A lot has happened since last Thursday. It was announced that EJ Manuel would be out 3-8 weeks with an LCL sprain. The search began for a replacement since Jeff Tuel came up lame as a fill in. After a couple days of looking for a veteran free agent, Thad Lewis was elevated from the practice squad and named the starter for week 6, leapfrogging Tuel for the job. On top of that, the Bills released punter Shawn Powell, signed on linebacker Ty Powell off waivers and brought up cornerback Brandon Smith from the practice squad. All that forced them to make room on the roster by moving injured kicker Dustin Hopkins to IR, ending his rookie season. The busy week also included bringing back a fan favorite. On Sunday, the Bills re-signed punter Brian Moorman to replace the guy who replaced him last season. Now with the rosters set in OrchardPark, it’s time to concentrate on this week’s opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals were a wild card coming into the season, having made the playoffs 3 of the last 4 years and having put their entire faith and the future of the franchise in the arm of quarterback Andy Dalton. Last week, they sent shockwaves through the NFL with a signature win over the Patriots. Not only did they beat an undefeated perennial playoff team but the Bengals prevented them from scoring a single touchdown; which broke Tom Brady’s record setting streak. Cincinnati’s front seven sacked Brady 4 times and put 8 hits on the Pat’s superstar. And I’m talking big league shots. This defense wanted to come into 2013 with a new attitude and they certainly have.
Much like the Bills, the tenacious Cincinnati defense is what keeps them in games. This year they’ve tallied 11 sacks, 9 forced fumbles and 5 interceptions. Compare that to the Bills (15, 9 and 9) it doesn’t sound all that impressive. So what makes the Bengals defense so good? They create their own opportunities. The aggressive nature of their defense causes quarterbacks and running backs to make hasty decisions. Their big thing is tackles for a loss. They can break through the line easily and use the velociraptor method form JurassicPark. They load one side as a distraction and, as the ball carrier turns to the other side, they’re met by the lone rusher already taking them down. That’s how they got so much pressure on Brady. It’s difficult to counter because they run it in different directions and from varying angles. Rookie linebacker Barkevious Mingo is usually the distraction gunner and has the speed to run down nearly anyone in the league. The guys putting up the big numbers in the sack department are LB Geno Atkins (3.5), Carlos Dunlap (3), and Wallace Gilberry (2.5). The three of them combined for all 4 sacks on Tom Brady this past week.
The Bengals running game isn’t much to write home about. The Law Firm, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, is their lead back but rookie Giovani Bernard has him matched in yards (209) on less carries (71,45 respectively). That’s not great when put up against the Bills’ top backs (Spiller 296, Jackson 309). Andy Dalton is not a particularly mobile quarterback and, after watching what Kiko Alonso did to Brian Hoyer on Thursday night, I’m sure Dalton was advised not to take the chance. Cincy hasn’t really been pushing the run outside of the redzone where Green-Ellis and Bernard combine for 5 touchdowns. There’s a reason for that; their passing game.
The Bengals air attack has been improving quickly as the year goes on. Andy Dalton sits at 1,215 yards with 5 touchdowns. Now in his third seasons with Cincy, he’s been turning heads. He, like Joe Flacco, is one of the few quarterbacks to lead his team to the playoffs in both of his first two years. He’s got a cannon on him and he’s not afraid to throw the deep ball. More importantly, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden isn’t afraid to let him. Gruden and Dalton, who both signed on in 2011, have molded this offense into an efficient chain-moving machine.
Their top receiver, A.J. Green, has 3 TDs and is averaging 11.6 yards per catch. He very much needs to be accounted for by the skeleton crew that is the Bills secondary. But, the big story on offense is the development of rookie tight end Tyler Eifert. He’s 6’6”, 250 lbs and has the speed of a wide receiver. His first few games were a little rocky but, now that he’s gained Dalton’s confidence, he’s become a favorite target. Eifert was brought in to tandem with veteran TE Jermaine Gresham and that pairing has been super effective. They are each still looking for their first touchdown of the season but, 5 games in, have combined for 417 yards on 39 catches. Most of their work, as expected, is over the middle and on later downs. The Bills have defended tight ends very well this year but have yet to see any double tight end sets. That just happens to be the Bengals’ specialty. The big story defensively for the Bills will be how they do against 2 tight ends and an unpredictable Pro Bowl wide out in A.J. Green.
This will be only the second NFL start for Thad Lewis. The Bills have already said they plan to use their two-headed running game early to take some pressure off Lewis. I don’t think they’re expecting him to put in a Peyton Manning type performance on Sunday but, he can run, he can throw and coach Marrone sees something in him. This could be a rough game for Bills fans to watch (or listen to if it’s blacked out). Hopefully, the team has made all the right choices to fill in for their slew of injured starters.
– Josh Paufler
UPDATE: Ralph Wilson Jr. has guaranteed the sale of the remaining 5,300 tickets to avoid the TV blackout.
Sunday October 13th 2013
Kickoff 1:00 pm
Ralph Wilson Stadium – Orchard Park, NY
TV: CBS – Local channel 4
Radio: WGR 550 AM