AFCN game matchups - week 3

Week 3 sees the Bengals in Chicago, the Browns in Indianapolis and the Steelers hosting the Patriots at Heinz Field. We look at the week 3 AFCN matchups in detail.

Complete Games Listing:
Atlanta Falcons (1-1) at Buffalo Bills (1-1)
Carolina Panthers (1-1) at Miami Dolphins (1-1)
Cincinnati Bengals (2-0) at Chicago Bears (1-1)
Cleveland Browns (1-1) at Indianapolis Colts (2-0)
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) at New York Jets (1-1)
New Orleans Saints (1-1) at Minnesota Vikings (0-2)
Oakland Raiders (0-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (1-1)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0) at Green Bay Packers (0-2)
Tennessee Titans (1-1) at St. Louis Rams (1-1)
Arizona Cardinals (0-2) at Seattle Seahawks (1-1)
Dallas Cowboys (1-1) at San Francisco 49ers (1-1)
New England Patriots (1-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0)
New York Giants (2-0) at San Diego Chargers (0-2)

Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) at Denver Broncos (1-1)

Cincinnati Bengals (2-0) at Chicago Bears (1-1)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 9/25/05
TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Randy Cross
SERIES: 8th meeting. Bengals lead the Bears 4-3. The Bengals have played other long-standing teams Washington and the Giants seven times each, too. The Bengals lead 3-1 at Chicago, and the Bears lead 2-1 in Cincinnati. The teams have not met in Chicago since 1992 when the Bengals won 31-28 in overtime on Sunday night. The last meeting was in 2001, when the Bears won 24-0 at Paul Brown Stadium.
2005 RANKINGS: Bengals: offense 1st (4th rush, 3rd pass); defense 23rd (9th rush, 25th pass). Bears: offense 28th (11th rush, 28th pass); defense 7th (11th rush, 10th pass)

PREDICTION: Bengals 21-13

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bengals have used a very simple formula to jump out to a 2-0 record: get a big early lead and take advantage when the opposing offense is forced to pass. Cincinnati has a 36.27 time of possession edge, and the defense has capitalized with 10 takeaways. But Chicago will come out with a heavy dose of RBs Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson to test a Bengals run defense allowing a league-worst 5.4 yards per carry. Keep the game close in the first half is critical for the Bears, as is building on their plus-6 turnover margin. The Bengals' have used their running game to set up big pass plays, but the Bears' young, aggressive defense poses their toughest test yet. Chicago will bring pressure from any position, and the key will be how QB Carson Palmer reads and reacts.

FAST FACTS This is the first meeting since 1992. Bengals: Palmer has 14 TD passes and seven INTs in his past five starts. ... Trying to start 3-0 for the first time since 1990 -- the last time the franchise reached the playoffs. Bears: CB Nate Vasher has eight INTs in 18 career games. ... Trying to win first two home games for first time since 1999.

--T Willie Anderson, who had microfracture surgery in January, played every snap of the opener and Week 2 game, as expected, has been spelled this week during practice. He did not practice Thursday but was listed as probable for the Bears. He has started and played in 82 consecutive games, since the 2000 opener.
--WR Chris Henry, a promising rookie, coming off a four-catch, 45-yard debut against Minnesota, wants badly to play again. He was upgraded to probable with a foot injury and returned Thursday to practice.
--S Anthony Mitchell, a key special teams player, remained questionable with a high hamstring injury. He did not practice Thursday.
--DE Justin Smith (hamstring) was added as probable to the injury report Thursday. He did not practice.
--QB Carson Palmer, with five games of a plus-100 passer rating and trigger man of the league's No. 1-ranked offense, has been in demand all week from national media seeking interviews.

--DT Tommie Harris (back, probable) was added to the injury report Thursday and did not practice, but he is expected to practice Friday and play on Sunday.
--DE Adewale Ogunleye (sprained left ankle, questionable) didn't practice for the second straight day and is looking more like doubtful for Sunday.
--CB Jerry Azumah (hip, probable) returned to practice on Thursday and will play on Sunday, although he will be the nickel corner as he has been all season. Azumah is also slated to return kicks, a job he reclaimed last week.
--LB Joe Odom's sprained left ankle has been immobilized in a hard cast for two weeks to facilitate the healing process. After the cast comes off he should be back in a week or two.
--WR Justin Gage has just two catches for 31 yards, but he doesn't seem to be in danger of losing his starting spot because he hasn't had many opportunities and coaches love his blocking.

Turnovers remain a telling statistic for the Bengals and figure to be a major indicator of how their game Sunday in Chicago will be decided.
The Bengals have scored 33 points off turnovers, including 27 on ensuing possessions after takeaways Sunday against Minnesota.
In the opener at Cleveland, the Bengals scored six points off turnovers. They lead the NFL with a plus-7 turnover differential - 10 takeaways and three giveaways.
The Bears are tied for second in the league with Jacksonville at plus-6. The Bears have scored 35 points off turnovers, including 28 last week against Detroit.
The Bengals are 11-1 under Marvin Lewis when they are plus in turnover differential and 2-0 this year.
"When you're on the plus side, No. 1, you're getting yourself off the field defensively, limiting your exposure to bad things happening to you," the Bengals coach said. "And you give your offense more opportunities to make bad things happening to the opposing team.
"You want to play defense on the sidelines."

Rookie quarterback Kyle Orton doesn't look at himself as an old pro after two NFL starts, but he's gaining confidence each week - and he wasn't lacking any to begin with.
"I don't think I'm feeling like a veteran right now," Orton said, despite last week's passer rating of 103.3, up 50.5 points from a week earlier. "Improvement needs to keep happening, and I think it will. I made a big step from Week 1 to Week 2."
Orton turned the ball over twice in the opener, throwing an interception and losing one of his two fumbles. Last week he had no turnovers and very few mistakes of any kind.
"I thought I played real solid," he said. "There were maybe only two passes I would like to have back, and that's pretty good when you're playing a full football game. I thought I made good decisions, thought I got the ball out of my hands quick and really knew the situations I was in."
The situation the Bears expect Orton to see Sunday against the Bengals is similar to what he saw in Week 1. The Redskins made their pressure defense work, bringing blitzes from every angle, and every Bears opponent is likely to do the same thing for the remainder of the season. One good game doesn't elevate Orton above rookie status.
"They'll consider him a rookie all the year," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "So we'll assume he's playing these teams for the first time. They assume that as a rookie, they should go after him. You know, Football 101, blitz the rookie. So we feel like we'll get that most of the year. It's just something we'll have to deal with."
Muhsin Muhammad, who has become Orton's go-to guy with 12 catches for 140 yards, said Orton has done his job.
"He did what we expect him to do, and that's manage the game, make good decisions, get rid of the ball when he has to and (avoid) turnovers," Muhammad said. "That's what he has to do every week for us to be able to win games."
Orton showed an exceptional ability to avoid interceptions at Purdue. In his final three seasons, he was picked off just 19 times while throwing 59 touchdown passes. He's been intercepted just once this season.

Cleveland Browns (1-1) at Indianapolis Colts (2-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 9/25/05
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: CBS, Don Criqui, Steve Tasker
SERIES: 25th meeting. Browns lead, 14-10. Oddly, the Browns have had more success against the Colts on the road than they have in Cleveland. They are 9-4 on the Colts' home turf, but only 3-3 in Indianapolis. This is their first game in the RCA Dome since their rebirth in 1999.
2005 RANKINGS: Browns: offense 4th (26th rush, 2nd pass); defense 31st (29th rush, 30th pass). Colts: offense 20th (10th rush, 22nd pass); defense 24th (14th rush, 24th pass)

PREDICTION: Colts 31-17

KEYS TO THE GAME: Browns coach Romeo Crennel doesn't have the same personnel, but as the Patriots' defensive coordinator he was 6-0 against the Colts and limited QB Peyton Manning to nine touchdowns against 10 INTs. The Browns will move a lot before the snap and switch between man and zone coverage. But the real key will be limiting RB Edgerrin James early on and then keeping the Colts' high powered passing game in front of the corners. Cleveland will likely have to win the turnover margin handily because Indianapolis' improved defense has allowed 10 points through two games. The Colts are averaging 4.5 sacks, while the Browns' offensive line has yet to allow one. For that to continue, RB Reuben Droughns must be effective on the ground to avoid third-and-long situations for immobile QB Trent Dilfer.

FAST FACTS Browns: Dilfer is 27-9 in his past 36 starts. ... Have not allowed a sack in consecutive games for the first time since 1992. Colts: Manning has passed for two or more touchdowns in 57.0 percent of his career games (65 of 114), the highest percentage of all-time. ... Six-game home winnings streak is one shy of the franchise record set from 1998-99.

--RB Lee Suggs said he's recovered from his ankle sprain and could play Sunday in Indianapolis. Suggs would not demand to play, and said the decision is Romeo Crennnel's. It appears at the least that Suggs could return kickoffs.
--QB Trent Dilfer will try to do something no Browns quarterback has done since 1980. If he tops 300 yards, he'll be the first Browns QB to have back-to-back 300-yard games since Brian Sipe.
--TE Aaron Shea has practiced some during the week, but figures to again be inactive with a shoulder muscle strain. That will give most of the time - and catches - to Steve Heiden.
--DE Orpheus Roye has been on the injury list all week with a sore right knee, but it would be a surprise if Roye does not play against the Colts. Roye had a stellar game in Green Bay after being listed as questionable with the same hyperextended knee.
--CBs Daylon McCutcheon and Gary Baxter probably won't play a lot of man this week. Romeo Crennel's New England defense confused Peyton Manning in the past with a lot of combination zones, so look for Crennel to follow the same formula in Cleveland.
--LB Ben Taylor said the Browns defensive adjustments will be the key to the game. He said adjusting on the move and as plays progress will be vital. "You don't want to outsmart Peyton Manning," Taylor said.

--WR Marvin Harrison was added to the Colts' injury list Thursday. Harrison injured his wrist during the latter stages of Wednesday's practice and did not take part in Thursday's workout. He is still expected to play this week against Cleveland.
--WR Reggie Wayne dislocated a finger in practice Thursday but is expected to start against the Browns on Sunday. Wayne participated in all of the team's drills Thursday.
--G Jake Scott practiced Wednesday and Thursday. Scott, who suffered a sprained foot in last week's win over Jacksonville, was in a walking boot for a couple of days earlier in the week.
--DE Jonathan Welsh is expected to see his first playing time since he suffered a sprained knee in the preseason opener with Atlanta. Welsh returned to practice this week.
--DE Josh Thomas should be able to play against the Browns. Thomas sat out the Jacksonville game with a sore knee.
--TE Ben Utecht did not practice Wednesday or Thursday and is not expected to play this week. Utecht suffered bruised ribs in last week's game.
--RB Dominic Rhodes has not practiced this week and probably won't be available for the Cleveland game. Rhodes is recovering from a bruised left shoulder.
--FB James Mungro will not play against the Browns. Mungro incurred a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee during the win over the Jaguars last week. He is expected to be sidelined for at least another week.
--S Joseph Jefferson remains sidelined with a turf toe injury. Jefferson may return for light work in practice next week.
--LB Gilbert Gardner will be out for another couple of weeks Gardner is recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered in the Colts' final preseason game.
--DT Vincent "Sweet Pea" Burns continues to rehabilitate a sprained right knee. Burns was injured in the Colts' preseason opener with Atlanta.

L.J. Shelton has never played Dwight Freeney, which may be the reason Shelton is excited about facing Freeney when the Browns travel to Indianapolis on Sunday.
Shelton may not truly realize what he's in for.
"It's a challenge," Shelton said. "But I'm up for it."
Shelton is a big blocker - 6-foot-6 and 345 pounds - who might seem vulnerable to a lightning-quick guy like Freeney.
But Shelton probably will get help.
Browns coach Romeo Crennel and line coach Jeff Davidson saw Freeney a lot in New England, and they know what he can do.
It's not likely Freeney will get a lot of single-up blocks.
If Trent Dilfer is to repeat his 300-yard passing game of a week ago, he'll need time.
So expect Shelton to get help from a fullback, running back or tight end in blocking Freeney.

A pair of rookies from the University of Michigan, Indianapolis Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards, will be renewing acquaintances Sunday when the Browns visit the RCA Dome.
College teammates for the past four years, Edwards was the third pick in this spring's NFL draft and has become Cleveland's big-play receiver just two games into the season.
Jackson, meanwhile, was the Colts' top draft pick this year and has earned a job as a nickel back in Indianapolis' pass coverage alignment.
The pair would often square off during practice during their collegiate careers and each credits the other for helping to develop their individual talents. This week's game will afford them the opportunity to face off for real.
"He really helped prepare me for this situation now, being in the NFL. Facing him every day in practice made the transition a lot smoother, a lot easier," Jackson said this week, "It's going to be fun. It's not going to be weird. We know each other like the back of our hands.
"I know I can't do certain things against him because he knows to expect them. And he can't do certain things against me because I know what to expect. I know how he plays and he knows how I play. So it's going to be a lot of fun going out there and trying to figure each other out now."
Edwards admits that he is looking forward the opportunity to face Jackson again.
"It's going to be interesting. To be completely honest, I don't think I would be the receiver that I am now if it wasn't for Marlin," he said. "I think we did a lot to help each other. Every day, going against each other. Just being physical every day, being competitive every day.
"It never allowed either one of us to take a day off. When you have a guy like myself or a guy like Marlin, when the other guy wasn't feeling up to it, we'd remind each other what we were out there for. Every day we competed, so it made us both better."

New England Patriots (1-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 9/25/05
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Bonnie Bernstein
SERIES: 22nd meeting. Steelers lead 13-8, but New England has won four of last five, including two AFC Championship wins.
2005 RANKINGS: Patriots: offense 12th (29th rush, 5th pass); defense 12th (12th rush, 14th pass). Steelers: offense 3rd (1st rush, 14th pass); defense 5th (17th rush, 3rd pass)

PREDICTION: Patriots 20-16

KEYS TO THE GAME: Two things are for certain: this matchup will be physical on both sides of the ball, and the Steelers will attempt to control the game by running it down the Patriots' throats. New England is still adjusting to having several new parts along its front seven, but the Patriots must contain RB Willie Parker in order to force the game into QB Ben Roethlisberger's hands -- which the Steelers' first two opponents were unable to accomplish. The Patriots' own running game has been miserable, allowing defenses to come after QB Tom Brady. Brady has seven touchdown passes in four career games against the Steelers, but he will have a difficult time taking advantage of mismatches downfield if Pittsburgh is able to stop RB Corey Dillon with its front seven.

FAST FACTS Patriots: A win would give Brady his 50th in only his 65th career starts, which would be the second fastest ever to that mark (Ken Stabler, 62). Steelers: Roethlisberger's 106.3 passer rating through 15 career starts is the fourth-highest all-time. ... Have an 11-game regular-season home winning streak.

--CB Randall Gay missed practice again Thursday and while questionable, isn't likely to make it back for the Steelers game. Duane Starks will start in his place opposite Asante Samuel.
--WR Bethel Johnson also missed some practice time Thursday, but he has a chance to play. The Patriots could certainly use him in the kickoff return game beside the explosive Ellis Hobbs, but since he isn't much of kick coverage man, he may not be active even if he's healthy. The Pats have gone with four receivers in each of the last two games - Deion Branch, David Givens, Troy Brown and Tim Dwight.
--CB Chad Scott hopes to play against his former team, the Steelers, a team that is accustomed to seeing their former cornerback on the injury report. Scott missed the last week's game with a shoulder injury, but claims to feel better. He missed some practice time again on Thursday.
--G Stephen Neal's availability remains a question mark. Neal injured his back against Carolina and left the game. He also missed practice time on Wednesday and Thursday. If he can't go, Russ Hochstein will start at right guard. Hochstein had two false start penalties last week.
--LB Mike Vrabel, another former Steeler, was asked in a conference call with the Pittsburgh media how the defending champions have played through two games. "I think we've played very average. When you say that we're an average team, I don't think that's what our capabilities are. I think we certainly played average; that's a true assessment of where we are at this point in the season."
Bill Cowher doesn't expect an average team Sunday at Heinz Field. He's seen the Patriots enough to know that his club better be prepared. "When you look at the New England Patriots, they know what it's like to come back and there's no panic up there," Cowher said. "They have great veteran leadership, good football players, and the best coach in the game today. When you look at what took place last week, it was a tough game and that's a pretty good football team that they played as well. They're not going to be intimidated coming into us. They have come in here and won more than once. We're just going to have to be on top of our game. We know that we're going to get a team that is going to bounce back. It will be a battle for us. It's a big challenge for us and it's a chance to see where we stand. I think there is a long way to go for both teams and it's a good barometer for us when you have the chance to play the best team in the National Football League."
--DE Jarvis Green is questionable with a shoulder injury and missed some practice time Thursday, but he's expected to play against the Steelers.

--RB Jerome Bettis will not play in his first game until at least Oct. 10 in San Diego. The Steelers have off next week. Bettis pulled a calf muscle in the third preseason game.
--WR Cedrick Wilson plays split end when the Steelers go to three wides, with Antwaan Randle El moving into the slot. Although Randle El starts, Wilson played a lot in two-wide with Hines Ward last Sunday.
--TE Heath Miller will soon surpass Jerame Tuman for the No. 1 job at the position. Both started the first two games when they opened with two tight ends.
--RB Willie Parker leads the AFC in rushing with 272 yards but all the action in his first season has caused him to lose 10 pounds since training camp opened.
--LB Joey Porter feasted on Patriots T Matt Light last Oct. 31 in Pittsburgh. Porter had three sacks and forced a Tom Brady fumble that set up the Steelers' second TD in a 34-20 victory.

The Steelers defense attack in different ways with a talented front seven that utilizes Dick LeBeau's zone blitzes so well that it puts stress on the pass protection and the quarterback to make quick, decisive reads and accurate throws while sliding in the pocket away from the rush and with bodies coming at him from all directions.
But it's more than the front seven that can hound a quarterback. The Pittsburgh defense sacked Texans quarterback David Carr eight times last week and the team's sack leader doesn't play among its powerful, aggressive front seven. Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu leads the team in sacks and will cause headaches for the Patriots' protection.
"If you don't know where he is, he'll kill you," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said about Polamalu. "We know that. He had three sacks last week. He had over 100 tackles last year. He's all over the field. He's fast and runs down a lot of plays."
Polamalu is one of those defensive backs who do it all. He can rush, cover, play run support and make big plays. Belichick is certainly game-planning for the former USC star.
"I thought that play he made on a reverse against us on the first play of the January (playoff) game was just an amazing play where he came out of nowhere and tracked (Deion) Branch down," Belichick recalled. "He's got a lot of speed; he's got a great motor. He's very aggressive and around the ball a lot. You make a mistake around him and he'll intercept it just like he did against Washington; he'll pick it off and run it back for a touchdown or scoop it up and run it back. He's a big factor in their game plan, there's no question."
Steelers coach Bill Cowher didn't downplay the impact Polamalu can have on a game.
"Troy has developed into one of the top safeties in the league because of the skills he has," Cowher said. "He's a great athlete but he's also a great student of the game. I think he has a great feel for the game. He's just one of the guys who is fun to be around and he certainly gives you a lot of flexibility when you have a guy that possess the type of athletic skills that he has. At the same time, he has a great feel for the game. It's great to have him and without a doubt he's one of the leaders of our defense."
The Patriots have allowed just two sacks in two games, but quarterback Tom Brady has been under pressure as teams have blitzed him from every angle and area of the field. He's handled it fairly well and avoided critical mistakes, with the exception of one interception that came on a play on which he wasn't under pressure. He'll have to handle it well this week as well, and he'll also have to find Polamalu on every snap.

Ben Roethlisberger may be 15-0 in the regular season, but he's 16-1 overall and that one loss came to the New England Patriots three games ago in the AFC championship in Pittsburgh.
The Patriots turned the tables on Big Ben that day. They intercepted him three times. Safety Rodney Harrison, took one of the interceptions all the way home from 87 yards for a touchdown. It's no wonder, then, that Roethlisberger will be looking for Harrison on Sunday.
"He's a safety that comes down and likes to hit people," Roethlisberger said. "He's a guy we have to really locate and keep an eye on because he's going to give a lot of things away, hopefully."
The Steelers safeties are the ones who want to turn the corner in this game. Tom Brady went after them in the AFC championship game and struck big on two occasions to Deion Branch, who caught a 60-yard touchdown pass and set up another with a deep ball.
"Being a cornerback or safety, you have to expect the deep ball a couple times in the game," cornerback Ike Taylor said.
Brady set up both passes to Branch using play-action fakes to Corey Dillon. Safeties Chris Hope and Troy Polamalu were late, one on each pass, from a Cover-2 zone.
"They caught me on one of them and Troy on one of them," Hope said. "They made great plays, great passes. The time I got beat I should have taken a better angle. It's not like we were nosey or in the backfield or nothing. They have a great team and they made a great play."
They Steelers have watched plenty of tape from that game and hope to avoid falling for the same trick Sunday.
"You have to be disciplined, you have to be patient and make sure you're seeing what your seeing and not guessing," said secondary coach Darren Perry. "I think we just got a little antsy, saw something we probably didn't see and reacted to it, which is going to happen sometimes."


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