The Cincinnati Bengals welcome a familiar face back to Cincinnati this weekend, as Carson Palmer leads the Oakland Raiders into Paul Brown Stadium. The two AFC sides are in very contrasting positions as the Raiders sit on a lowly record of 3-7, while the Bengals just recently returned to .500 with a 5-5 record. The Raiders are very much out of the playoff race, although not yet mathematically, as the Bengals have put together a three game winning streak to put themselves in contention for a wildcard spot.
In spite of that, the Raiders will be very determined to get a victory in this game because of their quarterback. Palmer left Cincinnati after demanding a trade and refusing to play for the Bengals despite being under contract at the time. Even though the Raiders have struggled during his time there, their recent issues have nothing to do with his individual play. Palmer is having one of his better years, if not statistically because he is overcoming the limitations of his teammates. The Raiders enter this game without a viable running game or an offensive line capable of continuously protecting their quarterback.
Crucially, the Raiders are without Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson. Both running-backs will miss the game through injury, which leaves the team reliant on Marcel Reese. Reese is naturally a fullback who is often used as a receiver. With him in the game the Bengals won’t fear dropping defenders out of the box and overplaying coverage against Palmer. Without McFadden in particular, the Raiders aren’t a threat to break off big runs whether it be outside the tackles or up the middle. Reese is very much a complementary piece opposed to the focal point of the offense.
That will allow the Bengals’ defensive line to pin it’s ears back on a regular basis and pressure Palmer. The Raiders have some talented offensive linemen, Jared Veldheer, Stefan Wisniewski and Cooper Carlisle are good players, but Willie Smith and Mike Briesel have seriously struggled this year. Briesel will see Geno Atkins a lot in the game, which spells trouble for the Raiders’ passing attack. Atkins will be the point of emphasis for the Raiders’ pass protection, but on the whole the Bengals should have the depth and talent upfront to consistently push the pocket and pressure the quarterback.
Pressure will be paramount, because Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey provide a stern test on the outside against the Bengals’ talented cornerbacks. Both the Raiders’ receivers and Bengals’ cornerbacks are having good years, and even though the Raiders’ receivers struggled to make an impact last week, they are the types of players who only need one opportunity to put points on the board. The Bengals haven’t dealt with that type of speed in recent weeks. Mike Zimmer will likely be forced to take a more cautious approach on the back end.
On the other side of the ball, Andy Dalton and company should be able to keep their good run going. The Raiders have a very poor defense and are without Richard Seymour, who is injured. Since the end of last season, the Bengals repeatedly released players without replacing them on their defense, which has led to some poor displays this year. Even without Seymour, they still have a productive group of defensive linemen, but the actual impact upfront is limited by the coverage behind it.
The Bengals will have very little reason to run the football tomorrow because AJ Green will be able to beat his defenders with ease on every play. Michael Huff and Ronald Bartell are not impressive cornerbacks, although Huff has played well since moving from safety. The idea that either player can contain Green is so incredible that it is laughable. Furthermore, Tyvon Branch looks set to miss the game. Branch is the Raiders’ best safety in coverage and is often used to cover tight ends. Without Branch, Jermaine Gresham should be able to have a big day. With Rolando McClain and Phillip Wheeler at linebacker, the only attractive part of this defense behind the defensive line is slot cornerback Joselio Hanson. Hanson is a tough matchup for Mohamed Sanu, but Sanu shouldn’t figure to see much action.
Once again, the Bengals are set to lean on Dalton and Green to lead them to what should be a comfortable victory.