Bills vs Bengals: Week 4 Preview and Keys To the Game

Dan Van Wie@@DanVanWieContributor IIISeptember 30, 2011

Bills vs Bengals: Week 4 Preview and Keys To the Game

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    The high-flying Buffalo Bills will be visiting the Cincinnati Bengals this coming Sunday afternoon. The game is set to start at 1:00 pm. The Bills (3-0) are one of three undefeated teams in the NFL in 2011, while the Bengals (1-2) hope to snap a two-game losing streak. 

    The Bills just broke their 15-game losing streak to the New England Patriots last weekend. The Bills now own the longest winning streak in the NFL against another opponent, as they have beaten the Bengals 10 straight games. The Bills lead the league in scoring by averaging 37.7 points a game, but that should seem like old hat to the Bengals, as the Bills have scored at least 30 points in four straight games in this series. 

    For the Bills, head coach Chan Gailey will be sure to keep his Bills team low-key and take things in stride, because if they start getting overly-confident, a young and hungry team like the Bengals will be able to knock them off of their pedestal. So, be sure to visit us here at Bleacher Report this Sunday, as I will be writing a live blog during the game with my thoughts and reactions as the game unfolds. 

Bills Players Are All over the NFL Leaderboards

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    Coming in to this Week 4 contest, Ryan Fitzpatrick is ranked No. 6 quarterback in the NFL. Fitzpatrick is tied for second in the NFL with nine touchdown passes (Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford also have nine). Fred Jackson is No. 4 in rushing with 303 yards on the season. His average yards per rush is tied with the NFL's rushing leader, Darren McFadden, as both backs are averaging 6.4 yards per rush. Steve Johnson is in the top 20 wide receivers (16th), with 256 yards in receptions and is averaging 12.8 yards per catch. 

    Johnson and tight end Scott Chandler each have a streak of scoring at least one touchdown in the first three games of the season. David Nelson is also in the top 20 in receiving yards, as he is ranked No. 19 with 233 yards on the season. He is averaging 11.7 yards per catch and 77.7 average yards per game. 

    The Bills have four different defenders that are in the top 30 of the NFL in tackles so far in 2011. They are: Nick Barnett, who is No. 6 with 29 tackles. Jairus Byrd is No. 11 with 27, George Wilson is No. 12 with 24 and Bryan Scott is No. 30 with 22 tackles. These four players are basically controlling the middle of the field and trying to keep as many plays to shorter gains as they possibly can. 

    Drayton Florence is tied for No. 3 in the NFL with two interceptions. 

    Rian Lindell was named as the Special Teams Player of the Week, and Ryan Fitzpatrick was named NFL Offensive Player of the Month for September. The Bills are racking up awards and recognition to go along with all the points that they are scoring in the early going. The question is, how long can they keep this going? 

Bills Can't Fall Asleep on Cincinnati

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    The Bengals have some players that are also performing very well this year, so these are the guys that the Bills will have to key for this Sunday. 

    Running back Cedric Benson appealed his three-game suspension that was handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. As a result, he will be allowed to play this Sunday. Benson is No. 7 in rushing this year, as he averages a healthy 4.2 yards per rush and averaging 81.3 yards per game. 

    While the Bills invested their high draft pick in their defensive line with Marcell Dareus, the Bengals used theirs to draft wide receiver stand out A.J. Green. Green so far is ranked No. 32 in the NFL with 194 yards in receptions and is averaging 12.9 yards per catch. He is averaging 64.7 yards per game. Lining up on the other side is Jerome Simpson (he of the recent large marijuana bust) and is ranked No. 35 with 186 yards in receptions so far, averaging 20.7 yards per catch. 

    Then there is rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. He is completing 61 percent of his passes so far and is averaging 190 yards per game. He has thrown three touchdowns and two interceptions in 2011. He has also been sacked six times already. 

    The Bengals do have an old friend to Bills fans on their roster, corner Nate Clemens, who came here as a free agent in the offseason. 

What a Difference a Year Makes

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    What a difference a year makes. In the 2010 season, the Buffalo Bills were the last team in the NFL to record a win. Now in 2011, the Bills find themselves as one of only three teams in the league without a loss. It is just unreal how quickly things have turned around. 

    The three biggest reasons to me for the turnaround in the Bills offense are:

    1) Chan Gailey's system. His offense really is an excellent design. The key to making it work was having a quarterback that could operate it, capable of making fast decisions on the fly and releasing the ball quickly enough to avoid taking unnecessary sacks. Trent Edwards was not the right fit, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is. 

    2) The maturation of Ryan Fitzpatrick. He has learned not to make as many bad throws. He has more confidence in his ability to know what the defense is doing, and as a result, he can quickly identify where the ball needs to go. Sure, he makes some bad passes on occasion, but the vast majority of his throws have been on the money. He has been hurt by some receivers dropping passes. 

    3) The improved play of the offensive line. As Gailey's offense allows for many spread formations, this in turn spreads out the defense. The linemen are able to quickly identify who they need to block and are currently leading the NFL by only allowing one sack so far on the season. Also, the spread offense makes it easier to run block, and Fred Jackson is taking advantage of the holes that they are creating. 

Bills Roster Moves This Week and Injury Reports

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    The Bills made some more roster moves this week. Due to the injuries to corners Terrence McGee and Aaron Williams, the team decided to release tight end David Martin and activate corner Terrence Wheatley from the practice squad. 

    Wheatley has great intangible skills but just hasn't put it together at the NFL level yet. The Bills will also probably activate rookie Justin Rogers for his NFL game this weekend. 

    Due to the opening on the practice squad, the Bills added another defensive back to that unit, Brandon Bing, who played his college ball at Rutgers. Bing is 5'11" and weighs 177 pounds. 

    Here is the Bengals injury list, courtesy of Buffalo 

    Did not practice
    LB Dontay Moch: foot, S Jeromy Miles: groin and S Gibril Wilson: knee

    Limited in practice
    DL Jonathan Fanene: knee, DE Robert Geathers: shoulder and G Otis Hudson: knee

    Here were the Bills that weren't able to practice this week on Thursday: 

    Aaron Williams, Terrence McGee, Chris White and Kraig Urbik. All four are expected to miss the game on Sunday. 

Revisiting the Bills vs Bengals Game from 2010

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    When you think about the exciting come-from-behind wins that the Bills have pulled off in consecutive weeks, you have to also go back to the Bills first come-from-behind win last year against the Bengals. That gave the team the actual confidence to know that they were capable of doing it. 

    The scene was Week 11 last year. The Bengals opened up a 28-7 lead in the second quarter, and the Bills outscored them 42-3 the rest of the way. Drayton Florence had a key interception return for a touchdown that helped to change the momentum of that game. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw four touchdown passes and for over 300 yards. Fred Jackson rushed for over 100 yards, and Donald Jones had his first big game, as he made five catches for 70 yards.

    There is one more Bills player that had a big game, but we will save him for the next slide.

    As for the Bengals, they also did a number on the Bills defense. Cedric Benson rushed for 124 yards. Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco each caught a touchdown pass from Carson Palmer. Jonathan Joseph came up with two interceptions on Fitzpatrick. But luckily for Bills fans, four of those five Bengals from last year are no longer part of the team. 

Why so Serious?

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    But if there is anything to recall from last year's Bills vs Bengals game, it was how badly Steve Johnson upstaged the Batman and Robin duo of Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. 

    Johnson pulled off the "Why So Serious?" prank to perfection, but the real beauty of that day is what he did to the Bengals secondary. Johnson caught three touchdown passes and came up with 137 yards in receptions. His ability to gain yards after the catch never looked better than it did that day. Johnson asserted himself on to the national stage in that game, and his play this year has continued to elevate his star in the NFL. 

    Johnson continues to take off every Wednesday from practice to ease some of the strain on his groin injury, but the way that he has been playing every Sunday, he looks to be good to go. I imagine that the networks are kicking themselves for not scheduling the Bills for any nationally televised games this year. They are the most exciting team in football right now. 

When the Bills Have the Ball

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    When the Bills have the ball, this should feature the strongest level of competition of the game. The Bills offense is riding high, ranked No. 3 overall in the NFL, while the Bengals defense can match that, as they are also ranked No. 3 overall in the NFL. Two young, hungry and aggressive groups clashing with each other. That should make for some exciting plays going both ways. 

    The Bengals pass rush has already generated nine sacks on the season, and they are ranked No. 7 in the NFL in that category. They will represent the stiffest test for the Buffalo Bills offensive line to date. 

    The Bills pass offense is ranked No. 11, and they average 276 yards per game. The Bengals pass defense is ranked No. 5, and they only allow 188 yards per game. 

    The Bills rush offense is ranked No. 4, and they average 155 yards per game. The Bengals rush defense is ranked No. 7, and they allow 88 yards per game on average.

    The Bills have converted 15-of-36 tries on third down, which is 41 percent. They are ranked No. 10 in that area. The Bengals defense has allowed 14-of-42 third down conversions, which is only 33 percent, and they are ranked No. 6 in that area. The Bengals defense is very good across the board.

    The Bills are the leading scoring offense in the game at 37.7 points per game, while the Bengals defense allows 18 points per game. They are ranked No. 6.  

When the Bengals Have the Ball

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    The Cincinnati Bengals offense is ranked No. 25 overall, while the Bills defense is ranked No. 26 overall. Basically, they are both in the bottom third, so something has to give when these two units square off. 

    The Bengals rush offense is No. 17, averaging 96 yards per game, while the Bills rush defense is No. 24, allowing an average of 115 yards per game. 

    The Bengals pass offense is No. 24, averaging 204 yards per game, while the Bills pass defense is also ranked No. 24, averaging 271 yards per game. 

    The Bengals offense is dead last in the NFL at converting third down opportunities, 9-of-38, which is only 23 percent. The Bills defense has allowed 14-of-34 conversions, 41 percent, and is ranked No. 22 in that stat. 

    The Bengals offense generates 19 points a game (No. 24), while the Bills defense allows 24.3 points a game, which is ranked No. 21. 

    The Bills have only come up with two sacks on the season, which ranks them dead last in the category, but they lead the NFL in interceptions with six picks. Go figure, because that just doesn't figure to continue, as you typically need a strong pass rush to generate more interceptions. 

Other Notes on the Game

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    The Bills on the season are plus-five on turnovers, while the Bengals are plus-one on the year. 

    The game is expected to be played in the mid-60's, with no expected rain, so it should be a great day for the Bills offense to spread the Bengals defense and for Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw the ball all over the stadium. 

    This is the last game on the Bills schedule before they face a tough run of facing three tough NFC East division teams in a row, the Philadelphia Eagles, the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins. If the Bills are looking past Cincinnati for any reason, they might be in for a surprise, so their job is to come in and establish an early lead like they did in Kansas City

    Good teams win on the road as well as at home. The Bills seem to have plenty of momentum and the offense is really clicking. I am wondering if this is a game that C.J. Spiller will get more looks, because he really didn't have many touches last week against the Patriots. 

    The Bills will have to keep Fitzpatrick upright, just like the offensive line has done through the first three games. The Bills pass rush has to start to improve, and what better time than now to face a rookie, who is only starting his fourth NFL game. The Bills need to do more blitzing than they have been doing over the first three games. They will have to focus on containing Cedric Benson and A.J. Green. If they do that, the only other key weapon is tight end Jermaine Gresham, and they can't go to sleep on him either. 

Final Thoughts and Prediction

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    I expect the Bills veterans on defense to step up in this game and make it a long day for Andy Dalton. They have been giving up bigger plays to Wes Welker and Denarius Moore, but I think that was the result of trying to defend against Tom Brady, and not challenging the Raiders receivers enough for the ball. 

    Chan Gailey stressed last week to the secondary to be more aggressive, and look how that paid off, intercepting Tom Brady four times. I suspect more of the same this week against Dalton, with the goal to come in the form of more sacks and creating more turnovers. 

    Even though this is a very good defense that the Bills face Sunday, they have not faced an offense as good as the Bills yet, and they will be stretched thin to cover everyone. I anticipate Ryan Fitzpatrick will come up with another three or four touchdown passes and have a big day. 

    Expect to see contributions in the offense across the board from Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, Brad Smith and the wide receiving corps. 

    My final score prediction: Buffalo Bills 34, Cincinnati Bengals 17

    Looking forward to sharing my thoughts with the Bills fans live on Bleacher Report this Sunday.