Giants Won’t Take the 0-2 Bengals Lightly
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Beware the caged tiger, or in this case the caged Bengals. That’s the message that Tom Coughlin is giving to his 2-0 Giants, winners both times in convincing fashion, for this week’s 0-2 opponent.
The Bengals have looked listless in their two losses, especially in Sunday’s wind-addled 24-7 loss to the Titans and their replacement quarterback Kerry Collins. And for once, it’s the Bengals’ offense that is getting the most heat, having made a league-low 19 first downs, 17 points, and 369 total yards in the two games.
Giants head coach Coughlin did his best not to wake up anything in the dormant Bengals, knowing that his own club started off 0-2 last season and went on to win the Super Bowl.
“Quite frankly, we have great respect for, in this case, the Bengals organization, the players, and their talent,” Coughlin said Wednesday. “And we know full well that what you did yesterday doesn’t necessarily apply to what you are going to do today or tomorrow.”
Embattled Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is feeling the pressure to win now or face the prospect of looking for work. He is a defensive coach, and that side of the ball has struggled for much of his tenure — including this season, though it has been underscored by the offensive output. And it only gets tougher from here, as the Bengals follow Sunday’s game against the Giants with contests vs. Cleveland, at Dallas, at the Jets, and back home for Pittsburgh. Don’t rule out an 0-7 start, though Lewis says he’s not hitting the panic button yet.
“I don’t think you are in a ‘I gotta win’ situation in Week Three of the regular season, but this is an important game,” Lewis said. “It is a game on the road, it is our next game on tap, and we have to get after it.”
When the Bengals have the ball QB Carson Palmer has been under fire for most of the two games, having been pressured heavily in Week 1 and unable to hit open receivers against the Titans in the windy conditions. The fact that he didn’t spend a lot of the summer working with starting WRs T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Ocho Cinco (it still says Johnson on his jersey) has hurt Palmer, and the Bengals won’t have another playmaker available at wideout until Chris Henry’s suspension is removed after Week 4.
The Giants are likely to follow their patterned attack of going after Palmer and playing physical with the receivers. Since there’s no real receiving threat at tight end or running back, the safeties can help out over the top and not worry about leaving the seam wide open. Right tackle Stacy Andrews, the Bengals’ designated franchise player this offseason, has struggled to open running lanes and has allowed 1.5 sacks in two games. He could struggle with DE Justin Tuck, who had a monster fourth quarter against the Rams last week and is making an early Pro Bowl statement.
The Bengals’ run game has been slow to get going. Following the release of Rudi Johnson, Chris Perry took the starting reins, but the results have been poor. He is averaging 2.6 yards a carry (only Miami’s Ricky Williams has a lower average among starting running backs) and has taken 39 of the team’s 51 carries. That said, the coaches feel he is running hard and will get more creases as the season unfolds.
The problem for the Bengals is that it’s not likely to happen against the Giants defense, which held Clinton Portis and Steven Jackson in check and has allowed only two 100-yard rushers in the past 14 regular-season games, dating back to last season.
When the Giants have the ball The Giants love the command Eli Manning is showing, and his performance in St. Louis was one of the most collected of his career. He routinely found his open receivers and seldom had to look for second or third options, hitting receivers Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer on a series of daggers that did the Rams in.
The Bengals haven’t been completely inept on defense, forcing four turnovers and defending the pass well. The Ravens and Titans completed only 29-of-50 passes against them for 247 yards with one interception, though that was with a rookie quarterback (Joe Flacco) and a backup (Collins). Still, CBs Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph are a tough, young duo that combined for nine interceptions a year ago. They can be feisty in man coverage and will take chances going for errant passes.
The major concern for the Bengals is how they are ever going to stop the Giants’ “Earth, Wind and Fire” running back trio. Through two games, the Bengals have allowed 406 rushing yards and 4.7 yards a carry. They are starting a rookie at weakside linebacker in Keith Rivers, who has overrun a few plays, and a middle linebacker in Dhani Jones, who some scouts say is among the least productive players at his position in the NFL. In 111 career games, Jones has only five sacks, four interceptions, and three forced fumbles.
The only hope for slowing down Giants running backs Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw is if the Bengals’ defensive tackles — Domata Peko, a rising star, and John Thornton — can dominate the Giants’ interior line. But there have been no signs that center Shaun O’Hara and guards Chris Snee and Rich Seubert will struggle, even against the girth of Peko (320 pounds), who made eight tackles last week.
Prediction The Giants will go to 3-0 for the first time since 2000 with another little-doubt win. The Bengals might fix some things in the passing game and could contain Manning and the receivers a bit, but the Bengals will wilt when the Giants inflict their will up front.
Giants 31, Bengals 14
Mr. Edholm, a senior editor at Pro Football Weekly, can be reached at eedholm@ pfwmedia.com.