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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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Posted in Hobson's Choice | 13 Comments »


13 Responses to “Resiliency of youth”

  1. By 2ndboot on Sep 18, 2011 | Reply

    Yeah Geoff.. There something about youth and these youngins that make old guys like us feel young at heart, but old in the tooth when it comes to running around getting hit..
    As the old saying goes… Out with the old, in with the new.. This team will go far as long as Uncle Mikey is able to keep these youngsters signed for a few more years and keep adding the essential elements of youth.. Youth is where it’s at..unless you’re me.. Uhmmm.. gettin old here in case you missed it.

  2. By mwindle1973 on Sep 18, 2011 | Reply

    We are fighting history here more than anything. Playing @ Denver has not been kind to us. I believe it’s ’75 when we last went there and came away with a win. But last week we were fighting a big stat too. Only 4 rookies won their 1st start in a road opener. Yet there was an ignored big stat that went our way. The Brown’s had not had a new HC win his debut game since 1989. Now we have a stat I like in this game, not as powerful as the one against the Browns. But I believe in it. Their #31 rush D, against our #9 rush O. And Lewis’ 2-0 record against Fox. I think this is a grind it out, FG driven game. I’ll predict Bengals win, 23-13. Close game that the Bengals will grind away to a win in the 4th qtr.

  3. By tepidfan31 on Sep 19, 2011 | Reply

    Three rays of sunshine, but sadly very disappointed. Basically 3 rookies (Dalton, Green, and Simpson – really his first year) had great games, the rest of the Bengals suck. We were going to run the ball, and we had the best run defense, but they stunk out the place against a 4-12 team that was missing several of their stars. If it’s going to be only three guys who come to play, we are looking at 1 and 15.

  4. By coachwine on Sep 19, 2011 | Reply

    Unlike Tepid, I feel LOTS better after Sunday. Yeah, Denver isn’t a great team–just better than the one that went 4-12 last year. Yeah, the defense didn’t come to play early on and THAT as much as anything made the difference early on. But I love this scheme and the people we have executing it. If they stack it against the run, there are huge gaps in coverage to allow LOTS of YAC’s. If they drop to take that away, you run it down their throats. Now that the coaching staff can have more confidence in the Dalton, Green, Simpson, Gresham and Caldwell (sorry to hear about Shipley) tandem, they will be able to cope with too many bodies in the box a little more quickly. I think it’s going to be fun around here pretty soon.

  5. By overthroensamoan on Sep 19, 2011 | Reply

    The Broncos just whipped the Bengals up front on both sides of the line. The inability to convert on short yardage is getting painful to watch. Also it’s time for Mr 58 to step up and be a legit NFL MLB. The guy consistently misses more tackles than he makes and what is becoming an alarming problem, he continues to miss his gap responsibilty.

  6. By brumer on Sep 20, 2011 | Reply

    The good thing about this years team, is that it never gives up, and… when’s the last time this team put up more than 20 points in two consecutive games? On the road? Stats-man will find out, but I can’t remember…
    I don’t care who you’re playing, (except K.C.), every team is tough at this point in the season. A young team that wins game 1 on road, and had a very real, very close chance to win in game 2 on the road… I’m a happy camper!
    If my calculations are right, the Bengals should win the next game 35-17

  7. By mwindle1973 on Sep 20, 2011 | Reply

    You know one thing that hurt was Geathers being out. He does much more than people understand, mainly because it’s dirty work that sets others up. But also the main problem was I think the D was confused. So they were playing slow and guessing wrong a lot. That leads to poor pursuit and tackling angles. And if your in the wrong spot you’re out of the play. Same thing on offense in the first half. For the most part the Oline was confused and making bad reads and adjustments. Ultimately if the Oline aren’t making those reads, the QB has to step up and point them out for them. But it’s still too early for that with Dalton. Right now you want him only looking at coverage and run fit reads, to audible or make read adjustments.

  8. By mwindle1973 on Sep 20, 2011 | Reply

    Dalton really impressed me. My wife came in the door, sat down and starting seeing the barrage of big plays. She looked at me confused and said…”is that Carson Palmer?”. And I understand her confusion! I know this I kept waiting for him to throw the int at some point. I fully expected him on the last drive to press a ball and be picked. Never happened. Taking the sack wasn’t good. But other than that, 2 bad throws, and maybe 2-3 bad decisions about where to go with the pass, he had no other mistakes. That’s impressive! 41 throws when playing from behind from your rookie in his 2nd game and he only makes a few mistakes at the consequence of 1 sack. That’s improbable. Let’s hope he doesn’t have a let down. Because you couldn’t blame him. He has to throw a couple ints eventually. But look for Gruden and co. to start adding in more layers to the offense now they found out how he’d react to pressure. I’d bet we start going deep a lot more often early in the game.

  9. By dreno322 on Sep 20, 2011 | Reply

    Not Excited! Defense is weak at this point. No run blocking on O and everyone seems to be getting caught up in three players. We had Palmer, Ocho and T.O. and couldn’t get it done…If everyone doesn’t show up on sunday, these three kiddy’s won’t get it done either. Simpson will blow more games than he’ll win. Andy will be on IR and Greene will be wishing he had one more year at georgia! Sorry, just not buying it…Only Bengal fans could get excited about an ugly loss! I’d rather lose by 20 than be afraid to kick a 53 yarder! We’re 1-1 and haven’t played anybody, the Bengals are blacked out this week at home because fans are finally getting it…We are what we thought we were!

  10. By bresson1 on Sep 21, 2011 | Reply

    Marcus Purify wore #14….It actually is a shame that number has ever been worn by anyone again for Cincy….should be retired….but I know they don’t retire.

  11. By bengalpirate on Sep 22, 2011 | Reply

    I hope it’s the lack of maturity and experience of our young players that led to the defeat in Denver, but I also see a lack of thinking outside the box in our coaching staff contributing to the loss too. This team has unbelievable potential, but until the coaches and players find their identity and hopefully a “killer instinct” we will continue to live for empty moral victories that lead nowhere. Now, with another off field distraction and the threat of a loss Sunday, this team could lose its way again. Unless we find a way to win Sunday and develop all this young talent into a consistently, winning team, we are 1-2, where we could have been 3-0. Where is the focus, the concentration, the intensity needed to win consistently??? DEFENSE, are you going to become a dominant DEFENSE, or just an ordinary one??? OFFENSE, you face the #1 run defense Sunday. You can’t win in this league, if you can’t run the ball. ST’s, make the plays on Ginn and break one your selves. We need this game badly. DEFENSE!!! No mistakes or penalties. RUN the ball. It’s the home opener!!! WHO DEY!!!

  12. By mwindle1973 on Sep 23, 2011 | Reply

    The Benson case is a prime example why I was not happy when the lockout ended. I just didn’t want my football back. I wanted Emperor Goodell nullified, and they instead they gave him a 10 year license to be Dictator of the NFL. BUt I’m so sick of talking about it, I’m just getting burnt on the whole game and this team. 31 years of following this team, and I find myself only loyal to Marvin Lewis. If he leaves this franchise, my loyalties may leave with him. He has been my favorite figure in the NFL since about 98. He was my 1st choice for HC when we hired him, and we have done nothing but shoot him in the foot and make him look bad since he got here.

  13. By mwindle1973 on Sep 23, 2011 | Reply

    Anybody still think it was a good idea to trade Ochocinco instead of keeping him one more year then letting him become a FA. I posted in here many months ago, what if one the young guys get injured? His diva ways may not be what you want. But it sure beats having a federal drug investigation hanging over your head. I’m holding out hope that somehow, Simpson is not involved. I know he likely is. Either way though, following this team is demoralizing. We seem to not know when to give up on a player and when to stay with one.

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