With week 3 of the NFL rapidly approaching, the San Francisco 49ers have been preparing for a two-week road trip where they will face the Cincinnati Bengals and the Philadelphia Eagles. This Sunday, the Niners will face in the Bengals in Ohio but there will be a familiarity nonetheless.
This offseason, whether they meant to or not, the Bengals wound up with three former 49ers on their 53-man roster in Manny Lawson, Nate Clements and Taylor Mays. San Francisco also has Madieu Williams, Justin Smith and Ahmad Brooks who were all draft selections by the Bengals.
As it stands, both teams are at 1-1, looking to get on top of their respective divisions with a win on Sunday. The Bengals should be fired up, since this game marks their home opener and there have already been fireworks between the rookie tandem of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.
I'd like to break the match-up down into categories I think will be relevant on gameday. Head after the jump to check them out.
Turnover Margin: For as non-exciting as the new 49ers offense has been so far this season, I have to admit, I like that they are being more protective over the football. The turnovers haven't been coming in bunches like they have in the past, and Cincinnati isn't a threat to bring that out of us all of a sudden. The Bengals on the other hand have a rookie quarterback starting for them and he is bound to make mistakes, especially with the multiple looks Vic Fangio will be giving him. I expect the Niners to win the turnover margin by being careful with the ball on offense and attacking it on defense.
Edge: San Francisco
Big Plays: This category has me worried the most. The fact is, the Bengals have been getting splash plays in 2011 and the 49ers have a bad habit of allowing them. A.J. Green has 11 catches for 165 yards and 2 touchdowns in two games. In total yards per game, passing yards per game and rushing yards per game, the Bengals have the 49ers beat, substantially. Braylon Edwards is going to be out, leaving Alex Smith to rely on Josh Morgan, Kyle Williams, Ted Ginn and a returning Michael Crabtree. In two games combined, Vernon Davis hasn't even broken 80 yards and is still scoreless. Cincinnati may be able to take advantage by generating more offense on the day.
The Trenches: I believe most games are fought and won in the trenches, so I always think it matters. The 49ers defensive line, even though undersized, is extremely powerful and I expect them to maul the Bengals offensive line all day. However, I am worried about the lack of push the 49ers offensive line has been generating; its been pretty much non-existent. I like Tim Drevno and Mike Solari to whip this line into shape and look to build their confidence against the Bengals. I still believe it is a talented group but for one reason or another, they just haven't gotten it going yet.
Edge: San Francisco
X Factor: A lot of teams have an X-factor that could change the tempo of a game on a single play; I don't think the Bengals have one. But I have it on good authority that San Francisco has a few. I really like Ted Ginn to give the 49ers good field position if he doesn't take one (or two) to the house. Offensively, the fans have been asking for a dose of Kendall Hunter to jumpstart the run game, so let's see if his number gets called. Also on that side of the ball is wide out Kyle Williams, who I feel is just itching to make a name for himself. On his second career catch last week against Dallas, he scored his first NFL touchdown. The only X-factor the Bengals have in their favor is a semi-concussed Alex Smith.
Edge: San Francisco
I like San Francisco to rebound after last week's devastating loss to the Dallas Cowboys. This is a more mature squad than years past, so I would hope they don't mull over last week and comeback strong on the road. San Francisco is going to have to win these battles if they have any shot of avoiding back to back losses.
The 49ers can get on top of their division with a big win, since the Arizona Cardinals are the only other team to win a game in the NFC West. The Cards' face off against the Seattle Seahawks, where hopefully Seattle comes up with their first win to set Arizona back. This is a very winnable game if the Niners can take away the big play by Cincy. Let's see if San Francisco can pull out a win on Sunday.
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