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Memo to Gresham: Take heart with Davis

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on January 14, 2012 – 11:10 pm

Here’s hoping Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham takes heart watching San Francisco’s winning drive Saturday. The one where 49ers tight end Vernon Davis took over the last 97 seconds and personally willed his team into next week’s NFC title game.

Davis accounted for 61 of the final 85 yards, giving him a monster 180 in a playoff masterpiece that has to conjure up memories of the Kellen Winslow Game 30 years ago without the Miami dehydration but with the Dwight Clark-like heroics.

Gresham can be that guy for the Bengals. He’s been frustrated in his first two seasons with promising yet sporadic production. But he is a Davis in the making. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wants him to be that guy and the fact Gresham is going to be in his offense for a second straight year should really help him.

Like the 6-3, 250-pound Davis, the sixth pick in the 2006 draft, the 6-5, 260-pound Gresham, the 21st pick in 2010, had to deal with a change in quarterbacks and systems early in his career. Truth be told, Gresham’s first two seasons have been more prolific than what Davis did in ’06 and ’07. Gresham has caught 108 balls for 1,016 yards and 10 TDs compared to Davis’s 72-774-7.

And Davis didn’t pass what Gresham did this past season (56 catches for 596 yards and six TDs) until his fourth season when he broke out with 78-965-13.

Gruden believes that not only will another year in the system benefit Gresham, but his first offseason with it is going to make a difference.

“We’ve started to get more out of Jermaine. The more he practices and the more he hears about the game and the concepts, he’s going to get better and better,” Gruden said last week. ”Because he’s as athletically talented, gifted tight end as there is in the league. From the standpoint of experience running these route concepts, he’s a little bit behind.

“But he can get up to speed in the offseason and next year we have huge, high hopes for him. That will take a lot of pressure off A.J. (Green) when they start doubling him with a safety on the outside, that will open up the field for a big guy like that.  It will be huge.”

All Gresham has to do is take a deep breath and look at Davis on Saturday and realize he’s got better numbers than he did at this age.

And he won’t turn 24 until after the second set of OTAs in June.


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Pulling The Trigger

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on January 9, 2012 – 9:23 am

Courtesy of Associated Press

Tim Tebow’s 316 passing yards in Sunday’s AFC Wild Card Game against the Steelers in the wake of Denver boss John Elway’s “Pull The Trigger” plea earlier in the week may be a harbinger for Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s sophomore season.

While Cincinnati lost six of its last nine games, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden often talked about the fine line between being careful with the ball and taking risks with it in order to make big plays. He even admitted there were times he wanted Dalton to take some chances rather than checking it down or throwing it away after his QB opted for the more conservative route.

First of all, Gruden should be named the NFL’s assistant coach of the year for getting an offense with a rookie QB and rookie No. 1 receiver to the playoffs without the benefit of OTAs. He did it by keeping things sane, simple and vanilla for Dalton. And it is exactly what he had to do against a schedule that in those last nine games featured six against the top five defenses of Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Houston.

But even before Tebow stunned Charles Richard LeBeau and his Steelers, Gruden showed signs on Saturday he was beginning to take the wraps off Dalton. In a road playoff game he had him throwing 18 times in the first half and it worked for the most part. If not for J.J. Watt’s vertical show and a missed field goal, he easily could have walked out of there with a 13-10 halftime lead against the NFL’s second-ranked defense.

But what Tebow did to the Steelers No. 1 defense is mind-boggling. Here is a guy that had a worst completion percentage this season than Akili Smith had as a rookie (52-45) completing four throws of at least 40 yards against a defense that allowed just two plus-40s all year.

Dalton and A.J. Green had one of those against the Steelers, a 43-yarder in the 35-7 loss in Pittsburgh. That, their 36-yard TD connection in the first game, and a 25-yard throw to Andrew Hawkins were the only balls of at least 20 yards caught by the Bengals wide receivers in two games against Pittsburgh.

Of course, Tebow was going up against a much more diminished defense than Dalton. On Sunday the Steelers didn’t have safety Ryan Clark all day and defensive linemen Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel for much of it.

And maybe the biggest reason of all the Broncos were able to chuck it is that they ran it for 131 yards (Tebow only had 50 of them) even with the Steelers daring Tebow to beat them. Until the Bengals get their running game straightened away, Dalton won’t be able to do much more than he has in the AFC North.

There is that one big looming question. If Gruden gets the head coaching job in Jacksonville (and that is looking like a longshot), what happens to Dalton’s development? Do they promote from within? Do they keep Gruden’s West Coast offense?

But what we do know is that, at least for one day, pulling the trigger paid off. With 17 games under his belt and after watching what Tebow did to their rival, you know Dalton and his coaches must have an itchy finger.


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Improbable Ride Ends For 2011 Bengals

Posted by Dan Hoard on January 8, 2012 – 12:57 am

The bus ride from the stadium to the airport felt like a funeral procession.  The players and coaches were clearly wondering what had just happened and appeared to be both depressed and stunned.

But I’m not talking about the bus ride following Saturday’s playoff loss to the Texans.  I’m talking about the ride to the Detroit airport after the preseason opener against the Lions.

Remember Detroit 34 Cincinnati 3?  Were you thinking 9-7 and a playoff berth?

Me either.

Let’s face it:  The 2011 Bengals topped everybody’s exceptions but their own.

“I don’t see this as exceeding expectations,” said Andy Dalton.  “I felt like we could get here and we have to do the same thing going into next year.  There’s a lot of motivation and a lot of good things to take away from the season.  We just have to keep getting better.”

Saturday’s 31-10 loss in Houston was bitterly disappointing because the Bengals proved four weeks ago that they are capable of beating the Texans.  Cincinnati led the rematch for much of the first half before defensive end J.J. Watt’s interception and 29 yard touchdown return gave Houston its first lead.

“I’m sure he was just trying to bat it down,” said Chris Crocker.  “It was one of those plays where you just say, ‘Wow.’  You can’t plan something like that.”

“That interception and touchdown was a big play,” said Rey Maualuga.  “That hurt us, but you’re supposed to be able to come back in the second half and stop them.”

The Bengals forced a punt on Houston’s first drive of the third quarter, and Crocker nearly had an interception on the Texans’ second drive.  But two plays after that missed opportunity, T.J. Yates threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Andre Johnson that gave the Texans a commanding14-point lead.

“I know it’s a different ball game if I catch that pass right there,” said Crocker.  “I had a huge opportunity and I just didn’t make the play.  I’ll still hold my head up and my teammates will.  We played a lot of good football this year, but you remember what you did last, and I’ll think about this for the rest of the off-season.”

It’s an off-season that promises to be eventful for Cincinnati.  With an extra first round draft pick and salary cap flexibility, the Bengals have a unique opportunity to add to their talented young nucleus.

“I’m excited about the upside of this team,” said Nate Clements.  “I’m hurting right now, but looking at the big picture, I’m excited about what’s to come.”

“There’s a lot of promise on this team and a lot to look forward to,” said Crocker.  “Now you move forward.  You figure out what you’re going to do in the off-season and get better.  The future does look bright.”

“Hopefully we can build off of this year – I know we will,” said Maualuga.  “We’re going to get back to the playoffs and we’re going to win some games.”

But much like that preseason bus ride in Detroit, the Bengals were not savoring their promising future after Saturday’s loss.  They were lamenting that this season’s surprising playoff run is over.

“We made the playoffs and that was our first team goal, but we didn’t get over the hump this year,” said A.J. Green.  “We had an OK season, but we have a lot of work to do.”

“The anticipation leading up to the game was such an emotional high and to not pull it out stings right now,” said Clements.  “It’s definitely a learning experience.”

“That’s the hardest thing about losing a playoff game – the season is done,” said Crocker.  “You go from preparing for your next opponent each week and we all had plans to keep moving on.  That didn’t happen.  It’s not easy to get to the playoffs and I realize that.  This isn’t guaranteed.  It’s tough to get here so you want to make the most of it.”

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

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A few wild thoughts

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on January 7, 2012 – 1:08 pm

Andy Dalton

HOUSTON — A few thoughts heading into Saturday’s Wild Card Game (4:30 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Channel 5) in Houston:

No doubt about it. This is Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s show.

Starting from when the Bengals knew they were in the playoffs coming off the Paul Brown Stadium field last Sunday with a game in Dalton’s hometown. Then the Wednesday practice he missed with a 24-hour bug. The scene Friday night in the hotel lobby with his family before he went into meetings.

(They were all business this week. Dalton put the word out. No media interviews for his family, which, really, was smart because they would have been swamped. They know what a big game means. Both Dalton and dad Greg quarterbacked high school playoff wins in the Astrodome.)

All the while he has shown that signature unflappability and, why not? This is his fourth game in Reliant Stadium, going back to when he became the first high-schooler to throw a touchdown pass in the place as a junior for Katy High School head coach Gary Joseph.

“Very poised. He executed as a junior but the real pressure was when he was a senior,” Joseph said earlier this week. “That’s when you have to really perform, when you’re a senior and you’re one of the leaders.”

Dalton executed in both seasons and raised his record to 3-0 in Reliant when he led Texas Christian to a win in the Texas Bowl over Houston.

With indications that Texans coach Gary Kubiak is going to keep the roof closed to emphasize the homefield advantage, this one is going to be a lot tougher with the noise factor and a defense that held Dalton to a second-half field goal the last time the Bengals and Texans met.

“There’s a lot of excitement around here; tickets are scarce,” Joseph said. “People are excited about Andy. They want to see him do well. He’s kept in touch and been around our guys before the season.”

The week after the Bengals took him in the second round Dalton went to the school and threw to receivers as well as talked to the team. The Bengals expect that cool kid next door to show up Saturday.

“I have all the confidence in Andy. Andy is a real composed guy, he (doesn’t) get rattled by too much. He loves to win and he likes the pressure. So that’s a good thing. I think Andy will hold up real good,” said cornerback Adam Jones. “I’ve been playing with him for 17, 18 weeks, and I was here with him the whole summer. Just being around the guy. I talk to him, and the way he carries himself, he’s a winner. He’s not a flashy guy, but he loves to play football.”

Or as left tackle Andrew Whitworth observed, “Pressure isn’t really an issue for him. The greatest competitors are the ones that want to win. They want the heat. Pressure is a good thing. It only drives them to be better. I think Andy is one of those guys.”

WALKING THE LINE: Dalton is walking the line here. Since throwing three interceptions against the Ravens Nov. 20, he’s thrown just one interception in the last six games. He’s taken to heart in the stretch run to make sure he doesn’t lose a game.

But there’s also the growing sense after these slew of close games that he may have to start taking more chances. Under most circumstances the quarterbacks that win in the playoffs take shots. Dalton has taken shots, but in those six games his yards per attempt is just 6.3 yards per game and that’s not going to win a road playoff game. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has been talking about how there are times he’s wished Dalton has tried some throws when he’s taken a checkdown instead. But he also appreciates Dalton trying to avoid the big mistake.

Walking the line.

The health of Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green is related. Since he sprained his shoulder against St. Louis 10 quarters ago, Green has caught six balls with the longest of them just 18 yards. He told ESPN Friday night his range of catching the ball has been limited since the injury, but he also has been saying for the last couple of week it feels better than when it first happened.

Texans safety Danieal Manning told ESPN that his defense was surprised when it went back and looked at film of last month’s game. He said they were surprised at how many wrong reads Dalton made and the indications were that the Texans were going to try and confuse him.

Dalton was certainly lucid in the first half while running back Cedric Benson was running for 92 yards. He completed nine of 17 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown for a 93.3 passer rating.

The TD came in the red zone on a 17-yard laser to wide receiver Jerome Simpson, where Dalton has really avoided the big mistakes. Inside the 20 he’s got 15 touchdowns and no interceptions. But the Bengals are 26th in the league scoring red-zone TDs.

Walking the line.

Ironically, it was the red-zone work that Dalton missed on Wednesday. But given that the Bengals already have a game plan against the Texans from 27 days ago and the work he put in the other five days of the week, they don’t expect a problem.

YET ANOTHER MATCHUP: The Bengals haven’t been able to stop Texans tight end Owen Daniels in their two games against Houston. He had two TDs in ’09 and 100 yards last month and Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham says Bengals outside linebackers like Thomas Howard are going to have to be on their game. Safety Taylor Mays played well against Daniels in the second half last month but he’s probably not going to play with a hamstring injury.

Lapham noticed the Bengals played a lot of man under, which means there was man-to-man coverage under the zone and wonders if defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is going to change it up on them.

BIG PLAYS: The last game against the Texans was defined by two plays in the last 45 seconds. Texans quarterback T.J. Yates scrambled on third-and-15 for 17 yards, and then he threw a six-yard touchdown pass with two seconds left.

The scramble hurt the Bengals even more because right end Michael Johnson led a charge that had Yates sacked, but with the secondary’s back turned, Yates was off.

“I mean, we had the guy sacked, he got out of it,” Zimmer said. “This is going to be a different game and I anticipate plays like that will win the game for one or the other.”

ESPN analyst Eric Mangini isolated the last play to show that the Bengals got beat when they covered the multiple Texans receivers that went vertical into the end zone but didn’t cover Kevin Walter’s crossing route.


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Roster move

Posted by bengalsweb on January 6, 2012 – 1:04 pm

Weber

The Bengals on Friday signed free agent K Thomas Weber to a Reserve/Future contract. Weber is not on the active roster for 2011 postseason play and will be added to Cincinnati’s offseason roster entering the 2012 league year. Weber was with the Bengals in the 2011 preseason and went two-for-two on PATs with no field goal attempts. He was waived by Cincinnati on Sept. 4 and was not with an NFL team during the regular season. He is classified a first-year NFL player for 2012.


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Hawkins Savors First Anniversary

Posted by Dan Hoard on January 5, 2012 – 4:19 pm

On January 5, 2011 – one year ago today – Andrew Hawkins took a big step toward realizing a dream when he had his first NFL tryout with the Cincinnati Bengals.

What does Hawkins remember about that day?

“It was cold,” the rookie receiver told me.  “I remember thinking, ‘I hope I can run a good 40 out here in the snow.’  I was just excited about the opportunity.  I remember being surprised that Coach Lewis was out there, and the owner was out there, and the offensive coordinator was out there…I didn’t know that everybody was going to be out there for the workout.  I was a little nervous, but here we are today and everything worked out.”

Hawkins is one of the best feel-good stories in the NFL this year.  The former factory worker (cleaned engines), caddy (all-time best tip $50), and reality TV show participant (4th and Long hosted by Michael Irvin), not only made the Bengals roster, but ranks 5th on the team with 23 receptions.

“I’m not surprised,” said quarterback Bruce Gradkowski who played with Hawkins at the University of Toledo.  “Hawk is such a competitor and handles his business the way a professional should.  He was like that in college and he’s like that to this day.  You know he is going to work his tail off and know what to do.  His athletic ability sure puts him above the rest.”

Although he is an NFL rookie, Hawkins has playoff experience.  He earned a pair of championship rings as a member of Montreal’s Grey Cup-winning teams in the Canadian Football League in each of the last two seasons.

“I have one ring with me here in Cincinnati and the other one is back home where I’m from,” said Hawkins.  “I might wear it occasionally on the road.  They’re pretty big and gaudy so I can’t wear ‘em both at the same time, but I like to show them off a little bit.”

Hawkins has every right to be proud of his championship rings and the fact that he’s overcome long odds to become a key contributor on a playoff-bound NFL team.

“If you tell him, ‘Hey, you’re never going to play in the NFL,’ he’s like, ‘What?  I will play in the NFL,’ said Gradkowski.  “If I said to him, ‘You’re never going to be a movie star,’ he might try to do that.”

He’s already done a reality TV show, and while it helped him get exposure, it has also had its drawbacks.

“My girlfriend hates watching reality shows with me because I break down all the secrets about what’s going on behind the scenes.  She’s like, ‘Shut up and let me enjoy the Kardashians.’”


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Anybody Remember the 2008 Arizona Cardinals?

Posted by Dan Hoard on January 2, 2012 – 10:42 am

In 2008, the Arizona Cardinals finished 9-7.  Four of their losses were by at least three touchdowns, including a 40-point loss in the next-to-last game of the regular season.

That year, the Cardinals came within 35 seconds of winning the Super Bowl.

Last season, the Seattle Seahawks finished 7-9 but snuck into the playoffs as the champion of the NFC West.  All nine losses were by at least 15 points.

In their playoff opener, the Seahawks dethroned the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints 41-36.

Look, I’m not saying that the Bengals are headed to the Super Bowl or even that they are going to win next Saturday in Houston.

But they have a chance.

“Exactly,” said Nate Clements after making the playoffs for the first time in his 11-year NFL career.  “That’s what we’ve been playing for the whole season.  If you ask any team, the mindset is to win the trophy.”

“We put ourselves in position where we didn’t necessarily have to win (against Baltimore) and that’s all that matters right now,” said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.  “We’re the sixth seed and all of our goals are still attainable.”

“We played 16 games and had to do something right to even have a chance,” said Bernard Scott.  “It’s like a fresh start now.”

While Sunday’s game vs. Baltimore was billed as a “win or you’re in” showdown, the game that truly decided the Bengals playoff fate was played 56 days earlier when Cincinnati rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit to win at Tennessee 24-17.  That gave Cincinnati the head-to-head tiebreaker for the AFC’s final playoff spot when each team finished the season 9-7.

“You never know,” said Andrew Whitworth.  “You look back at that game – we were down big at halftime and came back to win it.  What a special win that was and we didn’t know quite how special it was at the time.  Now it’s really special.”

“I always talk to the players when we play AFC teams about how important those games are going to be,” said head coach Marvin Lewis.  “Every win counts.”

The Bengals open the playoffs against a Houston team that ended the regular season with consecutive losses to Carolina (6-10), Indianapolis (2-14), and Tennessee (9-7).  The Texans haven’t won since stealing a 20-19 victory at Cincinnati on a touchdown pass with :02 remaining.  Houston did not have star WR Andre Johnson in that game, but it’s an opponent that the Bengals feel they are capable of beating.

“That we do,” said Lawson.  “They know us and how we play and we know how they play.  It’s going to be a good game and I’m looking forward to it.”

“We shouldn’t have let it come down to them having the ball with a chance to win it at the end,” said Andy Dalton.  “They’re a good team, but we’re going to give them our best shot.”

“They have their receiver back so it will be a little bit different team than we saw last time,” said Coach Lewis.  “We have to go to work.  It’s our chance now to go be World Champions.”

For a team that was widely expected to be among the NFL’s worst squads going into the season, and began the year with the youngest roster in the AFC, being one of the 12 teams that are still playing is a remarkable accomplishment.

“This team is young, it’s talented, and I have a feeling we’re going to have a lot of chances like this,” said Whitworth.  “But we’re in the dance and we have an opportunity to do what we want.  Every team that gets in there has a chance.”

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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