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Fitzpatrick Doesn’t Need To Hide Harvard Pedigree

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 28, 2011 – 4:25 pm

Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick – who started 12 games for Cincinnati in 2008 – jokes that pro football might be the only profession where a Harvard degree is not considered a good thing.

“When you walk into a job interview almost anywhere else and announce that you are a Harvard graduate, it pretty much has some weight,” Fitzpatrick told The Sports Xchange last May.  “But when you walk into the NFL and say, ‘Harvard,’ well. . . ”

Courtesy of Associated Press

That helps explain why Fitzpatrick lasted until the 250th pick in the 2005 NFL Draft – five picks from being “Mr. Irrelevant.”  But Ryan’s smarts are a big reason why he’ll bring the Bills to town on Sunday with a 3-0 record and the number-one scoring offense in the NFL.

“Football isn’t all about strength and physical attributes – it’s a mental game,” said Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko.  “Since Fitz went to Harvard, you know that he has the mental game unlocked.  We’ve got our hands full this week, but that’s what it’s all about.”

Because of Fitzpatrick’s Ivy League degree – he was an economics major in case you’re interested – Ryan is assumed to be smart but not necessarily athletic. 

The Bengals say that is not the case.

“He’s making a lot of great decisions but he’s throwing it in there too – even to spots where you don’t think he could fit a ball in,” said Bengals cornerback Kelly Jennings.

“That football team believes in him,” said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.  “He’s done a nice job of delivering the ball, and when it’s not there, he’ll take off and run to extend the drive.” 

“He was running the scout team here (in 2007) and I said, ‘Dang, who is this guy?’” said Peko.  “He can run the ball, he can throw the ball, and he just fits in perfectly with the Bills scheme.” 

Buffalo’s offensive scheme was the subject of an illuminating story by Reed Albergotti in the Wall St. Journal on Tuesday titled “Buffalo’s Secret: A Stampede.”  It describes how the Bills stack their wide receivers in pairs at the line of scrimmage instead of spreading them out in a straight line – a strategy that breeds confusion in the secondary.

“It means that you have to try to communicate while still trying to play fast which is a tough thing to do,” said Jennings.  “They know that defenses have to think and if one guy is off, you open yourself up to a big play.” 

While Fitzpatrick is tied for second in the NFL in touchdown passes with 9, he has also thrown 3 INTs.  The Bengals secondary does not have an interception this year – including the preseason – and changing that stat could be a key on Sunday.

“The ball is going to be in the air and we have to make some plays on the football,” said Coach Lewis.

Buffalo is trying to open a season 4-0 for the 9th time in team history and trying to beat Cincinnati for the 11th straight time dating back to the 1988 AFC Championship game.

“All good things must come to an end,” said Jennings.  “That’s our job this week.”

* * * * *

I hope you’ll join Dave Lapham and me for “Bengals Gameplan” on Wednesday night from 6 to 8 on ESPN 1530-AM.  Our guests will include the Voice of the Buffalo Bills John Murphy and Bills center/Elder grad Eric Wood.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.


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Growing Pains

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 26, 2011 – 6:31 pm

As the radio voice of the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox for the last six summers, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know some of the best young talent in the game including Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz.

I hope I’ll be saying the same thing about my new job.

As lousy as we’ve all felt after each of the last two games, it’s easy to be encouraged by Cincinnati’s young nucleus and optimistic about the potential of the AFC’s youngest roster with an average age of 25.74.

Courtesy of the Associated Press

“They are young, but boy are they talented,” said six-year veteran Thomas Howard.  “From Andy to A.J. to Gresham…they’re going to be good for a long time.  You’re going to watch those guys score a lot of touchdowns.  I’m definitely excited about them.”

But let’s face it – there is going to be a learning curve.  Whether it was the two false starts by A.J. Green, or a pair of 4th quarter interceptions by Andy Dalton, the Bengals made mistakes against the 49ers that come with inexperience.

“We’re all learning a new offense, we have a rookie quarterback, rookie receivers and first-year receivers playing, so we’re going to have some growing pains,” said Green.

“Sunday they weren’t their best of course, but I was really impressed by what they did in Denver and they’ll just continue to get better,” said Howard.  “This is the National Football League and you want things to go perfectly but they don’t.”

The key is to learn from those mistakes, accept responsibility, and get better.

“Things that were done early on my part hurt the team,” Jermaine Gresham told me after the game.  “Key blocks in the run game and things like that.  To be honest with you, I’m hurting the team right now.  I need to reevaluate things and put more into the week and help out a little more and be consistent.”

The kiddie corps would also be wise to study a respected veteran like Nate Clements who is in his 11th year in the NFL.

“Actions speak louder than words,” said Clements.  “I go out there every day and prepare myself for practice and go out there and play hard.  Hopefully the way I carry myself and approach this game is contagious and rubs off on guys.”

“These young guys are professionals,” said Howard.  “They do a good job of taking care of their bodies and they understand how important it is to get in the cold tub and stretch extra – I didn’t do that my first couple of years.  They get it – they’re being pros and they’re going to be good for a long time.”

That’s the goal…as long as it’s not a long time until they’re good.

“I’m happy with a lot of the things we’re doing,” said head coach Marvin Lewis.  “I know our football team will work, we’ll play physical.  We’ve just got to make sure we execute for 60 minutes, we don’t beat ourselves by penalties or turnovers or missed assignments.  Just keep doing that and we’ll be fine.”

“Everyone is holding everyone else accountable,” said Howard.  “I like it man.”

* * * * *

I hope you’ll join Dave Lapham and me for Bengals Game Plan on Wednesday night from 6 to 8 on ESPN 1530-AM.  Our guests will include the Voice of the Buffalo Bills John Murphy.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.


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Update: A few takes as 49ers leave and Fitzy arrives

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on September 26, 2011 – 2:39 pm

Nate Clements

A few takes looking back and ahead:

» Kevin Huber is angling for a breakout year and next to defensive lineman Jon Fanene, probably should have got the game ball in the 13-8 loss to the Niners. Huber’s first three punts pinned San Francisco inside their 20, giving him a tie for the league lead with seven.

» The word in San Francisco is that the Niners let go Bengals cornerback Nate Clements because of his 31-year-old legs against young speed receivers. Well, the longest catch by a 49ers wide receiver was Josh Morgan’s 12-yarder and speedy Ted Ginn had no catches.

And Clements threw his body around in the running game like he always does. The Niners weren’t surprised at all when made a hellacious hit on quarterback Alex Smith running out of the pocket.

Former Bengals defensive end Justin Smith, now playing tackle for the 49ers, couldn’t say enough good things about Clements before the game after playing with him the previous three seasons in San Francisco.

» Two guys the Bengals need to play up to their No. 1 pick status are tight end Jermaine Gresham (2010) and right tackle Andre Smith (2009).

Gresham candidly said after the game if he blocked better on the first series the Bengals would have scored a touchdown and he’s talking about running back Cedric Benson’s four-yard run from the Frisco 6 that got tripped up at the 2 and the ensuing snap in which Benson got stacked up for a three-yard loss.

On the first one Gresham didn’t get enough of a piece of the DB at the tail end of the run, although Benson said he should have kept his balance. And on the loss, Gresham didn’t set the right edge on outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks and Brooks gummed up the play.

Then on the next snap Smith let Brooks get around him on the right edge and forced quarterback Andy Dalton into an incompletion and near interception in the end zone.

It also appeared Smith gave up a sack to Brooks on first down later in the game. A tough sequence for a team that used a third-round pick on Brooks in the third round in 2006 and let him go working against their top young guys.

But, rightfully so, they’ve got a lot of faith in Gresham and Smith, two excellent talents. And it’s a matter of consistency. Both played well in stretches in the first two games. And Smith is a great student who the Bengals think is finally getting into a groove with his first real NFL training camp and early season. When he gave up a sack in Denver last week, he knew what technique caused it and was able to correct it in game.

UPDATE: OK, this is Exhibit A of why you can’t watch a game and make a massive conclusion without checking with the decision-makers. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said Monday that Smith didn’t give up the sack to Brooks, that Brooks was someone else’s responsibility. And while Smith allowed that pressure to Brooks on the goal line, it didn’t help that someone else was lined up wrong on the play.

» The Bengals didn’t show much patience with fourth-rounder Clint Boling. They pulled him from right guard after the second snap of the second series and went with veteran Mike McGlynn, the four-year vet picked up from the Eagles on waivers just before the season. Defensive tackle Ray McDonald had just beat Boling to apply pressure on Dalton and he had to hurry an incompletion. On the first series McDonald got past Boling to force Dalton into an off-balance throw that wide receiver Andre Caldwell turned into a sliding 14-yard catch.

» Great to see Bengals all-time passing leader Ken Anderson at the game with his family in a 50-yard line box and the crowd’s response to the video boards salute, as well as the No. 14 banner hung by fans honoring his Pro Football Hall of Fame bid. He told Bengals staffers it’s the first time he’s watched a game live with all three of his children. That will happen when you play and coach in the NFL for 33 years.

» There had been criticism of the Bengals offense in the past few seasons of not being quarterback-friendly. The critics have some fodder with MVP candidate Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Bills, headed here this Sunday.

In Fitzpatrick’s 12 starts with the Bengals in 2008, his yards per attempt was 5.12 with eight TDs and nine picks. In his first three games with the 3-0 Bills this season, he’s thrown nine TDs with three picks and a yards per of 7.58.

To be fair to former offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, Fitzpatrick got a new running back in the middle of the year in Cedric Benson, had two grouchy veteran receivers in Chad Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, two rookies in Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell, and Fitzpatrick didn’t get many snaps in that preseason in training camp because Carson Palmer was the man.

But the numbers are so stunningly different.


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Draft Position Isn’t All That Links Esiason and Dalton

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 19, 2011 – 10:52 pm

In 1984, the Bengals selected Boomer Esiason in the second round of the draft with the 38th overall pick.

This year, Cincinnati chose Andy Dalton in the second round with the 35th overall pick.

Courtesy of Associated Press

My broadcasting partner Dave Lapham has watched both quarterbacks from the booth and sees some similarities.

“I think they both have a chip on their shoulder that they weren’t drafted in the first round and I think that they play that way,” said Lapham.  “Boomer definitely played that way and I think Andy Dalton does too.  The other thing I noticed about Andy Dalton is how effective he is on the sideline – firing his teammates up and approaching the game with a linebacker’s mentality.  That was Boomer Esiason.  He had the swagger and he challenged guys and backed it up.  Andy seemed to do that up in Denver, so I think there are a lot of similarities.”

After two games, Dalton has a quarterback rating of 105.7.  In Boomer’s final season (1997) with the Bengals, he had a QB rating of 106.9.

* * * * *

As feared after the Denver game, wide receiver Jordan Shipley will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.

“You know where (Shipley) is going to be on the field all of the time,” said quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese.  “There’s a certainty with him and that’s been really enjoyable to have.”    

“It takes away a security blanket that Andy Dalton had,” said Lapham.  “When you’re in a third down situation, you have to totally be able to trust your slot guy.  If you have trust in that guy and know that he is exactly where he is supposed to be, it gives you great comfort at the quarterback position.   That’s a tough thing for Andy Dalton to lose as a rookie.”

Andre Caldwell becomes the Bengals primary slot receiver and rookie Ryan Whalen is a candidate to be activated on game day for the first time to provide depth.

“You never want to see someone get hurt and Jordan Shipley means a lot to this team because he’s a great player and person,” said Whalen.  “The way that he creates separation with his shiftiness and some of the moves that he makes in the slot are really helpful to watch, because he can get open against guys that are really good players.  Even though I wasn’t playing, I’ve prepared for the opportunity and if it comes, I’ll make the most of it and do the best that I can.”

* * * * *

I hope you’ll join Dave Lapham and me for Bengals Game Plan on Wednesday night from 6 to 8 on ESPN 1530-AM.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.


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A Blown Chance, But A Bright Future

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 19, 2011 – 1:52 am

It was a frustrating loss…a blown opportunity to be alone in first place in the AFC North…against an opponent so depleted by injuries that Tim Tebow made a cameo as America’s most famous emergency receiver.

Courtesy of Associated Press

So why don’t I feel lousy about it?

Because of Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, and Jerome Simpson.

In his 2nd NFL start, Dalton was 27-for-41 for 332 yards, 2 TD, and 0 INT.  Green caught 10 of those passes for 124 yards and a spectacular toe-tapping TD.  And Simpson had 4 grabs for 136 yards – his 3rd 120-yard receiving performance in his last 4 games. 

“You can’t say enough about what those guys did,” said cornerback Leon Hall.  “We got off to a bad start and they were able to fire back and keep us in this game.”

After passing for 52 yards in the first half, Dalton threw for 280 yards after intermission.  Nearly all of his intermediate throws were right on the money, with the exception of a key 3rd-and-8 pass against a blitz in the 4th quarter that was slightly behind Simpson.  A completion would have put the Bengals well within the range of Mike Nugent for a go-ahead field goal attempt.

Courtesy of Associated Press

“I’m a professional receiver and I’m supposed to make those catches,” Simpson told me.  “It was just a little bit behind me, but I’m pretty flexible and I make those catches all the time.  I didn’t look it all the way in and we had to the punt the ball right there in a key situation.”

“Nobody’s perfect,” said Dalton.  “Everybody’s going to have a drop, everyone’s going to make a mistake, but he played pretty good.”

After two NFL starts, Dalton has completed 66% of his passes for 3 TD and 0 INT for a quarterback rating of 105.7.

“He is primed to be great,” said A.J. Green.  “His composure, his confidence, and the way he can throw the ball to everybody.”

“He’s not playing like a rookie – he’s playing like a veteran,” said Simpson.  “The guy is poised and he’s a great quarterback man.  I’ve got to help him out and make big plays for him because he’s throwing strikes to us and putting the ball where it needs to be.” 

While the Bengals made several big plays, their inability to convert on 3rd-and-short cost them the game.  Cincinnati was 1-for-11 on third down conversations, including three failed attempts on 3rd-and-1.

“1 for 11?  You can’t win football games like that,” said Simpson.

But you can learn from it.  And with the youngest roster in the AFC and the third-youngest in the NFL, the Bengals have plenty of room to grow. 

“We had a couple of chances late in the game to win, but we didn’t finish and that’s something that we have to do,” said Domata Peko.  “With a young team like this and a young quarterback, we have to learn how to finish these games off.  We made a lot of mistakes, but we still had a chance to win.”

“We definitely have to learn from this and come out next week and start a lot faster,” said Hall.

“There are a lot of young guys on this offense and we’re learning,” said Green.  “We are going to go out there and fight every week.”

* * * * *

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.


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Resiliency of youth

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on September 18, 2011 – 11:44 am

DENVER — This one just goes to show that an opener means next to nothing.

The Bengals play the team that broke their hearts but didn’t break them when they play the Broncos on Sunday (4:15 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Local 12).

In one of the more significant games in Bengals history, Kyle Orton’s Spike Strike, The Immaculate Deflection, The Tip, whatever you want to call it, beat the Bengals from 87 yards out in the 2009 opener they had won with 11 seconds left. But the Broncos ended the season imploding while the Bengals swept the AFC North and won the title.

It set up arguably the biggest victory of the Marvin Lewis era the next week when the Bengals won in a place they had never won in a 31-24 victory at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, sending them on a 4-1 start that included three division wins all secured in the last 22 seconds.

So, don’t write that opener in stone just yet.

“Just because you lose that game doesn’t mean you go to the playoffs and vice versa,” said cornerback Leon Hall, whose play on the ball went horribly wrong when the tip went behind him and not into the sidelines. “We were able to answer. For the defense it was one of the toughest losses because we played so well and we weren’t able to come up with a win.”

Maybe the most amazing thing about it all is that the Bengals were able to survive such a heartbreak with the NFL’s least experienced roster in that first month of ’09. This ’11 team has the fourth least experience with an average of 3.6 years, according to a chart released by the NFL on Friday, but it’s still a young group. They have the fewest players age 30 and over (cornerback Nate Clements and safety Chris Crocker) and are the third youngest team in the league by average age and youngest in the AFC at 25.74 years.

We’re talking days and percentage points, but it feels like more that to Crocker, 31.

“We’re a lot more younger now,” he said. “It’s a different team than ’09. The only thing that’s similar is nobody expects us to win. We’re really a different team. That was a good locker room. This is a good locker room. We were very talented then and we’re very talented now. It’s hard to compare.”

The biggest difference, of course, is the experience at quarterback. In ’09, Carson Palmer willed the Bengals to the title with seven last drives in regulation and overtime that either tied the game or gave them the lead with 2:03 left or less. Although the Bengals relied on the run to get into those situations, Crocker agrees they have to ride running back Cedric Benson even more.

“Offensively, we’ve got to run the ball. That’s how we have to win,” Crocker said. “Now we’ve got to really run the ball.”

Two years and still young. But not that young.

The Bengals are below the AFC average of 11.2 rookies and first-year players with nine. They’ve got a big number of young players who are 24 or younger and are at least in their second year of being a starter or regular: Seven with middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (24), right tackle Andre Smith (24), right end Michael Johnson (24), tight end Jermaine Gresham (23), wide receiver Brandon Tate (23), defensive tackle Geno Atkins (23), and left end Carlos Dunlap (22).

Plus, you’ve got two guys that will be making their 61st and 60th starts today in defensive tackle Domata Peko and cornerback Leon Hall, respectively, and they are only 26.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys who have a played a lot of football,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “You want young guys. You’ve got to stay young at heart. That’s part of the deal. As long as we’re mature and hopefully we’ll continue to mature.”

So when guys like Crocker and Hall say it is different than ’09, you have to believe them.

“There are a lot of different people,” Hall said. “The linebacking corps is new. Certainly there’s a different feel.”

Such as on the defensive front, where the only additions have been huge in the second-year Atkins and Dunlap. But players like Johnson and defensive tackle Pat Sims have improved.

“They’re a lot better. Even in our four-man rushes we’re getting pressure or pushing the pocket just enough. They’ve been playing like that since the preseason,” Hall said.

Hall is a prime example of that ’09 comeback. He recovered to have a career-high six interceptions and along with cornerback Johnathan Joseph was part of a duo that became the linchpin of the fourth-ranked Bengals defense. After The Tip, during the next 15 weeks wide receivers caught just eight touchdown passes.

Hall was even willing to watch tape of the play Wednesday morning, but he noticed that secondary coach Kevin Coyle left out The Tip on his video of that game, as well as Joseph’s play in that series in which he caught an interception out of bounds. Hall said he knows why Coyle showed it. The Bengals responded to Orton and his receivers and virtually shut them down until The Tip. Until then, the Broncos had just two field goals.

“I was actually looking forward to seeing it,” Hall said of the play. “I’m over it now.”

So is Crocker, it seems.

“Pure luck,” he said. “You can’t explain why anything like that happens. Stuff just happens.”

Some would argue that two openers later, fate conspired to help the Bengals last Sunday in Cleveland as they got a flukey play when they caught the Browns defense breaking late out of its huddle and conjured up the winning 41-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver A.J. Green with 4:28 left in a game they were almost out as much as the Broncos were in ’09.

“We caught them,” Crocker said. “And we took advantage. Stuff happens.”

Other age tidbits: The Steelers are the oldest team in the league as far as age (27.28) and years of experience. They have 13 players 30 and older, but the Chargers lead with 17. The youngest team is Tampa Bay at 25.17, Seattle second at 25.72, and the Bengals are tied with Green Bay 25.74. The Bucs also have the most inexperienced team with 3.3 years of NFL service.

In the rest of the AFC North, Baltimore has 13 players 30-plus and the Browns nine. But Cleveland is the least experienced team in the AFC with 3.5 years while averaging 26.02 years. The Ravens are a year older than the Bengals and Browns at 4.6 years of experience and 26.45 years of age.

What’s better?

Ask the Steelers. If you lose, you’re too old. If you win, you’re mature and experienced.


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A Mile High worth of matchups

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on September 15, 2011 – 7:34 pm

Andrew Whitworth

A Mile High worth of matchups:

The Bengals never beat John Elway in the seven games they played him when he quarterbacked the Broncos. They hope to finally chase him down Sunday now that he’s Denver’s Executive VP of Football Operations.

But Mile High’s staggering homefield advantage from the Elway era is no more. Since they beat the Bengals in that infamous Christmas Eve game of ’06, the Broncos are 16-18 at home.

Here are some other matchups to watch:

Bengals LT Andrew Whitworth vs. Broncos SLB Von Miller: Miller, the very worthy No. 2 pick in the draft, is an engaging sort who said on this week’s conference call with the Cincinnati media that former Bengals middle linebacker Dhani Jones is a guy like himself with glasses, a bow tie, and he had a chance to get to know him during the lockout. He also had a chance to get to know Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton because he had a couple of high school teammates that played with him at Texas Christian and after constantly bumping in to him at rookie functions he calls Dalton, “My dog.”

“He’s a great quarterback. He’s got all the accuracy and the arm, but he’s an even better person,” Miller said.

But Miller, who had his name on the NFL Players Association lawsuit that grew out of the labor dispute, couldn’t remember the name of the big guy that is the Bengals NFLPA player rep.

“Number 77,” Miller said.

Well, left tackle Andrew Whitworth knows all about Miller and compares his closing speed “to a young John Abraham.”

“You can see that Miller has all the talent in the world and he’s got all the pass rush moves,” Whitworth said. “But what makes rushers really good is that closing speed and he can really fly.”

Whitworth is going to get Miller occasionally because the Denver rushers in the 3-4 switch sides, but it looks like Miller won’t get flipped with Elvis Dumervil because Dumervil looks like he won’t play with a shoulder problem. The 6-3, 237-pound Miller is going to be a challenge in the running game for guys like tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Colin Cochart and fullback Chris Pressley.

Those guys were rock solid when it came to igniting the run game last week in Cleveland, but their “bigs” were also a factor when they went with a few heavy formations with the game on the line. They might need more speed against the 3-4.

In the opener, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden kept it simple for his rookie QB. He stayed pretty much with two backs, as well as double tight ends about 60 percent of the time compared to three-receiver sets, while keeping shifting and motioning to a minimum.

After giving up 190 rushing yards Monday night, the Broncos know the Bengals are coming at them on the ground. Expect what they gave the Browns last week in the first and fourth quarters.

BENGALS WRs VS. BRONCOS SS BRIAN DAWKINS: At age 37, the 6-0, 210-pound Dawkins is still a massive force in the run game and if running back Cedric Benson is going to go off on the next-to-last worst rush defense in the league, receivers A.J. Green, Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell have to get in his way. Dawkins, in his 16th season, has 37 interceptions while Green and Simpson, the Bengals starting receivers, have a combined 26 NFL catches.

The last time the Bengals saw him in the ’09 game, Dawkins had a game-high 11 tackles but the Bengals receivers weren’t known for blocking then like they are now. Dawkins was one of Denver’s last, best hopes Monday night against the Raiders.

The Bengals are still stinging from a blow by an unblocked Broncos hard-hitting safety. In the 2006 Christmas Eve loss that knocked them out of the playoffs, blitzing John Lynch popped the ball loose from running back Rudi Johnson in the fourth quarter as he dented the Denver 40 with the Bengals trailing, 24-17, in a game they would lose on a blown extra point.

BRONCOS QB KYLE ORTON VS. BENGALS DB COACH KEVIN COYLE:Orton is getting tremendous heat in Mile High, but he’s a guy that can hurt you. He’s got a 32-30 record, on Monday night against Oakland he recorded his 10th career 300-yard game, and he has an intriguing career stat of 53 TD passes and three picks in the red zone, a differential behind only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.

But he’s been miserable against the Bengals. In one of his first NFL starts for the Bears he threw five picks against them in 2005 and take away the deflected 87-yard TD pass against them in 2009 and in his two starts he has a 31.4 passer rating against the Bengals.

Of course, the guys from ’05 are long gone except for Coyle. Two of the starting DBs are there from ’09 with cornerback Leon Hall and safety Chris Crocker, as well as the then nickel back Morgan Trent.


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Newest Bengal Says Gresham Could Become An All-Time Great

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 15, 2011 – 4:21 pm

On Wednesday, the number of Super Bowl rings in the Bengals locker room doubled when Cincinnati signed free agent tight end Donald Lee.

Safety Gibril Wilson won a ring with the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII and Lee started six games for the Super Bowl-winning Green Bay Packers last year.

Courtesy of Associated Press

 

“It was like a dream come true,” Lee told me.  “When I was a little kid in Mississippi, me and my dad used to watch the Super Bowl every year and I was like, ‘Wow.  It would be great to play in a game like that one day.’  I tell little kids out there, ‘Never stop dreaming and work hard because dreams do come true.’  To play in that game and to win it was the pinnacle of my career.”

Lee, 31, has 198 career receptions and gives the Bengals an experienced tight end on the active roster to go with 2nd-year pro Jermaine Gresham and rookie Colin Cochart.

After practicing with the Bengals for the first time this week, Lee came away raving about Gresham. 

“He’s going to be one of the greatest tight ends to ever play this game,” said Lee.  “I didn’t know much about him, but watching him in practice, he looked like a wide receiver out there.  I look at that guy as like a Randy Moss for this team.  He’s a great guy and I feel blessed to be here and to be able to work with him.”

Wait a second…let me get this straight.  After watching him in one practice, Donald Lee thinks that Jermaine Gresham could become one of the best tight ends in NFL history?

“I’m not saying ‘the best’ that ever played the game, but if he continues to work hard and keeps getting better each and every day, then he can one of the best tight ends to ever play the game,” said Lee.

Donald Lee, on the other hand, is more of a solid-but-not-spectacular type, but he’s lasted nine years in the NFL and earned that Super Bowl ring.

Courtesy of Associated Press

“It’s at home locked in a steel vault,” said Lee.  “I keep it locked up until some of my friends come around or I’m about to go to church or some event.  That thing has got to be the best ring that they ever made.  They gave us a magazine that showed every ring from the first one right up until the one that they gave us, and I didn’t see any on that page that looked better than the one that we got.”

* * * * *

After Week 1, Cedric Benson is tied for the NFL lead in carries with 25 (with Washington’s Tim Hightower).

“I love carrying the ball all day on Sunday and I usually get warmed up as the game goes along,” said Benson.  “You tend to take over the football game when you execute in the run game and we have the tools here in Cincinnati to do that with a strong offensive line up front.”

Benson is currently third in the NFL in rushing yards with 121.  The league leader is Oakland’s Darren McFadden who gained his 150 yards against the Bengals next opponent Denver. 

“They drafted Von Miller and have a lot of good linebackers, but being able to see the Raiders open up some holes on them and create big plays was exciting.”

* * * * *

A.J. Green’s first NFL catch was a memorable one – a game-winning 41-yard touchdown grab in the 4th quarter to beat the Browns.

But Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden says that Green needs to be targeted more frequently than he was the opener.

“He’s got one catch for 41 yards and shame on me for not getting him the ball more,” said Gruden.  “We have to do a better job of finding ways to get him the ball and letting him make plays because he is a very, very fun guy to watch and explosive.”

* * * * *

The big debate in Denver this week is whether it’s time to dump quarterback Kyle Orton in favor of Tim Tebow. 

Orton passed for 304 yards in the Broncos’ Monday night loss to Oakland, and averaged 281 passing yards a game last year to rank 4th in the NFL.  The Orton-or-Tebow debate does not appear to extend into the Bengals locker room.

“I’m an Orton fan and I think he’s a good quarterback,” said head coach Marvin Lewis.  “I know that he doesn’t get a lot of the credit, but he led the Bears into the playoffs and to me, he’s been a guy who has been pretty efficient.  You have to keep him off of the spot.  You want to keep him thinking, keep him moving, and not allow him to sit back and be comfortable.”

“He can make all the throws and you have to defend the whole field,” said cornerback Leon Hall.  “As a defense, you can’t say that he only does one or two reads – he goes through the whole progression.  If you let him sit back there and give him a lot of space, he can be as good as anybody in the league.

* * * * *

Quick quiz. 

Who led the NFL in receiving yards last year?

Roddy White?  Reggie Wayne?  Andre Johnson?  Larry Fitzgerald?

Nope, nope, nope, and nope.

Courtesy of Associated Press

The answer is Denver’s Brandon Lloyd who caught 77 passes for 1,448 yards – an average of 18.8 yards per catch.

“The fans probably wouldn’t know, but I can guarantee that our defensive backs know and the guys that play in the NFL know,” said Leon Hall.  “Everybody in the league watches what people do during the year, and it didn’t go unnoticed last year when he was playing well.  We’re hoping that he doesn’t use us as a stepping stone to repeat what he did last year.”

* * * * *

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.


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A Great Win and a Fine Whine

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 14, 2011 – 10:49 pm

A good friend of mine sent me a text message moments after the Bengals beat the Browns in my first regular season game behind the mic.

“Was it as awesome as you thought it would be?” he wrote.

“Better,” I responded.

A great win for the Bengals was accompanied by a fine whine from the Browns after Bruce Gradkowski’s game-winning touchdown pass to A.J. Green with 4:28 remaining.

With Cleveland’s defense just breaking the huddle on 3rd-and-11, the Bengals used a quick-snap to catch the Browns napping.

“Our coaches knew it would work,” Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham told me.  “That’s why Coach Gruden called it.  We practiced it and he dialed it up at the right time and it was wide-open like he said it would be.”

“Yeah, they quick-snapped us,” said Cleveland head coach Pat Shurmur after the game. “I have to watch the tape, but it’s my understanding that they changed personnel, lined-up and then quick-snapped it. There are rules that go along with that, so we’ll see.  My understanding is when the offense changes personnel, the defense is allowed to do so as well and have time to do it. We’ll see if that actually happened.”

Apparently not.  On Monday, an NFL source told Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the Bengals did not have a substitution violation.

“I have not looked at the game tape to determine exactly what happened in terms of substitutions, but it doesn’t sound like they substituted,” my broadcast partner Dave Lapham explained on Monday.  “It’s the umpire’s discretion.  If he sees a substitution by the offense, he puts his foot on the football until he feels the defense has had enough time to match that substitution.  Once he takes his foot off of the football it’s a live game.

“For the Cleveland Browns, it was just a lack of communication – they didn’t get the play called in the defensive huddle in time.  They just kind of looked at the Bengals offense and said, ‘Whoops…this is a do-over.’  It was like a backyard game and they said, ‘We’re not ready.  You have to line-up again.’  It ended up costing them the football game.”

It was A.J. Green’s only catch in his NFL debut, and couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It goes down in history,” said Green with a grin.  “It feels so good to just give back to the fans because they deserve this win.  I’ve told everybody that this team is going to be special.  I’m glad we got this win to start the season off right.  Now it’s time to get back to work.”

* * * * *

One of the standouts on defense in the Cleveland win was safety Reggie Nelson who led the Bengals with 9 tackles and had one of their two sacks.

But immediately after the victory, Nelson was upset about letting Mohamed Massaquoi get behind him for a 56-yard reception that led to Cleveland’s second touchdown.

“Bad eyes,” said Nelson.  “That’s all I’m going to say about that.  We can’t have that on defense.”

“He was happy that we won, but he is his own biggest critic, and he was not happy about his own performance,” said defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle.  “When I went over and tried to talk to him about it, I could sense that, and I just wanted him to realize that I was glad that he was disappointed about the plays that he didn’t make, but he also needed to understand that the plays that he did make helped us win the game.”

Cincinnati obtained Nelson in a trade with Jacksonville just before the start of last season.  After starting five of the last six games last year, Reggie is the clear-cut starter at free safety this year.

“Reggie is a talented athlete and the more experience that he gets in our system, the better he plays,” said Coyle.  “As we’ve gone through preseason, we started to see him get more and more comfortable in his role.  When he can just line up out there and see the big picture of things and just react, he is really a fine, fine athlete.  He’s got good movement, he’s got toughness, and he’s got great ball skills too – we haven’t seen him pick the ball off yet, but that’s coming.”

Nelson was a first-round draft pick (21st overall) by the Jaguars in 2007 after winning the Jack Tatum Award as the nation’s top defensive back at the University of Florida.

“I believe that Reggie has upper-level athletic ability for the position,” said Coyle.  “We just have to get it out of him.  There’s a difference between having the ability and taking that ability into the role of the position.  I think in the preseason, you started to see that occurring, and we saw a lot of it in Cleveland.  It’s the consistency level that he still needs to achieve, but if he does, I really believe that you can compare him with guys that are in the upper-level of safeties in the league.”

* * * * *

What can I say – I like nicknames.

As the play-by-play announcer for UC, I occasionally called Melvin Levett “The Helicopter”, Darnell Wilks “The Pogo Stick”, Dominick Goodman “The Wizard”, and Tony Pike “The Pistol.”

And yes, even though I am well-aware of the fact that Andy Dalton is not blessed with an Elway-like howitzer, I thought “The Red Rifle” had a nice ring to it.

Your responses have been abundant and amusing.

I would say that based on e-mail and tweets, the feedback has been 60/40 in favor.  However, those of you that don’t like it really don’t like it.

The typical favorable response has been, “Hey Dan…good nickname forDalton.”  The typical negative response has been, “THAT’S THE MOST IDIOTIC THING I’VE EVER HEARD AND YOU’RE MAKING ME WANT TO BASH MY RADIO WITH A SLEDGEHAMMER.”

Since Dalton says he likes the nickname and Boomer Esiason used it on the The NFL Today this week, “The Red Rifle” lives.

But I promise to use it sparingly, OK?

* * * * *

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.


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Thoughts on the locker room and the West Coast

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on September 11, 2011 – 7:18 am

CLEVELAND — A few pregame thoughts heading into Sunday’s opener.

Everyone is trying to put a label on this 2011 Bengals locker room without The Ocho and T.O. and it is so easy to say it’s less egocentric, more unselfish, and the chemistry flows like champagne. And without quarterback Carson Palmer, it’s even easier to call them The Young and The Leaderless.

But like all the pundits have already made up their minds on how bad the Bengals are going to be, let’s slow down just a little bit.

One assistant told me on Saturday that while locker room chemistry is extremely important, it takes time to become visible. He wants to see them go through some adversity first.

That’s code for their response to big injuries and tough losses, be it blowouts or of the last-minute variety. Another long-time insider says he’s looking to see how they react “to getting hitting in the mouth. And they will get hit in the mouth.”

That’s going to take a month or so.

And a locker room is like any other workplace. Not everybody agrees on everything. Safety Chris Crocker, one of the team leaders, has always thought the Bengals have had good chemistry since he arrived in the middle of the 2008 season.

“Our locker room has never been an issue. From the outside you think The Ocho was a distraction or whatever. But he was just a good guy that liked to have fun. I don’t think our locker room is any different, it’s just young.”

But another leader, this one on offense in left tackle Andrew Whitworth, thinks the youth has changed the room.

“It’s younger. It’s just a different mindset, different attitude. It brings some life to the locker room and some change,” he said. “There aren’t as many guys that are just playing and thinking we don’t have a chance. We have some young guys that have won and are real good players and they bring some energy. Sometimes you need some new freshness.”

Whitworth says rookie quarterback Andy Dalton isn’t all that different than Palmer when it comes to personality. Both are laid back. Both are quiet. Both talk in the huddle.

And while the offense may be younger (there are just 132 NFL catches at wide receiver and 15 NFL games at tight end), the locker room picked up three seasoned and solid pros in cornerback Nate Clements and linebackers Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard. Plus, guys like Whitworth and defensive linemen Domata Peko and Robert Geathers, already captains of sorts, earned their PhDs in leadership during the lockout. There are some coaches that believe the lockout was a boon for the Bengals in the sense that it forced guys other than the usual leaders—the Crockers and Whitworths and Pekos and Geathers—to step up and police the locker room.

While everyone is scrambling trying to read everything into every clue, Dalton shrugged. Yes, he took the locker Palmer has had since 2006 when Jon Kitna left. The one tucked in a corner, the last locker on the left as players go to the equipment room, practice field and the parking lot.

But Dalton says he wasn’t trying to send a message. It simply came down to a matter of electronics. He pointed to the wall next to the locker.

“That’s why,” Dalton said. “The outlet. It’s in a great spot. It’s easy to charge my phone or plug anything else in … it’s just a locker.”

In the end, his legacy could be that glacial calm that soothes a locker room that was once a tinderbox. But give it some time. Right now, it’s just a locker room.

WEST COAST REUNION: Sunday’s opener marks the return of the Bengals offense to its roots after a 10-year absence. New offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has brought back the version of the West Coast offense he learned under his bother Jon.

What makes it even more intriguing is the Browns are using it in a game between the two teams founded by Paul Brown. And as his son, Bengals president Mike Brown, said this week, it was his father that gave the West Coast its language and numbering system.

It’s an intermarriage of Xs and Os. Jon Gruden broke in at Bill Walsh’s 49ers in the early ‘90s, the former Bengals assistant that created the West Coast in Cincinnati using Paul Brown’s Cleveland offenses of the ‘40s and ’50s as a template in the early days of the Bengals in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

New Browns head coach Pat Shurmur was hired by club president Mike Holmgren, a Walsh disciple that made major adjustments to the West Coast to suit his strong-armed quarterback in Green Bay, Brett Favre, in the ‘90s. While Walsh preferred the shorter passes and working under center, Holmgren put Favre in the shotgun while keeping intact one of the absolute truths of the West Coast of multiple personnel groups.

Now, Jay Gruden says the West Coast has evolved so much that his brother and Holmgren would have a tough time understanding each other’s playbook.

Mike Brown says Walsh used his father’s numbering system, but he credits the future Hall of Fame coach for creating the genesis of the West Coast in 1970. With 1969 AFC Rookie of the Year Greg Cook suffering what turned out to be a career-ending shoulder injury while winning the AFC passing title, Brown says Walsh went to a shorter passing game to suit the arm of journeyman Virgil Carter that next season and the Bengals made the playoffs.

But Brown believes the zenith of the West Coast didn’t come until the ‘90s, when he says 49ers quarterback Steve Young ran it the best of anyone before and after.

And this is where Bengals fans start to mumble a series of unintelligible what-ifs. Before Walsh died a few years ago, he insisted Cook was the best young quarterback he ever saw. In 1984, Brown went to bed thinking he had a deal for Young as the No. 1 pick in the draft only to wake up to find he had signed with something called the Los Angeles Express.

Sunday it all comes full circle for an offense that started in the rust belt and was named after California. And everyone is waiting to see where Dalton falls among Cook, Young and Carter.


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