NFL Game Preview: Bengals at Chiefs

By: By JON PALMIERI, STATS Senior Writer
By: By JON PALMIERI, STATS Senior Writer

Winning in the NFL is nearly impossible with the league's worst defense. The problems for the Cincinnati Bengals, though, go much deeper than that.

The Bengals hope to avoid their first four-game losing streak in almost five years on Sunday when they visit the Kansas City Chiefs - one of the league's worst offensive teams.

Armed with a wealth of talent - particularly on offense - the Bengals (1-3) were at worst expected to contend for a playoff spot. Four games into the season, however, they find themselves last in the AFC North with one of the league's worst records.

A loss Sunday would saddle the Bengals with four consecutive defeats for the first time since Nov. 10-Dec. 15, 2002, the season before Marvin Lewis became coach.

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Cincinnati's bye came at the perfect time last weekend. The week off gave several injured players more time to heal while also providing the team with more time to recover from a 34-13 home loss to New England on Oct. 1 that prompted an angry postgame diatribe from Lewis.

"I feel horrible," cornerback Deltha O'Neal said. "It's just ugly for us right now. It is so depressing to me because we are a lot better than what we are playing. A lot better."

Adding to the Bengals' woes is a multitude of off-field incidents that continued Tuesday with the suspension of starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who will miss Sunday's game for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

Joseph was the ninth Bengals player arrested on a variety of charges over a nine-month period.

Two other Bengals - linebacker Odell Thurman and receiver Chris Henry - are suspended by the league.

Cincinnati's poor play on the field began to carry over to the sidelines against the Patriots.

Star receiver Chad Johnson and quarterback Carson Palmer exchanged words on the field after Asante Samuel's interception near the goal line halted a drive late in the first half. Johnson kept at it on the bench, and walked to the locker room at halftime still sniping at Palmer.

"We're both emotional people," Johnson said Wednesday. "The situation that happened out there was my fault."

The Bengals' defense has taken a big step backward this season after finishing last year in the middle of the pack. Injuries to several key players - most notably at linebacker - have contributed to a unit that ranks last in scoring defense (32.3) and 30th in yards allowed (403.0).

Linebacker Lemar Marshall was placed on injured reserve last week after he tore his left Achilles' tendon in the loss to New England. Middle linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Caleb Miller were inactive because of injuries, and linebacker Landon Johnson sustained an eye injury against the Patriots.

The Bengals finished their last game with only two healthy linebackers - Dhani Jones and Anthony Schlegel, who both joined the team less than a month earlier as free agents.

There is, however, some good news for Cincinnati, which has a relatively easy remaining schedule that features 12 games against teams a combined eight games under .500. They can also take comfort in the fact that since 1990 and the expanded playoff format, 20 teams have rebounded from 1-3 starts to reach the postseason.

For the second straight year, Kansas City has rebounded from an 0-2 start to find itself with a 2-3 record. The Chiefs finished 9-7 last season and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2003.

Another trip to the postseason likely depends on whether the Chiefs can improve an offense that is 30th in scoring (12.6), 28th in total offense (282.4) and 32nd in rushing offense (65.6).

Quarterback Damon Huard hurt his shoulder in Sunday's 17-7 loss to Jacksonville, but the injury held up fine in practice Wednesday, clearing the way for him to remain the starter.

There had been reports Huard would be benched this week in favor of second-year man Brodie Croyle.

"Right now, unless he has a setback, he's going to play," coach Herm Edwards said of Huard. "And that's good for us."

Getting Pro Bowl running back Larry Johnson back in form would go a long way toward making Kansas City's feeble offense more potent. Johnson, who had a league-best 3,539 rushing yards the previous two seasons, has carried 84 times for 275 yards this year, a dismal 3.3 yards-per-carry average.

Johnson rushed for only 12 yards on nine carries against the Jaguars, and has yet to score a touchdown this season.

"I don't know if he's running differently," Edwards said. "Everyone's trying to figure out if it's him, the line. It's a little bit of everything. It has to improve and it will improve because we've got to make a better emphasis on it and how we go about it, doing it in practice and improving the runs we want to define."

The Chiefs have few concerns on the defensive side as they are one of only three teams that have held opponents to 20 points or fewer in every game this season. That is their longest streak to open a season since 1991, when they did it the first eight games.

This is the third straight season that these teams will meet in Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs rolled to a 37-3 victory on Jan. 1, 2006 before the Bengals recorded a 23-10 win later that year on Sept. 10 in the season opener for both teams.


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