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09 Sep 2006

Game Previews: CIN-KC, IND-NYG

by Aaron Schatz

Are you ready for some football? How about some announcers forced to refer to players by their full names? The best games of the NFL's open weekend bring us two Mannings and five Johnsons, but there's still only one Houshmandzadeh.


(Sunday, 1:00 pm EDT, CBS)

This is a repeat of the final game of the 2005 regular season, but the circumstances are much different. Last year, the Bengals were resting their starters in preparation for the playoffs, and Kansas City walked all over them, 37-3. Cincinnati has a lot more on the line this time: the Bengals want to show the entire league that quarterback Carson Palmer is fully healthy after a postseason knee injury.

Palmer certainly looked healthy in the preseason, which means the Bengals will once again have one of the league's best, most balanced offenses. They have a great quarterback, one of the league's top offensive lines, and two outstanding star receivers in Chad Johnson and T. J. Houshmandzadeh (who may not get to play due to an injury). Rudi Johnson (running behind fullback Jeremi Johnson) has been the most consistent running back in the league over the past two seasons, with 1,454 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 2004 and 1,458 rushing yards with another 12 touchdowns in 2005.

The Bengals are sure to score points, but they may not score as many as fans expect. After years of poor performance, there are many trends pointing to an improved Kansas City defense this season. The Chiefs' defense was better in the second half of the 2005 season, which often carries over to the next year. They were stronger in the red zone than elsewhere, which tends to carry over as well. The Chiefs have plenty of young talent in the front seven from recent drafts, including sophomore linebacker Derrick Johnson and rookie defensive end Tamba Hali. And in the secondary, while former Jets cornerback Ty Law made last year's Pro Bowl on reputation rather than performance, he is still a major upgrade over the departed Eric Warfield.

The problems for Kansas City this year are actually on offense, where the Chiefs have many older players and very little depth. Their vaunted offensive line was hit by the dual retirements of left tackle Willie Roaf and right tackle John Welbourn, and Kyle Turley, the player replacing Roaf, has not played a down since 2003 because of injuries.

Unfortunately for the Bengals, they are ill-equipped to take advantage. Cincinnati has almost no pass rush, and ranked 30th last year in Adjusted Sack Rate (sacks per pass play, adjusted for sitation and opponent). The Chiefs line should handle the Bengals without help from tight end Tony Gonzalez, which means he should be going out on plenty of pass patterns -- and taking advantage of a Bengals defense which ranked 27th in defending passes to tight ends for two straight seasons.

The Bengals are also missing middle linebacker Odell Thurman due to four-game drug suspension. Thurman excels in pass coverage, and before drafting him, the Bengals were one of the league's worst teams at defending passes to running backs; with him, they were the league's best. With Thurman gone, Chiefs superstar running back Larry Johnson may get to catch a few passes -- when he's not getting the opportunity to bulldoze one of the league's worst run defenses.

The Bengals may end up with the better record at the end of the season, after injuries expose Kansas City's depth problems. But right now, particularly at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs present a terrible matchup for Cincinnati. Kansas City won't gain 537 yards like they did against the Bengals second-stringers last year, but they should start the year with a victory.


(Sunday, 8:15 pm EDT, NBC)

Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning and New York quarterback Eli Manning are brothers. Two or three people may not know this, so NFL commercials have been hammering the point home nonstop for the last five weeks. Sunday night, the Manning brothers face each other for the first time on a regulation football field instead of a sandlot.

The strategy for beating the Colts is simple, played to perfection by the Pittsburgh Steelers in last season's playoff upset. The Colts prefer faster, undersized players in their front seven, all the better to harass opposing passers desperately trying to match Peyton Manning's fireworks. Faster and undersized means weakness against the run, so the Colts play safety Bob Sanders up close to the line early in games to stop opposing running backs. To beat the Colts, you simply pass the ball deep early, forcing them to move Sanders back into coverage, and then run the ball down their throats in the second half.

The Giants would seem to be the perfect team for this strategy. More than any other team, the Giants prefer to throw deep and are willing to accept a lower completion percentage from Eli Manning as long as the passes he does complete add up to big gains. Jeremy Shockey runs deep patterns more often than any other tight end, making it almost impossible to play the safety up to stop the run. Tiki Barber isn't exactly a "run down their throats" kind of running back, but he's still one of the league's best, and if Brandon Jacobs looks anything like he did in the final preseason tune-up against the Patriots, the Giants are in good position.

That is, they will be in good position if their defense can somewhat contain Eli's big brother. The Steelers and Chargers harassed Peyton Manning because they run 3-4 defensive schemes, where pass rushers come from unexpected places. The Giants pass rush is one of the best in the league, but it comes from a very standard place: defensive end. The Indianapolis line can't stop Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora on every down, but it will look much more like the offensive line that led the NFL in Adjusted Sack Rate last year, and less like the line that disintegrated against Pittsburgh.

If Peyton Manning has time to throw, that's bad news for the Giants, as the secondary is the questionable part of their defense. If cornerback Sam Madison wants to prove that Miami made a big mistake by letting him leave, he'll certainly get his chance, but the odds of Madison and Corey Webster containing Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne are small. For the Colts, the questions revolve around the run: can rookie Joseph Addai and/or longtime backup Dominic Rhodes fill the shoes of the departed Edgerrin James? The Giants allowed less than four yards per carry on both first and second down last year, but they'll have to avoid the pitfall that faces all Colts foes: stopping the run, only to discover it's a play-action pass with an open Harrison streaking into the end zone.

Portions of this article appeared in Friday's New York Sun.

Posted by: admin on 09 Sep 2006

36 comments, Last at 12 Sep 2006, 6:12pm by Rashied Rushing


by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Sat, 09/09/2006 - 10:20pm

Can someone tell me why Den-Stl is a more compelling matchup than KC-CIN on the West Coast? Is it because STL used to be the Los Angeles Rams? I'd much rather be watching KC-Cincy...

by MJK (not verified) :: Sat, 09/09/2006 - 11:52pm

I can think of three possibilities.

Could it be a contractual thing? One game is AFC-AFC, the other is mixed. Does the station you're looking at have the AFC or NFC rights? What's the rule on mixed games?

If it's the AFC station, it could be because either Denver is further west than KC, or possibly because Denver is considered more of a contender than KC this year by most "experts".

Finally, it could be because the DEN-STL game is two western division teams, while the KC-CIN involves only one.

I'm glad I finally got Sunday ticket...

by MJK (not verified) :: Sat, 09/09/2006 - 11:54pm

Great article, Aaron. I love it when someone actually looks at whether or not teams are well equipped to exploit the other team's weaknesses. Far more informative than "what New York is going to have to do is contain Manning and score a lot of points", or "So and so is 9-0 when they outscore their opponent".

by cinfan (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 12:17am

It just bugs the crap out of me when Aaron gives out these reasoned opinions and I have to sit here and take it! Nice job, but I CINcerely hope that you are mistaken about the outcome of that KC/CIN game.

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 12:24am

I think all those investments in LB over the past couple of years must have added up to something by now. I'm tentatively picking Cincinnati.

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 12:44am

re 3: actually, this looks at whether or not teams are well-equipped to exploit the other's weaknesses LAST YEAR. Cincy have upgraded at DT with Sam Adams and the rookie Peko, in addition to upgrading both safety positions with the return of Madieu Williams and signing of Dexter Jackson. So, maybe we can wait until at least one game has been played before concluding that they are one of the league's worst run defenses. (I know they were bad last year, but last year is, well...last year)

by Becephalus (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 1:21am

Ryan I think you are reading more certainty into the article than is there. This is a projection, not a claim of factual knowledge. And if past experience is any guide, CIN didn't do anything particularly noteworthy to improve their defense. Each year msot teams have 4 or 5 new faces on defense and each year their fans desrcibe them as upgrades. Not saying they aren't...but lets play the games first right ;)

by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 1:26am

Can someone tell me why Den-Stl is a more compelling matchup than KC-CIN on the West Coast?

They are showing KC-CIN on the west coast, but apparently only in Bakersfield county. (see link).

by Marc Nelson Jr. (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 1:52am

Scott de B. - thanks for those maps. What a great resource!

by Israel (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 2:24am

Middle East TV out of Cyprus is showing CIN-KC and CHI-GB. It's part of the satellite package here in Israel.

We'll also have someone called TBA on Fox and whoever it is who playing the night game.

by Mitch Cumstein (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 2:47am

Rudi: I think we're all indebted to Chad Johnson for clearly stating what needed to be said. I'm particularly glad that these lovely children were here today to hear that speech. Not only was it authentic football gibberish, it expressed a courage little seen in this day and age.

. . .

Jeremi: Rudi Johnson is right.

Larry: Jeremi Johnson is right about Rudi Johnson's being right.

Chad: rarehen!

by centrifuge (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 3:08am

Mitch, this only goes to show that you are the leading [bleep] in the state.

by Jerry (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 3:37am

That is a fascinating map. Does Houston still get a lot of Titans games (when there's no Texans conflict) or is that a Vince Young thing?

by Marko (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 3:37am

"Can someone tell me why Den-Stl is a more compelling matchup than KC-CIN on the West Coast? Is it because STL used to be the Los Angeles Rams?"

Matthew, the answer to your second question basically is "Yes." I recall from earlier posts that you live in LA (as do I), but I think you must be relatively new to the area. The local CBS and Fox affiliates often choose to televise the Rams and the Raiders rather than better games, as the affiliates believe the Rams and Raiders still have a following in the area and that locals would rather watch those teams than better, more interesting teams. I remember your surprise a few weeks ago that one of the local stations televises Rams preseason games here, but that's consistent with the belief that some people still care about the Rams in LA.

So be prepared to see a heavy dose of Rams and Raiders games this year in LA, along with a fair number of Chargers games. You can also expect to see the Saints from time to time (as you will this Sunday) because of Reggie Bush and the belief that USC fans will want to see him. If (when?) Kurt Warner gets injured and is replaced by Matt Leinart, the same probably will be true of Cardinals games.

by Marko (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 3:46am

"What’s the rule on mixed games?"

In games not on national TV (i.e., not on ESPN, NBC or NFL Network), the game is televised on the network that televises the games of the visiting team's conference. Thus, in the Denver-St. Louis game, since Denver (AFC) is the visiting team, the game is on CBS.

by Josh (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 3:55am


It's a Vince Young thing.

It's the same reason that southern missippi shows green bay games, auburn alabama shows tampa bay games, and LA gets saints games.

by John Morgan (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 4:01am

Excellent, excellent article. Don't let your humility keep your from writing more, Aaron, your analysis along with your stats are the soul of this site.

by Kuato (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 5:20am

Great read. I've been waiting for some good game analysis for months now. Only a few hours to kickoff!!!

by John (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 6:11am

this article isnt much different than any other projection article. LAME

by Kuato (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 7:58am

Re: #19.

this article isnt much different than any other projection article. LAME

Can you please post a link where we can find other in-depth analysis of matchups? I would love to read articles like this about other teams, too. But all I can find on the internet are the vanilla previews on the major web-sites and the bias previews published for local papers.

PS - Just to throw this onto the Televison discussion. I live in Osaka, Japan and we are getting Atlanta/Carolina, KC/Cincy, NO/Cle, and SD/Oak. Athough sadly, only the Atl/Carolina game in LIVE. The other games are broadcast through the week at various times.

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 9:56am

re 7: "but lets play the games first right ;)"

Yes, that's exactly what I said.

by VarlosZ (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 10:16am

#8: Thanks for posting that link, it's one I'm going to be checking every week now.

And, having looked at it: Why is the entire Northeast being subjected to Philly-Houston? Atl-Car is a MUCH better game, and I assure you that no one north of New Jersey and Pennsylvania has any more allegiance to the Eagles than to the Panthers or Falcons. I had just assumed that Fox was going to show me a good game with their doubleheader. Silly me.

by Duck in MA (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 11:27am

"...while former Jets cornerback Ty Law made last year’s Pro Bowl on reputation rather than performance..."

That and 10 interceptions. Not saying he was the best CB in the land last year, but they are the easiest measure for a DB and he tied for the league lead. Of course, if he really were a pro-bowl level corner, would the Jets have let him go like that?

by Marko (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 11:49am

For those of you who live outside North America, you will be interested in the article linked under my name. The article discusses a subscription package called "NFL Game Pass," which was announced Friday and will allow NFL fans outside North America to watch most of the league's games live over the Internet.

by Basilicus (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 1:05pm

On the game coverage thing, I am fairly certain that out here in Portland, Oregon the hierarchy of games goes like this: we get the Seahawks games first and foremost, of course. Then it goes Oakland, San Francisco, Denver, and San Diego in terms of priority of what we get to see. Perhaps switch San Fran and Oakland, I'm not sure. After that, I think it goes St. Louis, Kansas City, Arizona.


The problem with Ty Law last year is that though he was a superb ballhawk, as he always is, he let a number of big plays slip past him and could not always be counted on to effectively guard his side of the field.

by Lou in Cincy (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 1:41pm



I almost fell oyt of my seat....

Oh yeah... WHO DEY!!!

by RIch Conley (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 2:00pm


The point is, had you thrown as many balls at Ty Law as they did last year, 5 years ago, he would have had 30 picks.

Hes still a ballhawk, but hes not the shutdown guy he was with the Pats, so people are going after him.

by big_adventure (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 3:28pm

24- Marko, you are my new best friend! I just saw this and I am now watching NFL football in my apartment in Paris.


by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 7:00pm

re 20: if you read through the Chiefs-Bengals review again I think you'd have to admit that predicting what's going to happen in any individual game is pretty much a crapshoot and FO are no better at it than anybody else.

by Staubach12 (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 9:17pm

Not a football question, but who's the ugly chick with the mowhawk singing at the beginning of Sunday Night Football?

How is it that NBC manages to screw up their coverage of every sport they broadcast? Their coverage of Thursday's game was an abomination.

by Marko (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 9:33pm

28 - Sean/big_adventure: Cool - I'm glad that I was helpful. Because this service was just announced two days ago, I figured that many people who would want to subscribe probably don't even know abot it yet.

30 - Staubach12: Her name is Pink.

by Marko (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 9:34pm

That should be about, not abot.

by The Mulgrew (not verified) :: Sun, 09/10/2006 - 11:03pm

Satubach12- Pink is hot. You should reconsider her. Look at some pictures of her on the net.

All I have to say is Go Eags! Also, I am ecstatic that Dallas and the Giants lost tonight.

by Kalyan (not verified) :: Mon, 09/11/2006 - 2:27am

As i posted earlier, they were airing Manning bowl ads over the week in here, as in India and they said that the 2 "Quality" QBs, the best in the league were facing each other for the first time to kick-off the 2006 NFL season

and then i puked and passed out before they fed me with more of this!

My Sympathies to you for having to endure the Manning Bowl for the last few weeks, months (or decades, if you can remember!)

by cinfan (not verified) :: Mon, 09/11/2006 - 5:18pm

Aaron, it is so easy to stand here after the game with a smug smile and say how wrong you were with this quote "Kansas City won’t gain 537 yards like they did against the Bengals second-stringers last year, but they should start the year with a victory." Since I have neither tact or grace I will do just that.

by Rashied Rushing (not verified) :: Tue, 09/12/2006 - 6:12pm

Aaron, love your in depth analysis and your statistical rankings are the most accurate out there bar none.

I'll just say this, I wish you and every other analyst and expert will open your eyes to the fact that the Bengals have made the 180 and are now an elite NFL (not only AFC) team.

What I tried to tell everybody about the Bengals D is that it will be improved. Has everyone forgotten our coach masterminded one of the greatest D's in NFL history...it was only a matter of time. The scary thing is this team is still far from peaking on O and D. Lewis this past 3 yrs has made genius moves and the outcome is one of the most talented and deepest teams in the NFL.

Sam Adams=taking up 2 blockers and freeing up the gaps for the LB's to make plays. Madieu Williams-our starting FS is huge because he will cut down on those big plays and is a sure tackler and according to many on the team is the best player on D. Dexter Jackson-one time SuperBowl MVP, who gives the D a confident swagger.

Also the Bengs started 2 rookies that game, Jonathan Joseph-our first rd pick at corner in place of our pro-bowler Deltha Oneal and Rashad Jeanty-3 yr CFL guy who filled in for David Pollack (last yrs 1st rd pick and potential probowler).

Get used to it, Aaron, don't look silly like a lot of these other analysts. Eat your humble pie now, and bet on us to be the ones to give about 10 "72 Dolphins a freaking heart attack!

Rashied Rushing
Born and raised in Cincy now residing in Brooklyn.