Bengals Present Challenge to the Chiefs

Is it possible? Will the Chiefs lose their first game this season to the ever improving and suddenly popular Cincinnati Bengals? Holly Gridiron Chiefs fans! What's the answer? After further review, the Bengals are one of the most improved teams in the NFL and they've shocked the league by being more competitive under first year head coach Marvin Lewis than anyone else thought was possible. But do they have enough weapons to beat the 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs Sunday afternoon? No.

Bengals fans, players and everyone within the organization all were clamoring for the Chiefs after a home victory over Houston last weekend. Broadcasters and the NFL experts all profess this game will be a sure Bengals victory. Even all-world Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson guaranteed victory over the Chiefs.

Johnson who has become the spokesperson for the Bengals was so good at it, that the Bengals just inked him to a five-year contract extension. So give the man some credit. In fact give him a lot of credit for having the guts to predict such an outcome. Jimmy the Greek is turning over in his grave and also predicts the Bengals will win on Sunday.

Johnson is in fact one of the NFL's best receivers. He has the mouth of Terrell Owens and the speed of Marvin Harrison; somewhere in their lies a pretty good football player. Along with former first round pick Peter Warrick, the pair has nine touchdowns between them as they together are one of the best wide receiver tandems in the NFL. The good thing for Chiefs fans is that they don't have any other wide receiver threats and Kansas City should be able to play bump and run on each of them. Eric Warfield and Dexter McCleon both match up well against Johnson and Warrick.

Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna is having his best year in the NFL since departing Seattle two years ago. He has 13 touchdown passes and only nine interceptions. Most of those occurred in the early part of the season and he plays extremely well at home. Kitna has led the Bengals to victories in four of their last six games.

But what has made the Bengals offensive more potent the last six games has been the emergence of running back Rudi Johnson. He has five rushing touchdowns this year since relieving Corey Dillon of his rushing chores. Dillon is a better back but his heads not in the game and Lewis has benched him. He feels that Johnson is a better back and has put the teams rushing responsibilities squarely on the shoulders of the man the Cincy fans chant, Rudi.

Despite their 4-5 record this year the Bengals are one of the better offensive teams in the NFL. When Kitna is on fire he's as good as any quarterback in the AFC. Throw in the fact that he has two former first round draft picks at tackle, Levi Jones and Willie Anderson. Plus a very good interior line in guards Eric Steinbach and Mike Goff, you wonder why the Bengals record is not better.

The reason is simple. The Defense though statistically ranked near the Chiefs gives up to many big plays. Sound familiar Chiefs fans. They lost on the road to the Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders. In both losses the Bengals offense was inconsistent and the defense failed to make big plays.

The Bengals are where the Chiefs were last year. No their offense is not as potent as the Chiefs of a year ago and their defense was not as bad as the 32 ranked defense of the Chiefs in 2002. But this season they are full of confidence and this is a watershed game for the franchise.

If the Bengals play a perfect game on offense, they still have to shut down the Chiefs high flying offense. After two near flawless games the last two weeks against the Bills and Browns, the Chiefs offense seems to be hitting on nearly all cylinders.

Trent Green has thrown five touchdowns in the last two wins and his performance on Sunday at home against Cleveland was his best performance as a Chief. The Browns defense was a top five defense, so were the Bills for that matter and Green shredded both of them with ease. What was even more impressive about the Chiefs offense was the fact they converted on 12 of 16 third down attempts.

The Bengals have some talented linebackers in Brian Simmons, Kevin Hardy and Adrian Ross but they'll be so focused on stopping Priest Holmes that Green should have a big game. Even further none of them is very good defending the pass and the Chiefs should be able to exploit that as well.

But the weakest link on the Bengals defense is their cornerbacks. Starting cornerback Jeff Burris is already out for this game and Tory James has talent but he's not a shutdown corner. That means rookie Dennis Weathersby and Artell Hakwins will have to step in and cover the Chiefs wide receivers.

Johnnie Morton, Eddie Kennison, Marc Boerigter and Dante Hall should have plenty of opportunities to exploit that defensive backfield in open spaces. If none of those weapons are available, then Tony Gonzalez should be a huge factor in this game. For those who think this upset is possible, they need to understand that the Bengals can't stop the pass with this group of cornerbacks and safeties.

Gonzalez is on a tear having caught touchdowns in five straight games. The Bengals will be forced to play a safety on Gonzalez and that could be dangerous. But it matters little to Gonzalez, as he's beaten everyone that's been assigned to cover him. He's in a zone and Green is always aware of where he is in pass patterns.

The only potential problem for the Chiefs offense is the availability of right tackle John Tait. He has a severely sprained ankle that has kept out of practice this week. But good news might be on the horizon. Tait has recovered enough to be upgrade from doubtful to questionable and will practice with the team on Friday. Tait knows that the offensive line as a unit has started 25 consecutive games together and he does not want to be the one who ends that streak. If Tait is out or limited, then Marcus Spears will get to play his most significant action of the season.

Spears is a ten year veteran and he's had his ups and downs so he should be prepared and can do a more than adequate job for Tait. However, that means the Chiefs will probably line up tight end Jason Dunn to help Spears and that could take a few plays out of Al Saunders game plan.

The Bengals have former Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Duane Clemmons on the roster and he leads the team with four sacks. Former Missouri standout Justin Smith Clemmons knows all to well how difficult it will be to get pressure on Green. He practiced every day against this line while in Kansas City a year ago. Smith has yet to develop into the pass rusher that the Bengals had hoped he'd become so his contribution should be minor on Sunday.

On defense the Chiefs must get in the face of Kitna. It's been well documented that when Kitna has pressure, he has a tendency to guide the ball into the hands of defenders. The Chiefs are best at takeaways and I expect that linebackers Shawn Barber and Scott Fujita will blitz in obvious passing situations. Also, Jerome Woods should get some open looks on Kitna. With the Bengals receiving corps limited to Johnson and Warrick, Woods can cheat in coverage and bring heat on Kitna.

The Trap for the Bengals is to rely too much on Kitna. Johnson provided the type of cutback running style that has given them fits this year. He's not a Jamal Lewis type but has the ability to get big chunks of yards. The Chiefs will need to seal the backside. If they can control Johnson than Kitna will become predictable and that could lead to a long day for him. If the Bengals were smart, they'd run the ball and run the ball. They need to eat up the clock and make this a possession by possession game and win the battle of field position.

But with the big crowd, a city nervously anticipating the biggest game of the year, that might be to tough. Emotions and expectations will be high and the Chiefs have played in far more hostile stadiums this year and won all of them. The Bengals have not played in a game of this magnitude and that might indeed be their trap.

Nick's Notes

* The Bengals are 9-23 over the last three seasons playing against teams with a winning record in the second half of the season.

* One reason Chiefs fans should remember before considering the validity of the SI Jinx, the 1972 Miami Dolphins were featured twice on the infamous magazine before running the table with seventeen straight wins.

* Dante Hall narrowly missed a touchdown last week that would have given him an NFL record five return scores in one season. But last week because of Hall, the Chiefs netted 13 net yards on every change of possession. The Chiefs averaged nearly 19 yards in each of their return attempts and the Browns only averaged six yards per return.

Fearless Prediction: Chiefs 31 – Bengals 21

Season Prognostication Record: 8-1

2003 Game Recaps
Week #9 Chiefs 41- Browns 20
Week #8: Chiefs 38 – Bills 5
Week #7: Chiefs 17 – Oakland 10
Week #6: Chiefs 40 – Packers 34 OT
Week #5: Chiefs 24 – Broncos 23
Week #4: Chiefs 17 – Ravens 10
Week #3: Chiefs 42 – Texans 14
Week #2: Chiefs 41 - Steelers 20
Week #1: Chiefs 27 - Chargers 14


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