Will the Buffalo Bills start off their season with a 4-0 record for the second time in four seasons?
Las Vegas sure does think so.
This Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals is the first time the Bills have been a road favorite since playing the 1-9 Kansas City Chiefs in 2008. This time around, the Bills get a stiffer test with the Bengals. Cincinnati has the third-ranked defense in the National Football League through three games.
Can the Bills high-powered offense crack the highly rated Bengals defense? Let's take a look at five things to watch during the game:
1) Dareus Breakout
- This week will be the first time this season where the Bills don't have to focus their game-planning on stopping just one facet of a team's offense. Against Kansas City and Oakland, it was to stop the run. Against the Patriots, obviously, it was to try and limit Tom Brady. This week, the Bills are up against just an average running back (Cedric Benson), a rookie quarterback (Andy Dalton) and an offensive line that can be exploited in certain areas. I think Week Four will be the time where you start to really notice Marcell Dareus on the Bills' defense. He'll primarily be lined up in front of the Bengals' right side of the line that features tackle Andre Smith and rookie guard Clint Boling. That side of the line had a tough time containing San Francisco's defensive line in Week Three, so there is a huge opportunity for Dareus to shine when he gets a one-on-one matchup. Shawne Merriman could even get in on the action, too, if the Bills rush him from the left side. If they only try to utilize him from the right, he'll have a tough time against left tackle Andrew Whitworth.
2) Bengals' 3rd Down Woes
- Staying on the field has not been a strength for the Bengals three games in to their season. The Dalton-led Cincinnati offense has converted just 9-of-38 third down attempts. Obviously, that leads to a lot of stalled drives and times where the Bengals just can't get any offensive rhythm in gear. The Bengals offense struggled mightily in Week 3, converting only once on 10 third down attempts and scoring only eight points against the 49ers.
3) Ferocious Bengals' Pass Rush
- I think the Bengals' defensive numbers are a bit overrated based on their level of offensive competition through three weeks (Cleveland, Denver, San Francisco). But the one thing that may even be underrated is how hard the Bengals get after the quarterback throughout the game. It's not just your standard four defensive lineman that are effective. The Bengals, when healthy, have eight players that contribute to their pass-rushing efforts. At defensive end, the 'starters' last week were Michael Johnson and Jonathan Fanene. But Carlos Dunlap and Frostee Rucker both rotated in and were effective when brought in the game -- especially Dunlap (9.5 sacks in 2010). Robert Geathers also contributes, but he's been sidelined for two weeks with a shoulder injury. Inside, the Bengals are lead by Domata Peko, Geno Atkins and Pat Sims. Peko is a monster in the middle. The Bills' offensive line has their hands full in this one.
4) Attack the Safeties
- The Cincinnati safeties are average to below average. Chris Crocker is a solid starter that will get beat. But the real man to go after is former Jacksonville first round pick Reggie Nelson. The former Florida Gators defensive star is a liability in coverage for the Bengals. He's incredibly aggressive and gets caught out of position more than coaches would like. You could see a situation very similar to the Kansas City game, when the Bills went after Sabby Piscitelli due to him being miserable in coverage. Expect the Bills to try and get David Nelson or Scott Chandler matched up on Nelson.
5) Hall Pass
- For some reason, when people list the top cornerbacks in the league, Leon Hall of the Bengals is rarely mentioned. He is a force at cornerback. Ryan Fitzpatrick knows it, Chan Gailey knows it and I'm sure the receivers do, too. How much will the Bills be willing to go at Hall in the game on Sunday? Nate Clements and the aforementioned safeties could be the premiere targets for Buffalo to attempt to exploit. With all due respect to Brandon Flowers of the Chiefs, Leon Hall is the best cornerback the Bills will see through four weeks. Respect has to be shown for his abilities.
Injuries Buffalo Bills
OUT: CB Terrence McGee, CB Aaron Williams, LB Chris White
DOUBTFUL: OG Kraig Urbik
PROBABLE: WR Stevie Johnson, LB Kirk Morrison, NT Torell Troup, HB Johnny White
OUT: LB Dontay Moch
PROBABLE: S Chris Crocker, DE Jonathan Fanene, DE Robert Geathers, OG Otis Hudson, S Jeromy Miles, S Gibril Wilson