Our 3-0 Bills are heading off to play the 1-2 Bengals this Sunday. Many fans see Cincinnati as a lightweight team with a vulnerable rookie QB and a lackluster offense. In some regards that assumption is correct. Andy Dalton, despite being one of the more NFL capable rookie QBs this year still has yet to find a solid rhythm. That has not stopped him from completing 60% of his passes however and is currently the 21st ranked QB. Dalton can be susceptible to blitzes if last week's game against the 49ers have taught us anything.
The Bills pass rushers have talent, but have either been underutilized or haven't had the opportunity to create plays managing just 2 sacks (an NFL low). Lets assume that George Edwards and Chan Gailey plan on stepping it up a notch to take off some pressure from a depleted secondary. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis will in turn to the ground to try to open up some room for his QB.
STOPPING CEDRIC BENSON
Despite my best efforts (not really), Roger Goodell has yet to suspend Cedric Benson for an offseason offense. Benson, the starting runningback for the Bengals is averaging just around 4 yards a carry at this point, nothing too incredible right... Wrong! The former first rounder in his last two seasons with the Bengals has ran for over 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons. Currently averaging 80+ yards a game (7th in the league for yardage), Benson is poised for a career high of 1,300 yards this year. Last time the Bills faced Benson, Benson had a field day running to the tune of 124 yards (5 yards per carry) and a TD.
Ready to meet him however is a younger, more athletic defensive line. The Bills defenders have been showing drastic improvements after having let teams run for a NFL high 170 yards per game. Despite being currently ranked 24th, the Bills defenders have been stuffing running-backs all season long surrendering only 116 yards a game against some of the league's best.
Going up against Kansas, the Bills did a great job of limiting pro-bowler Jamaal Charles to just 56 yards (albeit 5.6 yards a carry). Charles statistically though had been averaging 6 yards a carry with back to back 1,000 yard seasons (1467 in the last). Fast forwarding to the Raiders thriller win, the Bills run defense had perhaps their best game of the year. Pro-bowler Darren McFadden currently is on pace to break 2,000 yards rushing assuming he continues to run 130 yards a game (6.4 a carry). Buffalo however stuffed McFadden to just 72 yards with an incredible average of just 3.6 yards a carry! (Like Benson, McFadden was drafted fourth overall) . Then in their defining victory over the Patriots (who are admittedly more of a pass team), the Bills limited their number one and two rushers, Green-Ellis and Woodhead to just 39 combined yards or 2.5 yards a carry.
The one area of the Bills run defense that they need to be more wary about are containing the backup runners where Buffalo has been giving up more yards a carry. A final thought though is that the Bills have given up just one rushing TD so far (Jinx knocking on wood) and have done well to stop offenses on the goal line.
ESTABLISHING THE FRED JACKSON SHOW EARLY
One of the more electrifying runners of the 2011 season in turn has been all-purpose, fan favorite Fred Jackson. Jackson is on an incredible pace right now having rushed for more than 300 yards in 3 games (do the math) with a touchdown per game. More impressive is his 6.4 yards per carry that is tied for the best by starter in the NFL by none other than the aforementioned Darren McFadden. Jackson is also the only runner with 300+ yards rushing and 100+ receiving. This is also against teams that have a fairly strong defensive line (much like the Bengals have now). Kansas and New England in particular had strong defensive run units last year giving up around 110 yards per game (not per player), with New England at 92 yards this year.
In the past few games, Jackson has has been a force early on, but underutilized in my opinion during the game. The result is offensive stagnation in the first half. Fortunately the Bills have been able to rebound also be using Jackson on the ground, blocking or catching. Side note: I chose the screen-name DynamicHero22 in no small part than to pay homage to Fred Jackson.
Using Fred Jackson will be harder against the Bengals though. For all their offensive struggles, the Bengals defense was been a lot more virulent than last year. The pass game, which the Bills have been amazing with these past few weeks with Fitz will face a tougher Bengals secondary (which like the Raiders and Patriots has some injuries) that is currently ranked 5th in the NFL (188 yards a game). If the Bills have learnt anything this past month is that they need to balance the playbook more. However, this idea may have problems given that the Bengals are also are ranked seventh against the run with only giving up an incredible 88 yards per game.
Pro running back Peyton Hillis was limited to 3.4 yards a carry in week one. (The Hated) Willis McGahee meanwhile did record 101 yards rushing but at only 3.6 yards a carry. The biggest game the Bengals 'D' had was when they limited Pro-Bowler Frank Gore to just 42 yards, 2.5 a carry. With the exception to Denver (whom the Bengals lost to), neither Cleveland or San Fran has a great pass game, so keep that in mind.
The last time Fred Jackson ran against the Bengals though, he ran for 116 yards and 2 TDs with 5.5 yards a carry so it will be interesting how Jackson will be able to worm/power his way through this week. Of course, the Bills run game has been successful in no small part to their rejuvenated offensive line. It will also be interesting to see how/how successfully the Bills will use backup C.J. Spiller in the game given his ups and downs so far this year.
Ultimately it comes down to one of the better offenses (Bills) facing one of the top defenses (Bengals). The Bills will need to contain Benson, but if their prior play has any indication, the Bills should be able to do this. If the Bills want to move the ball early, they will need to involve the run more early and successfully with the Bengals trying to the dame. The big aspect to describe this week is therefore indeed trench warfare.