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WHERE: Raymond James Stadium
WHERE THE BENGALS STAND: The Bengals are 3-1 and are in second place in the AFC North division
BENGALS HEAD COACH: Marvin Lewis
BENGALS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Bob Bratkowski
BENGALS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Chuck Bresnahan
BENGALS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Darrin Simmons
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE:
OVERALL: 26th (277.0 ypg)
RUSHING: 28th (79.3. ypg)
PASSING: 19th (197.8 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE:
OVERALL: 20th (329.3 ypg)
RUSHING: 30th (163.3 ypg)
PASSING: 7th (166.0 ypg)
CINCINNATI BENGALS OFFENSE:
OVERALL: 16th (310.5 ypg)
RUSHING: 16th (108.5 ypg)
PASSING: 13th (202.0 ypg)
CINCINNATI BENGALS DEFENSE:
OVERALL: 25th (344.8 ypg)
RUSHING: 27th (144.0 ypg)
PASSING: 15th (200.8 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW …
… the last time the Buccaneers started 0-5 was back in 1996?
SCOUTING THE BENGALS
He might not be the same Pro Bowl quarterback he was in 2005 when he tossed 32 touchdowns, but Bengals QB Carson Palmer is getting there and still is one of the team’s most dangerous weapons. Palmer, who was sidelined most of the offseason with torn knee ligaments he suffered in the playoffs, has completed 62.5 percent of his passes and thrown for 917 yards and tossed six touchdowns and four interceptions. Palmer has a great grasp of offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski’s system, which includes the no-huddle offense.
Although Palmer is completely capable of leading the offense with his throwing arm, the Bengals likely will come out running the ball against the Bucs defense, which ranks 30th in the league in that department. Cincinnati RB Rudi Johnson, who rushed for 1,458 yards in 2005, and is already off to a good start this year. He’s rushed for 353 yards (4.1 avg.) and four touchdowns. While Johnson is more of a north-and-south runner, which could bode well for Tampa Bay and its one-gap system, the Bucs defenders must do a better job of tackling, especially vs. the 225-pound Johnson, who is known to break them quite often.
Tampa Bay cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly will have their work cut out for them on Sunday when Cincinnati receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh invade Raymond James Stadium. Both players combined for 175 catches for 2,398 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Johnson, a three-time Pro Bowler, is cocky, but has the route-running skills and playmaking ability to back it up. He’s caught a team-leading 18 passes for 201 yards and one touchdown. Barber, who has made two straight Pro Bowls, leads the team in tackles but isn’t having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. He’ll need to do a much better job in order to keep Johnson from moving the chains and celebrating in the end zone. Houshmandzadeh has hauled in 13 passes for 189 yards and scored two touchdowns through four games. Kelly will be charged with the difficult task of covering Houshmandzadeh. The Bucs will have to rely on safeties Jermaine Phillips, Will Allen and Kalvin Pearson, who is expected to get more playing time as a result of Phillips’ poor play, to help Barber and Kelly contain these two dangerous receivers. The bad news for the Bucs is although their pass defense is ranked 6th in the NFL, their secondary, particularly Phillips and Allen, haven’t played well in terms of tackling. They’ll need to be on top of their game Sunday.
The strength of Cincinnati’s offensive line is its ability to open up holes for Johnson in the running game. The Bengals also rely on tight end Reggie Kelly to help run block. However, this unit, which is made up of left tackle Levi Jones, left guard Eric Steinbach, center Rich Steinbach, right guard Bobbie Williams and right tackle Willie Anderson, is having trouble protecting Palmer. After allowing their starting signal caller to get sacked just 19 times through 16 regular season games in ’05, the Bengals’ offensive line has surrendered a whopping 15 sacks through four games this season. As a result, it’s only converting 35.3 percent of its third downs, and after throwing a total of 12 interceptions last year, Palmer has already tossed four picks this season. Tampa Bay’s defensive line hasn’t exactly played well in terms of rushing the passer. The Bucs have recorded seven sacks through four games, and backup defensive end Dewayne White leads the team with three quarterback takedowns. Tampa Bay’s defensive line feeds off of DE Simeon Rice, who has a knack for forcing fumbles when he gets to the quarterback. The Bucs' defensive tackles, particularly Anthony McFarland, must do a better job of penetrating at the line of scrimmage. If McFarland and Chris Hovan can fill their gaps and get pressure up front, opportunity could knock for Rice, Greg Spires and White on passing plays.
Tampa Bay’s ground game came to life last Sunday when Carnell “Cadillac” Williams rushed 20 times for 111 yards. Still, the Bucs running game ranks 28th in the NFL, and the team’s offensive line must physically dominate in the trenches against Cincinnati’s defensive line, which features left end Bryan Robinson, under tackle Sam Adams, nose tackle John Thorton and right end Justin Smith. Adams is in the latter part of his career, but the 335-pound lineman is load in the middle. Blocking Adams will be a tall order for Bucs rookie right guard Davin Joseph, who likely will make his first pro start Sunday. Tampa Bay will have another rookie starting at right tackle. For the most part, Jeremy Trueblood did well in his debut vs. the Saints. However, the Bucs went out of their way to protect him with blocking schemes that called for tight ends to be held in near the line of scrimmage and chip blocking from fullback Mike Alstott and running back Michael Pittman. Tampa Bay’s biggest concern in terms of pass protection will be at left tackle, where Anthony Davis will be asked to hold off Smith, who is an excellent pass rusher and has already recorded four sacks this season. Bengals backup DE Robert Geathers also has notched four sacks and will see action at either end spot on obvious passing downs. Look for the Bucs to continue to run behind the 330-pound Davis and left guard Dan Buenning. That’s where Williams had a lot of success last week, and that’s where the Bengals defense, which is allowing 144 yards rushing per game, appears to be vulnerable.
One of the reasons why Cincinnati’s run defense is suspect is because it has been playing without two of its starting linebackers – David Pollack (neck injury) and Odell Thurman (suspension). Strongside linebacker Rashad Jeanty, middle linebacker Brian Simmons and weakside linebacker Landon Johnson have played a part in Cincinnati’s inability to stop the run. The Bengals are missing Thurman’s playmaking ability. However, Simmons, who leads the team in tackles and has one forced fumble and one interception, is considered dangerous. The Bucs will attempt to have rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski work the short-to-intermediate part of the field, especially with tight ends Alex Smith and Anthony Becht. However, Gradkowski will have to be careful with the football. Simmons and Johnson each have recorded interceptions this season. Look for Gradkowski to use his mobility to find receivers to throw to, especially tight ends Alex Smith and Anthony Becht.
The Bengals have one of the best ballhawks in the business in cornerback Deltha O’Neal, who intercepted 10 passes in 2005 and already has one pick and five passes defensed this season. O’Neal will be matched up against Bucs speedy WR Joey Galloway, who has hauled in a team-leading 14 passes for 279 yards (19.9 avg.) and two touchdowns. While the Bucs might be somewhat conservative in terms of throwing the football, look for Gradkowski to take a few chances deep downfield. With Galloway likely to be double-teamed often by O’Neal and free safety Madieu Williams, who has hauled in a team-leading two interceptions, Gradkowski’s best bet in terms of throwing the ball to a receiver could be Michael Clayton. Clayton will spend most of the game going up against Bengals CB Tory James. While he has one pick on the season, James is aging and teams have been attacking him more often than not. The Bucs need to establish the running game early in an effort to force the Bengals to move former Tampa Bay safety Dexter Jackson up in the box, which could leave either Galloway or Clayton in some favorable one-on-one situations with James.
Bengals kicker Shayne Graham is displaying an accurate leg. He’s drilled 7-of-8 (87.5 percent) of his field goal attempts. Punter Kyle Larson is just as accurate. He is averaging 47 yards per punt and has pinned seven of his 20 attempts inside the 20-yard line. Kicker returner Kenny Watson is averaging 22 yards per return. His long is 34. The Bengals rely on Kelwan Ratliff to return punts, but he hasn’t had many opportunities this season. In fact, Cincinnati had more player arrests during the offseason than it has returned punts (4) through four games this season.
FLYNN’S FORECAST: Bengals 27 Buccaneers 24