Cincinnati Bengals Week 1 Preview: 4 Keys to a Victory over the Cleveland Browns
We're one day away from the first Bengals game of the 2011 season and, fittingly, it all kicks off at Cleveland Browns Stadium with the 76th Battle of Ohio.
While we hold our collective breath and cross our fingers as Andy Dalton takes to the field for his regular season debut, we know that things probably won't take flight right away.
Despite the learning curve that Andy Dalton is about to embark on, the Bengals still stand a legitimate chance of walking away with a victory on Sunday.
Here's 4 keys to a Bengals W.
Solid Safety Play
The Browns have a promising tandem of tight ends heading into 2011, with Benjamin Watson, who lead the team for receptions and touchdowns(tied with Brian Robiskie) in 2010 and his counterpart, the resurgent Evan Moore, who is coming off of a promising preseason and a shiny new contract.
If the Bengals can slow down Peyton Hillis, the Browns tight ends will try to create mismatches for the newly formed Bengals linebacking core and exploit the middle through the air with Watson and Moore.
This all means that Reggie Nelson and Chris Crocker should see plenty of work.
Nelson has looked greatly improved during the preseason and plays with an enthusiasm that sees him in the mix with every pile of bodies from the line of scrimmage to the backfield.
Crocker needs to show a bit more if he wants to keep the starting SS job from here on out, and Sunday should provide him with the opportunity to be tested.
The safety position is widely considered to be the weak spot in the Bengals defense, and its successes/struggles are likely to be one of main storylines going forward.
Protect Andy Dalton
It's an obvious point to make, but protecting Andy Dalton remains the biggest priority if the Bengals want to be productive on offense.
The Browns have a relatively inexperienced defensive line, so Whitworth & Co. have no excuse for a poor showing, but there is reason for concern as Clint Boling makes his first start at right guard, lining up opposite Browns first-round pick Phil Taylor.
Whit seems pretty sold on Boling and likes the Taylor matchup awaiting him:
"I knew a lot about (Boling) before he got here. He's a guy that's not very easily rattled, you can't rattle him...He's a young player, just like that Taylor kid on the other side. They're rookies and they're going to make rookie mistakes. But I think he's going to have a challenge."
Both Nate Livings and Andre Smith will be looking to prove their critics wrong, and have both showed significant improvement during the preseason, Smith will be looking to prove his worth as a first-round pick if he hopes to get the option on his contract picked up and Livings, who has taken the brunt of fan disdain, will be looking to overcome media criticism.
The offensive line needs to come together and give Dalton enough protection to give him plenty of time to think. It doesn't take a genius to know that a rookie QB seeing constant pressure and having to rush throws is a recipe for disaster.
A Collective Effort to Help Cedric Benson Have a Big Game
With the Browns starting rookies DE Jabaal Sheard and DT Phil Taylor, the Bengals will look to exploit that with Whitworth and Andre Smith being leaned on to make holes for Cedric Benson to power through.
This offensive line was built to enable the run, so Cleveland will have to bring the house to really shut Benson out of the game. Lessons learned in previous meetings may be largely forgotten with new head coach Pat Shurmur and the departure of Rob Ryan at defensive coordinator.
FB Chris Pressley is a physical monster, and with more two-back sets working their way into the Bengals offense, he could be great asset to Benson. If you then substitute in a little bit of Benard Scott as a change of pace from Benson, the Bengals backfield starts to look a little bit more exciting and, more importantly, versatile.
Let's not forget that we've seen some nice blocks thrown by Jerome Simpson this preseason and the hope is that that sentiment has carried through to the other receivers also—particularly to big tight end Jermaine Gresham who is equally as capable if not more so of tying up would-be tacklers.
It's that attitude that will help the Bengals get every yard they can on Sunday. As the Browns will be focusing on stopping Benson and forcing Dalton to throw, the Bengals will need every guy on offense doing everything they can to get Benson and the run established.
Mike Nugent and Kevin Huber
With the Bengals unlikely to put a tonne of points on the board on Sunday night, their kickers become incredibly valuable.
Andy Dalton will undoubtedly see growing pains, and if the Browns can shut out Cedric Benson, he will be forced to throw the ball.
While I wouldn't like to suggest that Dalton won't have success in the passing game, you have to think that he will see his fair share of three-and-outs this weekend.
Similarly, Kevin Huber will be needed to pin the Browns down in their own territory, hopefully giving them more to do than McCoy and Hillis can handle.
His 77-yard punt in the preseason against the Jets was nothing short of sensational and if he can produce like that on Sunday, it will be a great help to a Bengals defense that is likely to see a lot of work.