Cincinnati Game Provides Opportunity for Bills

<B>Where to begin…: </B> <P> This will be the first game vs. a worthy opponent since the Bills played the Patriots five weeks ago.

The "Smoke and Mirrors" Express makes its next stop this Sunday as the Bills hit the road to face a relatively equally matched Cincinnati team although one with a dichotomy of strengths. Empirically, the Bengals have a well-balanced offense but little defense worthy of note while the Bills have a very good defense but little offense worthy of note apart from massive defensive and special teams set ups. Both teams have had success at times with either special teams and/or defensive scoring.

Defense:

Rush D: Bills 4th, Bengals 28th
Pass D: Bills 11th, Bengals 15th
Yardage D: Bills 3rd, Bengals 25th
Scoring D: Bills 9th, Bengals 21st

Offense:

Rush O: Bills 15th, Bengals 16th
Pass O: Bills 26th, Bengals 11th
Yardage O: Bills 25th, Bengals 12th
Scoring O: Bills 9th, Bengals 10th

Key Players and Matchups:

Humpty vs. himself:

In games vs. teams currently 7-6 or better, i.e. .500+, Humpty has 6 TDs, 12 INTs, and 15 total turnovers.

In games vs. teams currently 6-7 or worse, i.e. .500-, Humpty has 12 TDs, 3 INTs, and 4 total turnovers.

And they say that the Bills' best chances of winning are with a QB as such. Puzzling! Nor does is say much about the team's confidences in a QB drafted in the first round of this year's draft!

Against teams currently either 7-6 or 6-7, Humpty has 5 TDs, 4 INTs, and 5 total turnovers in two poor games and one excellent one.

Point of note: In 2002, with similarly impressive victories such as what has come about lately, Humpty tossed 9 TDs to 18 TOs in 8 losses, largely to the toughest teams on the schedule.

Does it get any more par-for-the-course than that!

Which Humpty will show up? I have a guess! Fans and media rave about his lowered sack totals on the season to date, but in that analysis is a rare mention of how rarely teams have blitzed the Bills. Why, given that this is what has undone Humpty-led offenses in seasons, past remains a mystery. The Bills cannot however assume that Marvin Lewis does not realize this and should prepare for frequent blitzing on Sunday. If the Bengals do not blitz, then all the better for Humpty and the Bills' passing O.

Willis McGahee vs. the Bengals' 28th Ranked Rush Defense:

Once again, a prime opportunity for Willis to generate some yards while the game is still in contention and carry the game on his back as we've all been told he does. As well, how about some evidence of his "breaking that long one" that we keep hearing about ala "the one that got away." He should have a huge day allowing for his carrying the offense on his back. Then again, I've been saying that for a while. If he really does however, then it should increase the odds of the Bills emerging with a win dramatically.

Bills DL vs. the Rudi Johnson:

If the Bills win this game then it will likely be because they were able to stuff Rudi Johnson and the Bengal rushing game. Even with success in this department, the Bengals are a far more passing oriented team than the Bills and it is the dominant aspect of their offense. The Bills secondary will have to have one of its better games as well if a win is in the cards. But if Johnson is allowed to run as has happened with far lesser running backs in games without balanced offenses equivalent to that of the Bengals, then the Bengals should have no difficulty scoring points and winning this game barring turnovers. Johnson is the league's sixth leading yardage rusher and fourth leading rusher in terms of carries.

Bills DL vs. the Bengal OL:

The Bills will need to exert pressure on Palmer or Kitna if he ends up in the game. If the Bengal QBs have the kind of time that most QBs have had this season vs. the Bills, they will not be off on their passes and have an arsenal in the passing department which is formidable and one to be reckoned with. Palmer by-and-large can be rattled and has not played well vs. solid defenses. However, over the past two weeks vs. Baltimore and New England, two defenses among the top five in scoring D, and on the road, Palmer has been hot tossing for 584 yards on near 80% completions with 5 TDs and 2 INTs and QB ratings of well over 100 in both cases. Kitna played well in relief. As of now it appears that Kitna will be starting. Perfect timing for the Bills.

Bengals Front-7 vs. the Bills' OL:

It's simple, if the Bengals blitz, just as all other teams this season, they will experience tremendous success vs. the Bills' offense. If not, it's anyone's guess as to what happens.

Bills Secondary vs. Chad Johnson & T.J. Houshmanzadeh:

Chad Johnson is the league's second leading yardage receiver and third leading receptions leader. Houshmanzadeh is a strong #2 capable of exploiting a questionable Bills' secondary.

Injuries:

The Bengals enter this game with a laundry list of injuries also with the two biggest being DE Duane Clemons, CB Deltha O'Neal, and QB Carson Palmer being the biggest. All three are listed as questionable.

The Bills should be without no key starters other than TE Mark Campbell.

Summary:

Both teams rank similarly across the board in turnover ratio with the Bills a +4 and the Bengals a +3. Up until last week both teams were nearly tied for sacks 30/29. That changed of course with the Bills' 8-sack performance vs. Cleveland last Sunday. Of the Bills' 38 sacks however, 26 of the 38 sacks have come against Feeley, Boller, Bulger, and the McCown brothers in Cleveland and Arizona. In the other 8 games the Bills have a dozen sacks. The Bengals average 5.3 yards-per-play on offense while the Bills average 4.7 ypp.

The Bills moving Troy Vincent to free safety last week was long overdue and paid off as the secondary was the tightest that it's been all season. Then again, this was Cleveland led by Luke McCown in his second start as a rookie with little help elsewhere. How will this switch to safety, a necessary one regardless, play out vs. tougher offenses given a weak secondary otherwise this season remains to be seen. This is where Vincent belongs with the Bills however. Also a tremendously wise move has been getting London Fletcher involved in blitzing which has paid off in spades as this is truly where his strength lies. He's a force rushing the passer when used as such. This move is long overdue!

This will be a game of offenses. The Bengals' D is not great to be kind. The Bills' O has not been particularly impressive unless the defense or special teams has set them up well within opponents' territory in games. The Bills defense has also not been particularly impressive vs. teams with well-rounded offenses, either last season, or this one. The most well-rounded offense that the Bills have faced all season is that of the Pats

The Bills have put up 80 points in their last two road games against Miami and Seattle winning both games! So they are no strangers recently to scoring on the road. The Bengals have put up 55 on the road in their last two road games vs. Baltimore and New England, beating the Ravens and giving the Pats a serious run for their money. The Bengals also allowed 48 in their last home game to the hapless Browns. Then again, the Bills allowed 32 points to the Dolphins in a Miami season high.

The Bengals represent the most balanced offensive team that the Bills will have faced on the season other than the Patriots who put up 60 points in two games vs. the Bills.

The Bengals need a win if they desire to finish the season at 8-8 and a win here would all but guarantee that with a home game vs. the Giants next week. At 6-7 they are two wins removed from .500 with a season finale vs. the Eagles in Philly. So home wins over Buffalo and the Giants at home for them this week and next are key to them tying their last season's 8-8 mark.

The Bills look to extend their current four-game winning streak and continue to hold onto highly unlikely playoff possibilities which would crumble with a loss here. This Bengals team is better than any of the recently beaten four teams however.

Bottom line:

Regardless of the Bills' recent successes, they still do not possess the offensive line, a pass rush without the aid of frequent blitzing, or a QB capable of competing in the playoffs. The offense struggles to move the ball from within it's own end of the field and worse than last season's pathetic offense. The defense still cannot generate any pass rush except vs. the worst offenses.

I know, I know, 38 sacks. The problem is that of those 38 sacks, 26 of them have been against Miami, Baltimore, Arizona, St. Louis, and Cleveland, teams ranked 29th, 20th, 21st, 28th, and 25th in sacks allowed. The Bills have a dozen (12) sacks in 8 games otherwise with no more than two sacks in any single game. As well, half of those 38 sacks have been accumulated against Miami, St. Louis, and Cleveland, the 29th, 28th, and 25th in sacks allowed. The Bills have 19 sacks in 10 games otherwise. The only teams that the Bills have played that rank above the Bengals in sacks allowed are the Jets and Pats against whom the Bills have five sacks in four games against.

The Bills have scored a touchdown only 8 times this season with their first team offense on drives begun within their own 37-yard line. The Bengals do not have an offense like Miami's, Arizona's, or Cleveland's which will allow teams to set up the type of field position that will give the Bills "T-Ball" style "drives." The Bills are largely incapable of mounting long, sustained drives. So unless the special teams or D continues to set them up deep inside the Bengals' side of the field, there is no reason to expect more than 20 points in this game.

The Bengals enter this game far more battle-proven and decent teams than the Bills do. The Bengals have played four games vs. likely playoff teams and three more vs. playoff hopefuls Baltimore and Denver in 7 total games. While 2-5 in those games, the Bengals lost three games to Pittsburgh, New England, and the Jets, two of the three on the road, by an average margin of fewer than six points.

This game will boil down to the Bengal offense vs. the Bills' defense. Whichever team likely wins that battle, turnovers included, will likely emerge the winner on the day. If the Bills D that showed up in Miami comes to the table, then the Bengals will exploit the Bills D badly. If the D that showed up last week makes an appearance, then the Bills have a good shot at a win here.

The Bills enter this game having played five likely playoff teams with decisive losses twice to New England and once to Baltimore while going 1-4 in those games having only beaten the Jets coming off a Monday Night game. They have played no other playoff hopefuls other than Seattle and St. Louis, one of which will win their pathetically weak division by default yet neither of which are a team of true playoff caliber. Both teams have achieved their mediocre status by beating up on abysmal teams as well with their only wins vs. "winning" teams having come with the Rams beating up Seattle twice and the Hawks recent win over 7-6 Minnesota.

While merely another .500 variety opponent, the Bills can capitalize on this game by controlling it throughout most of it. Given the string of horrendous bottom feeders littering the Bills' schedule this season, this is a golden opportunity for this "resurgent" Bills team to truly showcase their stuff. Is this truly a team that beats most of it's sub-.500 opponents, is competitive vs. .500-caliber opponents, and consistently gets beaten by super-.500 opponents when the circumstances for each team are equal, or is this truly an improved Bills team over what the Commander Tom-Humpty Dumpty era has produced in four seasons thus far? That's the beauty of this season; "[the Bills] are like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get." The caliber of opponent however, just as in past seasons, still offers a relatively accurate guide!

The Bills are 6-0 when McGahee rushes for 100-yards.

It was close however! The Bills almost won one without having McGahee go over 100 this past week which would have resulted in the team winning two games without him going over 100 and a resulting in a veritable marketing nightmare. Oh the horror! His last carry pushed him over that 100 "making him the impetus for the win" with the Bills up by 23 midway through the 4th quarter. I'm not quite sure they would have won this game without McGahee breaching that 100-yard barrier. Phew! Close one!

Also, and no doubt inconsequentially:

The Bills are 5-0 vs. teams currently ranked among the bottom six teams in rushing D.
The Bills are 5-1 vs. teams with 6 or fewer wins.
The Bills are 4-1 vs. teams currently among the bottom 25% in yardage offense.
The Bills are 3-1 vs. teams currently ranked among the bottom four in scoring O.
The Bills are 5-1 vs. teams currently ranked among the bottom ten teams in rushing O.
The Bills are 5-0 vs. teams that have not beaten a team with more than 7 wins on the season.
The Bills are 5-1 with average starting field position at their own 35-yard line or better.
The Bills are 4-0 with average starting field position at their own 42-yard line or better.
The Bills are 4-1 in games in which they have 13 or more drives.
The Bills are 7-0 when they score at least one touchdown on drives originating on the opponents' end of the field. (0-6 when not)
The Bills are 1-0 vs. teams coming off of Monday Night games.
The Bills are 4-1 vs. teams currently ranked 20th or worse in yardage D.
The Bills are 6-1 vs. teams currently ranked in the bottom half of scoring Ds.

The Bills are also 1-4 when average starting field position is less than at their own 33-yard line.
The Bills are 1-5 vs. teams ranked in the top half of scoring Ds with their only victory over the Jets following a Jet MNF game.
The Bills are 3-6 with two wins over Miami when starting field position is at less than their own 42-yard line.

Are the Bengals world-beaters? No. But they are the first formidable opponent on the Bills schedule in five games and one that the Bills are not clearly better than in most facets on paper.

Prediction:

Bills 20, Bengals 24.

This should be an interesting game both to watch and analyze. It should be an entertaining matchup worthy of being televised. If the Bills are truly the team that fans are reading about nationwide, a win here should be a given. A loss here justifies none of the current talk of greatness and success this season. This is a must-win game to prove improvement over last season. The Bengals are a .500 caliber team with a weak defense through and through, nothing more. If the Bills cannot beat the Bengals with as much "on the line" as there is, then they are not playoff caliber. It is that simple.

Comments: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net


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