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This is a massively important game against a very capable opponent. Leaving this game 1-2 with game @ SF and @ Pitt the next two weeks would make it make it very difficult to be an over .500 team this season, even though I believe the Hawks are a very good team. If the Hawks do win, it sets up an early showdown for the division lead next week as I expect the 49ers to be 2-1 after playing in Pitt this week.
1. Stop Rudi Johnson The Bengals scored 27 points in their win in week 1 and 45 in their loss in week 2. Carson Palmer was strong in both games. The difference? Rudi Johnson rushed for 50 yards and averaged 2.8 YPC in week 1, and rushed for 118 yards and averaged 5 YPC in week 2. Yes, Palmer had a superlative day passing last week, but even the best passing game needs the threat of a running game to reach it’s peak. Look at the 300-yard passers each week and the 100-yard rushers. It’s fascinating how often the 300-yard passers lose and how often the 100-yard rushers win. The Bengals passing game will be effective against the Hawks (and the rest of the league). We cannot afford for them to more than a one-dimensional offense.
2. Offensive efficiency The best things for the Hawks in this game would be to get the ball first and score a TD. They need to get off to a faster start this week, and they need to show the ability to be a consistent scoring threat. They found that rhythm in the second half last week against a defense better than the Bengals. Efficiency also means scoring TDs and not FGs.
3. Defensive playmakers must show up Julian Peterson, Patrick Kerney, Darryl Tapp, Rocky Bernard, and Deon Grant were all invisible last week. It’s time to create some turnovers and tackle some folks behind the line of scrimmage. Tatupu cannot do this on his own. The return of LeRoy Hill should help, but the whole defense needs to step up.
4. Safety help for Kelly Jennings Two games. Two jump balls lost by Jennings. This guy is not capable of 1:1 coverage down the field against larger receivers. We need to cover him up top with safety. If he gets beat again this week (you can almost count on it), look for either Babs or Josh Wilson to get a shot. Wilson is not tall at all, but he is more physical. We simply can’t give up a 40+ yard play each week because of one guy.
5. Pass pressure After netting five sacks the first week, the Hawks had the big goose egg against a suspect Cardinals line. This week they go against a Bengals line that has given up only two sacks thus far. There is no reason the Bengals can’t score a bunch of points if we don’t pressure Palmer.
Conclusion Every year, for the last few years, we hear about how the Hawks defense is dominating in mini-camp, and then in pre-season, and then in the early part of the season. Then, in almost every case, we find out it’s still the same crappy unit it was in the past (2005 being the clear exception). Last weekend in Arizona was very disconcerting. No pass pressure and no run defense against a team that is not yet great has me worried heading into a game against one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL. The Hawks are always tough at Qwest, and our offense seems close to breaking out to a 30+ pt day. Our offense must be dominant, and our defense must keep the Bengals under 25. I give a slight lean to the Hawks.