(Sports Network) – Well-rested and ready to embark on a rough stretch of games, the Cincinnati Bengals will bring a two-game losing streak into the Georgia Dome on Sunday for a showdown with the host Atlanta Falcons.
The hype that consumed the Bengals prior to the season has turned into a smattering of doubt, criticism and disbelief following a 2-3 start. Star wide receiver Terrell Owens’ arrival in training camp left the city abuzz, but that quickly faded following a season-opening loss at New England. The bandwagon then quickly filled up with back-to-back wins over Baltimore and Carolina, but has since emptied out in consecutive three-point losses to Cleveland and Tampa Bay.
Cincinnati won the AFC North with an unblemished record in the division a year ago, but sits behind Pittsburgh (4-1) and Baltimore (4-2) in the standings early on in 2010.
Many believed teaming Owens up with flamboyant wideout Chad Ochocinco would turn Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer into Johnny Unitas, but so far the two star receivers have combined for three touchdown catches. Owens is never short for words, and believes the way the Bengals can score in the red zone is by either finding himself or Ochocinco.
“I don’t care how we score,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. The fallacy on what Terrell says is that defenses are making an effort to take those two guys away from us. So other guys have to make plays. We have to run the football effectively."
It’s not as if Lewis has abandoned the run this season. Revived running back Cedric Benson wasn’t as productive over the first four weeks until breaking out in the team’s loss to the Buccaneers right before the bye. He had a season-high 144 yards on 23 touches that day, and may see more carries come his way in a balanced attack.
It’s no secret Cincinnati entered the regular season ready to air it out, and Benson knew that. He stated that it’s out of his hands and play-calling is not in his control. Benson also praised his offensive line after the Tampa Bay loss and is hoping better things will come during a tough stretch that begins Sunday.
After visiting Atlanta, the Bengals have to face Miami, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.
The Bengals are 18th in rushing this season, averaging 103.4 yards per game, and seventh in passing (248.0 ypg). Benson has 10 games of over 100 rushing yards as a Bengal and averaged 6.3 yards per carry in his last game.
Atlanta entered last week’s game in Philadelphia averaging nearly 150 rushing yards per game. However, the ground game was held to 65 yards in a 31-17 rout at the hands of the Eagles, in which top back Michael Turner compiled just 45 yards on 15 carries.
The Falcons were staring down a 21-0 hole early on and running the football wasn’t going exactly as planned. Too many big plays given up by the defense forced head coach Mike Smith and his staff to alter their scheme, and it never panned out in Atlanta’s first conference loss of the season (3-1). The defeat also halted the Falcons’ four-game winning streak in the process.
“We were fine,” Falcons end John Abraham said in reference to the defense’s performance. “I think [the Eagles] just got some plays on us. What we prepared for was totally different from what they did. They did more tricks than we thought and they did plays to slow down our D-line. They did a great job.”
Atlanta has had a full week to bounce back on both sides of the football, and is still tied with New Orleans atop the NFC South Division. The Falcons, who own the tiebreaker with the defending Super Bowl champs, would enjoy getting the ball rolling on the ground against a Bengals unit rated 18th in defending the run.
Following Sunday’s home game, the Falcons will have time to rest with a bye.
Cincinnati holds a 7-4 edge in its all-time series with Atlanta, but has lost each of the last two head-to-head meetings with the Falcons. The Bengals were 29-27 home losers in the most recent meeting, in 2006, and dropped a 30-3 decision when they last visited the Georgia Dome, in 2002. Cincinnati’s most recent win over the Falcons came at home in 1996, and the team is 0-2 in Atlanta since last winning there in 1987.
Lewis is 0-1 in his career against the Falcons, while Smith will be meeting both Lewis and the Bengals for the first time as a head coach. Lewis and Smith were both assistants on the Baltimore Ravens staff from 1999 through 2001.