Eric Winston (73) played with the Seahawks in the 2014 preseason and against them twice in 2013.
The Bengals should be looking in the mirror this Monday morning because what are the differences? A top three defense that scores touchdowns and pressures with four linemen. A young and accomplished quarterback that's not a cardboard cutout of a 6-5 first-round passing machine. Playmakers at running back and wide receiver. Opportunistic return teams.
If Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said 'Why not us?' after it was over Sunday night, why can't the Bengals say it with their third-ranked defense getting back its two best players and a smart quarterback heading into his fourth season with a gaudy winning percentage that has one of the league's deepest depth charts for weapons?
_ BENGALS.COM, FEB. 3, 2014
OK. We wrote it the night Seattle beat the Broncos by a million and a New York snowstorm by about six hours to win the Super Bowl and a lot of water has gone under the bridge since. Not to mention the Seahawks putting Marshawn Lynch on ice in the next Super Bowl.
But you get the gist.
January in October.
For a Bengaldom province that is clawing for playoff validation before the postseason, this is the chance.
"We have a lot of guys in this room itching to prove themselves," said Bengals tackle Eric Winston, the lone former Seahawk on the roster. "And I think Seattle is a great team to try and do that against.
When the 4-0 Bengals play two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) at Paul Brown Stadium, the game pits two teams built with similar specifications and upstart Cincinnati is trying to catch the glittering chariot of the Seahawks, as usual, ranked in the stratosphere in NFL defense. This week, try No. 2.
Both play a brand of mid-20th century football that has played pretty well in the second decade of the 21st century with their band of relentless pass rushers, deep secondaries, and punishing running games. Their quarterbacks aren't 6-5 gunslingers but patient tacticians that pick their moments. The Bengals' Andy Dalton is tied for 23rd when it comes to total passes, Seattle's Russell Wilson is tied for 17th, and yet Dalton has won 65 percent of his games and Wilson 73 percent.
It is not lost on Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis that Seattle could be a charter AFC North team. For a game coached by Lewis and Carroll, this is no fantastic Alice in Wonderland jaunt. It is nitty gritty.
"Don't worry. We've been on the Seahawks since February or whatever," Lewis said this week. "They set a standard that we would like to play to. They play the style of football we play over here in this division. You like that. This will be one of those games."
Physical. Close-to-the-vest. Decided by big plays and turnovers. Dalton, 23-10 at home and 21-13 on the road, can see the similarities in the defenses. His No. 2-ranked offense is not staring at Oakland's defense (No. 31), or San Diego's (15), Baltimore's (13) or Kansas City (29).
"The ability, the type of players, how fast and how hard our guys play, I think is real similar," Dalton says of the two defenses. "The people that we have here play that way, a similar style, but from a purely schematic standpoint, it's different."
Wilson, 24-2 at home and 14-12 on the road, also sees it.
"Watching their defense, they have a lot of great players. Guys that fly around the football. Very active. Its's very, very similar when you look at the two defenses on film and stuff," he said.
"They're a great defense. They look spectacular on film. They're flying around. They're making tons of plays. They're high energy. I have a lot of respect for how they play the game of football. They seem to do it the right away and they're making plays all over the field. It will be a good matchup. It will be a fun a game, playing on the road in Cincinnati is going to be a great game. Their defensive line is flying all over the field. They've got Geno Atkins up front. They got (Domata) Peko and (Michael) Johnson and (Carlos) Dunlap making plays. Their linebackers fly around and their DBs are making a lot of plays, too, for them. It's going to be a fun game."
It almost sounds like Wilson is describing himself when describing Dalton.
"I have a lot of respect for Andy. I met him a couple times, a few times, through different conferences and retreats and that kind of stuff and been around him," Wilson said. "First of all, his demeanor is great. He's got a great, great demeanor about him, and he just seems to be really playing really clutch football and making great throws. I've seen a little bit of him so far this year, watching him every once in a while after the games and stuff. I hear he's playing at a very high level and I'm not surprised by it. He seems like a guy that loves the game of football and loves to work."
Winston not only played for Seattle in the 2014 preseason, but he played against the Hawks twice in 2013 for Arizona. He played in one of the only two home games Seattle has lost since 2013 when Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer survived four interceptions.
"Our defense stood on its head that day, we kept Russell Wilson in the pocket, and we shut down the run," Winston said. "They're one of those teams that rely on other teams not willing to keep slugging the whole time. They kind of rely on you to say, "Uncle," and blink a little bit and that's when they've got you. I think if you're willing to stay in there and say no matter what happens we're willing to play toe to toe as long as you can . . . That's how the Lions did it (in Monday night's loss in Seattle.) They went for the longest time not looking very good. But they never stopped. They returned a fumble for a TD and put together one last drive and they had a chance to win it."
That's exactly the kind of winner Lewis has tried to build here. It's no coincidence that in the last decade the Bengals and Seattle are near the top of the NFL in turnover differential. Coming into this season since 2005 the Bengals are plus-31, second in the AFC. Seattle, coached half that time by Pete Carroll, came in third in the NFC at plus-39.
"They do a good job of defending the goal line, defending the score," Lewis said. "They don't let you score a lot of points. That's their mode of operation. They want that ball down inside and they are going to vertically penetrate against you on defense. Since Pete has been there, they don't turn the ball over a great deal, Russell Wilson takes care of the football. As we know, that leads to success."
Dalton and Wilson seem to agree if there's one thing the Bengals defense shares with Seattle's group it is the intensity.
"I think what gets lost because they're a talented crew is how hard they play," Winston said of the Hawks. "They do a great job running to the ball. Even Earl Thomas is back there 20 yards at safety and he's sprinting to stop the run."
If there's a guy that epitomizes what the Bengals offense is trying to defeat, it is defensive lineman Michael Bennett. With 17.5 sacks in his three seasons with Seattle (two already this season), the 6-4, 271-pound Bennet lines up anywhere with the kind of versatility the Bengals are trying to ferret out on their line.
"When you're trying to get a spot like he was, you learn every single position," Winston said. "And now he can go play left end for (Cliff) Avril, or he can kick into the three technique. He has that kind of ability I think it's also his mindset because of how he came up through the ranks.
"He's smart. He does a great job playing in the system even when it looks like he's free-lancing. He knows what the other guys are doing. He's tough to block. He gets a good feel against you and where he's going to be in the pocket and he adjusts."
In the end, no doubt the game is decided in the trenches, much to the delight of Lewis and Carroll.
"It's going to be a big test for us. Just for the simple fact we've been playing a lot of good ball and now we have to go out there against a good test to show everybody we can continue to do that," Winston said. "They're a tough team, and it's a tough task for us. But I'm excited about it because I think we match up well against them."