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2015 Regular Season
Preview: Bengals @ Cards

Last MInute News, Rumors etc.:
Floyd (ham), Brown (ham) and Iupati (neck) are day to day

Setting the Stage:
2nd of back-to back Sunday Night games for Cards on the national stage. Cards are coming off a crucial devision win in Seattle. The red-hot Bengals are no longer undefeated after a losing a 10 - 6 MNF "pitchers battle" to the Texans. Cards have a one-day workweek advantage over Bengals and the game will be played in Arizona.

Opponent's Last Game
(Note - it seemed as though every series - short or long - was disrupted by at least two penalties). Houston kept it close - down 6 - 3 at halftime and thru the 3Q; continuing to keep the Bengals off the scoreboard and finally scoring the winning TD early in the 4Q on a Yates to Hopkins scoring pass. Their defense continued to keep their foot on the Bengals' neck to secure the "W."

First Quarter
Cincy received and returned the KO to their own 21. Dalton moved the ball OK in small chunks but any offensive consistency was undermined by a couple of penalties. Punt was returned to the Houston 22. An offensive interference penalty contributed to a 3 & out. Punt was returned to the Cincy 24.

A defensive PI flag moved Cincy to the Houston 47 but a false start penalty helped force a punt from the Houston 46. Fair catch: Houston 17. Houston held to three & out. Punt was returned by Cincy to their own 49. They managed to reach the Houston 14 in 7 plays but had to settle for a 42-yard Nugent FG. Bengals 3 - Texans 0.

KO was returned to the Houston 20. Houston ran off 5 plays and reached their own 34 as the quarter ended,

First Quarter Score:Bengals 3 - Texans 0.

Second Quarter
Houston continued what turned out to be a 12-play drive, which reached the Cincy 1; but they were unable to push the ball over the goal line and settled for a 22-yard FG. Bengals 3 - Texans 3.

KO was returned to the Cincy 18. Dalton dinked and dunked his way to the Houston 20 in 15 plays (using up 6:50) but the Bengs couldn't convert the TD and settled for another FG. Bengals 6 - Texans 3.

5:26 till halftime. KO was returned to the Texan 27 and Cincy held them to 3 & out. Punt was muffed but recovered by the Bengs at their own 25. 3:38 till halftime. A holding penalty derailed their drive at their own 49. Punt went out of bounds at the Houston 29. 0:31 left. On the 5th play of the Houston possession (with 0:06 on the clock) Hoyers deep pass over the middle was picked off by R Nelson in the end zone. Half over.

First Half Score: Bengals 6 - Texans 3.

Third Quarter
Houston received. KO returned to their own 14. They reached the Bengal 41 before their drive fizzled. TB on the punt. On the second play of the Cincy possession, Dalton's pass over the deep middle was picked off by J Joseph and returned to the Houston 29.

Houston got as far as the Bengal 46 in 7 plays before Lechler's punt wasfair caught on the Bengal 9. A minus-6 yard sack of Dalton derailed the Bengal possession and they punted from their own 20. Punt was downed at the Houston 21.

Yates in for Hoyer at the 2:21 mark. A roughing the passer penalty and a 13-yard run off left tackle brought Houston to the Bengal 37 as the quarter ended.

Third Quarter Score: Bengals 6 - Texans 3.

Fourth Quarter
Four plays later, Yates hit Hopkins deep left for the game-winning score. Texans 10 - Bengals 6.

Cincy returned the KO to their own 12. Each team exchanged two 3 & outs apiece. Bengals wound up 1st & 10 at their own 4-yard line and managed to dink their way to their own 24; but the drive stalled and Huber's punt was downed by Houston at their own 36. 6:56 left to play.

After Yates hit Washington over the middle for +13, Hawk's sack of Yates forced the Texans to punt from their own 49. Punt was returned to the Cincy 19 with 3:54 left to play. On the second play of the Cincy possession, Dalton was sacked by Watt for minus -11 yards but retaliated with a 26-yard completion over the deep middle to AJ Green and followed that up with a 15-yard catch & run to Benard. Dalton made it to the Houston 33 in 9 plays, but - with 0:50 on the clock - he hit Green for 10-yards, but the Cincy receiver fumbled and Houston recovered (Challenge was upheld - i.e.. ruled a fumble). 0:40 seconds left. Yates took two knees.

Final Score:Texans 10 - Bengals 6.

Texans vs. Bengals Significant Game Stats

Dalton was 22 of 38 for 197 yards, 0 TD's and 1 interception.

Cincy ran the ball 16 (non Dalton) times. Brnard led the Bengals on the ground with 36 yds on 8 carries. Run defense held Houston to 82 yards on 25 carries.

Leading Bengal receivers were Green (5 for 67 yards), M Jones (4 for 44) and Bernard (5 for 43).

Cincy Run/Pass Ratio was 21 run/38 pass.

Bengals were minus-1 in takeaways, losing 1 fumble and 1 interception. (Defense intercepted one pass - didn't recover any fumble).

Iloka led the Bengs with 8 tackles followed by Burfict (7), Nelson (6) and A Jones (5).

Rey, Hawk and Peko had one sack apiece. Cincy pass blockers gave up three sacks.

Net punting yards (Huber had 38.9 - 0.8 yards less than the Houston punter.)

Cincy was penalized 9 times for 70 yards. (Houston was penalized 5 times for 54 yards).

Seattle was 4 for 14 (28%) in 3rd down efficiency. They held Houston to 5 for 15 (33%).

Both teams had goose-eggs in Red Zone efficiency. Each team had one red zone opportunity apiece.

Time of Possession: Cincy 31:26 / Houston 28:34)

Bengals Cumulative Season Stats
(Note - Doesn't reflect Monday's game vs. Houston and may be a game or so "older" than even that)

First Downs: Bengals 186- Opponents 166.

3rd Down Conversions: Bengals 51 of 118 - Opponents 43 of 120

4th Down Conversions: Bengals 3 of 5 - Opponents 6 of 11

Total Yards Offense: Bengals 3,385 - Opponents 3,049

Rushing Yards: Bengals 1,036 on 264 carries (3.9 ypc )- Opponents 922 on 196 carries (4.7 ypc). Bernard leads the Bengals with 547 yards on 99 attempts (5.5 ypc). Hill follows with 359 yards on 111 atempts (3.2 ypc. Dalton is credited with 44 carries - not sure if this includes sacks)

Rush/Pass Ratio: Bengals 264/296

Passing - Dalton completed 196 of 296 passing attempts for 2,423 yards (8.2 ypa), 18 TD'S and 5 interceptions. He was sacked14 times (compared to 26 allowed by opposing QB's).

Receiving - AJ Green leads Cincy with 55 catches for 769 yards and 4 TD's. Their TE (Eifert)is second with 40 catches for 460 yards (& a team-leading 9 TD's). Jones (35 for 455) is third. Their RB (Bernard) is fourth with 26 catches for 198 yards). Green (14.0 ypc) is their playmaker but Jones only averages one-yard less per catch.

Turnover Ratio: +3.

Tackles - Rey leads Cincy by far with 74 followed by Pac Man (47), R Nelson (47) and Maualuga (47). (already) (38) and E Thomas (37).

Sacks - Bengals have 26. (Opponents 14). Dunlap and Atkins are the sackmeister swith 8.5 and 6.0 respectively. Peko has 3.0.

Interceptions: Interception Bengs have 9 (Opponents 5). Nelson leads the Bengalis with 4 followed by Jones (2).

Time of Possession: Bengals 31:32 - Opponents 29:44

Field Goals: - Nugent has missed 3 of 16 attempts (2 between 40 & 50 yards. One between 30 - 39). Nugent hasn't attempted anything over 50 yards.

Punting: Huber is averaging 44.6 gross yards. Of his 36 punts, 2 were touchbacks. 17 more were inside the 20.

Punt Returns: Tate and Jones share the responsibilities. Tate averages 8.6 ypr. Pac Man averages 11.7. No Cincy punt returns have been for TD's (yet).

Kick Returns: Tate and Jones are close to 50-50 sharing KR duty. Pac Man averages 23.5 ypr. Tate averages 19.3. No TD's (yet).

Bengals Offense

WR1..18 AJ Green.....19 B Tate............15 Alford        
LT.......77 Whitworth...74 Fisher
LG.....65 Boling                    
C.......61 Bodine........60 TJ Johnson                  
RG....68 Zeitler..........73 Winston
RT.....71 A Smith            
TE.....85 Eifert...........81 Kroft
TE ....89 Hewitt.........87 Uzomah
WR2..82 M Jones.....12 Sanu                           
QB....14 Dalton.........05 McCarron      
RB....32 J Hill............25 Bernard..........30 Peerman.....33 Burkhead

Cardinal Defense

DE        93 Campbell..........90 Redding
NT        95 Gunter...............69 X Williams                
DT        92 Rucker..............73 Mauro........72 Stinson                    
SLB      52 Woodley.......... 44 Golden       
ILB       55 Weatherspoon.             
ILB       51 Minter...............59 Fua                    
WLB    54 Freeney.............96 Martin.......56 Riddick........57 Okafor (inj)       
LCB     21 Peterson                   
RCB    25 Powers.............28 Bethel...35 C Brooks               
SS       36 Bucannon.........22 Jefferson              
FS       32 Mathieu............26 R. Johnson.....

De-complicating the PFF Ratings:
Pro Football Focus has quickly emerged as everyone's go-to stat-metrics resource for grading teams and players (Just how good they are is hard to determine, but what we are willing to say is that they provide the best statistical info available). For sake of argument for our matchup discussions below: Whether it be Overall Rating or as a pass-rusher, run-stopper or cover- guy: Any player with a rating of over 80.0 can be considered "elite." Any player rated 70.0 or higher can be considered "very good." Any player rated in the mid-sixties can be considered "average."

Matchups Overall:
Position by position, the two teams mirror one another. The outcome of this contest may boil down to who executes most consistently.

Matchup: Cincy Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
This matchup pits a talented Cardinal secondary and make-shift pass rush vs. an elite Cincy QB who has a multi-headed Cincy receiving arsenal to work with. This is not one of those games where the defense can put their top guy on their opponents' top guy and expect to shut everything down. It will take a bunch of defenders in the face of a bunch of their receiving threats all over the field.

Card defenders will have their hands full. Bengal playmakers include AJ Green, Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert. (Green is ranked #7 among all NFL receivers and enjoys an elite 90.2 overall rating. Jones, Sanu and M Jones are all hovering around the 70.0 level. Bernard also has a 70+ pass receiving rating. Eifert is rated 2nd best TE in the pros with a 92.3 rating. (Meanwhile, Dalton is ranked #4 among all NFL quarterbacks with an overall rating of 86.0).

Cincy's OL is a mixed bag - has a LT ranked #4 in the NFL and OG's ranked #12 and #13, but potential areas of weakness at RT (where Smith's overall, run blocking and pass blocking ratings are in the forties) and OC (where Bodine has overall and pass blocking in the forties and run blocking in the high thirties. Cardinal pass rush threat has been pretty much "by committee" (with Campbell, Mathieu, Golden and recent addition, Dwight Freeney representing the most potent threats. Last years sack leader, Alex Okafor returns from the MASH unit 100% healthy..

Dalton will face a Cardinal defense anchored by Campbell on interior of the D-line, a decent but not great LB crew and an elite secondary (with 5 of 6 starters and nickel backs rated 79.0 or better overall). Mathieu is ranked #2 (as a corner). Peterson is ranked #8. Only Powers is rated lower than 60.0 overall. The overall consistency of the Cardinal secondary carries over from coverage to run defense (with Powers rated 28 points lower than Bethel in coverage but 21 points higher in run defense.

Key Matchups: Peterson vs. Green. Jefferson vs. Bernard. Mathieu vs. Eifert. Campbell and Gunter vs. Boling and Zeitler. Freeney vs, Whitworth.

Matchup: Cincy Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
Cincy is running the ball especially well downhill. - they have a big, strong OL that's been together for a long time. They stay in manageable down/distances. The way the rating numbers look - Cincy uses its two guards (Boling and Zeitler) to protect their center (Bodine). Unlike many offensive lines (which have their best pass blocker at LT and best run blocker at RT), their LT (Whitworth) is both their best pass blocker and run blocker. Their RT (A Smith) is rated in the low forties across the board.

Bernard (82.6) is ranked #10 pro RB in the country. His backup (Hill) is ranked #27. Part of this, no doubt, is probably due to better-than-average Cincy run blocking. While the standard Cardinal defensive MO has been to "first take away the run and everything else will take care of itself", the multiplicity of Cincy's receiving options will present a challenge.

Card run defense has consistently been ranked in the top 5 in the league. They'e been pretty much getting it done the blue-collar way (lanes, tackling etc.). On the interior, Campbell (88.0), Stinson (71.1) and Gunter (70.1) provide consistent stoutness. Off the edge, Mauro (71.9) and Golden (77.6) are solid vs. the run. There does seem to be a weakness at the pure-LB position (where Minter is rated 37.5 and Bucannon 46.8 against the run). With the exception of Bethel (54.3) the other 5 members of the Cardinal starting and nickel secondary are rated 72.7 or higher vs. the run.

Key Matchups: Campbell vs. Cincy interior OL Jefferson vs. Bernard. Freeney vs. Whitworth. Golden vs. A Smith.


Cardinal Offense

WR1     11 Fitzgerald..13 Jar Brown......10 Golden   
LT         68 Veldheer....79 Sowell                       
LG        76 Iupati.........62 Larsen                     
C          63 Sendlein....53 Shipley                    
RG       61 Cooper                   
RT        70 Massie.......78 Watford.........74 Humphreys                     
TE        85 Fells...........87 Niklas           
WR2    15 M. Floyd.....12 John Brown...14 Nelson              
QB       03 Palmer........05 Stanton.........09 Barkley        
RB       38 Ellington.....27 C Johnson.....31 D Johnson.....30 Taylor,
TE        84 Gresham

Bengals Defense

LDE.....96 Dunlap...........99 M Hunt
NT.......94 Peko...............92 P Sims      
DT.......97 Atkins.............98 B Thompson...91 Hardison   
RDE....90 M Johnson.....95 Gilberry...........93 W Clarke 
SLB....50 Hawk..............59 Lamur..............51 C Carter  
MLB...58 Maualuga.......57 Rey             
WLB...55 Burfict    
LCB....27 Kirkpatrick....21 Dennard...........26 J Shaw
RCB....24 A Jones........29 L Hall
SS .....43 Iloka..............36 S Williams     
FS......20 R Nelson.......40 D Smith

Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Cincy Pass Defense
According to Houston HC Bill O Brien, "They're 8 & 0 for a reason; & one of those (defensive) reasons is a very strong front (Dunlop, M Johnson and Atkins).... Their LB's are athletic, tough...their top corners are all first -round draft pocks, talented giuys...Got a lot of respect fpr this defense...."

According to PFF, key Bengal pass rushers are Atkins (86.6 rating) and Dunlap (78.2. Only other Cincy defender rated over 70.0 is Gilberg (71.8). Cincy has two elite cover corners in A. Jones (88.8) and Hall (80.6). Bengs are fairly deep in DB coverage talent with Nelson, Illona and Dennard rated over 70.0 in coverage.

They will attempt to stop a powerful Cardinal passing attack with Carson Palmer who -coming into the Seattle game - was ranked #3 and matching Dalton's effectiveness throw by throw. He's hooking up with elite receivers in Fitzgerald, (Smokey) Brown and Floyd, the emergence of TE's Grisham and Niklas and three RB's (C Johnson, Ellington and David Johnson) who can catch out of the backfield.

Cardinal receivers will be going up against a strong foursome of Cincy DB's, and Palmer is most vulnerable when he feels he has to hurry his throws when under a heavy pass rush. Card pass blockers will have to find a way to neutralize Atkins in the inside and Dunlap off the edge.

Key Matchups: Veldheer vs. Dunlap. Iupati vs. Atkins. Fitz, Floyd and Jo Brown vs. A Jones, Hall and Dennard. C Johnson or Ellington vs. Nelson or Illona.

Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Cincy Run Defense
Atkins is the one elite player on the Bengal interior; ranking 9th among NFL iinterior DL's overall with ratings in the mid-high 80's both as a run-stopper and pass rusher. Peko and Sims both rate in the mid-sixties against the run (even with Redding/slightly lower than Gunter or Stinson). Dunlap is their elite edge-guy (#16 overall with a very good but not superhuman 78.2 rating against the run. Only other LB or edge guy rated over 70.0 vs. run is Rey. The only DB rated over 70.0 vs. the run is Adam Jones).

According to the numbers, in terms of yards-per-carry, Cards are running twice as efficiently as they did a year ago, but when I watch them on tape, they still don't look like "money" every time they dial up a running play. (i.e. a lot of their total yardage is coming from gash-runs by CJ and not a steady diet of +3 or +4 yard gains). Nevertheless, the threat of the long run is everpresence and helps protect Palmer by opening up the Cardinal play action passing game.

The addition of Iupati to pair up with Veldheer on the left side of the OL has turned a Cardinal weakness into a strength, and has enabled the Cards to seize or maintain control of contests late in games. Sendlein (shoulder) may be out, and it then becomes up to AQ Shipley to step in at center. Although earlier tape of Shipley suggested that he could be mandhandled by opposing defenders, the PFF rankings show him performing on equal footing to Sendlein in run blocking and somewhat better in pass pro.

Key Matchups: Iupati vs. Atkins. Cooper vs. Dunlap. Cardinal receivers vs. Nelson and A. Jones.

Special Teams

Cincinnati

      10 Huber                    
K       02 Nugent                       
H       10 Huber 
LS     46 C Harris                                
KR    19 Tate                        
PR    24 A Jones

Cardinals

K          07 Catanzaro                             
P          02 Butler                                   
H          02 Butler                             
LS        82 Leach                                  
KR       31 D Johnson.....10 Golden          
PR       21 Peterson........14 Nelson...........10 Golden

Matchup: Cincy Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Neither Huber nor Nugent seem all that dominating (Nugent hasn't attempted anything over 50 yards). Then again, neither Butler or Catanzaro cannot be considered "elite" (although the Cat Man does seem more consistent). Peterson and David Johnson have home run potential but aren't posting home-run caliber return statistics (& what's with Peterson's running out of bounds to avoid being tackled by the opposing punter)? Both Jones and Tate are dangerous.

Key matchups: Bethel and Mathieu vs. Jones and Tate. Peterson and D Johnson vs. Cincy coverage units. Catanzaro vs. Nugent.

Coaching
Both head coaches know (& respect) one another well. Both BA and M Lewis will have to convince their charges to forget about last game and focus on the next game up. (Lewis has to guard against the potential let-down from Cincy no longer being undefeated). BA has to guard against the big sigh of collective relief that might be the inevitable outgrowth of beating Seattle.

Last Word
What you learn following the NFL for nearly 70 years is that you haven't cinched anything until you've actually done it and, within that context, no game is any the less important than any other game. Reputations don't count. Last week's game doesn't count. Last year's record doesn't count. It's 11 vs. 11 and up to each team to prove that "our 11 guys" are playing better than their 11 guys. Pretty simple, isn't it?


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