Last week, the Cincinnati Bengals took the training wheels off the offense for Andy Dalton. When they meet the San Francisco 49ers today at Paul Brown Stadium, the rookie will be looking to win his first home game as the Bengals new signal caller.
With the Broncos keeping Cedric Benson under wraps, Marvin Lewis and Jay Gruden turned Dalton loose in the second half. He responded well, throwing for over 300 yards and if not for a key drop by Jerome Simpson, he could have added a fourth quarter comeback to his resume. With the 49ers boasting a solid front seven and the league's best rushing defense through two games, it's likely Dalton will have to produce similarly for the Bengals to win.
He'll have to do it with a different set of targets, however. Jordan Shipley is lost for the year with a torn ACL and Jerome Simpson is still a question mark for this week and for the future after this week's encounter with the authorities. He'll still have AJ Green though, whom he connected with 10 times last week in Denver. Andre Caldwell moves up to the number two receiver slot. Andrew Hawkins, Brandon Tate, and Ryan Whalen could all see action as the third wideout.
With that in mind, look for the Bengals to target tight end Jermaine Gresham more often like they did in Cleveland. The San Francisco linebackers are excellent in pass coverage, but having them out in coverage could help put the brakes on their blitzes. Of course, Cedric Benson will get his share of carries as well, but also look for the Bengals to mix in Bernard Scott more liberally with the prospect of Benson being suspended for the next three weeks.
On defense, the Bengals have shown definite improvement thus far from last season's unit. Stopping the Niners' attack really comes down to two things: holding Frank Gore in check and keeping tight end Vernon Davis from making big plays. If the Bengals can do that, they put the ball in the hands of Alex Smith, the underachieving former number one overall pick. Smith has been a decent game manager thus far, but hasn't shown the ability to take over a game. That will be even more difficult for him this week with Braylon Edwards out after getting his knee scoped.
The Bengals would ideally like to open up a lead, force Smith to throw a lot and allow the offense to put it in Cedric Benson's belly. That would also neutralize what is probably the Niners' biggest scoring threat, their special teams. Kicker David Akers still has a great leg, nailing a 55 yarder last week against Dallas, and former Ohio State standout Ted Ginn, Jr. can take a kick to the house at any time. His two returns against Seattle in week one provided two San Francisco's three touchdowns.
It's been a hectic week in the locker room this week with the Simpson and Benson news, but this team has already demonstrated a resiliency we haven't seen in Cincinnati in a long time. This team will be ready when the ball gets set for play and continue to improve on both sides of the ball. Final Score: Bengals 24, Niners 13.
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