After back-to-back wins at CenturyLink Field, the Seahawks are back on the road in Week 5 facing a very tough test against the 4-0 Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals come into this game with one of the NFL's best offenses, while the Seahawks counter with a defense that has allowed only a field goal in its past two games.
To learn more about the Bengals and Sunday's matchup, we reached out to Geoff Hobson from Bengals.com with five questions. Here is what he had to say:
Q: With the Bengals off to a 4-0 start, how would you describe the mindset of the team? And how much, if at all, are players looking at a game against a team that has played in back-to-back Super Bowls as a chance to validate their fast start.
Hobson: This is a veteran club that has made the playoffs in all kinds of ways the past four years. The Green-Dalton Bengals snuck up on everyone as rookies in 2011 to Wild Card it, won seven of their last eight in 2012 to get another Wild Card, virtually went wire-to-wire to win the 2013 AFC North title and led the 2014 race until the Steelers beat them in the last game of the year.
So they've lived enough not to get excited in October. But they do know they have a chance to gain huge credibility with a win Sunday over an NFC power that would be a playoff-like win in October. For so many fans saying they won't pay attention to the Bengals until the playoffs, a win over Seattle would get their attention now.
Q: On a related note, how much excitement is there around Cincinnati about the Bengals, and how hostile of an environment are the Seahawks heading into this weekend?
Hobson: Paul Brown Stadium is nothing like Seattle, but it is a tough place to play. In the last 22 games the Bengals are 18-3-1 with dominant defense. They have 56 sacks in those 22 games and they went into last week's game holding passers to a 67 rating before Alex Smith twirled a 95.2.
In that stretch the Bengals have beaten six Super Bowl winning QBs: both Mannings, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Joe Flacco. They've also taken down Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers, and Matt Ryan in the building.
The Bengals sold out their 65,000-seat stadium three games last season, but they only drew 57,000 –plus in the first two games this season. But the 4-0 start and the arrival of an NFC power has sold this one out and there is buzz in the community.
Q: Andy Dalton's numbers are up across the board. How much is that him playing better and how much is it related to the players around him? And in particular, what has led to the improved numbers throwing down field?
Hobson: Like everything else in this league it's a little bit of everything. We're watching a guy with five years of experience have it all come together for him in his second year with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. Dalton can go down field because he finally has his weapons.
Last year his four-time Pro Bowl WR, A.J. Green (25 catches), missed the Wild Card Game because of a concussion. He also missed three regular season games and got injured in two others early enough he didn't have a catch. The other starting WR, Marvin Jones (16.5 yards per on 10 catches), never took a snap last year because of foot and ankle problems. Tyler Eifert, the big tight end with 16 catches, three TDs and nearly 14 yards per, was lost for the year in the first 10 minutes of the '14 season.
The offensive line, which has been relatively intact since 2012, hasn't let Dalton get touched. They've allowed just two sacks and last week vs. the tag team pass rush duo of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston they pitched a shutout and Dalton only got hit once, according to press box stats.
Q: The Seahawks have allowed 18 sacks, which is tied for the most in the league, and now face a dangerous Cincinnati pass rush. What Bengals player or players should Seattle be worried about most?
Hobson: Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins is one of the top inside rushers in the league. His three sacks are tied with Gerald McCoy for second among tackles, half a sack behind Aaron Donald. Left end Carlos Dunlap leads the club with 3.5 sacks and is extremely athletic with the knack of wrecking games with sacks-and-strips and tipped balls. Right end Michael Johnson, 6-7, has 28 career tipped passes.
Q: Who, other than the obvious big names, could be a big difference maker Sunday against the Seahawks and why?
Hobson: Receiver Marvin Jones is the X-factor. Defenses can't get enamored with Green. Since '13 Jones has 12 TDs among his 61 catches and they're 9-1 in his career when he scores a TD. Adam Jones has been their best cornerback for the past year and a dangerous return man forever. Last year he was the AP All-Pro returner, winning the kick title and runner-up in the punt return race. He's got an 18-yard punt return this year to set up a TD.
With everyone calling for a tight game between two physical running clubs, field positon will be huge as the Bengals try to shut down star rookie returner Tyler Lockett. The Bengals have a reigning Pro Bowl punter in Kevin Huber and he's currently third with a 43.2-yard net.