Cincinnati Bengals Week 11 Preview: West Coast Warm-Up Against Raiders

B. Clifton BurkeCorrespondent INovember 20, 2009

PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 15:  Chris Crocker #42 and Chinedum Ndukwe #41 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrate in the bench area en route to an 18-12 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers during their game at Heinz Field on November 15, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Bengals defeated the Steelers 18-12. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

It seems too easy to pile on Al Davis and the Oakland Raider Asylum; that bit has done before, so we'll just skip it altogether.


Instead, the focus this week for the Bengals is preparing for the best thing the Raiders have going for them: their location.


Every week it seems Cincinnati is issued a new challenge to disprove the Same-Old-Bengals Theory. For Week 11, the challenge is to show they can travel to the West Coast and win.


In a sense, flying to Oakland is the practice run for the San Diego game later this season. Instead of arriving on Friday like they normally do when heading west, Marvin Lewis has decided to fly out on Saturday to cut down on jet lag and squeeze in an extra day of practice. How effective that decision becomes will likely determine the team's itinerary for the Chargers game.


The game itself shouldn't be much of an issue for the Bengals. While maintaining a few good defenders, Oakland remains laughably dismal on offense, recently exemplified by the benching of former first overall pick JaMarcus Russell for the journeyman and third-string-caliber Bruce Gradkowski.


Bengal fans will recall Gradkowski from when he played for Tampa Bay and beat Cincinnati in a nauseating game in 2006. That game could be the best of Bruce's career; nowadays he seems one step away from videotaping himself throwing footballs in a cornfield, like Uncle Rico.


Yet the Raiders can run the ball some, and in close games, that attribute makes them scary, but I don't expect the game to be close. The Bengals stop the run better than they do anything else, which forces obvious throwing downs.


Oakland would like to limit Gradkowski's throws to the bare minimum. They know on third-and-long situations Mike Zimmer will bring the heat with the blitz, so I would expect them to try short throws to their talented tight end Zach Miller and screens to the solid running back trio of Michael Bush, Justin Fargas, and especially Darren McFadden.


The Raider rookie receivers are lightning-fast—Al Davis is unabashedly addicted to speed—but they drop lots of passes and are generally unimpressive. Our corners, perhaps the best tandem in the league, might need a little safety help on deep routes but can take care of these youngsters on underneath routes and around the sidelines on their own.


It makes no sense to think the Raiders can do anything against a run-stopping, pass-rushing defense with excellent corners like Cincinnati's.


Still, I don't see a Bengals blowout this week as should be the case against such miserable opposition.


Oakland has good corners too. Nnamdi Asomugha is a top-five corner, and Chris Johnson has shown a lot of skill as well.


The Bengals would prefer not to throw much anyway. A light workload for Carson Palmer this week (and the two weeks after that) can only be beneficial for the quarterback's long-term sustainability this season; I'd rather have him firing touchdowns for three weeks in January, as opposed to three weeks in November.


That means, without Cedric Benson, the other running backs will get a chance to carry the rock, including maybe the newest Bengal acquisition, Larry Johnson.


The move to pick up LJ makes sense despite all of the obvious character concerns.


First of all, if you come to play for Marvin Lewis, you're there to work. This locker room will not tolerate any person not trying hard enough to win a Super Bowl. Johnson may be a big name, but he has little relevance to this team, and therefore he must prove his worth by the effort he demonstrates in practice.


Johnson has looked lethargic the last few years, and he's beginning to remind me of an aged Jamal Lewis on the field. However, he is a runner who can “carry the load” should Benson find himself further injured at any point this year.


Bernard Scott has exciting potential, and his patient running style will serve him well in this league. Brian Leonard has proven himself as a talented third-down back and extra-effort guy. Yet neither is at his best if he has to carry the ball more than 15 times. Johnson can lift some of that burden by simply owning a fresh pair of legs, which are also vital to winning playoff games in the snow.


Seeing LJ in stripes, railing against the Raiders like he's done so often before with Kansas City, would be an exciting development to an otherwise dull and lopsided affair in Oakland. Crazier things have happened and Any Given Sunday and yadda yadda yadda, but c'mon, it's the Raiders.


Bengals 20, Raiders 6




MK—The real Al Davis must be tied up inside a yacht somewhere near Costa Rica. The loony before us is an impostor hell-bent on ruining an otherwise really cool franchise. Too bad, Al. Too bad.