WHEN THE CHIEFS PASS
There's no premier pass rusher for the Chiefs to focus on this week, but what stands out about the Bengals is how well they rush the passer from a variety of sources. Though Antwan Odom leads the team with eight sacks, the Bengals have 33 as a team from 13 different players. Defensive tackle Jonathan Fanene, a quick, slightly undersized defensive tackle, has six, and could present a problem for the interior of KC's offensive line, which has struggled in pass protection this year.
Odom and Fanene, combined with two quick linebackers who are adept at blitzing in Dhani Jones and Keith Rivers, are the key players to be blocked this week. When you consider that the Bengals have arguably the league's top young cornerback tandem in Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph, that's when things get scary.
Hall and Joseph are both former first-round picks and haven't disappointed, combining for a whopping 40 passes defensed and 11 interceptions this season. A week ago Cincinnati was scorched by the Chargers, but the fact the team has been able to win this season without huge statistics from Carson Palmer is a credit to the pass defense. A large part of the reason the Bengals swept the Steelers this season is because they held Ben Roethlisberger to just one touchdown pass in two games combined.
This is a difficult matchup for the Chiefs, not unlike their game against the Denver Broncos a few weeks ago, with the exception that the Bengals run a 4-3 instead of a 3-4. After his first 300-yard game of the season, against the Browns, can Matt Cassel continue his progress against one of the league's more dangerous secondaries?
WHEN THE BENGALS PASS
You know the names – Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco – but don't mistake this Bengals' offense for the one that carried Cincinnati to their last playoff berth. These Bengals win on defense, and the passing game has been scaled back noticeably. Without TJ Houshmandzadeh, Palmer lacks that second option to really make the attack explode, and it shows.
While Ochocinco has been his usual prolific self, with over 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns, no other Bengals receiver has as much as 500 yards. Andre Caldwell and Laveranues Coles haven't emerged as solid #2 options, although Caldwell has filled the slot role nicely for the Bengals, playing a role similar to Wes Welker in New England.
The transition is obvious – Cincinnati has moved from being an explosive, high-powered passing game to an efficient, move-the-chains style of passing. And move the chains they do, as the Bengals rank sixth in the league in third-down conversions.
The danger for the Chiefs is that Palmer is still protected quite well, having been sacked only 25 times this season. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth has struggled with penalties, but has more than held his own in pass protection. If Kansas City can't get to Palmer, he will have more than enough time to keep converting third downs and the Bengals will put together long drives.
WHEN THE CHIEFS RUN
After years of struggles, the Bengals are right up there this season with the Steelers and Ravens in run defense, allowing barely 85 yards per game and only 3.8 yards per carry. The longest run against Cincinnati all year is only 24 yards. Jamaal Charles has broken out the last two weeks with almost 300 yards rushing, but this may be his most difficult test yet.
Why do the Bengals stop the run so well? While Tank Johnson is a good player and Domata Peko is a big body off the bench, Cincy's defensive tackles aren't the lynchpin of their run defense. It's the linebackers – Rivers, Jones and rookie Ray Maualuga. All of them run well and are built stoutly, and wrap up well.
When you throw in the speed the Bengals have in their secondary and a quick, strong left defensive end in Robert Geathers, it's not difficult to see why they stuff the run so well. And Cincinnati's defense is often well-rested, because their offense runs the ball so well. Charles has enjoyed a good run lately, but this may be a game where he struggles.
WHEN THE BENGALS RUN
Larry Johnson is the big story this week, playing against his former teammates, but Cedric Benson is the real story. Benson has experienced a career resurgence with the Bengals, and at one point led the league in rushing this season before injuries slowed him.
Because of their defense and the loss of Houshmandzadeh, the Bengals are now a run-first team. And with a massive offensive line that has just one starter under 300 pounds, they are a power running team. Bobbie Williams, a massive, 345-pound road grader at right guard, presents a huge challenge for Chiefs' rookie end Tyson Jackson this week.
Benson will get his carries but may give way to Johnson at some point, who had over 100 yards against the Raiders a few weeks ago. With possible inclement weather expected Sunday, and the Chiefs allowing 200-yard rushing games recently, look for the Bengals to pound the ball with both of their big backs and wear the Chiefs down.
The Bengals have the ever-reliable Shayne Graham at placekicker, but have struggled otherwise on special teams this season. Although punt returner Quan Crosby is a dangerous athlete, they have no threat at kick returner, and Andre Caldwell is averaging just 18.6 yards per return.
The Bengals are still fighting for a playoff spot and can clinch their division with a win. The Chiefs return to the road for the first time in a month.
The Chiefs match up poorly against a Bengals team that runs the ball and stops the run at a higher level than just about everyone. That's bad news for Kansas City, especially with injury problems at safety (DaJuan Morgan is out) and defensive end (Alex Magee and Glenn Dorsey are questionable)
Bengals 31, Chiefs 13
The Matchups - Chiefs vs Bengals
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