The Cincinnati Bengals enter NFL Week 11 coming off a convincing victory over the New York Giants in Week 10. Considering that the Giants are the reigning Super Bowl champions, were 6-3 before last week and the Bengals beat them by 18 points, one could forgive some fans for overlooking this week’s opponents.
The Kansas City Chiefs are 1-8, coming off a short week after a Monday Night Football loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and didn’t hold a lead in a game until last week. Furthermore, the Chiefs lost to the Steelers in overtime even though the home-side played with Byron Leftwich under center for almost half the game.
Even though the Bengals, who have a 4-5 record, performed well last week, they have already lost to teams like the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins this season and are yet to establish any real consistency as a team. Traveling into one of the most intimidating stadiums in the league with a young, struggling quarterback, this team definitely cannot be underestimated. The Chiefs will feel good despite their loss last week, because they performed closer to their expectations than they had all season.
While Jamaal Charles is obviously the primary target to stop on offense, defensively the Chiefs have benefited from the performances of an emerging star in their front seven this season. Back in last year’s draft, defensive end/outside linebacker prospect Justin Houston was given a first round grade.
However, after some character question marks emerged, Houston fell all the way to the third round where he landed with the Chiefs. As a rookie he slowly worked his way from backup at the beginning of the season, to impressive starter by the end.
This season Houston has taken his play to a whole new level. Despite playing on a losing team, and being just 23 years of age in his second season, he has already proven himself capable of performing every aspect required of an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Most players take years to transition to the position properly coming out of college, but Houston has adjusted enough to consistently be given, and succeed with, assignments in coverage and against the run.
While his all around play has been phenomenal, the staple of playing the 3-4 outside linebacker position remains the ability to get to the quarterback. Houston has seven sacks on the season with five hits on the quarterback and 18 snaps when he hurried the throw. Throw in a forced fumble and interception, and the only word to describe Houston is disruptive.
After dealing with Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck last week, offensive tackles Andre Smith and Andrew Whitworth will feel confident approaching their trip to Missouri. While Whitworth faces a tough matchup of his own with Tamba Hali playing right outside linebacker in Kansas City, it is Smith who will have to deal with Houston. Even though Houston doesn’t have the reputation of Hali, and certainly isn’t as highly regarded as any of the Giants’ offensive linemen, he has been playing significantly better football than each of those players this year.
Andy Dalton was kept clean last week as the Bengals’ offensive line didn’t allow a sack. That allowed him to complete 70 percent of his passes and, more importantly, throw for four touchdowns without a single turnover. With time in the pocket Dalton can be an effective quarterback, he has proved that, but if Hali is able to take over the game as he did against the New Orleans Saints earlier this year, then the Chiefs will be halfway to another upset victory.
After weeks of containing ineffective super-stars, Smith faces the task of handling a very effective unknown this week.
Cian Fahey primarily tweets about the NFL @Cianaf