KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
SITE: Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati
RECORDS: 49ers 1-1, 1-0 in NFC West, 1-1 in NFC; Bengals 1-1, 1-0 in AFC North, 1-1 in AFC
LAST WEEK: 49ers lost to Dallas Cowboys 27-24 in overtime; Bengals lost to Denver Broncos 24-22
NFL RANKINGS: 49ers: No. 31 in total offense, No. 17 in total defense. Bengals: No. 19 in total offense, No. 9 in total defense.
TV: FOX (Ron Pitts, Jim Mora, Jennifer Hale)
SERIES HISTORY: This is the 12th regular season meeting between the two teams. The 49ers beat the Bengals to win their first Super Bowl following the 1981 season by a score of 26-21. The teams met seven seasons later in Super Bowl XXIII with Joe Montana leading the 49ers to a 20-16 win in the waning seconds by finding John Taylor in the end zone with a 10-yard scoring pass. The 49ers hold the highest winning percentage (.769) against Cincinnati than any other team. The 49ers lead the series 10-3 and are 3-2 in Cincinnati but 0-1 at Paul Brown Stadium. The last two meetings between the teams in Cincinnati both have been scorathons won by the Bengals – 44-30 in 1999 and 41-38 in 2003.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bengals' downhill running game, designed to isolate a linebacker or safety in the hole against RB Cedric Benson, might need to employ more traps and misdirection to avoid turning the game into a highlight reel for 49ers MLB Patrick Willis. As physical as the 49ers can be up front, the Bengals can find soft spots in the secondary as Dallas showed last week. The 49ers' vanilla offense needs a spark. WR Michael Crabtree is expected to return from his foot injury and can help if Alex Smith is cleared to push the ball deep. If not, this sets up as a slow-moving, low-scoring slugfest.
FAST FACTS: 49ers DE Justin Smith, a former Bengal, has started 157 consecutive games. ... Bengals QB Andy Dalton completed 10 passes to WR A.J. Green last week at Denver; it was the first time rookies connected 10 times in one game.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1,044 – Number of yards the 49ers produced in the last two games in Cincinnati, both loses. 6 – Number of consecutive games the Bengals have lost when one of their quarterbacks pass for 300 yards or more.
QUOTES TO NOTE
"It's great to seal 300-yard passing games and this and that. But, it's not always the way it's going to be, and (I'm) happy to do whatever it takes to get the win. In the end, that's how quarterbacks truly get evaluated.' -- 49ers QB Alex Smith on his low yardage production so far this year.
"It's going to be a lot of fun. I know a lot of guys on that team. We're going to get after each other. I can't go back home and all of a sudden my phone rings and they're talking noise about 'ooh, I blocked you.' That's all bad. I do not want that." -- Bengals LB Manny Lawson, on facing the Niners, the team he played with during his first five NFL seasons.
49ERS GAME PLAN: With the 49ers unable to protect Alex Smith, they might again stay conservative and hope to finally get running back Frank Gore going. Gore is averaging just 2.5 yards per carry, but hasn't had the benefit of good blocking. The 49ers might go after CB Nate Clements, a player they know well. One reason Clements was released was due to his lack of speed and declining coverage skills.
BENGALS GAME PLAN: After throwing for 280 yards in the second half last week against Denver, the Bengals should be able to open things up with A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson – if Simpson plays – but Jermaine Gresham has to have a better game after having a couple drops last week. Over the past four games, including the preseason, Andy Dalton has had a better presence in the huddle and this could end up being a more balanced attack. On defense, expect the Bengals to be more consistent on the pass rush since Frank Gore has struggled on the ground and Michael Crabtree might be the only receiving threat available. The Bengals have to do a better job shutting down the running lanes and have to be more disciplined in staying in their gaps.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--- 49ers front 3, who have yet to be contained VS. Bengals C Kyle Cook and G's Nate Livings and Clint Boling. Former Bengal DE Justin Smith is likely to be amped for this game and fellow DE Ray McDonald already has three sacks.
--- 49ers WR's Ted Ginn Jr. and Joshua Morgan vs. Bengals LCB Nate Clements. Ginn Jr. is one of the fastest receivers in the league and Clements is one of the slowest corners. Morgan knows Clements well and could use that to his advantage.
--- 49ers TE Vernon Davis, who wants more involvement in the passing game vs. Bengal linebacker Manny Lawson, who is a former 49er and a good coverage player. Lawson is better suited to being a drop-back linebacker in a 4-3 and has excellent quickness along with matching up against tight ends and running backs. Davis is a physical tight end who usually has the better edge against linebackers.
--- Bengals LT Andrew Whitworth vs. 49ers DT Justin Smith: The two went up against each other in practice for two years before Smith went to the Niners. Both have excellent strength and quickness and are both physical. The Bengals offensive line struggled during the fourth quarter last week, giving up two sacks.
Inside the camps
If only Alex Smith could conceal the football on a play-action fake like he did his concussion against the Cowboys. Neither Smith nor the 49ers revealed Smith sustained a concussion in the 27-24 overtime loss to Dallas. The news of his concussion did not appear until the 49ers put it on their injury report late Wednesday afternoon.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who calls the plays, said he didn't know about it Monday morning.
Smith talked twice to the media, after the game and on Wednesday, but never mentioned the injury. A reluctant Smith spoke about it briefly on Thursday after the injury first was revealed publicly on San Francisco's injury report Wednesday afternoon.
"I feel great, I went through all the protocol and I've been cleared to play," Smith said. He participated in full practice on Wednesday.
It appeared as if Smith might have been concussed in the second quarter when he was dumped on his head by linebacker Anthony Spencer. Coach Jim Harbaugh confirmed on Friday that was the play Smith sustained the injury.
"To be honest, I don't want to get into too much of what happened," Smith said.
It appears as if Smith went through all the right procedures with his head injury. But head coach Jim Harbaugh and Roman might want to refrain from praising Smith's toughness after a game in which he was concussed. The league is trying to get players to reveal when concussions occur.
The Bengals receivers were already reeling after Jordan Shipley was placed on injured reserve. With the events of the past couple days, a shorthanded unit might be a whole lot thinner for Sunday's game.
Jerome Simpson was excused from practice on Thursday as an investigation into the delivery of a 2.5 pound package of marijuana to his Northern Kentucky home continues.
And as if things can't get worse enough, A.J. Green was listed as limited on the practice report due to a toe injury. Green and Simpson have combined for 345 of the Bengals' 525 receiving yards through the first two games.
Head coach Marvin Lewis had no comments about Simpson's availability for Sunday's game and said that Simpson is cooperating with the investigation.
Andre Caldwell, who was already going to get increased snaps with Shipley's injury, could get the start if Simpson is inactive with Ryan Whalen possibly being the slot receiver.
It would be the first action for Whalen, a sixth-round pick, who has plenty of experience in West Coast offenses from playing at Stanford. Coaches considered Whalen to be one of the more disciplined route runners in this year's draft class.
Like Caldwell, Whalen also has versatility and can play all three receiver spots. Brandon Tate would be more of an outside receiver and Andrew Hawkins, who was added to the 53-man roster on Tuesday, is more of a slot receiver.
--- QB Alex Smith was far more conservative in the second half of the game against Dallas, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman said one reason was to try and protect Smith more. It didn't work. Smith was sacked four times in the second half as opposed to twice in first half.
--- WR Braylon Edwards is expected to be out at least three weeks following knee surgery according to ESPN.
--- FB Bruce Miller is expected to get some play from scrimmage with FB Moran Norris out with a leg injury.
--- LB Ahmad Brooks was not lined up in the neutral zone according to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Brooks was called for the infraction before Cowboy Tony Romo threw an incomplete pass on third down. On the next play, Dallas wide receiver Miles Austin caught a 53-yard scoring pass.
--- DE Robert Geathers did not practice for a fifth straight day and is likely to be inactive for Sunday's game with Jonathan Fanene getting the start.
--- S Taylor Mays had full participation for a second straight day and is expected to see action as a backup and on special teams against his former team, which drafted him in the second round in 2010.
--- OG Otis Hudson had limited participation as he recovers from a knee injury and is expected to be inactive.
--- LB Dan Skuta saw increased snaps last week at Denver and could be in for a series at middle linebacker this week.
--- RB Cedric Benson will have a hearing on Tuesday in the league office and could be suspended for three games for a violation of the league's personal conduct policy. The suspension though would not begin until next Sunday's game against Buffalo.