Luchey on loose

12-27-02, 11 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Corey Dillon is listed as probable, but Nicolas Luchey is preparing in his mind like he is going to run the bulk of the snaps Sunday in Buffalo. At the very least, he figures he'll see some short-yardage and goal line situations after scoring his first career touchdowns last Sunday against the Saints from one and three yards out.

"It's easier this week because I went out and did it," said Luchey of his first dozen carries of the season

that netted him 59 yards and the Bengals' second win of the season. "I spent some extra time going over stuff with (running backs coach Jim Anderson) and it's just easier to prepare mentally."

Speaking of Anderson, the dean of the Bengals' staff has had a heck of a 19th year. He has overseen Dillon's sixth straight 1,000-yard season, fullback Lorenzo Neal's selection to the Pro Bowl, and Luchey's break-out game that rescued the Bengals from their first winless home season.

"The one thing you can say about Jim Anderson,' said Luchey after the game, "is that his players produce."

And from J.B. (James Brooks) to C.D., he always has. Which begs the question of his status come Monday. Like everyone else, he has no idea and is trying to prepare for the Bills.

"That's the way this business is Anderson said. "What is going to happen is going to happen. You have to do what you can do and that's to coach."

Which he is doing with Luchey. He's has been at him to drop 10 more pounds and get to 260 or below, and he is still driving that home.

"Nick did a great job," Anderson said of last Sunday. "He's a bright guy, he studied our tip sheet, and he was ready when called upon. That's the main thing.

"He needs to control his weight," Anderson said. "How much better can he play? He could possibly do a lot better. He's a big a man who would be stronger with more endurance."

**

MATCHUPS:**Bengals QB Jon Kitna, riding a hotter streak over the last 11 games, goes against the man who might have been the Bengals quarterback in Bills QB Drew Bledsoe. The All-in-the-Family matchup pitting Bengals TE Matt Schobel vs. Bills DE Aaron Schobel.

Bengals CB Jeff Burris revives his AFC East rivalry with Bledsoe and Bills WR Eric Moulds. Bengals DE Justin Smith tries to tie last year's sack total against limping Bills LT Jonas Jennings. Bengals WR Peter Warrick tries to run away from Bills CB Antoine Winfield.

Cincinnati is down to just two safeties who have been with them all year and one of them, rookie Bengals FS Marquand Manuel, has to get Bills RB Travis Henry on the ground on the first hit. If this is his last game as a Bengal, Bengals ROLB Takeo Spikes looks to stuff one of the league's top running backs working behind estimable Bills LG Ruben Brown, and will they blitz Bledsoe like the last time they played him when they sacked him four times?

KITNA VS. BLEDSOE: All eyes are on Kitna. Can he finish off the best stretch of his career, with a passer rating of 81.2? Can he outplay the man everyone wanted to play in Cincinnati (he has thrown three more touchdown passes than Bledsoe in the last 11 games)? Can he get at least 61 snaps for his $1.65 million incentive next season? **

SCHOBEL VS. SCHOBEL:** Like Matt says, the score dictates if he's running into Aaron in the running game or running past him in the passing game. Aaron figures he'll get the bulk of his snaps against Bengals rookie left tackle Levi Jones.

"I play a lot like Justin (Smith)," Aaron said. "I go as hard as I can all game and see what I can do."

Like Smith, he does more than that with a team-high 8.5 sacks. At 265 pounds. he's got a pretty good, quick move to the outside and has held up against the run.

But the Bills as a team are vulnerable to giving up big rushing days. Against the Big Three of Ricky Williams, Priest Holmes, and LaDainian Tomlinson, they allowed 228, 104, and 110 yards, respectively in the last six games. **

BURRIS VS. MOULDS:** Burris, a former No. 1 pick of the Bills who later went to the Colts, knows all about Bledsoe and Moulds, not to mention Dayton's Peerless Price. He thinks Bledsoe looks years younger ("I don't know if it's the offense or what, but he looks as comfortable as he's looked in a long time") and knows he can have a receiver covered and he'll still find a way to jam it into the crevice.

"I've played against both of these receivers and they're capable of breaking a game open with their explosiveness," Burris said. "Their down-field routes are great, but they also run very good intermediate routes. This is one game where you emphasize having to play technique sound from top to bottom."

SMITH VS. JENNINGS: Jennings was part of the crew that allowed the Packers' Vonnie Holliday to get to Bledsoe for five sacks last week, but he was hobbled by a bad ankle. One of the criticisms of Bledsoe is he's got no mobility and tends to hold the ball longer than the summer solstice in the pocket. The Bills are 29th in the league in giving up sacks per pass play. Smith comes into the game with a team-high seven sacks, 1.5 off last year's rookie total.

WARRICK VS. WINFIELD: Ohio State's Winfield is one of the best corner tacklers in the league, which should be interesting against Warrick and his burgeoning yards-after-catch stats. Warrick has three touchdown catches in his last two games, two coming on throws he had to run at least 20 yards after the catch.

MANUEL VS. HENRY: Manuel is coming off his best game as a pro as the Bengals held NFC rushing leader Deuce McAllister to 26 yards rushing. They will have to be just as diligent against Henry. He gets 4.6 yards per carry and his reputation is that he is a tremendous breaker of tackles. The sure tackle hasn't been a Bengals' strong suit this season.

SPIKES VS. BROWN: If Henry isn't running behind 370-pound rookie right tackle Mike Williams, it's Brown at left guard and he has been known to pull and trap. The Bengals are coming off their best day against the run in years, with the 36 yards they allowed the Saints last Sunday their fewest since their last game at Cinergy Field on Dec. 12. 1999 against the Browns.

But will Spikes be blitzing the immobile Bledsoe like they did in the 2001 season opener? In the Bengals' 23-17 win over the Patriots, they sacked Bledsoe four times with Spikes, linebacker Adrian Ross, and free safety Darryl Williams accounting for 2.5 of them.

**

NUMBERS GAME:** All the numbers you need for this Sunday's game in Buffalo, including 16 and 13. The first is the number of touchdown passes Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna has thrown in the last 11 games. The second is the number of touchdown passes Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe has thrown in the last 11 games.

Upper 30s _ Degrees National Weather Service predicts for Sunday's 1 p.m. kickoff at Orchard Park, N.Y.

1 _ Touchdown passes Kitna has thrown in the last two games.

0 _ Touchdown passes Bledsoe has thrown in the last two games.

2 _ Times Bledsoe's teams have been shut out, the second time coming last week in Green Bay.

2 _ Catches needed by wide receiver T.J.Houshmandzadeh to make the Bengals the only team having four wide receivers with 40 catches, joining Chad Johnson (63), Peter Warrick (50), Ron Dugans (46)

2,407 _ Combined receiving yards by Bills wide receivers Eric Moulds and Peerless Price, leading all NFL duos.

60.8 _ Bledsoe's passing percentage.

62.8 _ Kitna's passing percentage. If it holds up, it is the Bengals' highest for a passer with more than 200 attempts since Ken Anderson's 66.7 in 1983.

1,358 _ Rushing yards by Buffalo's Travis Henry.

1,258 _ Rushing yards by Cincinnati's Corey Dillon.

6 _ Henry's NFL-leading 125-yard games.

3 _ Dillon's 125-yard games.

6 _ Henry's 100-yard games.

5 – Dillon's 100-yard games, tying club record tied by him in 1999 and 2000.

12 _ Bengals' kicker Neil Rackers' field goals inside 45 yards on 12 attempts.

63 _ Passing yards Kitna needs for 3,000, marking the first time since 1989 the Bengals have a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher, and a 1,000-yard receiver.

61 _ Snaps Bengals need for Kitna to get his $1.65 million incentive for next season.

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