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Another grind job brewing in Seattle

Posted Oct 28, 2011


Bernard Scott gets the start in place of the suspended Cedric Benson.

This week’s Bengals.com media forum is lining up like a pollster’s map and there is polarization in the room.

The two East Coast delegates, Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham and ProFootballTalk.com,’s Gregg Rosenthal, give the edge to the Bengals. The two West Coast reps, ESPN.com’s Mike Sando and Danny O’Neil of The Seattle Times, give the nod to the Seahawks in Sunday’s game that can be seen in the heartland on Cincinnati’s Local 12 at 4:15 p.m. The uniqueness of the long and winding road game can be seen right away with the Bengals jetting off to The Coast right after Friday morning’s practice.

But everyone agrees it is going to be a low-scoring grind job in which the Bengals have become accustomed and with the record at 4-2 it is the biggest game Cincinnati has played since it swept the division in 2009.

In the two seasons head coach Marvin Lewis has gone into November with five wins, the Bengals have won the AFC North. October had been his worst month in his previous eight seasons, but a win Sunday makes it a 4-0 harvest and propels the Bengals into November and December, where they are 36-33-1 under Lewis.

In order to finish off perfection, Lapham, the Cincinnati institution that has been analyzing the Bengals on radio since Reagan, says both lines hold the key. He thinks the offensive line holds up in the NFL’s loudest venue and the defensive line capitalizes on Seattle’s inexperienced offensive line, the second youngest in the NFL in recent games.

Rosenthal, who, like his hometown of New York, New York never sleeps as the foreman of PFT’s sprawling media factory, likes the Bengals because he likes their quarterback no matter who starts for Seattle.

Sando, who made his mark as John Clayton’s worthy successor at The Tacoma News Tribune covering the Seahawks before taking over ESPN.com’s NFC West blog, correctly called the Niners over the Bengals in a tight game last month and he’s going the same way here.

O’Neil, who has covered the last two Seattle administrations, thought injured Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson looked good warming up last week in Cleveland even though he didn’t play and thinks he’ll go Sunday in what he thinks could be enough to tip a tight one.

Let’s go around the room:

LAPHAM

“There are a lot of interesting matchups. You’ve got Bengals right tackle Andre Smith working on two really good defensive ends in Red Bryant and Chris Clemons. Seattle’s got two big, young corners that go 6-3, 6-4 and they like to bring down their safeties into the box, so receivers A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson are going to get some one-on-one looks. Can they get off the line against these big guys with clean releases and don’t let them put their hands on them? And Seattle’s young offensive line is giving up a sack every nine passes, so can the Bengals defensive line rotation force them to max protect and give help to their tackles?

“Andre did a great job two weeks ago against the big Colts speed rusher, Robert Mathis. Clemons is an excellent pass rusher in that mold. Same style. Mainly speed, but he’s got a bull move and can spin on you. If Andre can put together two straight good games against guys like that it would go a long way in saying how far he’s come. He’s playing better simply because he can move quicker. He’s lost the weight, he’s quicker and he’s got good feet.

“Seattle plays great defense. It’s a good primer for these guys for Pittsburgh and Baltimore next month. It will be interesting to see how they handle Brant and the tough run defense. Do they spread Seattle out by formation and then make them go vertical with the pass routes to loosen them up? And if their passing game does force Seattle to play with seven in the box, can they take advantage of that and run the ball? They haven’t been able to do that lately.

“With their defensive line rotation, it would not be productive if they couldn’t take advantage of the youth Seattle has up front. Left end Carlos Dunlap is going against the first-round pick, right tackle James Carpenter, can he make hay there? On the other side you’ve got Michael Johnson going against another young first-rounder from two years ago in Russell Okung. With the rotation they’ve got going and their experience, you’d think they match up pretty well with a team 31st in giving up sacks per pass.

“It’s a challenging game for the Bengals. The travel, the time change, the crowd noise, those are all very real things. Just like the altitude in Denver. It all matters and it’s all a factor. It’s a really hostile environment for a rookie quarterback with all the noise and I would imagine they’re going to be going off a silent count. The key there is to not let the defense pick up on the rhythm and to change it up.

"Left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Bobbie Williams have played out there but they’ve also got guys out there like Andre that haven’t."

THE EDGE: "Bengals, 17-13. So far they’ve shown the maturity and poise they’re going to need out there. And if they can get it done out there, that’s huge because if they can handle the crowd in Seattle they can certainly handle it in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. They’re 4-2 primarily because of their play up front on both lines and I think that carries them."


ROSENTHAL

"It’s such a big game for Cincinnati. If they can get to 5-2 this week it will be a big boost because the schedule gets so much tougher. I think it looks a lot like that close game they lost to San Francisco earlier in the season.

"They’ve hung in there with teams that have had good defenses like Jacksonville and the 49ers and no question Seattle has a good all-around defense, not just against the run. It’s going to be an ugly, low-scoring game and they’ve proven they can win those types of games,

“I really like Cincinnati’s defense. They’ve been getting very good play up front and Seattle isn’t getting very consistent play from either of their quarterbacks. And I think the new Bengals offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden, has done a great job with Dalton and I see him making a couple of plays to his wide receivers."

THE EDGE: "Bengals, 10-7. I think the Bengals have the better defense and the better quarterback no matter which one starts for Seattle."


SANDO

"As bad as the Seahawks looked last week, I think they’ve got a good chance to win at home. They were in the Cleveland game even though they didn’t have their starting quarterback, running back or center, and they’ll have some of those players back. So they’ll be better on offense and their defense will keep them competitive and give them a chance.

"The Seahawks are very strong against the run. Red Bryant is a good five technique defensive end, pretty much immovable. He goes about 350 pounds. The run defense collapsed last season when they lost him to injury.

"Chris Clemons is a double-digit sack guy, they’ve got two dynamic young safeties and one of them, Kam Chancellor, is good for two or three big hits a game. Linebacker David Hawthorne is healthy, so they’re better in the middle of the field.

"It’s been an interesting transition at cornerback for them. If you look at their top four corners as far as playing time last year, Marcus Trufant is on IR, Kelly Jennings is with the Bengals, Walter Thurmond injured his ankle against Cleveland and is done for the year, and Roy Lewis is on PUP and just returning.

"So they’re mixing and matching there, although Thurmond is the one guy they were really expecting to come on.

"The Bengals aren’t going to be able to run the ball and that’s going to open up Seattle’s pass rush against the young quarterback. Clemons is an underrated pass rusher and they’ll move him around some to get a matchup they like.

THE EDGE: "Seahawks, 17-14: It’s a tough defense for a rookie quarterback on the road. The Bengals have been scoring 20 points on offense and that would probably be enough for them here. But I think it’s more likely to be a lower-scoring matchup like the 13-8 game the Bengals lost to the 49ers."


O’NEIL

"I think it’s going to be a close game, no question. The Seahawks had issues on offense even before they only got three points in Cleveland last week. They only scored 30 points in their first three games with Jackson healthy at quarterback, so it’s a work in progress.

"But I think Sunday was pretty much an aberration without not only Jackson, but Marshawn Lynch at running back and Max Unger at center and it looks to me like all three guys are going to be back this week.

"I thought Jackson looked pretty good in warmups before the game so I think they’re going to try him at least. He’s a good runner and a decent two-way threat, but what is underestimated with him is his quick release. He was showing some progress before he got hurt (pectoral muscle) and it’s going to be interesting where he is.

"The one thing you know is that with Lynch and Unger it’s not going to be the same offense and that should help the defense. When it was all said and done, the defense played 84 snaps in Cleveland. I don’t think that’s going to happen again.

"Bryant is really a good player. You can’t move him and he’s the strongest guy on the team. I think it’s a great matchup of defenses. The stats tell you that with Seattle leading the league at allowing 3.2 yards per run and the Bengals at 3.3. Mike Zimmer has done a great job there and I’m sure he’s going to be mentioned as a head coaching candidate because he’s deserving.

THE EDGE: "Seahawks, 13-10. It’s a very tough place to play for a rookie quarterback against this defense. And while the Bengals have a very good defense I think Seattle makes those two or three plays on offense that they didn’t make in Cleveland."


THE BOTTOM LINE

Here are the three major things that have separated the Bengals from their cousins that blew fourth-quarter West Coast leads in Oakland in 2009 and in, yes, Seattle, in 2007:

Offensive composure, two-minute defense, and rock-ribbed special teams.

For the most part on the road, the Bengals have been able to tee it up without a lot of confusion and that simply hadn’t been the case in years past. Seattle is on a different level, but the Bengals didn’t lose in Denver, another miserable place to play, because of the elements.

The one flaw in Zimmer’s defenses before this season had been allowing killing points at the end of the half and game. But the Bengals have allowed points in the final eight minutes of a game just once this season and it was in the 13-8 loss to the 49ers.

It will be recalled in ’09 in Oakland that a Shayne Graham missed field goal and a fumbled kickoff killed the Bengals in a 20-17 loss. They haven’t made those types of mistakes on special teams, units that have been a big part of the team's success. Punt returner Brandon Tate has set up some key drives with double-digit returns, hasn’t lost a fumble on a kick or a punt, Mike Nugent has missed just one field goal, and they’ve won the field position numbers in every game.

Those are things that always travel well.

 

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