The Seahawks face off against the Bengals this week so for a scouting report on their opponent, I talked to Scott Bantel of Cincy Jungle. Here's what he told me about Seattle's foe, (and here's what I told him about the Seahawks)...
1. Andy Dalton is balling out right now, and there's no sign that he'll regress. How confident are Bengals fans that Dalton will keep up this torrid pace?
Not confident at all. That is not to be pessimistic, but even the most ardent Andy Dalton supporters are taking his incredible play with cautious optimism. He is certainly playing the best football of his career thus far and has never put together a four game stretch like this. He has put together a few strong games, but never four in a row. In fact, Dalton has been maddeningly inconsistent throughout his career, hence why so many Bengals fans get frustrated by him.
That being said, he doesn't look like the same Dalton we have seen his first four years. In his first four years he did a lot of winning, but at times he looked very uncomfortable and would prone to making very poor decisions and forcing the ball to A.J. Green. They talk about how the game starts "slowing down" for quarterbacks as they mature, and this season, it looks like the game has slowed down for Dalton. He looks comfortable in the pocket, he is taking what the defense gives him, he is running when the opportunity presents itself and when there is nothing there, he is throwing the ball away and living to see another down. Bengals coaches have talked about this Dalton the past four years, but fans have only seen glimpses of it through his first four years. If Dalton is able to keep this level of play going, this is a tough team to beat.
2. Everyone knows about A.J. Green being a special talent, but what's the scouting report for Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Tyler Eifert?
Marvin Jones is one of the better number-two receivers in the NFL. He has good size (6'2" 200 ish), good hands and above average speed. His absence all of 2014 was a big loss for the Bengals. When teams double Green and/or Eifert, Jones is good enough to win his one-on-on matchups most of the time and he is an excellent deep ball receiver. His last healthy season (2013), he had nearly 800 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Mohamed Sanu is mostly used in the slot, but is not your typical slot reciver. He is a big receiver (6'2" 220 pounds), and while he can be prone to drops and doesn't have the quickness of most slot receivers, he is very physical and does a great job of using his body to shield the defender.
Like Jones, Tyler Eiftert's missed all of 2014 (well, he played about three series in Week 1), and in my opinion, his absence was hands down the biggest blow to the offense and to Dalton's numbers in 2014. Many locally (and nationally) compare Eifert to the Seahawks Jimmy Graham. While he has a long way to go to prove himself to be on Graham's level, they are very similar players and the talent is definitely there. At 6'6" and 250 pounds, Eifert is too big for most defensive backs and too fast for most linebackers. Like Graham, Eifert isn't much of a blocker, but is a very polished receiver. The biggest benefit of having Eifert back in 2015 is that he can exploit the middle if teams want to double Green. The last two seasons, the Bengals didn't have a player that could do that.
3. Seattle's offensive line has struggled greatly - how has Cincinnati's line played thus far this year?
The Bengals had a top five line in 2014 and brought everyone back healthy in 2015. Dalton has only been sacked twice, and in three of the four games, the Bengals line has pitched a shutout in terms of sacks. That protection has allowed Dalton to put up the numbers he has thus far.
However, they haven't played a defense of Seattle's caliber, so Sunday will certainly offer the Bengals line (and offense as a whole), their biggest challenge thus far. If the Seahawks can get to Dalton - or at least get him uncomfortable in the pocket - I believe they can force Dalton into mistakes.
4. What's the biggest strength of the defense, and if there is one, what is the biggest weakness?
The biggest strength is Geno Atkins. He is completely recovered from his late 2013 ACL tear and is back to his Pro Bowl form. His return has been the biggest reason the Bengals defensive line has gone from dead last in sacks in 2014 (20), to top 10 with 11 thus far in 2015. However, as a unit, I would say the Bengals corners are the strength. They have four first round corners (Dre Kirkpatrick, Adam Jones, Leon Hall and Darqueze Dennard) and they are all playing at or above their talent level. Dennard, the Bengals 2014 first round pick is the odd man out of the rotation right now, but it isn't because he isn't playing well, it is because the vets in front of him are playing that much better.
As for a weakness, their linebackers are weak. Vontaze Burfict is on the PUP list with a knee injury and he is the heart and soul (the Kam Chancellor) of this defense. With Burfict, this is an above average linebacking corps. Without Burfict, the linebacking corps is a below average unit and can be exploited.
5. How can Seattle go in to Cincy this week and steal a win on the road? How would you attack them?
If Seattle wins, I wouldn't consider it an upset. While the Bengals are tough at home - 15-2-1 since the start of 2013 - and are playing better than the Seahawks at this point in the season, the Bengals have had a tough time the last few years in big games and this is a big game and the best team the 2015 Bengals have faced thus far. The Seahawks have proven their mettle in big games and if this one is close at the end, it will be interesting to see how the Bengals respond. Prior to the season, I had the Seahawks coming in and winning this one. Based off the way both teams are playing currently, I have changed that prediction, but I would not be shocked if the Seahawks won.
As for how to attack this Bengals team? On offense, the Seahawks need to exploit the Bengals linebackers in the passing game. The Bengals linebackers are not good in coverage and receiving backs and tight ends can take advantage.
Surprisingly, the Bengals held Graham in check last year in New Orleans, but he scares me this week. On defense, the key will be pressure on Dalton. As I mentioned above, the Bengals offensive line has been lights out in terms of protecting Dalton, and while I think this is an improved Andy Dalton, he hasn't been tested this year and until I see him handle pressure and protect the ball in the face of that pressure, I still believe he is prone to turning the ball over. If the Seahawks can force a few Dalton turnovers and get short fields, this could be a long day for the Bengals.
Big thanks again to Scott for the excellent, in-depth scouting report. Head over to Cincy Jungle for more great coverage on the Bengals-Seahawks tilt.