Thursday, December 18, 2003

Bengals want a repeat on 'D'


What worked vs. KC should stop Rams, too

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Bengals' up-and-down defense played its best game Nov. 16 against Kansas City.

It held the Chiefs' high-powered offense scoreless for almost a half, though Kansas City had a decided field-position edge. The Bengals also limited tailback Priest Holmes to fewer than 100 scrimmage yards for the first time this season, and the Chiefs' 19 points that day - almost 12 below their average coming in - stand as their third-fewest.

On Sunday at St. Louis, the Bengals will face a Rams offense that's as frighteningly similar to Kansas City's as any in the NFL.

But the Bengals might have created a blueprint against the Chiefs that they can follow against the other Missouri team: Contain the run, win on third down and force them to beat you through the air.

Easier said than done, given that the Bengals will be playing in the Edward Jones Dome, where the Rams have created a decisive home-field advantage by winning 13 consecutive games.

Of course, the Rams also have one of the fastest receiving duos in the NFL in Torry Holt (102 receptions, 1,518 yards and 11 touchdowns) and Isaac Bruce (69-981-5). Bruce is questionable because of a high ankle sprain, and the Rams' offense will lack some pop if he's out.

"If you don't stop the run, and they got the two-headed animal in there, it won't even matter," Bengals free safety Mark Roman said of stopping the Rams' deep threats. "If you're two-dimensional (on offense) in the NFL, you got a good chance to win any game. We've got to try to make them as one-dimensional as possible."

Rams coach Mike Martz was offensive coordinator of the 1999 "Greatest Show on Turf" offense that helped St. Louis win the Super Bowl under then-coach Dick Vermeil. Vermeil now coaches the Chiefs.

Both offenses are balanced in the run and pass, and both feature a multipurpose running back - the prototype for Kansas City's Priest Holmes is St. Louis' Marshall Faulk, who is back at full strength after missing five games with hand and knee injuries. Both teams like to throw the ball deep.

And though the Chiefs have yet to develop the outside threats that the Rams have, Kansas City has a superior tight end in Tony Gonzalez.

"They have similar styles of offenses. I think (the Rams) do it better. They play very confidently, and they are going to fling it around," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.

Unlike the Chiefs, who have a league-low 13 giveaways, the Rams are tied with Baltimore for the most, at 35. They can be sloppy with the ball, and quarterback Marc Bulger has thrown 20 interceptions.

"When you get turnovers, when you hit them, you see what the Bucs and Patriots did to them," said Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton, who faced the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV while with the Titans.

Faulk has 662 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. As a receiver, he has 34 receptions. He touched the ball nine consecutive times - eight on the ground - on a field-goal drive at the end of the Rams' victory Sunday against Seattle.

If the Bengals can slow Faulk, the game could be decided on how well the Bengals defend the Rams' pass game.

"We've got to play like we did, with the same type of intensity we had against Kansas City," Bengals cornerback Tory James said.

E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com



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