Updated: 2:40 p.m.
The good news for head coach Marvin Lewis is that the Bengals are relatively healthy on defense. The bad news is the Bengals are relatively healthy on defense.
"That's what happens when you have a dozen guys on IR. Half the secondary and half the defensive line," Lewis said after Friday's practice on the Paul Brown Stadium field. "It's not what we expected when we added the guys this offseason to play in the games we've had to play through this stretch. But we have to coach up the guys we have and be ready to play."
Sunday's 1 p.m. date at PBS against Saints Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees caps a month the Bengals faced two other Super Bowl-winning QBs in the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger and the Colts' Peyton Manning. In three more weeks at PBS, they play the Chargers' Philip Rivers, along with Brees and New England's Tom Brady, the NFL's co-leader in touchdown passes.
It looks like Lewis is going to have three DBs (two of them starters) that he didn't have in the last six quarters. Safety Roy Williams (concussion) worked all week for the first time since the Nov. 21 massacre against Buffalo in which the Bengals also lost safety Chris Crocker (knee) to injured reserve, as well as starting left cornerback Johnathan Joseph (ankle) and backup corners Rico Murray (ankle) and Brandon Ghee (groin) for the Jets game on Nov. 25. Joseph and Murray were limited Wednesday, but went full go Thursday and Friday. All but Ghee are listed as probable. Ghee still isn't up and is doubtful.
After being limited Wednesday and Thursday, left tackle Andrew Whitworth (knee) and defensive tackle Pat Sims (knee) went full Friday and are probable.
For the Saints, running back Pierre Thomas (ankle) was limited Friday, as he had been all week, and is questionable.
So the obvious concern is with a Saints offense that has three wide receivers with at least four touchdown catches. Three weeks ago on the road the Bengals held Manning to 185 yards passing, but his receivers were decimated with injuries. Brees is just now getting back healthy tight end Jeremy Shockey and running back Reggie Bush, two huge threats in the pass game already blanketed with four wide receivers with at least 16 career touchdown catches.
Brees not only has more weapons than Manning, but more options in the NFL's third-most prolific pass offense.
"With Indy, you have basically only two personnel groups most of the time," Lewis said. "The difference with New Orleans is you see five or six groupings, probably the most we'll see. A lot of formations. Guys end up in different spots. Same play concepts. There'll be one or two things that were there this week that weren't there last week. But it's the same concepts."
Red zone defense is going to be huge for the Bengals in what figures to be the classic bend-but-don't-break game. The Saints seem to have trouble when their spread gets compacted in close. They are 25th in red-zone touchdown percentage (45.7) and have had no points on 10 red-zone possessions. The Bengals defense is ranked 18th in the red zone, giving up TDs 51.5 percent of the time. Four times they've kept points off the board.
"Stay mentally sound; don't have a mental bust," said Lewis, outlining the keys to good red zone defense. "Every front and coverage has strengths and weaknesses. Anytime on defense, particularly in the red zone, you want to make sure you work the ball into the strength of the defense."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Sunday's game stands to be Cincinnati's first cold-weather game of the year just in time to host the indoor Saints. The National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio is calling for a game-time temperature of 32 degrees that will feel like 21 with winds out of the north and west at about 14 miles per hour under mostly cloudy skies. There is a 20 percent chance of precipitation, but only a couple of flurries are predicted.
» With about an inch of snow predicted for Saturday, the field was covered after Friday's practice.
» The game is blacked out, but only in the Bengals home market is there a 72-hour period when there is no charge for fans to access a replay of the New Orleans game broadcast on NFL.com at the "NFL Game Rewind" tab or banner on the home page. Free viewing begins midnight Sunday-Monday and runs through midnight Wednesday- Thursday. The only time during that period the replay isn't available is during the ESPN Monday Night Football telecast on Dec. 6.
» Former Pro Bowl safety John Lynch is analyzing the game on Fox with play-by-play man Ron Pitts as one of the members of the all-time Bengals killers team checks in. Lynch popped out two of the most memorable Bengals fumbles in the last decade.
It was nine years ago this weekend (Dec. 2, 2001) at PBS when Lynch tore the heart out of a 4-6 Bengals team playing for a Tampa Bay club that finished 9-7. Early in overtime, Lynch had a summit in the shadow of the Cincinnati goal posts with another Pro Bowler, Bengals running back Corey Dillon, and it didn't go well for Dillon when he lost the ball for what amounted to a chip-shot field goal to cap the 16-13 loss.
But the one that really hurt came with the Bengals a win away from the playoffs on Christmas Eve, 2006, in Denver. Trailing 24-17 with 10:43 left in the game, the Bengals drove inside the Denver 40 and Lynch popped the ball loose from running back Rudi Johnson for the Bengals' fourth and last turnover of a game they lost 24-23 on a muffed extra point with 41 seconds left.
"I don't remember the first one. Do you remember the play?" Lynch asked Friday. "I think I broke my helmet. I'm pretty sure it was a run blitz, I just rushed in there. But the one on Rudi, I was back. It was a zone (run), they had three wide receivers and I just dropped in there."