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Matchup of the Game: Bengals' Sizzle vs. Seattle's Boom


          *Wide receiver Marvin Jones, one of the guys Andy Dalton trusts.            *


Bengals nose tackle Domata Peko, who called it "The Belly Rub,"  wasn't the only one dancing last Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

Thanks to a wire and camera that spawned a segment airing on Showtime and the NFL Network this week, Dalton, the Bengals' button-down quarterback with the freeze-dried personality, actually did a couple of dance moves before the game and then informed  offensive coordinator Hue Jackson he was tight and he needed to loosen up like him, Andy Dalton.

Jackson, the very brew of California cool and L.A. intensity, told him, "Please."

"No one's ever accused me of being tight," Jackson says with a laugh as he recalled the moment after Wednesday's practice. "I like to go full speed ahead."

But Jackson loves this more gregarious Dalton. Some would say ever since Jackson confronted him shortly after last season and demanded he become more assertive that Dalton has adopted some of the more outgoing aspects of Jackson's personality. But Jackson disagrees.

"I really want to believe this is who Andy is," Jackson says. "I just think he knows now it's OK to be who he wants  to be and it's OK to have a little fun."

OK, so Dalton hasn't exactly turned into Jimmy Fallon. But the invisible microphones have picked up a clear difference, so does that new looseness (Jackson prefers to call it comfortability) have anything to do with his AFC-best 123 passer rating?

"I think the quarterback has to play with confidence and swag, as these young guys say," Jackson says.

And what is cooler than the Seattle secondary, otherwise known as the Legion of Boom? You've got Richard Sherman, a Phi Beta Kappa Pro Bowler who backs up his trash talking as the league's best cornerback with long, lean 6-3 play that has resulted in a league-leading 24 interceptions since he came into the league in 2011.

And who is cooler than Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor? He just thumbed his nose at the Seahawks and the establishment by holding out despite having three years left on his deal that cost him two games. So even though he didn't get a new contract, he came back in time to save the season Monday night with a breath-taking forced fumble on the best receiver in the game when  he punched the ball away from the Lions' Calvin Johnson a yard from defeat with less than two minutes left in what turned out to be a 13-10 win.

Cincinnati Bengals host the Kansas City Chiefs at Paul Brown Stadium week 4 of the regular season.

You know that's impressive when the other safety is taking admiring notes.

"He's a physical presence. He sets a tone for their defense. He's a playmaker," says George Iloka. "Obviously you saw what he did on the last play of the game. I was thinking to myself, 'Would I have thought to punch the ball out in that type of fashion.' I probably would have tried to tackle the guy before he got into the end zone. That just shows what type of player he is."

Not only that, in the 18 possessions Chancellor has been back, Seattle hasn't given up a TD.

So it is Dalton's Sizzle vs. Seattle's Boom.

Dalton not only has to worry about Chancellor's playmaking, but he also has to worry about safety Earl Thomas' range, which is so good that ranks him sixth among NFL safeties in coverage and 12th in tackling efficiency.

And then there is Sherman with 24 picks in the last five seasons and he doesn't even have one yet this year. The next closest guy in that five-year period is Arizona's Patrick Peterson, who has one this year but only 16 since '11.

"Sherman played wide receiver when he first went to Stanford," says Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham. "He understands route trees, combination routes, his ball skills are probably the best in the league. He'll find the ball. He understands what people are trying to do to him leverage-wise."

So it nicely sets up. Dalton, the most efficient passer in the AFC, vs. the secondary where passer ratings go to die. Since they made the playoffs in 2012, the Hawks have held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 73.5 with 51 TDs against 59 interceptions.

Now here comes Dalton with nine TDs and just one interception. If Good Andy ever has to be Uncle Andy (when Jackson says, "just play uncle," that means take what they give you but not the pick), it is against "The Legion of Boom."

"They've been really good for a long time. They're a disruptive group. Surprised that they don't have an interception at this point just because of the way they've been playing throughout their career," Dalton said Wednesday at his weekly presser. "Sherman is a guy that's really instinctive. He's a smart player. He understands routes, he understands the way teams try to attack. So for us, we've got to be sharp on what we do. We have to be precise in everything that's going on. That's how you go at him because he is such a good player. He's got great ball skills, he's got great understanding.

"Kam is a guy that seems like he's a big part of that defense, made the big play that helped them win the game. That's what he does for that defense. He's got energy, he's got passion -- you see it in the way he plays. That's what they need in their defense, and that's what they thrive on."

 If it sounds like Dalton is a little more expansive, a little more verbose than in the past, you got it. After watching and listening to Dalton bugged against the Chiefs on Showtime's "Inside the NFL," Bengals play-by-play man Dan Hoard calls the piece "perception changing," and told Dalton the other day it was "phenomenal."

"I think his harshest critics who said he had no personality and mocked his pre-game speeches, I think it will completely flip after this," Hoard says.

Hoard's Exhibit A is the 36-yard bomb to A.J. Green that set the improv tone against the Chiefs. Dalton fished a low snap off the turf on third down and hit Green streaking down the left sideline. Not only did Dalton exult with "Yeah!" As he ran down to the next huddle he also reprimanded center Russell Bodine with, "Hey, get the snaps up," and got that correction in there.  

No less than the greatest locker room leader who ever lived gave Dalton the seal of approval after what he heard and saw. Norman Julius Esiason said on Showtime that in the past he had the sense the club wanted to see Dalton play a more high-profile role.

Of course, not everybody can be like the quarterback Boomer Esiason who led the Bengals in 123 starts in the '80s and '90s. He had the charisma of TV and the appeal of a labor leader to match Pro Bowl stats.

But after watching Dalton unplugged, Esiason says Dalton is the leader they wanted him to become.  

"I love what I'm seeing from Andy Dalton," Esiason says in the piece. "In his fifth year he's finally arrived. It's his football team. . .With all their players healthy, they're dynamic offensively. It's great his personality has finally taken a hold of that football team."

While the Seahawks defense has that suffocating  stat, Dalton can hit them with the number that they've trailed for just 1:58 all year. Or they haven't gone more than 7:45 into the first quarter without scoring the game's first points with a touchdown. Or that they're outscoring their foes by 48 points in the first half.

But, there's the law of averages and the fact Seattle doesn't have an interception.

"We're going to get some turnovers." says Seattle head coach Pete Carroll. "They're going to come. We've been hawking the football, we've been around it a lot. I have a lot of respect for the way people have played us and they've done a nice job keeping it away. We'll get our turns, we'll keep battling for it. When that happens, they'll come in bunches and hopefully we can get something going this weekend."

And yet, the Seahawks have already surrendered two triple passer ratings this season, one of them to Nick Foles, and last year Kirk Cousins and Austin Davis got them when Chancellor wasn't holding out.

The Bengals watched Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson improvise the Lions into submission Monday night, but on Sunday they also saw Dalton scramble out of the pocket for a 55-yard TD on third-and-11, get loose to gun a 27-yarder on the run to Rex Burkhead on first down, and scramble for a big first down late in the game on third-and-four.

Jackson thinks the improvisation, which must be controlled against the Legion of Boom, has cropped up for the same reason as the dancing and needling.

"We've got a different type of relationship now after 17 games (last year) and (eight) preseason games," Jackson says. "It indicates there is a comfort level and a trust that guys are going to be where they say they're going to be."

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