December of ’10 one to remember in ’11

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on June 23, 2011 – 5:32 pm

One of the many things that new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has to do is turn around the trend that has seen the Bengals struggle for points in the second halves of games and the second halves of seasons for the last several years.

A little blast for early summer.

Gruden can get a lift from that last month of 2010, when the Bengals’ leading receivers were the young guns that sparked them to their first two 30-point plus games in December for the first time since 2005 and their highest scoring December since 2007.

Finishing has been elusive despite some high-wire acts under quarterback Carson Palmer. In his six full seasons as the starter, the Bengals averaged 11 points fewer coming out of the locker room at halftime compared to the numbers they had in the first half. Plus, in Palmer’s 27 December-January starts (not counting the injury-shortened 2005 Wild Card Game), the Bengals have averaged 20.5 points per game. In his 71 starts played before December, it is 22.8 points per game.

But in Palmer’s first three seasons, they averaged 24.5 points in his December starts compared to 17.8 in his most recent three seasons. Overall, in Palmer’s first 45 regular-season starts from 2004 to 2006, the Bengals averaged 24 points per game and were continually ranked among the league’s offensive elite. In his last 52, it is 20.6.

Did defenses figure out the offense? Personnel? Foes? His injuries?

The weather?

This past December with the kids, the Bengals put up their 30-spots against top four defenses (No. 1 Chargers, No. 4 Saints) in Paul Brown Stadium games that were played in less than ideal conditions. The 34-30 loss to the Saints was played in a wind that made it feel like 23 degrees and they beat the Chargers in swirling 15-to- 20 mile-per-hour winds that made it feel like 17 degrees.

What’s it all mean?

Ride the winds of December and finish.

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Lockout locker room bustles with maturity

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on June 13, 2011 – 3:22 pm

Even when the Bengals are here going through the paces in May and June, it is surreal football without pads.

Take last spring’s headlines, when head coach Marvin Lewis called wide receiver Andre Caldwell his most improved player and Jerome Simpson looked good playing in Chad Ochocinco’s X receiver spot. But both weren’t seen until The Ocho and Terrell Owens were iced by injury in December. Or take the Michael Johnson experiment at SAM linebacker and how it all blew up in August with injuries to a slew of defensive lineman.

Oh, sometimes you can tell things in the spring. You saw cornerback Adam Jones still retained some elite athleticism despite an 18-month layoff, saw their concern for wide receiver Antonio Bryant’s knee grow more and more real as they gradually backed him off, and saw that No. 1 pick Jermaine Gresham was Mr. Obvious as he worked at tight end.

But if you went to see Midnight in Paris on the big screen this weekend, you don’t have to be Robert Redford to know that Rachel McAdams steams with sulk and Owen Wilson is no Woody Allen.
The nuances and subtleties are very rarely revealed without the pads, so you wonder exactly what you can find out during the voluntary voluntaries that were held last week and are on again this week.

They’re not even wearing helmets in these things and there’s not a coach in sight, even though the scribes say offensive leader Andrew Whitworth looks and sounds every bit the part and defensive captain Domata Peko would make a great intern for public relations chiefs Jack Brennan and P.J. Combs.

That’s just it. From what can be read and heard, you can make at least one substantive deduction away from football.

This team, more than at any point in the nine seasons Lewis has coached it, really seems to have true ownership in it. The lockout locker room, one of those moving exhibits, is bustling with maturity. The locker room has had no other choice in the lockout. They say character is revealed in tough times. The locker room gives you the 45 guys or so that have arrived the last couple of weeks.

It is a locker room that hasn’t been able to fall back on the intervention of coaches. It hasn’t been able to slough it off on quarterback Carson Palmer because of the salary he makes and the position he plays. There is no hiding behind anyone now. True leaders are going to be revealed in a lockout the players only have themselves and they seem to be popping up all over with one of the larger attendance rates in the NFL.

Not just Whitworth and Peko, guys we already know are solid and have gone above and beyond the last couple of weeks according to the news reports.

There is also the stoic dean of the defense that has helped Peko even though Robert Geathers prefers the low profile route. There is a young guy on defense like third-year linebacker Rey Maualuga stepping up even though he’s never played his natural position. There is a guy with just 15 NFL passes taking it upon himself to start a passing camp in Jordan Palmer. There is a veteran linebacker like Brandon Johnson working out even though his contract status is unknown. Yes, there is Adam Jones again, who is out there anyway even though he has yet to be cleared medically as he rehabs from last season’s surgery for a herniated neck disc.

And there is the very tenacious Simpson, the fourth-year wide receiver showing the true meaning of the word “substance.” For the past three years he has taken a lot of slings and arrows from critics and yet he has always studied hard, practiced hard, and contributed hard. He has rallied to rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, reportedly diving for one of his long balls last week on a route not covered by insurance. He has rallied in a community not quite sure what to make of these transition Bengals, showing up at virtually every charity event on the calendar.

You’ve always needed a couple of Master’s degrees to discuss the Bengals locker room because of the myriad of personalities. No question some were divisive, but even if they weren’t they were good guys to blame.

Ever since the 2008 season broke up the ’05 division champs through injury and age, the Bengals have been headed from a locker room where the coaches wielded the say to a room where the coaches would like to see the players to assert more control. Now more of them have been forced to since the coaches can’t be around.

And if Carson Palmer hasn’t been the Hall of Fame leader in the Norman Julius Esiason mold, he has certainly been a big enough guy to hide behind. Palmer doesn’t relish the role. He doesn’t crave it like other franchise quarterbacks. Yet, to his everlasting credit he has tried to lead with grace and passion and he’d be a hell of a lot better at it if he had some more help besides the usual suspects.

Irony of ironies, they seem to be coming out of the woodwork with him in California demanding a trade. Just like the irony that the Bengals are now running a quick-throw offense he knows well from college and just like he now has a stable of talented young targets (Gresham, Simpson, A.J. Green, Andre Caldwell, Jordan Shipley) that would never dream of showing him up on the field. If Palmer told these guys to jump off a bridge, they’d take turns leaping from the Roebling, Taylor Southgate, and Clay Wade Bailey.

No, we may not be able to find out who is going to play on Sunday from these spring flings. But we seem to be finding out this is a group that has enough leaders not to back down from adversity with no coaches and No. 9 around to shoulder it all.

Now let’s see what they do when the helmets come on.

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Bengals’ Pocket Shaq on Shaq

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on June 2, 2011 – 7:19 pm

Willie Anderson, The Pocket Shaq, had some interesting thoughts in wake of Shaquille O’Neal’s retirement after 19 seasons in the NBA.

As usual, because Big Willie Aristotle always has something interesting to say, the trait that made him a media darling during his 12 seasons in Cincinnati. How could he not be with quotes like “The blessing and the curse,” his benediction of Corey Dillon’s record 278 yards (“It’s a day of immortality”) and his response at seeing Carson Palmer on the training table in the ’06 playoffs (“Everybody has to get on the prayer trail”)?

In part, it turns out, because of O’Neal.

“Think of it,” Anderson says. “You’re 19, 20 years old and you see this 7-foot, 300-pound guy with this great personality always getting interviewed. For me, yeah, he was an influence. He made big guys relevant. He made being a big man cool. It was never like that in the ’80s. You had to be Michael Jordan. You had to be a guard, or in football a running back or quarterback. But after Shaq came into the NBA, it was like it was OK to interview linemen.”

He also counts the rapper Notorious B.I.G. as another guy that “made being big relevant,” but for the 6-5, 340-pound Anderson and his 19 Triple E shoes that dominated the right tackle spot, O’Neal was the pro athlete measuring stick.

He remembers his first road trip with the Bengals in his rookie season of 1996, four years after O’Neal was the top pick in the NBA Draft. One of the many things Anderson noticed about him was his sharply tailored suits and for the impressionable youngster from Mobile, Ala., O’Neal was the first big man he saw dress so carefully and well. When the 21-year-old Anderson showed up for the bus in a suit, the veteran offensive line draped in the boots, jeans and open-neck shirts of Joe Walter, Rich Braham and Darrick Brilz gave it to Anderson pretty good.

“He ushered in a new era, but it hadn’t happened yet,” Anderson says with a laugh. “But now you always see linemen dress well on the road. They’ve got a lot of material to use and now we can look just as good as the skilled guys.”

Anderson met O’Neal a couple of times and once was on another Bengals road trip, this one in 2003 when the Lakers were staying in the same Arizona hotel.

“When we shook hands, his hand reached up past my wrist,” Anderson says. “That’s when I figured out why he couldn’t shoot.”

Anderson, an all-state high school basketball player, laughs when told he’s the Shaq of the Bengals.

“But I can make a free throw in crunch time,” he says.

Anderson can talk NBA with anyone, including a non-cool-lifelong Celtics fans that firmly believes William Felton Russell is not only the greatest center of all time, but the greatest player of all time. (No one else has 11 rings and no one else got the last two as a player-coach.)

We’ve been having this discussion for 15 years, longer than Bill Russell’s career, and on Thursday, Anderson rated his top centers of all time in order: Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Russell and Shaq.

“Wilt put up numbers the kids today just don’t understand. Kareem is the all-time leading scorer while winning titles. Russell was the dominant player on a dominant team. The NBA did two things to stop Shaq: They made the goals stronger and they put in the zone defense. They instituted the zone purely to stop Shaq. That meant two guys could cover him. He was killing people before that. And he was an underrated passer.”

I hear you, Willie.

But Russell stared down Chamberlain in seven of their eight postseason series, proving yet again great defense usually beats great offense. Russell won more than Jabbar and was a better all-around player. And they changed the rules for Russell, too. After Russell led San Francisco to the 1955 NCAA title, they widened the free throw lane from 10 to 12 feet and goaltending was outlawed.

Yet, you sold me on Shaq and ever since then I enjoyed watching him. Great passer, great awareness, great offensive force. And, I agree with you. If Shaq didn’t break down late in the season and the Celtics didn’t trade Kendrick Perkins, the Heat is the greatest disappointment in the history of pop culture.

OK, just sports pop culture but that’s what hype does to you.

Thus, we salute Shaq and Pocket Shaq, two guys always better than the hype.

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