They're young, they're talented and they're playing the 49ers on Sunday. The Cincinnati Bengals may have one of the greenest offensive units in the NFL this season, but they've already proven to be a potent bunch through two games.
The Bengals have yet to face a front seven like San Francisco's, one that leads the league in rush defense, allowing an average of 54.5 yards per game. Looking forward, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Cincinnati's running game, spearheaded by tailback Cedric Benson, is the best the 49ers have faced thus far.
"We're confident that we can play the run," Fangio said. "Our d-line is prideful in it, along with our linebackers up front, and the safeties fitting it correctly. So, we expect that to be a strength of our team and we need it to be moving forward."
The 49ers secondary will also be getting a boost this week with the added services of cornerback Shawntae Spencer and safety Dashon Goldson, who have yet to play in the regular season this year due to injuries. Spencer and Goldson started every game for the 49ers each of the past two seasons, but Fangio didn't reveal playing time expectations for either player.
Barring any further injuries, it will mark the first time that the defense will be at full strength under Fangio's watch.
It's been nearly two months since the NFL lockout was lifted, and many 49ers have said they now have a solid grasp of Fangio's system. The defense has already forced 10 three-and-out drives from opponents this year, the most of any team in the league.
"We understand what the team is trying to do," linebacker Parys Haralson said. "We just know how to play with each other. It's just about understanding what you have to do and getting 11 guys to the ball."
Spencer and Goldson figure to provide a boost to a unit that will likely have its hands full on Sunday. Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has performed well in his initial pair of NFL contests, completing 66.1 percent of his passes for 413 yards while tossing three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Dalton has the help of some quality receiving talent at his disposal, starting with 6-foot-4-inch rookie wideout A.J. Green. The former Georgia Bulldog hauled in 10 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown last week, but he isn't the only perimeter threat for Cincinnati. Second-year tight end Jermaine Gresham also possesses some soft hands while wideout Jerome Simpson has established himself as a solid target as well.
"A lot of those young guys they've recently brought in are their big playmakers," Spencer said. "The quarterback looks very, very good, the receiving corps looks good, good tight ends. And they have a good, young line, probably the best offensive line we've faced all year. It's a good group, man, on both sides of the ball."
Notes and Quotes
Quarterback Alex Smith spoke to the media on Thursday for the first time since being listed on the injury report. Smith was listed as a full participant in Wednesday's practice after suffering a concussion in last week's contest against the Cowboys.
"I feel great," Smith said. "I went through all the protocol that the league requires and doctors require. I went through all the tests and everything looks great. I'm cleared to play."
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman also said that wide receiver Michael Crabtree is expected to play on Sunday after missing last week's game with a foot injury.
"I'm just trying to put that little injury behind me and just focus on football," Crabtree said.
Roman also said rookie fullback Bruce Miller will be getting plenty of snaps on Sunday as he fills in for injured starter Moran Norris, who suffered a fibula injury in last week's game.