Banged-up Cincinnati Bengals Need Win to Revive Playoff Aspirations
The Cincinnati Bengals have been playing from behind since the first few minutes of Week 1 against the New England Patriots.
Stumbling and fumbling their way to a 2-4 mark, the Bengals are beginning to get desperate. The Steelers already own a three-game lead in the AFC North over the men in stripes. The Ravens are also in the way.
The '09 season was terrific. A postseason appearance is always welcome. But next year's first-place schedule isn't. The reward for winning the AFC North was one of the hardest schedules in the NFL.
The Colts, Jets, Steelers (twice), Ravens, Chargers and Saints all remain on the 2010 slate.
Which brings us to Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins.
With the death row of a schedule that follows, beating a middle-of-the-pack team like the 'Fins is essential.
So how do they do it?
The team has been plagued by injuries all over the field, despite having their bye week a mere two weeks ago. DE Jonathan Fanene (hamstring) has already been declared out. S Roy Williams (knee) is listed as doubtful.
LB Brandon Johnson (knee), CB Johnathan Joseph (ankle), RB Brian Leonard (thigh), S Chinedum Ndukwe (knee), CB Morgan Trent (knee) are all listed as questionable. Earlier in the week CB Adam "Don't call me Pacman" Jones was placed on injured reserve with a neck injury.
So the Bengals will be very light in the secondary. Coupled with an abysmal pass rush, this is not good.
The pressure is on for the D-line to find a way to make Dolphins QB Chad Henne uncomfortable in the pocket. The Dolphins average 235 passing yards at game, good enough for 13th in the NFL.
Containing WR Brandon Marshall will be a tall order. The Bengals secondary has issues with tall targets (see Roddy White), and minimizing the impact of Marshall is going to be a big part of the Bengals game plan.
The Wildcat gimmick seems to have run its course in Miami. The Bengals shouldn't be too concerned with the formation. Ronnie Brown leads the team in rushing (313 yards on 76 carries) but has yet to get a 100-yard game.
Offensively the Bengals need to pick up where they left off from last week. Carson Palmer threw for over 400 yards and had three TDs. But like most of his success in '10, it came with the Bengals trailing by multiple scores late in the game.
The Bengals offense needs to score early in the game for once. And score a TD and not a field goal. Another frustrating aspect of the Bengals offense is their inabilty to punch it in when they are in the red zone.
Incorporate slot receiver WR Jordan Shipley into the game right away. Give RB Bernard Scott more touches. Why not start the game in the no-huddle offense? The formation has provided the best results for the Bengals. It's certainly worth trying out.
The only way I can envision the Bengals winning this game is by forcing turnovers. They do have a plus-two margin in that department and pressuring Henne into mistakes will be the key to victory.
Getting stellar field position will be vital as well. The Dolphins have one of the worst coverage units in the league and the Bengals must exploit this. Considering Cincinnati ranks 27th in return yardage, this may be a tall task to ask.
The Dolphins will kill the Bengals with Marshall over the middle and deep. But I think the Bengals' D can contain the 'Fins run.
Will the Bengals offense show up? It's like predicting the next Lindsey Lohan arrest. It can happen at any given time.
My gut tells me the home crowd, a few TOs and a big play in special teams will be enough for the Bengals to earn a 26-20 victory.
This team may be down, but they aren't out of it yet.
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