While Cincinnati has cruised to an undefeated start through the season’s quarter mark, Seattle is by some accounts lucky to not be 1-3.
The Bengals will try to reach 5-0 for the first time in 27 years Sunday against the visiting Seahawks, who might need more than a batted ball to better Andy Dalton.
After last Sunday’s 36-21 home win over Kansas City, Cincinnati is 4-0 for the first time since 2005 and seeking its first 5-0 record since a franchise-best 6-0 start in 1988 preceded its most recent trip to the Super Bowl.
"We started the season with a special intent, and that’s to be great," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "We’re not satisfied with being good anymore."
The guy Whitworth is protecting has thus far followed through, in part because the offensive line has done its job. Dalton and the New York Jets’ Ryan Fitzpatrick are the only qualifying quarterbacks to be sacked just twice.
The Cincinnati signal caller was 17 of 24 for 321 yards and threw a 55-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Tate, giving him nine TDs and one interception. His 123.0 passer rating is easily his best through four games and trails only Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill have provided a more balanced rushing attack than anticipated with Bernard out-touching presumed starter Hill 66 to 51 and outgaining him on the ground 5.50 yards per carry to 3.26. Hill, however, provided the red-zone punch with three scores against the Chiefs.
All said, the Bengals’ average of 422.0 yards of total offense trails only New England (446.3) and their 30.4 points per game is ranked fourth. They’re also winning by an average of 11.0 points.
"It’s what we expect from this offense," Dalton said. "We’ve got everybody back, we’re healthy. We’ve done a great job so far getting to 4-0."
Seattle (2-2), however, could present a greater challenge, even to a Cincinnati team that’s 16-2-1 at home with an average winning margin of 9.8 points since Dec. 30, 2012.
The Seahawks have recovered from an 0-2 start mostly with strong defense, holding Chicago and Detroit to a combined 10 points and 402 yards. Their 17.8 points per game allowed is tied for third, while their 278.8 yards of total offense surrendered per game trails only Denver (275.5).
In Monday’s 13-10 win over the Lions, those numbers got some help from Kam Chancellor’s forced fumble in the closing minutes and an ensuing controversial touchback after K.J. Wright batted the ball through the back of the end zone.
Despite being admittedly fortunate, they feel they’re coming together after allowing 713 yards through two games.
"Give us an inch and we protected it," Earl Thomas said. "It just feels so good. I think we just need games like this for us to come together."
The defense has given an inconsistent offense a chance, and a lot of those struggles with the ball have to do with the offensive line. Russell Wilson is tied with Alex Smith at a league-high 18 sacks, and Wilson’s 12.4 percent sack rate on passing plays is the league’s highest. Dalton’s (1.7) trails only Fitzpatrick.
Wilson absorbed six sacks for the second time this year and lost two fumbles, but through it all he still managed to go 20 of 26 for a season-high 287 yards.
Seattle also was held to 3.55 yards per carry from the running game for its lowest single-game average over the past 20 contests, including the playoffs. Over that span, it’s averaged 5.08 per rush.
"It’s not as good as we needed it to be. The protection; we didn’t run the ball as well as we wanted tonight and we obviously had trouble protecting," coach Pete Carroll said. "We just have to help those guys more."
On the ground, that’s been complicated by health. Marshawn Lynch (hamstring) didn’t face the Lions and Fred Jackson suffered a high-ankle sprain. Lynch is out again and Jackson is questionable, though Carroll believes Jackson will play.
”We’re thinking he’s going to make it,” Carroll said. ”He’ll have to work out on game day but he looks really good and we think he’s going to play.”
Fill-in starter Thomas Rawls was limited to 48 yards on 17 carries last week, but Cincinnati might present an opportunity for that to improve. After an impressive Week 1 in Oakland, the Bengals have surrendered an average of 404.3 yards of total offense, which ranks fifth-worst in that time. Their opponent third-down rate was 25.0 percent in Week 1. Since, it’s 41.9.
"You want to play better, but you have to stop them on third down and that prevents yardage," coach Marvin Lewis said. "We had some third downs that we allowed them to convert, and we have to do a better job of that."