The Bengals travel to the outskirts of Washington D.C. for the Redskins home opener (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in the middle of the NFL's offensive renaissance against the league's highest-scoring team and the Bengals.com media roundtable sees Cincinnati keeping pace. All four are saying it is going to be a shootout between the two young Texas Rangers, Andy Dalton of the Bengals and Robert Griffin III of the Redskins.
Three of the four go with the 'Skins because they're at home, but no one is giving them more than a touchdown edge and two of them say they wouldn't be surprised if it's the same score but only with the Bengals winning.
Through Week 2 of the 2012 season, teams have combined to score 48.63 points per game, the most in the first two weeks of a season since the merger year of 1970. With the Bengals struggling on defense, the Redskins losing their two leading sackers, and Dalton and Griffin coming off big performances, The Table is calling for a slew of points Sunday.
David Elfin, one of the top Redskins cover guys in the mold of Hall of Famer Darrell Green, worked the beat for The Washington Times for years before becoming the Web columnist for 106.7 The Fan and sees a field-goal game Sunday. He sees the Redskins defense making one more play than the Bengals at home.
Vinny Cerrato, the former Redskins general manager now a talk show host for 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore who also does Jets pregame and Ravens postgame shows, is in for a close, high-scoring affair. He believes the Bengals are eventually going to get their defense straightened out, but this isn't exactly the place to do it or the quarterback.
After doing what no one in the NFL could when he covered Michael Vick for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Steve Wyche has become one of the game's top two-way threats on air and in cyberspace for NFL Network. He sees Dalton and Griffin lighting it up, but goes with Washington's solid running game barely putting the 'Skins over the top.
Alex Marvez of FoxSports.com, who broke into the league a year before Ray Lewis covering the 1995 Bengals for The Dayton Daily News, went on to cover Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan's Super Bowl run in Denver before moving to his hometown Dolphins and is now entrenched as one of the league's leading specialists at Sirius Radio as well as a national scribe. He noted the Redskins struggle against Rams quarterback Sam Bradford last week and thinks Dalton is going to have the same kind of success in a Bengals victory.
Let's go around The Table:
It's not so surprising that the Redskins are 1-1, but it is how they've done it. They beat the Saints, lost to the Rams and their offense is carrying them instead of their defense.
Griffin is the real deal and people thought he was, but no one thought he'd come out like this. His two TD passes of at least 65 yards is something that hasn't happened around here in years. Rookie running back Alfred Morris is a sixth-rounder and he's not Jerome Bettis, but he's a good power back and looks like he'll be solid. The offensive line has been a bit of a surprise. Griffin's mobility helps and they haven't given up much.
They're probably not going to have wide receiver Pierre Garcon and that's a tough loss for them because he got hurt on his 88-yard touchdown catch in the opener and he was Griffin's favorite target in the preseason. He still has guys he can throw to, Santana Moss, and Fred Davis is a good tight end.
Losing outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker for the season obviously hurts. Their other outside backer, Ryan Kerrigan, is a good player. But if Orakpo isn't their best defensive player he's one of their best. They're replaced by guys like end Jarvis Jenkins, a guy that's got a lot of talent, a second-round pick last year, but he was on IR his rookie year and just doesn't have the experience. Perry Riley is a guy that has played mostly inside and not a lot of outside backer.
Cornerback DeAngelo Hall struggled some last year in one-on-one situations and he goes into the slot on third down. Their best cover corner, Josh Wilson, had to leave last week's game because of a concussion, but he should be OK this week. They're not all that great at safety. Brandon Meriweather, who's already been let go by the Bears and Patriots, hasn't played yet in the regular season with a knee injury and Madieu Williams is a backup.
They're usually good on special teams. Brandon Banks is an excellent return guy and they had top coverage teams last year. But they've had punts blocked in both games this season and lost their long snapper with a broken arm in the opener. Kicker Billy Cundiff has been fine. He missed one at the end last week, but it was from 62 yards.
THE EDGE: Redskins, 27-24. Ask me in an hour and it may be Bengals, 27-24. I just think at this point the Redskins are overachieving on offense and the Bengals are underachieving on defense. The way the Bengals are playing defense, it's going to be hard to stop Griffin. But the Redskins look to be vulnerable in the pass game. They shot from 31st to 13th in defense last year, but losing their two top pass rushers is tough and I could see the Bengals hurting them at safety.
They aren't like the Bengals teams I covered. A lot of that has to do with confidence and I think you'll see that Sunday in what is going to be a tough place to play going crazy with RG III's home debut.
I know they haven't played well on defense, but look at what is going on with the Redskins defensively. Losing Orakpo and Carriker is huge and I think it's going to take them a few weeks to adjust to playing without them. They've given up a lot of points, too, and they let the Rams passing game get going last week.
And on the flip side, I like what's going on with the Bengals on offense. It looks like there is going to be a lot of points in this one. The Bengals have a bunch of receivers behind A.J. Green ready to step in it seems. With (Armon) Binns, (Brandon) Tate, and (Andrew) Hawkins the No. 2 receiver job looks like it's going to be OK and BenJarvus Green-Ellis is going to help them at running back, particularly in a road game Sunday.
THE EDGE: Bengals, 31-27. It's a good test for the Bengals. I think we'll get a good idea where they are after this one. When you look at it, this is the type of game a good team should win on the road. They're playing what I think is an inferior roster compared to what they have and those are the ones you have to win to make the playoffs. I think they're going to score just enough to win.
I just think the Bengals defense is going to have a hard time with RG III. Plus, you know that city and stadium are going to be going crazy in his first home game.
I'm stunned at how the Bengals are playing on defense. The one thing that Mike Zimmer's defenses always have is discipline and they just don't have any right now. It's hard to tell whether they've got the talent, although you know Dunlap is a very talented player and now that it looks like he'll be back that should help.
But the Bengals have been struggling against the run and they're going to have to slow down Washington's running game. Of course, you could put me or you in there and we'd rush for 1,000 yards in Shanahan's system. Look at all the studs he had in Denver that were supposed to be just guys and Morris (4.2 per carry) is a solid guy like that.
EDGE: Redskins, 31-24. I think it's going to be a shootout. I think Dalton is playing well and with a lot of poise and I think they've got some people around him. Hawkins is a gamebreaker and BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a steady presence, and getting running back Bernard Scott is only going to help. A.J. Green is a beast and I think Gresham can be a factor Sunday. The Redskins don't have anybody back there that can cover him.
I was at the Bengals game in Baltimore and what struck me was their veterans in the secondary played like old guys. I don't know if that's always going to be the case because I think their experience is going to help them there.
But they obviously need to clean it up and their linebackers are going to have to play with a lot more discipline because Griffin gives you so many problems with his arm and legs in the zone option stuff. It's like playing the old Oklahoma option back in the day. Griffin reads the end, the ends have to crash, someone has to take the running back, someone has to take the quarterback.
Griffin is going to be reading the end and the linebackers have to run and flow. You have to get to him early. Look at the Chicago tape in the preseason. They've handled him the best.
Just crowding the pocket, getting pressure on him. The 'Skins are going to come out and either throw it deep, or give him a couple of easy throws early and get him settled on short throws off (bootlegs). Getting Dunlap back helps the Bengals.
You have to get him early, take him out of his rhythm, don't give him confidence. Hound him, get in his face, and if you get a turnover, that would be great. You have to make them one-dimensional.
THE EDGE: Redskins, 28-24. I could see the Bengals winning by the same score and I think they'll score points. The Rams moved the ball on them. When I visited the Bengals training camp I came out of it really impressed with Hawkins. The guy is a mismatch. And I thought they ran the ball well against the Ravens. To me, that's what Marvin has to do if the Bengals are going to win. Control the clock and be relentless in the running game.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It's not a great matchup for the Bengals given the season-ending defensive injuries they've suffered the past two weeks on the line (backup end Jamaal Anderson) and WILL backer Thomas Howard, the two position groups that have to keep track of RGIII up close.
Left end Carlos Dunlap is back, but for how many plays and how long is it going to take him to get his game wind? Does Dunlap play 10 or 30 snaps? Newcomer Wallace Gilberry has to play at least some end. He was on a team until two weeks ago, so he should be in shape but how much can he do with just three days of practice?
And everyone seems to think middle linebacker Rey Maualuga is playing for his job. Whether he is or not he'll get plenty of chances to atone Sunday because Griffin figures to attack the middle, where the Bengals have been the most vulnerable in the running game, short passes and deep balls.
There's enough to worry about with Griffin's 6.2 yards per carry, but there's also rookie running back Alfred Morris's 4.2, the latest cog in Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan's zone running game. Morris, a sixth-rounder from Florida Atlantic, follows in the tracks of Broncos sixth-rounders Terrell Davis and Mike Anderson. It's the scheme and when Bengals left end Robert Geathers said they need players to rally to the ball, this is why.
There are some things that look to be in Cincinnati's favor even though Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has a lot of regard in the Bengals camp and they believe he runs a solid 3-4 scheme like the Steelers with the intensity of the Texans.
But with the losses of his top two pass rushers, outside backer Brian Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker, his flexibility may be crimped. Haslett likes to confuse and he was lining up Orakpo and Carriker on different sides in the opener. Ryan Kerrigan, the other outside backer, is a good player but his surrounding cast is now inexperienced.
The Rams made hay last week hurting the Redskins over the middle and underneath in the passing game and the Bengals have some possession receivers that can burn defenses a couple of different ways with Andrew Hawkins's speed and the strength of Armon Binns.
Rich Campbell of The Washington Times put it this way in the wake of the 31-28 loss to the Rams:
"This game busts the myth that the Redskins were just a quarterback and some offensive playmakers away from solving their problems. The defense struggled after the first quarter to pressure Rams QB Sam Bradford, and this secondary as currently constructed can't withstand a passing attack led by a quarterback who has a lot of time to scan the field and throw."
And, the Redskins are the most penalized team in the NFL and are playing with a certain lack of composure. They are coming out of a game the NFL handed out $55,000 in fines with Redskins wide receiver Joshua Morgan getting hit $7,875 for unsportsmanlike conduct in what turned out to be the big play in the game when he threw the football at Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan late in the fourth quarter after a catch.
But the key to this one may be hidden in special teams. The Bengals won five games on the road last season and special teams were a huge reason. Brandon Tate had big punt returns in the second half in Seattle and St. Louis, Mike Nugent was 12 of 13 in field goals on the road, and the Bengals were in the top 10 covering both kicks and punts.
The Bengals look to be on the same track with Adam Jones's 81-yard punt return for a TD last week. Plus, the Redskins have had a punt blocked in each game and are working with a new long snapper.
But snaps haven't been a reason for the blocked punts for a Redskins special teams unit that is usually solid and around the top of the NFL rankings. Washington has a big-time returner in 153-pound Brandon Banks and last year the Redskins finished 10th and second covering punts and kicks, respectively.
Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons says it could be communications or technique issues for the 'Skins punt cover. Or, it could be they're just trying to get downfield too quickly, which is what happed last week when linebacker Perry Riley left too quickly.
Whatever it is, Simmons expects the 'Skins to fix it and isn't basing his game plan on punt rush.
"We're going to do what we do," Simmons said.
If they do, it can be what tips a tight road game like it did last season.