Game Snapshot: Bengals - Bills

<b>Cincinnati Bengals </b> (1-3) at <b> Buffalo Bills</b> (2-2)<br><b> KICKOFF:</b> Sunday, 1:00 ET<br><b>GAMEDATE:</b> 10/05/03<br><b>SURFACE:</b>AstroPlay<br><b>TV:</b> CBS, Don Criqui, Steve Tasker<br><br><b> SERIES: </b> 20th meeting. Bills lead 10-9, including a 29-9 victory last December 29 in Buffalo. Since losing to the Bengals 21-10 in the AFC title game in 1988, Buffalo has won five regular-season games in a row over Cincinnati by margins of 17, 19, 14, 13 and 18 points.

2003 RANKINGS: Bengals: offense 22nd (27th rush, 15th pass); defense 17th (25th rush, 8th pass). Bills: offense 29th (31st rush, 10th pass); defense 9th (26th rush, 3rd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: A pair of teams that desperately need help from their running games are likely to be without their workhorse backs as the Bengals' Corey Dillon (groin) and the Bills' Travis Henry (ribs) are long shots to play. Considering both teams struggle to stop the run, the ground game will still play an important role. Especially for the Bills, as QB Drew Bledsoe has struggled the past two games trying to force the ball downfield. Bengals QB Jon Kitna has cut down on his interceptions in recent games and is creating a good rapport with WRs Chad Johnson and Peter Warrick, who will have a good battle against Bills CBs Antoine Winfield and Nate Clements.

FAST FACTS: Bengals: If Dillon can start, it will break his streak of 52 consecutive starts. ... The team has trailed for 215:59 this season and led for 9:01. ... Kitna has not thrown an interception in the past seven quarters. Bills: The team has committed 21 penalties in the past two games. ... They have won the past five meetings by a combined score of 150-69. ... Bledsoe is 4-1 vs. Bengals.

PREDICTED SCORE: Bills 17, Bengals 16

TE Matt Schobel leads Bengals tight ends with 118 receiving yards on six catches, and the team's tight ends (20 receptions for 235 yards) are on pace for the most receptions for Bengals tight ends since 1981 and receiving yards since 1984. Schobel practiced Thursday for a second consecutive day but remains listed as questionable for Buffalo on Sunday with a hamstring injury.

RB Corey Dillon (groin) did not practice Thursday but remains listed as questionable, even though the team's weekly news released said he is out for the Bills. Coach Marvin Lewis wants to give Dillon extra rest with the bye coming up after the Buffalo game. It will break a string of 52 consecutive starts.

OT Willie Anderson will make his 53rd consecutive start Sunday at Buffalo the longest on the team.

WR T.J. Houshmandazeh (hamstring) remains questionable for Buffalo and is likely to miss his fifth consecutive game. The Bengals would like to get him back for Game 6 against Baltimore on Oct. 19.

RT Mike Williams has an injured finger, suffered against Miami, and now is nursing an upper respiratory ailment. The Bills are hopeful he can play against the Bengals on Sunday.

RB Travis Henry, on the mend from torn rib cartilage, did some team drills on Thursday but is still reserving his decision to play against the Bengals on Sunday to game time. It's appearing as if Henry will at least try to play but he is still in some pain.

QB Drew Bledsoe now has 34,954 career passing yards and ranks 13th in NFL history after leaping Jim Hart and Jim Everett last Sunday. He is 513 yards away from 12th-ranked Jim Kelly. He's likely to get at least 300 of that going against Cincinnati this weekend.

WR Eric Moulds, coming off his 23rd career 100-yard game, faces Bengals CB and former Bills teammate Jeff Burris on Sunday. Moulds has faired well against Burris in previous matchups, such as when Burris played for Indianapolis. With his second catch last Sunday against the Eagles, Moulds (463) passed Thurman Thomas and moved into second place on the Bills' all-time receptions list.

WR Bobby Shaw, who had a roller-coaster day against the Eagles, is proving to be a highly productive addition. Five of his eight catches resulted in first downs and 12 of 17 in 2003 have moved the chains. Ten of his 17 receptions have been on third down and he leads the AFC in third down catches (tied for third in the NFL).

WR Antonio Brown, who had a career-best 41-yard kickoff return against Philadelphia last weekend, could see some time at wide receiver against the Bengals. The Bills want his speed in the lineup during their four- and five-wide sets.

DE Aaron Schobel has participated in a sack three straight games, the longest streak of his career.

P Brian Moorman's 49.2-yard average is second in the AFC and third in the NFL while his 41.2-yard net is first in the AFC and second in the NFL (behind Mitch Berger of New Orleans - 42.3).


Injuries, roster turnover and maturity on their part account for the early season production of wide receivers Peter Warrick and Chad Johnson.

They are one of just three wide receiver duos in the NFL each with 20 or more catches. Warrick is 22 for 202 yards, and Johnson has 21 receptions for an AFC best 370.

A hamstring injury to third-year receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh has made Johnson and Warrick the only veteran receivers on the roster. The other two active receivers are rookies Kelley Washington and Lawrence Hamilton.

"We've probably made more of a conscious effort for them to be our playmakers," offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said. "The last two years, the ball would get spread around more, but now the focus is on them, and rightly so."

Houshmadzadeh and Ron Dugans, released after training camp, each had more than 40 receptions in 2002.

"What you're seeing is what happens when you give something a chance to grow," quarterback Jon Kitna said of his two prime receivers. "Good things happen. We're not even where we're going to be."

Together they're on pace for 172 receptions, 2,288 yards and 20 touchdowns. The other two pairs to exceed 20 catches each through four games are Pittsburgh's Hines Ward (31) and Plaxico Burress (22) and St. Louis' Torry Holt (30) and Isaac Bruce (23).

"Somewhat, not yet," Johnson said when asked if he and Warrick were one of the major double-threats. "We've got to keep it going a little bit longer than what we've been doing. Maybe a 10-15 game stretch, if we keep up our production (receptions and yards), then you can make those kinds of assumptions."

They are the most productive tandem of Bengals receivers since Carl Pickens and Darnay Scott in the mid-1990s.

The Bills signed free agents Sam Adams, Jeff Posey, Takeo Spikes and Lawyer Milloy to shore up a run defense that ranked 29th in the NFL last season. Four games into this year, however, the Bills aren't getting their money's worth.

After allowing 166 yards against Miami and 177 against Philadelphia, both close losses, Buffalo ranks 23rd against the run. Opponents are averaging a healthy 4.5 yards per rush.

"We're not happy with the way we're playing and we're not going to accept it," Adams said.

The Bills get a break Sunday when they play host the Cincinnati Bengals, who will be without bruising Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon, out with a bad groin and sore knee.

Hurting Buffalo's rushing defense numbers are big plays. Ricky Williams hurt them with a 21-yard run late in the fourth quarter at Miami. The Eagles sprung a 25-yard scramble by quarterback Donovan McNabb then sealed the game on Brian Westbrook's 62-yard run in the closing minutes. Missed tackles and blown gap assignments are still a problem as the defense, featuring five new starters, continues to jell.

"We've got to get to the ball better," Adams said. "Guys have to win their one-on-one battle, and we have to keep in our rush lanes. It's easier said than done but we still have to work on it to get it done. We have jobs to do and we take pride in what we're doing. Everyone has to do their job for this to work because in our scheme, we include a lot of people."

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