The Bengals are enjoying a three-game winning streak after beating the Indianapolis Colts in Week 6 and aim to keep pace with the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North. The Seahawks are looking to regroup and stay competitive in the NFC West after a 6-3 home loss to the Cleveland Browns that was less exciting than a silent auction.
The game between the Bengals and the Seahawks could prove to be a shootout or a slugfest, depending on the outcome of the following matchups.
If you like track meets, this matchup should have you salivating.
Sidney Rice, in his fifth year out of South Carolina, and Leon Hall, in his fifth year out of Michigan, may burn a hole in the turf as Rice speeds down the sideline and Hall attempts to cover him.
After a hip injury shortened his 2010 NFL season, Rice is looking to return to his 2009 form, when he caught 83 passes for more than 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns. In six games this season, Rice has just 17 receptions for 264 yards and one touchdown, hardly what the Seahawks envisioned when they inked him to a five-year, $41 million contract. In fairness to Rice, his offensive production has been adversely affected by Seattle’s lackluster quarterback play.
Despite that, he is a legitimate threat to make explosive plays in the passing game, and his five inch height advantage over Hall will make him a difficult cover.
When the Bengals failed to sign Johnathan Joseph in the offseason, the mantle of “shutdown corner” was thrust upon Leon Hall, and he has answered the bell. In 2011, Hall has one interception and 19 tackles.
His own stats are not as telling as those of the top receivers he has been charged with covering. In Week 6, Hall held Colts superstar Reggie Wayne to just five receptions for 58 yards without a touchdown. In Week 4, Hall was matched up with Buffalo Bills wide out Stevie Johnson. Johnson, in the midst of a stellar season, was held in check, catching merely four passes for 58 yards.
Hall is up to any challenge.
Prediction: Rice will catch a few passes, but Hall prevents him from taking over the game.
Stout offensive line play will be at a premium for the Seahawks on Sunday, especially if inexperienced quarterback Charlie Whitehurst starts in his second consecutive NFL game. Whoever is calling the signals for Seattle must depend on Robert Gallery for protection.
It is hard for football fans to believe that Gallery, a converted tackle, is in his eighth season in the NFL. Drafted in the first round by Oakland, the bearded and tattooed Gallery seemed a born Raider. However, he has not lived up to the draft pick or the hype and has only started two games in his first year with the Seahawks. Seattle head coach Pete Carroll moved Gallery to guard after the team drafted offensive tackles Russell Okung in 2010 and James Carpenter in 2011. Gallery is new to the guard spot, but he is enormous, nasty and playing for his career.
Bengals defensive linemen Geno Atkins and Jonathan Fanene have made for a fierce duo in 2011. Fanene leads the team with three sacks, and Atkins is just a step behind with 2.5. Their ability to harass quarterbacks is one of the major reasons the Bengals have the fifth-best pass defense in the NFL. They each react to the snap quickly and find themselves in the backfield before the quarterback stands a chance. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer keeps Atkins and Fanene on a short rotation so neither player runs out of steam.
Prediction: Atkins and Fanene each add to their sack totals, as Gallery adjusts to his new position in only his third game this season.
At a combined weight of more than 650 pounds, the matchup between Red Bryant and Andrew Whitworth on the left side of the Bengals offensive line will demonstrate the classic case of an immovable object against another immovable object. This brutal battle of behemoths will determine if Andy Dalton has enough time in the pocket to be an effective passer, and the sheer size of each man will remind football fans of the classic film Godzilla vs. Mothra.
Bryant played up to his stature in Week 7 of the NFL. In a 6-3 Seahawks loss to the Browns, Bryant disrupted the Cleveland offense with four tackles and one pass defended. The enormous fourth-year player kept the Seahawks in the game on special teams as well by blocking two Phil Dawson field goal attempts.
Bryant’s size is matched by his motor; the emotional defensive end was ejected from last Sunday’s game after he headbutted Browns tight end Alex Smith in the fourth quarter.
Whitworth has emerged as a leader on the Bengal roster in 2011. He was the voice of the Bengals during the summer’s lockout, and he has done a tremendous job protecting rookie quarterback Dalton’s blindside. Dalton has only been sacked 10 times this season, 10th fewest through the first seven weeks of the season. Whitworth is the anchor of the offensive line and often shuts down the opposing team’s best pass rusher.
Prediction: Bryant will make this contest interesting, but Whitworth gets the best of this clash of the titans.
In his second year in the NFL, Jermaine Gresham has emerged as an important cog of the Cincinnati offense. To continue his impressive second season, Gresham will have to outplay seven-year veteran Leroy Hill.
Gresham has hauled in 25 passes in 2011, putting him at 11th among NFL tight ends, and his three touchdowns are good enough for sixth among tight ends. Gresham is a particularly potent threat in the red zone, where 6'5" frame allows Andy Dalton to lob the football high in the end zone where only Gresham can reach it. Gresham will enjoy a four-inch height advantage against Hill.
Hill will have to rely on seven years of NFL experience to slow Gresham down. Hill, who was named to the Pro Bowl in 2005, may not be able to keep up with Gresham’s speed, but he will use his caginess and technique to blanket Cincinnati’s young tight end. Hill does not have a pass defended so far this season (he has only 11 for his career), but he does have 39 tackles on the year.
Prediction: Hill will keep Gresham quiet most of the game. Expect No. 84 to utilize his speed to make a big play up the seams and pull down a touchdown pass in the red zone.
Seahawks middle linebacker David Hawthorne is having a good year on an above-average defense. Seattle boasts the 11th-best run defense in the NFL and is 12th in scoring defense, and Hawthorne is the anchor of the squad. He ranks 22nd in tackles among NFC linebackers, fifth among NFC middle linebackers. Hawthorne will be key in stopping the Bengals' 21st-best rushing attack.
Cedric Benson will be serving his one-game suspension on Sunday, so backup running backs Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard will carry the load on the ground for Cincinnati. Both Scott and Leonard have spelled Benson well in 2011, but neither have proven they can maintain anywhere near his level of production for sixty minutes. Scott is averaging a paltry 2.8 yards per carry, and although Leonard is rushing for over seven yards per rush, he has only nine carries this season.
The Bengals' offensive bread and butter is rushing between the tackles, and it is unlikely they will change their entire offensive identity for one game without Cedric Benson. Scott and Leonard will be effective catching screens out of the backfield and in the short-passing game, but their ability to move the ball on the ground is doubtful at best.
Prediction: David Hawthorne and the Seahawks D take advantage of Benson’s absence and stonewall the Bengals’ ground game.
This will not show up in any box score on Monday morning, but Marvin Lewis has a dreadful record against the NFC West in his tenure as the Bengals head coach. The last time the Bengals played the NFC West was in the 2007 NFL season, when Cincinnati lost three out of four games, including a loss at Seattle.
In 2011, the Bengals have played only one game against an NFC West opponent, a 13-8 home loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Prediction: With a new roster full of overachievers and a defense that will likely face quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, Marvin Lewis reverses his fortunes against the NFC West and picks up a victory.
It is still uncertain whether Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson will be in action in Week 8 as he recovers from a pectoral injury, so Mike Zimmer has to have his defense prepared for two quarterbacks with different skills. Charlie Whitehurst is a pocket passer and, truth be told, the Bengals would rather face him after his abysmal performance against the Browns last Sunday.
If Jackson plays, the defense will not only be charged with pressuring him, but containing him as well, as it does not want him to extend plays by scrambling outside of the pocket.
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch was a late scratch from last Sunday’s game with a back injury. If he is cleared to go on Sunday, he will be the focal point of the Seattle offense.
The Bengals have an unanswered question of their own: How will the offense fair without Cedric Benson? If they are unable to establish the running game in the first quarter, rookie quarterback Andy Dalton will have to put the team on his arm and win the game through the air.
Final Prediction: This game will be closer than most Bengals fans expect. If the Ravens' loss to the Jaguars taught us anything, it taught that no opponent is to be underestimated. The Bengals pull it out in a defensive effort, 16-10.