The unbeaten Cincinnati Bengals face their toughest test yet when they welcome the Seattle Seahawks to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.
Seattle (2-2) is coming off a short week after squeaking by the Lions on Monday night. The Seahawks could be without their top two running backs as Marshawn Lynch's status remains cloudy following his absence Monday due to a hamstring injury. Fred Jackson is also questionable after suffering a high ankle sprain against Detroit.
Quarterback Andy Dalton has Cincinnati (4-0) off to its best start in 10 years. Dalton's strong play correlates directly with his offensive line's ability to keep him upright. He's been sacked just twice as Andrew Whitworth and company have kept Dalton sack-free in three of four games.
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Here are three keys to the game for both the Seahawks and Bengals:
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1. Attack the secondary
The Bengals have yet to surrender a rushing touchdown this year, and only allow 85.8 rushing yards per game (eighth in the league). The Seahawks should find success throwing the ball; Cincinnati ranks 27th in the league in passing yards allowed per game (279.0). But in order for that to happen ...
2. Protect Russell Wilson
It's been very apparent the Seahawks offensive line has had its fair share of troubles early in the season. If not for Wilson's pocket awareness and mobility, Seattle's offense would be in worse shape than it already is now. The Seahawks won't be able to sustain drives or rhythm on offense if they cannot protect their signal caller.
3. Contain A.J. Green
The Bengals are loaded with talent on offense, but it's no secret that Green is Dalton's favorite target. Green singlehandedly can win a game by himself, as evidenced in Week 3 against the Ravens. He'll likely have a much tougher time against the Legion of Boom, but containing Green is the first step in slowing down Cincinnati's aerial attack.
1. Free up A.J. Green
Since Richard Sherman makes his permanent home on the defensive left side of the field, Green shouldn't even go near him. The Seahawks will likely try to bracket Green whenever he's lined up against Cary Williams, so the Bengals should counter by running slot receiver Mohamed Sanu or tight end Tyler Eifert right at safety Earl Thomas to prevent him from doubling up on Green.
2. Stack the box
The Bengals corners are skilled enough to take on Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse in single coverage and Seattle hasn't quite figured out how to take advantage of Jimmy Graham's talents in the passing game. Even if Lynch doesn't play, the Bengals should look to take away the Seahawks run game and make them one-dimensional.
3. Spy Russell Wilson
Wilson is at his most dangerous when he's out of the pocket improvising. A linebacker should have his eyes on Wilson at all times, and the secondary should play zone coverage in obvious passing downs so that the safeties can keep their eyes in the backfield.