WILL backer Vincent Rey has played all but three snaps this season.
The battle has been joined after Seattle pulled out a crazy-quilted-paint-by-the-numbers 13-10 victory over Detroit Monday night.
While Seattle has been grinding its way to the last two Super Bowls, haven't the 4-0 Bengals been quietly percolating the same formula as an understudy AFC version of what has transpired in the Great Northwest? A relentless defensive line and a deep secondary teamed with a physical running game and a crafty quarterback used to winning?
The Seahawks have more pop and pedigree than the Bengals when they meet Sunday at sold-out Paul Brown Stadium (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19), since Cincinnati's accomplishments don't begin to compare to what this Seattle regime has done in the postseason. Who-Dey is trying to reach the 12th Man.
What we're talking about is the similarity in the blueprint.
Bengals backup offensive lineman Eric Winston spent the 2014 training camp in Seattle and has a unique perspective on both clubs. "You look at the talent on their roster and the talent on our roster and I think we have a lot of talent on this roster," Winston said. "In that sense you have some similarities. With Andy (Dalton) the way he runs for some third downs, one or two a game, is very reminiscent of (Russell) Wilson in the way he gets third downs that don't show up in the stat book. Obviously we like to run the ball; they like to run the ball. They like to be aggressive, we like to be aggressive. I think it could be a really good matchup."
The Seahawks displayed their all-out tenacity Monday night when they stopped Detroit on the doorstep of winning with Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor's great hustle play that forced wide receiver Calvin Johnson's controversial fumble in and out of the end zone.
"What benefits us is how much athleticism we have and I think that will help us a lot," Winston said. "When you play Seattle, you have to be tough and athletic. In our back end we're fast and we can run, so hopefully we'll be able to stay with those receivers. Then up front you have to match their physicality and contain Wilson. If you can do that and obviously contain (running back) Marshawn Lynch, you've got a chance to beat them. If you don't match them, they're going to keep testing you and they'll play all 60 minutes. It's something they do really well. They just keep coming at you and coming at you and they're going to make you beat them."
The excitement is palpable. It's one of those rare moments for them, as it has been against New England the past two seasons, to measure themselves against the very best. WILL backer Vincent Rey has played all but three snaps this season, taking his first breather last Sunday after he got his ankle caught, has already caught his breath.
"They have a really good team. We want to go against the really good guys now," Rey said. "Let's line up, put the ball down and let's go."
But it's also tempered. Like Seattle, the Bengals take pride in being physical and in last Sunday's win over Kansas City the defense turned the rare feat of not allowing a touchdown. But they did give up 461 yards and allowed the Chiefs to stay on the field for nearly 37 minutes and it is being addressed.
"Sometimes we don't trust what the coaches are teaching us, and it's obvious we don't trust because we're not doing what we've been practicing to do," Rey said. "We just need to continue to trust, continue to buy in more and more. The more we buy in, the better it will be."
The defense has some great challenges Sunday. There is not only the creativity and athleticism of Wilson, there's also the brute beauty of Lynch. And that's not even getting into keeping pace with a defense that can be downright historic.
Michael Johnson is rounding into form.
Seattle has not allowed a touchdown in the last 18 regular-season quarters with Chancellor on the field.
"(Chiefs quarterback) Alex Smith was a good runner, but Wilson is just another level in terms of running," is how Rey sums it up. "And he's been successful for many years. Since he's been in the NFL he's been successful throwing the ball. He's a good player, man. It's a big challenge, but we like it."
As Winston says, Wilson is such a handful, particularly on third down, and the Bengals got a mere taste with Alex Smith. The Chiefs came in converting 16.7 percent on third down, but popped 44 percent on Sunday. On two of the conversions, Smith scrambled out of the pocket, one to make a throw and one to convert a third-and-one.
"The rush lanes have to be solid," said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. "They have to understand we just can't run up the field and get out of the lanes because they're going to take off and run. It happened four or five times (Sunday). It can't happen. Part of that is they extend drives that way. We have to get off the field, too. We can control that. I told them that in the middle of the third quarter. 'We're just on the field too long.' I looked at the time of possession and said we're just taking too many snaps. Third down had something to do with it."
One thing the Bengals have going for them is that Seattle looks to be having almost as many problems as Kansas City did on its offensive line last Sunday, when the Bengals got them for five sacks, their most in 25 games. Somehow, the Seahawks have replaced the Chiefs this week at No. 32 in the NFL for allowing sacks per pass.
Cincinnati Bengals host the Kansas City Chiefs at Paul Brown Stadium week 4 of the regular season.
And Wilson handles the ball enough that stuff happens. He's got an NFL-high 25 fumbles in the last two years and one got returned for 27-yard touchdown Monday night for Detroit's only touchdown.
Enter Bengals Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins and not just his three sacks, but how his play lifts the rest of the line. With a healthy Atkins, the Bengals are on pace to reach last year's total of 20 sacks at the halfway point.
"It's like night and day," Guenther said. "To his credit, he came back in great shape. He's playing his butt off, he's into it. If he gives me good information coming off the field, I really value the information I get from the players in there. These guys have been in the system long enough to know, 'hey, do we need to run this game or this game? What's looking good? How is the spacing with the line between the guard and the tackle and the guard and the center. What do we need to do? And those guys, because we talk about it during the week, the information they give me on the sidelines is so valuable."
With a Seattle line trying to find itself, they'll have to be fonts of information Sunday. And somebody else the Bengals didn't have last season, right end Michael Johnson, is also emerging as the Bengals try to match Seattle's active, bruising defensive front. Now two months removed from a sprained knee, Johnson logged his first sack last Sunday and added a huge forced fumbled to go with his 28th career tipped pass. At 6-7, he'll give Wilson a different look on the perimeter.
"He's just an every-down sucker. He plays the run good, plays the pass good. He's just a solid, complete player," Guenther said. He's a solid, complete player. He's a leader with the guys. He's a good personality for our D-line room. He's always uplifting the guys. He made a hell of a play on the forced turnover on third down. . . . He's really rounding into form."
But Guenther will also need sound play out of the back end and it's going through kind of a quiet transition. With George Iloka (ankle) out last week, Leon Hall got his first of 103 NFL starts at safety. When he moved into the slot in nickel, third-year safety Shawn Williams ended up playing 66 snaps, the most of his career. When cornerback Adam Jones (groin, elbow) left in the second half, 2014 first-rounder Darqueze Dennard got his first extended action of the season.
"Leon played some safety in some of the packages there. He's been working at safety in the offseason," Guenther said. "Shawn got an opportunity for the first time to really start in a ballgame, which was good to see. He played pretty good for his first day. But we mixed and matched. They run a lot of personnel groupings."
So does Seattle. It's unclear how Iloka is, but he's a pretty durable guy. All signs point to Jones playing, but they'll need help from the other guys, particularly with tight end Jimmy Graham coming to town.
Last year when they won in New Orleans, the Bengals held Graham to three catches for 29 yards with SAM baker Emmanuel Lamur and safety Reggie Nelson on him for those three catches, according to profootballfocus.com, on a day Drew Brees targeted him just three times. But this season Guenther also has the versatility of Hall and Williams at his disposal in the back end.
Yet Guenther emphasized against a quarterback like Wilson, the front end and the back end have to click, and they've got the Kansas City experience lingering.
"Their quarterback, to his credit made some plays with his feet, got out of the pocket and was able to extend the play a little bit in coverage," Guenther said. "So the coverage package and the rush package all have to fit together. So when one of those two break down, whether it's the run – we've got to get out of our lanes – or the coverage breaks down where he can get the ball out even though we're getting a good rush, it's all going to fit together."
This Sunday, the Bengals find out how close the blueprint fits reality.