When the Chiefs run
EDGE >> BENGALS For all the struggles of their offensive line this season, the Chiefs’ ground game has been serviceable the last two weeks with Jamaal Charles. But the line will be tested against the Bengals’ physical defense, which is led by tackles Geno Atkins and Domata Peko and inside linebacker Rey Maualuga. Atkins disrupts the run or pass with his quickness, while Peko and Maualuga bring attitude, aggression and strength against the run. But the Chiefs would be wise to see if they can at least soften the Bengals on the ground.
Chiefs’ top rusher
When the Chiefs pass
EDGE >> CHIEFS Quarterback Alex Smith has taken a beating as the Chiefs have yielded 14 sacks, the most in the NFL. Stunts and blitzes remain a problem up front, and the passing game needs to be more dynamic. The Chiefs had some success out of their three-wide, two-minute offense late in the Green Bay game, however, and would be wise to go to that early if the Bengals blitz. The Bengals seem to play it fairly straight on first and second down, but will mix in some D-line stunts and save their more exotic blitzes for obvious passing situations. Carlos Dunlap (2 1/2 sacks) and Michael Johnson are long, athletic defensive ends, while Atkins (two sacks) is finding his stride after a torn ACL in 2013. He was the game’s premier pass-rushing defensive tackle (12 1/2 sacks in 2012). He likes to try spin moves. Former Chiefs defensive end Wallace Gilberry pinch-hits for the limited Peko in some pass-rush situations, and Cincinnati likes to keep guys fresh, as seven defensive linemen logged snaps. The Bengals’ defense is experienced and features several players who know the system inside and out. They have recorded three interceptions and six sacks this season, but the Chiefs have enough weapons (Charles, tight end Travis Kelce, receiver Jeremy Maclin) to move the ball if the gameplan and pass protection are on point.
Chiefs’ top QB
Chiefs’ top WR
When the Bengals run
EDGE >> BENGALS The Bengals are not shy about running the ball up the middle. They have the tools to do it in Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill. Bernard (5 feet 9, 205 pounds) is the dash to Hill’s smash. He features quick feet and is solid in the passing game, while Hill (6-1, 235) is the bruiser with surprising quickness. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth and left guard Clint Boling make for an outstanding combo, but the Chiefs’ strong interior line — led by an emerging star in nose tackle Jaye Howard — should be disruptive. Look for Cincinnati to run the ball out of a lot of three-wide sets, just like Green Bay. This may force the Chiefs to defend the run with one fewer interior lineman, which they struggled to do against the Packers. The Bengals also like to bring in a sixth lineman (tackle Jake Fisher).
Bengals’ top rusher
When the Bengals pass
EDGE >> BENGALS Quarterback Andy Dalton is in the midst of a career year. His rating of 121.0 is second in the league to Aaron Rodgers. Dalton is difficult to sack — he’s only gone down twice this season, the second-lowest total in the league — but he has been hit 20 times. Dalton will throw downfield and attempt to make difficult throws. His accuracy on those throws waver, but when given adequate time, he connects enough. He’s helped by receivers A.J. Green and Marvin Jones, who can make tough, contested catches. Green is a matchup nightmare who caught 10 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns against the Ravens last week. His combination of speed, ball skills and length (6-4, 218) is rare. Though the Bengals mix in some power sets, they also use some no-huddle and a ton of three-wide sets that feature No. 3 receiver Mohamed Sanu (only has five catches this year) and tight end Tyler Eifert, who has three touchdowns and is a red-zone threat. Eifert is so athletic the Bengals will even sprinkle-in Travis Kelce-ish screen passes to him. Just like Green Bay and Denver, the Bengals will try to attack the Chiefs’ third corner, Jamell Fleming, Marcus Cooper or Tyvon Branch, so the Chiefs’ best hope is to get to Dalton, whose performance can become uneven under pressure. Justin Houston will help with that. He’ll be matched up against right tackle Andre Smith, who has a hip injury. The Chiefs have nine sacks and will need to hit Dalton to have a chance Sunday.
Bengals’ top QB
Bengals’ top WR
EDGE >> CHIEFS
At kicker, Mike Nugent and Cairo Santos are both three for four on field goals, but Nugent has missed an extra point. At punter, Dustin Colquitt has eight punts inside the 20 compared to Kevin Huber’s four. The Chiefs have a superior average on kick returns — more touchbacks — while the Bengals are better on punt returns. The Bengals are better at covering kickoffs while the Chiefs are better at covering punts (the Bengals, by the way, surrendered a fake punt against the Ravens).
EDGE >> BENGALS
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is in his 13th season in Cincinnati, making him the second-longest tenured coach behind New England’s Bill Belichick. The heat is on Lewis to win a playoff game — he’s 0-6 — but what he’s done for the Bengals is nothing short of a miracle. He’s turned a perennial laughingstock into a perennial playoff team, as Cincinnati has made the postseason each of the last four years. His offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, is respected around the league, while his defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther, is a former linebackers coach who was promoted after attracting some interest from other teams. It’s a solid staff, and Lewis’ program has turned the Bengals into the consistent winner the Chiefs hope to be.
EDGE >> CHIEFS
The Chiefs will be desperate after embarrassing primetime losses to Green Bay and Denver. They are staring at a 1-3 start with only two of their next seven games at Arrowhead Stadium. If this team has some fight, they’ll come back and put forth a good effort against a good Bengals team.
Bottom line: Bengals 27-23
The Bengals proved their mental fortitude by beating a desperate Baltimore team Sunday. The Chiefs are going to have to match their toughness and come out with a purpose if they hope to win on the road. The safe bet is that they play better than they did against Green Bay, but come up a bit short.