Two teams looking to rebound from disappointing losses will meet Sunday when the Giants face the Cincinnati Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium. The Giants are 6-3 after a 24-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that ended their four-game winning streak. Cincinnati suffered its fourth consecutive defeat, 31-23 to Denver, and fell to 3-5. The Giants are 0-5 in Cincinnati, with losses in 1972, 77, 85, 91 and 2004. The last defeat in the streak was by a 23-22 score on Dec. 26, 2004. The teams last met on Sept. 21, 2008, when the Giants earned a 26-23 overtime victory. The Giants also defeated the Bengals at home on Oct. 26, 1997 (29-27) and Dec. 11, 1994 (27-20).
The Bengals are ranked 17th in the NFL in total offense with an average of 355.5 yards a game. They are 26th in rushing yards (95.9) and 11th in passing (259.6). Cincinnati’s 23.6 points per game are tied for 14th in the league. The Bengals averaged 28 points a game in their 3-1 start and only 19 in their losing streak. Last week, the Giants faced a Steelers team that was first in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage. The Bengals are 31st, converting only 29.4 percent of their opportunities (30 of 102). They have a minus-five turnover differential.
This is the second season Cincinnati is running a West Coast offense coordinated by Jay Gruden. They lost five key players from last year’s offensive team, including running back Cedric Benson (now with Green Bay) and wide receiver Jerome Simpson (Minnesota).
Second-year quarterback Andy Dalton is still learning the nuances of the pro passing game. A rookie Pro Bowler in 2011, Dalton has thrown 11 interceptions, including at least one in each game. Cincinnati’s opponents have converted seven of those picks into touchdowns. The young passer does have excellent delivery quickness and his accuracy increases the faster he gets the ball out of his hands. Dalton can also extend plays with his feet. His backup is seven-year pro Bruce Gradkowski.
The Bengals have not had a back rush for 100 yards this season. Former New England Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis plays every running back snap but those on third down. He leads the team with 618 rushing yards, including 91 in the opener vs. Baltimore. Green-Ellis runs decisively with good instincts, vision and patience. But after earning a reputation as a player who never coughs up the ball, he has lost two of three fumbles. Former fullback Brian Leonard is the third-down back. He has 10 rushing attempts, seven catches and is solid in pass protection. Cedric Peerman has Cincinnati’s longest run this season – a 48-yarder on a fake punt.
Fullback Chris Pressley is a competitive blocker who locates his targets and gets in good position.
Wide receiver A.J. Green is the best player on the team, a top five wideout who might be the best player at his position the Giants have faced this season. He is tied for the NFL lead with eight touchdown catches – he’s caught at least one in seven consecutive games - is seventh with 51 catches and fourth with 735 yards. Green has a lean build, consistently wins on jump balls and is an explosive playmaker. Brandon Tate, another former Patriot, is the No. 2 receiver. He is a long-armed wideout with good vertical speed and run-after-catch production. Armon Binns has been bothered by an ankle injury. When healthy, he is a good short and intermediate possession receiver. Andrew Hawkins is just 5-7, but he is a quick, dynamic slot receiver who can turn short passes into long gains. Ryan Whalen has been getting some snaps and Mohamed Sanu, a rookie third-round draft choice, has been playing more. He is a good size-speed receiver. Marvin Jones has also contributed.
Tight end Jermaine Gresham seldom leaves the field and is second to Green in number of times targeted and receptions (34, including two touchdowns). One of the NFL’s better tight ends, he has good straight-line speed and is physical at the break point. Orson Charles has been a competitive blocker when given playing time.
Cincinnati has a big, strong and powerful offensive line. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, a guard early in his career, has a huge wingspan and a strong upper body. He is tough to run around. On the right side is Andre Smith, the sixth overall selection in the 2009 draft. He has a massive, heavy body (335 pounds) and overwhelms people in the run game. Both starting guards are new to the Bengals this year. Left guard Clint Boling uses his hands well and is a tough, productive young player. Right guard Kevin Zeitler was a first-round draft choice this season and is already the best player on the line. He is a mauler who plays with a strong base and leverage. The player the Bengals would like to start at center, Kyle Cook, is on injured reserve with an ankle injury but has been designated for return. Stepping in for him is veteran Jeff Faine, who has started all but one of the 127 games in which he’s played. Faine is a savvy blocker in both run and pass. Both Faine and his backup, Trevor Robinson, have hamstring injuries. In Wednesday’s practice, Boling worked at center and Dennis Roland, a former starter at right tackle who is almost 6-10, played left guard. Roland is normally an extra tight end in the ground game.
Cincinnati’s defense is ranked 20th in the NFL, allowing 357.4 yards a game. The Bengals are 17th against the run (117.0) and 19th vs. the pass (240.4). Cincinnati has allowed an average of 27.3 points a game, leaving it 25th in the league. The Bengals’ red zone defense is ranked 30th in the NFL after giving up 16 touchdowns in 24 opportunities (66.7 percent) inside its 20-yard line.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer does an excellent job tailoring his game plan to the Bengals’ opponent. Cincinnati is constantly switching its schemes and packages. Because of that, some players will get extensive time on the field one week, then stay tethered to the sideline in the next game.
A disruptive front that attacks opponents with size and length and excels at pressuring quarterbacks is the strength of the defense. Cincinnati has the league’s second-highest sack percentage; 8.7 percent of opposition pass attempts have resulted in sacks.
Tackle Geno Atkins is arguably the NFLs’ finest best interior pass rusher. A 2011 Pro Bowler, Atkins leads all defensive tackles, and the Bengals, with 7.0 sacks. A player who is constantly attacking, he has size, speed and a hot motor. Next to him inside is Domata Peko, a six-year starter who is a strong player against the run because of his natural leverage. He is a thick, wide-bodied player who leaves the field on third down. Left end Robert Geathers has long arms, locates the ball and patrols the edge. On the right side, Michael Johnson has 6.0 sacks and is another big, long, persistent player. Carlos Dunlap contributes as a pass rusher in the nickel. Wallace Gilberry, who was with Tampa Bay earlier this season, Devon Still and Brandon Thompson have all gotten snaps. Another tackle, Pat Sims, is on the physically unable to perform list but can be activated at any time.
Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga is an every-snap player who leads the Bengals with 81 tackles (50 unassisted). He has good lateral quickness and strength vs. the run. The other two backer positions have interesting stories. Thomas Howard, who started the season as the weakside backer, tore his ACL in the season opener. Now getting most of the playing time there is Vontaze Burfict, a rookie free agent who has started the last six games and is second to Maualuga with 70 tackles (36 solo). A middle linebacker at Arizona State, Burfict is rarely off the field. Until 5 p.m. last Friday, Emmanuel Lamur was on the Bengals’ practice squad. Then he was signed to the active roster and two days later played about 15 snaps on the strong side vs. Denver. Another undrafted rookie, Lamur is a lanky linebacker who quickly demonstrated a knack for making plays. Lamur shares time with seven-year veteran Manny Lawson, a first-and-second down player who leaves the field on third down. Vincent Rey is a reserve who is good in pass coverage and on special teams.
The Bengals have had a lot of movement in their secondary. Seven of the 11 defensive backs, including all five corners, are former first-round draft choices. Leon Hall has started six games at right corner. An athletic player with good cover skills, he leads the team with seven passes defensed. Former Cowboy and two-time Pro Bowler Terence Newman opened the season as the nickel back but has started the last five games at left corner. He is a savvy veteran with movement skills and two interceptions. Adam Jones also plays a lot as the third cornerback. He has excellent play speed and is very good at staying with receivers on deep routes. Nate Clements began the year as the left corner and later started four games at strong safety, but played in sub packages only vs. the Broncos. An edgy player vs. the run, he provides veteran leadership in the back of the defense. Last week, 2012 top draft choice Dre Kirkpatrick, a very aggressive corner, played for the first time this season. The free safety is Reggie Nelson, who has outstanding straight line speed and is a good blitzer. But he missed practice Wednesday with a hamstring injury and his potential replacement, Taylor Mays – who started the first two games – has a knee injury. On Sept. 27, the Bengals re-signed 11-year veteran Chris Crocker, who previously spent more than four seasons with the team. The old man in the secondary, Crocker’s playing time has increased each week; he started last week and is expected to stay in the lineup going forward. Crocker leads the team with three interceptions. Taylor Mays, who started the first two games at strong safety, is now a reserve.
Kicker Mike Nugent has made 14-of-16 field goal attempts and 87 percent of his tries the last two seasons. Left-footed punter Kevin Huber is eighth in the NFL with a 41.6-yard net average. His gross average is 46.8 yards. Tate and Jones are averaging 11.5 yards while splitting the punt return duties and Tate has averaged 27.3 yards on 18 kickoff returns.