Chiefs Season Preview: Week 1 Bengals

The Chiefs open the 2006 season at home against the Cincinnati Bengals, a team they beat 37-3 in the final game of 2005. But the Chiefs should expect a much more difficult game this time around, as the Bengals will actually have something to play for.

The Bengals had already clinched the AFC North title when they arrived in Kansas City last year. They played many of their reserves and tried to rest up for the playoffs.

After getting a taste of what those playoffs are all about, the Bengals are planning on making a return trip. Stealing a win on the road at one of the league's toughest venues would certainly put them on the right track.

OFFENSE
Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer is the catalyst of an offensive unit that was among the league's best in 2005.

However, Palmer has a lot of work to do this off-season if he is to return from a serious knee injury he suffered during the 2005 playoffs. Palmer's rehab is ahead of schedule, but there is still a possibility that he'll be unavailable in week one.

That could be disastrous for the Bengals, especially since they let backup quarterback Jon Kitna escape via free agency. The Bengals would have to start Doug Johnson, Anthony Wright or Craig Krenzel. Chiefs' defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham would have a good time game-planning for any of those quarterbacks.

But for now, let's assume that Palmer will be ready to go. If he is, the Chiefs' secondary will need to be alert. Bengals' offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski will attack them down the field with one of the league's better passing games. The Bengals challenge defenses with a group of receivers that includes All-Pro Chad Johnson, who caught 97 passes for 1,432 yards and nine touchdowns in 2005. T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry also combined for 1,378 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

The Chiefs don't have any cornerbacks that match up particularly well with Johnson, but you have to figure that Patrick Surtain will spend most of the day working one-on-one against him. If the Chiefs are smart, they'll try to double-team Johnson with a safety over the top or by playing various zone coverages. They will also need to generate a heavy pass-rush on Palmer, because if he has time to stand in the pocket he'll pick apart any defense.

The Bengals are just as effective running the football, especially when their passing game is able to spread the field. Running back Rudi Johnson is a productive runner that lacks blazing speed but can still make people miss. He is tough to bring down in the open field and gets his fair share of yards after first contact. Last season, Johnson rushed for 1,458 yards and 12 touchdowns. Backup Chris Perry did most of his damage in the passing game. Perry is quick and shifty and flashed excellent hands with 51 receptions for 328 yards and two touchdowns.

DEFENSE
Though the Bengals have made strides defensively since head coach Marvin Lewis arrived in 2003, they've lacked toughness in the front seven.

The Bengals struggled against the run and haven't been strong up the middle in recent years. Last season they allowed an average of 4.3 yards per carry. Clearly, the Chiefs should have their way against the Bengals' four down linemen, as their talented offensive line should pave the way for running back Larry Johnson to run wild.

One player the Bengals hope will improve their run defense is free agent acquisition Sam Adams. The veteran defensive tackle will play alongside John Thornton, also a powerful player that can generate a strong push up the middle. That should provide a nice complement to defensive end David Pollack, primarily a pass-rush specialist in third-and-long situations.

As far as defending quarterback Trent Green and the Chiefs' passing attack, the Bengals have one player with a history of success: Cornerback Deltha O'Neal, who had four interceptions in one game against Green as a member of the Denver Broncos.

The Bengals also added a pair of talented players to revamp their secondary. They signed free agent safety Dexter Jackson and selected South Carolina cornerback Jonathan Joseph with their first-round draft choice.

Cincinnati gave up 339 yards a game last year, but they do force turnovers. They led the league with 44 takeaways.

BOTTOM LINE
This match-up has all the makings for a classic Arrowhead Stadium shootout. Both offenses should be able to score at will, and the game should come down to whichever team wins the turnover battle.

For the Chiefs, it will be critical to jump out to an early lead and force the Bengals to become a one-dimensional offense. If they are able to do that, they have a good chance.

The Bengals will want to place an emphasis on clock control and keeping the game close so they have a chance to win in the fourth quarter. That's something the Jets weren't able to do when they visited Arrowhead last season for the home opener.

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