NFL Preseason Preview - Cincinnati (0-0) at Kansas City (0-0)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of 11-5 AFC playoff Doppelgangers open up the preseason in the "Show Me State" on Thursday when the Kansas City Chiefs welcome Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals to Arrowhead Stadium.
The Chiefs made the big leap from two wins to 11 in Andy Reid's first-year as head coach in KC, but a sequel figures to be far tougher now that the Chiefs won't be sneaking up on many.
The bigger issues for Kansas City remain contract extensions for underrated quarterback Alex Smith as well as pass-rushing star Justin Houston, who skipped OTAs because of unhappiness with his contract.
On the field the team doesn't have a large margin of error. Ball control was the hallmark for Kansas City in 2013 as the club finished with a brilliant plus-18 turnover differential while also leading the league with 11 return touchdowns, two things you can't really count on consistently.
The Chiefs, however, do return seven Pro-Bowl players from a year ago in Smith, Houston, running back Jamaal Charles, who recently signed a contract extension, safety Eric Berry, linebackers Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali and defensive tackle Dontari Poe.
Berry injured his right heel at practice last week but it's not believed to be serious. The same can't be said for fellow safety Sanders Commings, who suffered a fractured fibula while trying to tackle Charles at practice. KC signed ex-Patriot Steve Gregory to replace Commings.
In the draft Kansas City added another potential impact edge rusher to Houston and Hali by drafting Auburn product Dee Ford in the first round. The athletic Ford, who played defensive end with the Tigers, will be making the move to linebacker in the Chiefs' 3-4 defense and serves as valuable insurance in case things don't work out with Houston in the long run.
"The pass rush is all about mentality (more than) just straight pass rush because at some point they're going to figure out what you can and can't do," Ford said. "It's all about changing it up and deception. We talk about deception all of the time. We want to deceive the offense. It's just another level of mental training that I'm learning from Tamba."
Over on offense, fourth-round draft choice De'Anthony Thomas could be the eventual replacement for do-everything weapon Dexter McCluster, who signed with Tennessee in the offseason. The undersized Thomas figures to be a versatile "Where's Waldo-type" player who can line up in the backfield, flourish from the slot and be an impact returner.
For Cincinnati it's all about taking that next step.
The Bengals have made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history but the architect of that run, Dalton, has not performed well in January and Cincinnati has yet to advance, leaving more than a few to question whether Dalton can get the franchise to the next level.
The Bengals think he can and signed Dalton, who still had a year left on his rookie deal, to a six-year extension on Monday believed to be worth $115 million.
"I'm so thankful to be in this position," said Dalton at a press conference. "To get this opportunity to come to the city of Cincinnati and play for the Bengals ... and now sign this extension, be a part of this team for a long time ... I'm very thankful."
"Andy has done tremendous things here and we're excited to move forward," added Lewis. "He's had a great start (to his career). He has, in every way, met our expectations. He has continued to grow from being the starting quarterback to the leader of the offense, to now truly being the leader of the football team."
It won't get any easier for Dalton and Co. in 2014 because the Bengals lost both of their highly-regarded coordinators to head coaching positions -- (defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to Minnesota and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to Washington).
New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson wants to develop a bit more balance between run and pass this year and second-round pick Jeremy Hill is expected to complement the team's second-round pick from a year ago, Giovani Bernard, in the team's backfield.
Hill, a big, bruising back with a bit of wiggle and solid speed, is expected to be the thunder to Bernard's lightning and brings much more big-play capability to the table than veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
On defense for the Bengals Leon Hall is coming off a torn Achilles and Terence Newman is 35 so it was imperative for the Bengals to address the cornerback position and they did exactly that by drafting former Michigan State star Darqueze Dennard in the first round.
Dennard is a prototypical man-coverage corner who likes to get physical at the line of scrimmage. He's so physical in fact that he may take his lumps with pass interference calls early on but once Dennard figures things out and starts earning a reputation, he should provide quite an upgrade for first- year defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.
The Bengals and Chiefs have met seven times in the preseason with Kansas City owning a perfect 7-0 mark in the prior contests.
08/05 16:06:36 ET