of the story, especially when you consider that they had close losses to both Denver and Green Bay, who are among the NFL's elite right now. While their offense features a few solid weapons in Jamaal Charles, Travis Kelce, and Jeremy Maclin, it's the star-studded defensive front that can really cause problems. The combination of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali can make life miserable for opposing offenses.
With all of that said, these are the Bengals who could be the difference makers this week. As usual, I am not putting Andy Dalton on this list because I could do that every week.
1) Shawn Williams
I may be jumping the gun here, but I am not expecting George Iloka to be a factor this week. The combination of him pulling himself from the game against Baltimore, and the reason being an injury that has been nagging him since Week 1 does not make me particularly confident that he will be seeing extensive action. Luckily, the Chiefs run the type of offense that Williams is built to defend. He is a solid tackler who likes to play close to the line of scrimmage. Alex Smith only averages 7.39 yard per attempt, which puts him 15th among qualifying QBs. Smith is notoriously averse to taking shots downfield, and the Chiefs' biggest weapon, Charles, does most of his damage in the running and screen games. If Williams has a good game defending Charles in space, the Chiefs will likely struggle to put points on the board.
2) Andre Smith
Big Smitty will be tasked with containing Justin Houston for most of the day. It goes without saying that the man who had 22 sacks last year could make things rough for Andy Dalton. Bryan Bulaga held Houston to zero sacks last week, so the task isn't impossible. Smith has been playing well this year, but Houston is the type of player who can give him problems. He is explosive off of the snap, and Smith isn't the most nimble lineman in the world. Expect a lot of quick hitting pass plays to keep Dalton clean, and I'd also expect a large dose of Jeremy Hill. That will allow Smith to go downhill at Houston in the run game, which is where he really excels and would help him wear Houston down.
3) Mohamed Sanu
As I just mentioned, I would expect some quick-hitting passes to keep our QB clean this week. We all know what Gio Bernard brings to the screen game, but I think Sanu will have the opportunity to contribute here as well. In my opinion, Sanu is the best receiver the Bengals have in the screen game. His size and strength allow him to overpower defensive backs to break tackles, but he still has enough speed and elusiveness to be a threat if he breaks free. If I had to pick a potential breakout player this week, Sanu would be my guy.
4) Jeremy Hill
Hill is going to have to do something, because much to my surprise, Gio Bernard has been far more effective in every game this year, and it hasn't even been close. I came into the year expecting Hill to establish himself as one of the 2-3 best backs in the NFL. Right now, he's not even the best back on his team. This week is the type of matchup where Hill can be even more useful than usual, though. The best way to keep the Houston/Hali duo from pinning their ears back and making Andy Dalton's life hell is to run the football right at them. Hill's running style is far more suitable for doing this than Bernard's, so it's time for Jeremy to #GetTurnt.
5) Carlos Dunlap
While Alex Smith doesn't possess the ability/desire to push the ball down the field, he is an accurate short-to-medium passer. Charles, Kelce, and Maclin are exactly the type of players who can turn those short passes into huge gains. With the inconsistent tackling the Bengals' linebackers and secondary has displayed, the best way to keep this from happening is to pressure the quarterback. We all know about Geno Atkins, but Dunlap doesn't seem to get his due for whatever reason. Dunlap has been one of the most consistent performers for Cincinnati and was the best defensive player on the roster last year. He'll be facing Eric Fisher, who has struggled to adjust to playing right tackle in the NFL. His PFF score of -17.5 last year was actually a vast improvement from his rookie season. Dunlap's combination of athleticism and length has made him very effective against both the run and pass. Look for him to set up camp in the Chiefs' backfield on Sunday.