BENGALS LEs ROBERT GEATHERS AND CARLOS DUNLAP VS. RAIDERS RT KHALIF BARNES
Take your pick here.
Bengals CB Leon Hall vs. old friend Raiders QB Carson Palmer. Bengals MLB Rey Maualuga and WLB Vontaze Burfict vs. Raiders TE Brandon Myers and FB Marcel Reece. Bengals WR A.J. Green vs. the beleaguered Raiders secondary. Even Bengals P Kevin Huber vs. Shane Lechler, the seven-time Raiders Pro Bowl punter.
All those matchups are going to have an impact on Sunday's game at Paul Brown Stadium (1 p.m.-700 WLW, ESPN 1530, 102.7 WEBN-FM), but no matter the history the Bengals have to put pressure on Palmer. It's a pass-first offense with a big-arm quarterback that can make life miserable for defenses if he is allowed to sit in the pocket.
Be it Peyton Manning or Eli Manning this month or Philip Rivers and Tony Romo next month.
"I've never seen a quarterback with better arm talent or deep ball accuracy," says Dave Lapham, the Bengals radio analyst who was in the booth for all of Palmer's 99 starts for Cincinnati. "Like any quarterback that has a big arm and confidence in it, he's going to try to put it into places and this secondary is going to get the chance to get its hands on a lot of balls, and they have to have the ball skills to secure them. Pressure off the edge would be a factor."
The 6-6, 321-pound Barnes is in his eighth season, a 2005 second-round pick of the Jaguars who missed seven games this season with a groin problem. He came back last week against the Saints. Last year ProFootballFocus.com rated him in the upper half of pass-blocking tackles at No. 33, but he allowed the second-most QB hits in the NFL with nine.
On Sunday he'll get the intriguing Bengals tandem of Geathers and Dunlap as it tries to make Palmer move so he has to throw across his body.
Dunlap, the third-year player regarded as Cincinnati's best edge rusher, played his most snaps of the season last week in Kansas City with 49 while Geathers played 34. Defensive line coach Jay Hayes has been reluctant to cut back Geathers's snaps because the nine-year veteran has played well and Lapham can see why.
"Robert is the pro's pro," Lapham says. "He's not flashy. He doesn't make many 'wow' plays. But he's smart, accountable, the kind of guy that helps you win games. He does more things to help you than hurt you.
"And I think when you watch Carlos play, you see that he wants to be that kind of guy. He's playing the run a million times better and he's become more consistent."
When Palmer played here, the Bengals rarely moved him out of the pocket. Watching the first year of coordinator Greg Knapp's system, Lapham notes the Raiders are sending Palmer on many more bootlegs to change his launch point.
But Palmer said in his conference call with the Cincinnati media this week injuries to the running backs have curtailed his movement.
"It's been hard to do some of that stuff when you don't have (Darren) McFadden back there as the threat that he is. So we've had to get away a little bit from that, but I really like this offense," Palmer said. "I'm really excited about the future of this offense and where this offense can go as soon as we start getting our receivers back and up and practicing and McFadden back and Mike Goodson back and some of the guys we've had down for a while now."
The problem for Palmer is that it doesn't look like he'll have McFadden or Goodson on Sunday, although Reece is a potential 100-yard rusher. Another problem may be a stat from last week's game against New Orleans. ProFootballFocus.com had Palmer 11 for 24 on passes for 184 yards against no pressure.
But it still comes down to pressure and not letting a gunslinger set his feet. Palmer unleashed his second pick-six of the season last week against the Saints when he tried to hit one of his favorite targets, Myers, over the middle.
He got pressure from up the middle, threw off his back foot and the ball sailed out of the window to safety Malcolm Jenkins draped all over Myers and he took it 55 yards down the sideline.
(Think Arizona 2007.)
Geathers has seen plenty of Palmer. His rookie year was Palmer's first year as the starter. With Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins getting pressure against everybody, the ends have to be there when the expected double team comes, or when Atkins makes them step up.
"When he had his injuries (ACL, elbow), it set him back. It would have anybody," Lapham says. "But now he's healthy and throwing it around."
And the Bengals expect Palmer to come in slinging it. Hall says the combination of Palmer playing on his old turf and the Raiders speed on the outside suggests Palmer won't be shy throwing.
"Wouldn't doubt it," Hall said. "If I was him, I'd want to."