Well, fellow Bengal fans, our beloved striped crusaders survived a brutal first two weeks of the season. Despite starting the season like the Bad News Bears on Ambien, the cats have clawed their way back to 1-1 with a dominating defensive effort and a “hold serve” performance against a division rival. At 1-1, and just one game off the lead in the AFC North, the Bengals can now look forward to three consecutive games versus teams that didn’t make the playoffs in 2009.
By most accounts, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and Carolina, Sunday’s adversary, are inferior teams. On Paper, the Bengals are more talented, deeper, and more experienced.
And that’s the trouble. The Bengals are vicious and relentless when desperate and painted into a corner, but become the Queen City Kitties when facing more favorable odds. And the more favorable the odds, the more likely they are to be the Goliath to someone’s David.
Sunday’s David-in-waiting will be rookie second-round QB Jimmy Clausen. The Golden Domer with the slingshot in his arm will be looking to rejuvenate a dull, listless, and mistake-laden Panther attack. He went 7 for 15 last week in mop-up duty, and has to be at least a little concerned about facing a Bengals defense that picked off Joe Flacco four times.
The Panthers will no doubt try to take as much pressure off their young signal-caller as possible by attempting to establish the running game. Running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart give Carolina an outstanding one-two punch, and they know they can be Clausen’s best friend.
But then, so do the Bengals. And the Panthers know that the Bengals know. And so the chess game is played.
That being the case, I look for the Panthers to give the rookie some deep opportunities early to stretch the defense, while also mixing in some draw plays, screen passes, and quick slants to build his confidence. The ever-dangerous WR Steve Smith can eviscerate any secondary in the league if given half the chance. Mike Zimmer and his troops must be wary of this. While the temptation will be to over-pursue the running lanes and make highlights, the focus must be on staying disciplined and following the game plan. Giving Clausen even a hint of success could become a nightmare for the Bengals and the slain villain in a golden boy hero story for Peter King to write.
However, if the Bengals can shut down the Panthers on first and second down, forcing them into obvious passing situations on third, it could be a long and miserable day for Clausen.
On offense, the Bengals must use this opportunity to get their collective act together, and impose their will on an opponent. As Cedric Benson said, the Bengals must embrace their identity, whatever that may be. Cedric Benson should be able to have some success against the Panther front seven, and Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens may finally break out. With offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski focusing on simplification and reducing penalties, fans are looking for some return on the investment in this offense before games with Indianapolis, New Orleans, and Pittsburgh approach. Certainly establishing the run should be a focus, but with Bernard Scott under-utilized and Brian Leonard back, the team should have some more no-huddle in store Sunday.
While the Bengals were getting their act together against Baltimore, Carolina was losing their second game in a row in ugly fashion. With that being the case, it would be logical sense to take Cincy in this one, by a score of something like 24-13. The Bengals look like they are getting their footing and are regaining their confidence. Carolina looks like a team in disarray, and just one or two big plays away from folding up the tent and heading for 5-11.
And that’s what scares the hell out of me.
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