Hobson's Choice: For openers, it couldn't be tougher

Q: Could the season opener be a tougher game? On the road against KC looks like a bad place for the Bengals to start the season. KC has a great offense with a great running game. The weak point of their team is defense, but the beginning of the year defenses should have the advantage. What will be the Bengals' biggest challenge in preparing for that game?
**--Billy, Apopka, FL

BILLY:** The Chiefs could stone a NFL Mount Rushmore of PB, Lombardi, Jim Brown and Montana, anybody, in KC. The Chiefs have won 61 percent of their home games since the merger, are 10-5 in their last 15 home openers, are coming off a 7-1 stand at Arrowhead, and will be riding the emotion of coach Herman Edwards' first game. But, then again, the Bengals and Marvin Lewis could always do to an AFC West foe on the road what Mike Shanahan and his Broncos did in spoiling Lewis' debut with a 30-10 win in the opener at Paul Brown Stadium in 2003.

The Bengals defense has to come right out of the gate and face the demons that contributed to their slide in the last eight games last season against the offense that led the NFL last season:

Tackle and prevent the big play. Not only did Chiefs running back Larry Johnson rush for 201 yards in the 37-3 drubbing of the Bengals in last season's finale, the killer is that three of his runs were for touchdowns of at least 14 yards.

It's a great spot for Sam Adams to make his Bengals debut against that Pro Bowl offensive line of Will Shields and Willie Roaf that fueled the NFL's fourth best running game last season. The Bengals get a sense of how much Adams means to them right away against a physical bunch that paved the way for Johnson's 5.2 yards-per-bolt last season.

But Johnson's 49-yard touchdown run, the longest against the Bengals last season, wasn't all the defensive line's fault, either. It didn't get any help at the second and third levels in holding it to what should have been a seven-yard run against a line stunt, and that was a bigger problem last year than the line play.

That's the job of the new safety tandem of Madieu Williams and Dexter Jackson. Clean up the run and this time Rudi has to be the top rushing Johnson in the game.

But, let's face it, you can't go much off last year. The Bengals were just trying to get out of KC with no one getting carried off, and they played the second half with the majority of their backups on both sides of the ball in preparation for the Wild Card game the next week.

Still, it's an early test for a defense that knows it has to play better.

There. About 500 words without mentioning Carson Palmer's health.


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