Rich Tandler is the author of Gut Check, The Complete History of Coach Joe Gibbs’ Washington Redskins. Get details and order at http://GutCheckBook.com
These two teams aren’t exactly familiar foes. The last time they played, in 1991, Joe Gibbs was the coach of the Super Bowl-bound Redskins and Washington won 34-27 at Riverfront Stadium. Since then, the stars haven’t quite lined up in the NFL’s scheduling formula for the two teams to meet in the rotation through the other-conference divisions.
Since then, both teams have fallen on hard times. In fact, the Bengals were well on their way to permanent residence in the NFL’s basement. That 1991 loss to the Redskins was one of 13 they suffered that year. That was one of nine seasons since then thatCincinnati has posted double-digit loss totals. Needless to say, they have watched the playoffs on TV each year.
The Redskins haven’t bee quite as moribund, but the five seasons of ten losses or more posted isn’t exactly a record in the proud tradition of a team that has won five world titles.
Both teams are now 3-5 and the loser of this game faces the prospect of another big number in the right-hand column of the standings. The winner, for that matter, is not guaranteed much of anything besides remaining on the cusp of the fringes of playoff contention.
I’ll admit to not having seen much of the Bengals. Besides perusing their stats, the sum total of my scouting of them consists of the ten-minute highlight package that the NFL Network puts together for on-demand distribution to digital cable services.
Cincinnati beat Dallas 26-3 and, from what I saw, they looked pretty impressive. Of course since the Bengals won handily and the package is of just highlights that is to be expected. For example, you don’t see what happened to cause four Cincinnati drives to stall to force four Shayne Graham field goal attempts. Still, there are a couple of things that the Redskins had better not do if they want to win this game.
First, Mark Brunell had better not throw the ball anywhere near a Bengal defender. They made a couple of athletic interceptions of Testaverde. To be sure, based on what we’ve seen so far this year, this would seem to be the least of the Redskins’ worries. Brunell hasn’t thrown the ball near much of anybody.
Second, it would be a mistake to misunderestimate (as George W would say) Carson Palmer. The virtual rookie’s numbers are down there in Brunell land with a 66 quarterback rating. He has taken much of the blame for the step back his team has taken this year. Still, he has a very live arm, and he’s big and can hang in the pocket. While his performance against Dallas may not have been a breakout game, most of us would like to see a line of 21-31 for 212, one TD, zero picks for the Redskins’ QB.
The key to avoiding these dangers, it would seem, would be to keep the ball on the ground and keep Palmer on the sidelines. And here, for the Redskins, is a fortunate confluence of matchups. Clinton Portis is en fuego with performances of well over 100 yards in two of his last three games. It’s been a combination of Portis learning how to follow his blocking better and blocking schemes being tweaked to better cater to Portis’ strengths.
Attempting to stop Portis will be the league’s worst rushing defense. Cincinnati yields nearly 150 yards a game on the ground and that’s after the weak-rushing Cowboys ran for just a buck nine last week. This isn’t one of those statistical flukes, either, where a team’s run defense looks bad because nobody can pass against them. Athletic interceptions notwithstanding, the Cincy pass defense has been thoroughly mediocre and its total defense is 27th in the NFL.
Here’s what to look for on Sunday:
- Palmer will have some success, but not much. Look for about 150 yards, a touchdown, and maybe a pair of interceptions. Fred Smoot will lock Chad Johnson down. Running back Rudi Johnson won’t find much room either (note to self—bench Johnson on fantasy team). He runs best up the middle and Cornelius Griffin will be in the way there. Johnson will be doing well to get to 60 yards. If the Redskins don’t turn the ball over as the Cowboys did last week, the Bengals will have a tough time scoring against the Washington defense ranked first in the NFL.
- Cincinnati won’t get those turnovers. Brunell’s best play is the toss into the bench area to avoid the interception. Knock wood, but it seems that Portis has solved the problems that caused some uncharacteristic and untimely fumbles earlier this year. No cheap scores for the visitors.
- The Redskins will get their offense moving. Now that’s a relative term; I certainly don’t expect an offensive explosion, a match of the 34 points they put up in the last meeting with the Bengals or anything. At some point, however, opposing defenses have to get concerned enough about Portis to open up the passing game a bit more. Brunell shatters the 100-yard barrier, maybe even touches the rarified air of 150. Portis will run wild. If he is to have a near 200-yard game this season, and most backs of his caliber do, this is the week.
All of this adds up to a 24-13 Redskins win.