BY GEOFF HOBSON
In the last three weeks, the Bengals have lost three winnable games. Primarily because they put no pressure on the opposing quarterback.
Troy Aikman, Drew Bledsoe and Kordell Stewart all were struggling with some of the NFL's worst passing ratings before meeting the Bengals. But they combined to shred Cincinatti on a 96.2 passer rating (57-for-93, 742 yards, 4 TDs, 1 int).
How tough will it be for the Bengals to keep Dick LeBeau, their defensive coordinator, as head coach if their defense doesn't make some plays down the stretch?
The Bengals had just one sack combined against Aikman and Bledsoe, quarterbacks nursing aches who were vulnerable to pressure. They had four against Stewart, but he won the game on two third-down scrambles.
Which brings us to Arizona's Jake Plummer, a Kordellish playmaker out of the pocket. But like Aikman and Bledsoe, Plummer is a little brittle facing the Bengals.
Plummer didn't play last week against the Giants a week after the Eagles chased him from the game twice with bruised ribs and a thumb.
Enter, ironically, Bengals defensive end Michael Bankston. Bankston played 96 games for the Cardinals before coming to the Bengals as a free agent in 1998 and he'll be charged with containing the elusive Plummer in the pocket.
"You've to get some hits on him," Bankston said. "He's banged up. You can't let him scramble, but at the same time you can't take yourself out of the game. You have to make some plays on him. He's a tough guy." . . .more
Plummer has the "Jake the Snake," image, but Bengals defensive tackle Oliver Gibson says he doesn't use it as a weapon like Stewart.
"He's got some banged-up ribs, I don't think he'll get out of pocket that much," Gibson said. "I would think he'll be a little hesitant, but I would still expect him to be himself. Kordell scrambles because it's weapon. Jake does it because he's scrappy, he's looking to get yards."
Gibson saw how Plummer hurt his ribs. Hugh Douglas of the Eagles drilled him as he slid to the ground, so he figures Plummer, "isn't gun-shy of contact."
MATCHUPS: Lefty Bengals QB Scott Mitchell can see Cardinals DE Simeon Rice coming at him, but Bengals LT Rod Jones still has to block him. Bengals WR Peter Warrick attends a seminar chaired by perennial Pro Bowl Cardinals CB Aeneas Williams Bengals LG Scott Rehberg comes off a solid game last week against rookie Cardinals DT Mao Tosi in effort to unleash Cincinnati's No. 2 rush offense against Arizona's No. 28 rush defense.
Bengals LB Take Spikes takes on workhorse Cardinals RB Michael Pittman on the run and pass. Arizona's long-ball threat in Cardinals WR David Boston takes a run at Bengals CBs Robert Bean and Rodney Heath after Cincinnati's tough day against the Steelers... more
RICE VS. JONES: After ringing up the second most sacks in the NFL last season with 16.5, Rice is struggling with 6.5 this year after showing up the second week of the season.
But he may be getting back into the swing just in time. Rice had three sacks two weeks ago against the Eagles and caused a sack and fumble the week before against Minnesota, a play on which Jones has been vulnerable this season. Rice is down to 245 pounds, but Jones has trouble against the quick guys. The Bengals say Jones is finally recovered from offseason arthroscopic knee surgery.
We'll find out.
WARRICK VS. WILLIAMS: The Bengals think the rookie Warrick has played his best against the better cornerbacks (New England's Ty Law, Jacksonville's Fernando Bryant) but this is a tough guy to have a break-out game against.
The crafty Williams has been to the last six Pro Bowls by playing safe and smart in a zone-oriented concept, but just two of his 43 career interceptions have come this season.
REHBERG VS. TOSI: The Bengals haven't re-signed injured incumbent left guard Matt O'Dwyer, but they like the way Rehberg played last week when Dillon gouged the Steelers for 128 rushing yards.
The 6-6, 305-pound Tosi led the Cards' defensive line with eight tackles last week. Figure the kid can move as a former Alaska prep basketball player of the year.
SPIKES VS. PITTMAN: Pittman leads the Cards in rushing and receiving, but he's not among the NFC's top 20 in total yards from scrimmage. Still he's a force. Last week he had 10 catches against the Giants that included a 36-yard touchdown off a swing pass.
Bengals defensive tackle Oliver Gibson calls him underrated and special, but Cincinnati receivers coach Steve Mooshagian knows all about Pittman because he recruited him to Fresno State: "He's got great hands, he's strong, he makes you miss. He reminds me of (Bengals reserve running back) Brandon Bennett as a receiver, but he might be a little stronger." BOSTON VS. HEATH, BEAN: The Bengals' secondary has had a rough month. In the last four games, the Bengals have allowed five passes of least 34 yards, three for touchdowns. Boston likes to leave the Hub. He's got seven catches of at least 32 yards and has gone 70, 63 and 56 this season.
NUMBERS GAME: All the numbers you need for this weekend, including 4 and 4. That's the number of 100-yard rushing games logged by Bengals running back Corey Dillon and allowed by the Cardinals' defense this season. . more.
178 _ Yards needed by Dillon to break James Brooks' single-season club rushing record.
3-11 _Combined record of Bengals coach Dick LeBeau and Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis since they took over during the season for Bruce Coslet and Vince Tobin, respectively.
281 _ Career catches by Bengals tight end Tony McGee, ninth on the team's all-time list.
282 _ Career catches by former Bengals wide receiver Tim McGee (no relation), eighth on the club list.
15,060 _ Career passing yards for Bengals quarterback Scott Mitchell, 92nd on the NFL's all-time list.
7-1 _ Bengals record when Dillon has 125 yards rushing, the first loss coming last week vs. Steelers.
13 _ Takeaways by the Bengals' defense this season, fewest in the NFL.
15 _ Takeaways by the Arizona defense, third fewest in the NFL.
3 _ Interceptions by Arizona cornerbacks.
2 _ Interceptions by Bengals cornerbacks.
THIS AND THAT:** Yes, Warrick made his eye appointment Friday and was fitted for contact lenses. No word if they will be ready by game time. . .
Bankston, who still lives in Arizona, feels a little strange playing against his team of six seasons, "but I'm not going to go hysterical or hyper. I may have a few words for some of them, but that's all." He attends off-season Bible studies with several of the current Cards. . .
FOOD DRIVE: Fans attending the game are urged to bring a canned food donation to be dropped off at the stadium gates before the end of the first quarter. The gates are to be manned by volunteers for Cincinnati's Free Store FoodBank.
FRIDAY INACTIVES:** Bengals: FB Clif Groce, RB Curtis Keaton, S-LB JoJuan Armour, WR Lavell Boyd; Cardinals: RB Thomas Jones, G Yusuf Scott, DT Mark Smith, DE Corey Sears.
WEATHER CALL:** The weather gurus at WKRC-Channel 12 say there could be a light dusting of snow Sunday morning, to be followed by partial clearing with a high temperature of about 35 degrees.