The Bengals are facing the best running back and best tight end they've opposed this season when they play the Chiefs Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) at Paul Brown Stadium with what very well could be a safety making his first NFL start.
They listed George Iloka (ankle) as doubtful after he missed his third straight practice of the week Friday, and that may mean Shawn Williams makes his first NFL start after three seasons and 35 games on special teams.
But Williams isn't your average neophyte, thanks to the Bengals' depth. He's a 2013 third-round pick out of Georgia and has been a core special teamer the past two seasons while Iloka has made 35 straight starts. He won the club's special teams tackling title as a rookie and finished fourth last season.
Williams played 41 percent of the snaps last week in Baltimore after Iloka pulled himself out when the ankle injury he took in the opener flared up. According to profootballfocus.com, Williams made three tackles and, maybe more importantly, didn't have a missed tackle on a day PFF charted the Bengals for 13 missed tackles. PFF has him for 115 career snaps, 76 coming this year.
At No. 31, Williams is actually listed higher than the grades for Iloka (No. 39) and the other starter, Reggie Nelson (74) in the PFF safety rankings.
"When Shawn gets an opportunity, every chance he's had in many of his roles he done a good job," said head coach Marvin Lewis after Friday's practice. "He does a great job in coverage, a great job in support. He's playing the football, he's knowledgeable in everything we're doing. I feel real comfortable. Every chance he gets to play he does a nice job for us."
Williams, one of those Bulldogs Lewis loves because they don't say much even if they had a mouthful, won't get overwhelmed by the moment. Here's a guy that played all four years in Athens, was officially named a captain and unofficially named "The quarterback of the defense."
"Even though I haven't got an opportunity, I've still been getting the reps in practice," Williams said. "There's nothing new. I'd still be doing the same things."
Williams and the Bengals will be challenged in the middle of the field, where running back Jamaal Charles (more than five yards per career carry) and tight end Travis Kelce make their stands.
Charles is second in AFC rushing with 4.8 yards per pop while catching 13 balls and Travis Kelce's 15.3 yards per catch is second among NFL tight ends to New England's Rob Gronkowski's 19.2 and that includes a 42-yard touchdown catch.
When Williams came out of Georgia he was seen as a good tackler who had to work on his coverage. It's been limited, but they've only completed one ball on four pass attempts against him this season, according to PFF, and he has yet to miss a tackle.
"I feel comfortable with the defense if I have to play," Williams said. "The coaches do a good getting us in great position to help in tackling in leverage in the middle of the field or where ever."
Starting cornerback Adam Jones (elbow) is questionable, but after he went full in practice Thursday and Friday, you figure he's going to play. Starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (shoulder), right tackle Andre Smith (hip), and defensive tackle Pat Sims (hip) are probable after going full Friday.
PHILIP RIVERS WEATHER UPDATE: The National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio is calling for partly cloudy skies with no chance of rain and a slight wind out of the northeast at five to 10 miles per hour. Game time temperature of 65 degrees expected to rise a few degrees during the game.