Bengals Surge Fueled By Entire Roster

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 30, 2012 – 11:52 pm

The Bengals Pro Bowlers – Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham, and Geno Atkins – each had great stats in Sunday’s 27-10 win at Jacksonville, but this was a win where considerable credit should go to the “other guys.”

Like Cedric Peerman.

The Bengals were sputtering through a penalty-plagued first half when Peerman took a sideways snap on a fake punt and ran 48 yards from the Cincinnati 34 to the Jacksonville 18.

“I can’t do anything without a great snap from Clark Harris and then the guys up front doing a great job of blocking, so hats off to them,” said Peerman.  “My teammates were giving me a little grief saying, ‘You should have scored.’  I probably should have scored, but I’m glad that I put my team in position to score.”

“Oooh, that was big,” said Chris Pressley.  “Cedric did a great job of executing it.  It’s something that we practice for if we see a certain look.  Sometimes those plays don’t work, but to be able to execute it and get a big chunk of yards was huge.”

Pressley was another of the unsung heroes.

The 26-year-old fullback makes his living throwing his body at linebackers in hopes of opening holes in the running game, but against the Jaguars, Pressley scored his first career touchdown in four NFL seasons on a 1-yard pass from Dalton.

“The Jaguars were thinking run and coach called a great play,” said Pressley.  “Green-Ellis did a good job of selling it, the line blocked really well, and I was able to get my first one.  It was really cool.  I live in Tampa so I had my family down here and it was nice for them to see.”

Domata Peko also deserved a pat on the back.

While Atkins, Michael Johnson, and Carlos Dunlap have been getting the headlines, Peko remains a rock in the middle of the defensive line.  He had the first of Cincinnati’s six sacks on Sunday and helped the defense hold Maurice Jones-Drew to 38 yards on 13 carries.

“The key to the game today was to shut down Maurice Jones-Drew,” said Peko.  “I think we held him under 100 yards and that was one of the big things that we were stressing on defense this week.  We didn’t get off to a good start this season on stopping the run, but we’re starting to pick it up.”

Of course, the most unlikely hero of all was Chris Crocker.  After being out of work for 174 days, the 32-year-old safety returned to the Bengals on Thursday to bolster their injury-ravaged secondary and had an interception in his first game back.

“I love it and I’m glad that he got it,” said Leon Hall.  “It couldn’t have happened to a better person.”

“We’ve been missing him and we’re so happy that he’s back,” said Peko.  “It seems like he gets the back-end ready.  He gets everybody in the right spots and communicates very well.  He’s just a savvy veteran that knows how to play the game.”

During their 3-game winning streak, the Bengals have received key contributions from veterans like Crocker, Adam Jones, and Terence Newman as well as newcomers like Armon Binns, Vontaze Burfict, and Mohamed Sanu.  Who’s next?

“There are a lot of guys who weren’t going to be in the thick of the plan who are out there playing a lot of football,” said head coach Marvin Lewis.

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Gruden Earning Praise After Explosive Start

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 27, 2012 – 11:04 am

It starts early this year.

After attending the Bengals 38-31 win in Washington last week, ESPN’s John Clayton told mom that he was done with his segment and came away raving about Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.

“If that game did not put him over the top to be the leading assistant coach candidate to be a head coach then I don’t know what needs to happen,” Clayton told us Wednesday on “Bengals Game Plan.”  “The job that he’s done with Andy Dalton over his first 19 games has been absolutely amazing.  You can credit Dalton because this guy has ice in his veins and was a Pro Bowl quarterback after year one, but I think when you look and see the creativity that Jay Gruden has – just look at Cleveland.  It’s a team that has a young quarterback and young receivers and look how far ahead the offense is in Cincinnati compared to Cleveland.  That’s not a knock on Pat Shurmur who does a very good job with young quarterbacks, but looking at what Jay Gruden has done with the creativity of this offense and what he’s done to develop Andy Dalton – there’s no question in my mind that he’s going to get a head coaching job next year.”

Last year, the “Jay Gruden should be a head coach” stories started in late October, but despite reports that the Jaguars and Rams were considering him for their coaching vacancies at the end of the season, Gruden elected not to go through the interview process and signed a three-year extension to remain the Bengals offensive coordinator.

“I didn’t have a good coat and tie,” Jay deadpanned when I asked him why he elected not to interview.

That’s typical of the 45-year-old coach who has a humorous response to most questions, but Gruden’s decision to stay in Cincinnati was not a joking matter.

“Number one, they were just rumors,” Gruden told me.  “And number two, I had just got here and it was my first year as an NFL offensive coordinator and quite frankly, I didn’t feel like I was ready to be a head coach.  I didn’t want to do a disservice to an organization to go through the interview process and not be ready myself.  I felt a sense of loyalty here that these guys gave me an opportunity here when they really didn’t have to.  They went out on a limb to hire me and I’d like to see this thing through and see this team win a Super Bowl.  I think we have the talent and it’s a great city.  I love it here, and my family loves it here.”

The Bengals reportedly gave Gruden $3.6 million reasons to stay, but his brother Jon, the former Tampa Bay head coach and current analyst for Monday Night Football, says that Jay’s career decisions are not be based on money.

“I got a feeling that Jay would coach if you gave him absolutely nothing,” said Jon Gruden.  “If you gave him one square meal a day, he’d be there.  He loves it man.”

The Bengals offense under Gruden’s direction is off to a great start in 2012, ranking 8th in the NFL in points and total yards through three weeks.  Six of the team’s nine touchdowns have come on plays of 40-or-more yards and seven different players have reached the end zone.

“That’s the thought of putting in an offense,” said Gruden.  “You want everybody to be involved.  You don’t want to come in and talk to A.J. Green the whole time – you want Gresham, Hawkins, Binns, Tate, and all of those guys to be involved and Green-Ellis in the running game.  Coverage is going to dictate where the ball goes and Andy is the one with the ball in his hands.  It’s just a matter of everybody being in the right spot at the right time.”

But calling the right play at the right time is crucial too, such as Mohamed Sanu’s game-opening 73-yard touchdown pass to Green.  Gruden knew that Sanu had thrown a few passes out of the “Wildcat” formation at Rutgers (including a 51-yard TD at Nippert Stadium in 2010 on the first play from scrimmage against UC ), but the primary reason why he felt it would work against Washington was information learned from being on the same United Football League coaching staff at Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.

“I had a pretty good understanding from being with Coach Haslett that anytime that a team went ‘Wildcat’ with a receiver or running back that he would play Cover 0 and bring the safety out of the middle of the field,” said Gruden.  “I always wanted to design a play where we line up in ‘Wildcat’ and got A.J. in the slot and just threw him the post, but you have to have the player to throw it.  Surely Green-Ellis couldn’t do that.  But talking to Mohamed Sanu a couple of weeks ago, I said, ‘Hey throw me the ball 25 yards away.’  He had a decent throwing motion and had a lot of spin on it so we put it in.  I said ‘This is going to be the first play of the game against Washington.  They’re going to bring the safety down and A.J. will be by himself.’  It worked out that way.  Mo put it right on him – it was a great way to start the game.”

And while Gruden is willing to accept some credit for that call, he quickly points out that he also called the play that led to an end zone interception by Andy Dalton less than four minutes later.

“That interception was as bad a call by me as the ‘Wildcat’ was good so I think it evened out,” said Gruden.  “It was 7-7 so it worked out both ways.”

Gruden’s quick wit will serve him well with media and fans if he becomes an NFL head coach, but don’t let the one-liners fool you; he is a dedicated student of the game.

“He’s been serious about football his whole life,” said Jon Gruden.  “He was a four-year starter at Louisville for Howard Schnellenberger – one of the toughest, hardest-nosed coaches ever to coach at any level.  He’s an Arena League Football Hall-of-Fame player.  He got his brains beat in for eight or nine years in Arena ball.  He beat Kurt Warner in an Arena Bowl championship game and won a couple of championships as a head coach in Arena Football.  He loves the game.”

Perhaps John Clayton is right and Jay will get a head coaching job in the near future.  But Gruden isn’t campaigning for another job, and as the son of a former college and NFL assistant coach, Jay places a high value on loyalty in the coaching profession.

“That’s one thing that my dad instilled in my brothers and me growing up,” Gruden told me.  “He was a very loyal guy himself and that means a lot in this business.”

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RR1 Is Pretty Special Too

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 23, 2012 – 7:46 pm

In his long-awaited home debut in front of 80,000 hopeful fans, Robert Griffin III passed for 221 yards, ran for 85 more, rallied his team from one 17-point deficit, and almost erased another 14-point hole.

It’s safe to say that Redskins fans don’t miss last year’s RG3:  Rex Daniel Grossman III.

If it’s possible to live up to so much hype, Robert Griffin III might be able to do it, and I’m sure that Gatorade, Adidas, and Subway (did I miss anyone?) are thrilled to have RG3 pitching their products.

But you know what?  Red Rifle I is pretty special too.

After three games, Andy Dalton has completed 68% of his passes for 867 yards, six touchdowns, and a quarterback rating of 105.0 in leading the Bengals to a 2-1 start.

“He’s playing out of his mind right now,” said tight end Jermaine Gresham.  “He’s going through his progressions and finding guys.  It’s just tremendous how he’s playing right now.  His understanding of the offense in his second year is crazy.”

“I thought we did a nice job of taking what they gave us and not forcing the ball into coverage,” said head coach Marvin Lewis.  “They were going to make it difficult for us to run, so we beat the one-on-one coverage.  That’s what we have to do.  If they load the box, we’re going to throw it over their heads.”

Dalton has been especially lethal in the fourth quarter, completing 18 of 22 passes for 288 yards, three touchdowns and 0 INT.  That computes to a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3.

“I told you man, once you get Andy going he’s probably one of the best at it,’ said receiver A.J. Green.

“He’s being a leader,” said receiver Armon Binns.  “He’s distributing the ball and he’s so calm back there that everybody is confident that he’ll make the right decisions.”

Of course, it helps to be surrounded by weapons.

Dalton’s six touchdown passes have gone to five different targets:  Andrew Hawkins (2), A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham, Brandon Tate, and Armon Binns.

“We have a lot of guys that are capable of doing a lot of things,” said Dalton.  “That’s what’s nice about this offense – you don’t have to rely on one guy.”

“Guys are seeing other guys get the opportunity to make plays,” said Lewis.  “That ought to push you to work harder, practice harder, and learn more until you get your chance.  When you’re the weapon in the chamber, you had better perform.”

Perhaps now, the receiving corps will stop being asked “Who is going to take pressure off of A.J. Green?”

“We’ve been telling you all along that we’re pretty deep,” said Binns.  “We have so many guys that can make plays and it just makes our offense that much more explosive when we can hit big plays from so many different parts of the field.”

They even have a wide receiver that can throw the ball.

Mohamed Sanu was 8 for 18 with four touchdown passes as a wildcat quarterback at Rutgers, and while he is still waiting to make his first NFL catch, Sanu’s first pass was a perfectly-lofted 73-yard TD to Green on Cincinnati’s first play from scrimmage.

“Sanu can throw the ball and he put it right in the breadbasket,” said Green.  “All I had to do was run under it.  I was praying, ‘Just let me go get it.’  I was by them, so I was hoping he would just get the ball out there so that I could go make a play on the ball.  It was a perfect ball.”

It gave the Bengals the lead 17 seconds into a game that they never trailed in, although the Redskins made it nerve-wracking in the second half.

“That’s NFL football for you,” said Gresham.  “You have to keep making plays because no game is a blowout.”

“Coach told us at halftime that this is NFL football and they were going to make a run,” said Binns.  “We were prepared for it, we weathered the storm, and we were able to score some touchdowns at the end of the game to put it away.”

Not a bad 54th birthday for Marvin Lewis.

“We found out after the game and sang him Happy Birthday,” said Binns.  “We were glad that we were able to get a win for him.

And glad to have RR1 at quarterback.

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NFL’s Smallest Player Presents Big Challenge For Bengals

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 20, 2012 – 2:33 pm

On Monday of each week, I break out my multicolored pens and begin putting together what play-by-play announcers call a spotting board.  In my case, it’s a chart of every player on both teams in numerical order that includes basic information like their height, weight, and age, as well as other nuggets that I might be able to work into the broadcast.  Here’s a look at a portion of last week’s chart for the Cleveland Browns.

This week when I started working on my board for the Washington Redskins, I did a double-take at something I had never seen before on an NFL roster:  A player who weighs 153 pounds.

That would be Redskins kickoff and punt returner Brandon Banks who – like Andrew Hawkins — is listed at 5’7”, but is nearly 30 pounds lighter than the Bengals receiver.

“I definitely have a little more bulk than he does,” Hawkins told me.  “He’s actually a friend of mine and I’ve known him for a long time.  I actually hosted him on his visit to the University of Toledo.  Small world.”

Emphasis on small.

Banks is in his third year with the Redskins after playing college football at Kansas State where his teammates included Bengals practice squad linebacker Emmanuel Lamur.

“My first impression was, ‘Wow – he’s small.’” said Lamur.  “But to play this game takes heart and that describes him.  Size really doesn’t matter.  He gave us a big return every time we needed it.  He was a big playmaker for us and it was great being his teammate.”

“After the (2010) combine, we were texting back and forth and he told me that he weighed in at 149 pounds,” said Hawkins.  “Imagine that – 149 and he’s not a kicker.  But the guy can play man.”

As a rookie, the diminutive Banks had a 96-yard kick return touchdown against Detroit (you can see it here).  The Bengals were able to keep Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs in check in the return game last week, but Banks presents a different challenge this Sunday.

“He’s the fastest guy on the field,” said Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons.  “It’s going to be very important for us to be sound on our field lanes this week.  This guy can get outside of you in a heartbeat and you won’t even know it until he’s already gone.  He’s not big, so we have to be physical and get him on the ground.  It’s a big change trying to tackle him after trying to tackle somebody like Cribbs.  We have to keep him contained.”

The 215-pound Cribbs is known for his ability to break tackles.  In the case of Banks…

“You have to catch him first,” said Lamur.


NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell created a bit of a firestorm in Cincinnati last May when he told Yahoo Sports that there were still questions about Andy Dalton’s long-term potential, even after an outstanding rookie season.

“I can tell you that those in the Bengals organization have a few doubts as to what his true upside is,” Cosell said at the time.  “Because at the end of the day, while I think Dalton is a good player, I think — not I think, I know — that he’s got some arm strength limitations.”

Cosell joined Dave Lapham and me on “Bengals Game Plan” this week, and I asked him for his opinion on Dalton’s upside.

“When you have some limitations, they can be compensated for if you do other things really well.,” said Cosell.  “I think there are two things that Andy Dalton does really well – and I had a chance to study him again this summer for the “Jaws Quarterback Countdown Series” that I did with Ron Jaworski for ESPN.  I think Dalton has tremendous anticipation.  The more film that you watch, the more that you see him make throws before receivers break.  And number two, I would say that he has excellent ball location which I think is a better word than accuracy.  He puts balls in exactly the right spots between people, and gives receivers a chance to run after the catch.  I think you can compensate for not having a gun.  Andy Dalton does not have a gun.  He doesn’t have a weak arm, but he doesn’t have a gun.  I think he can make up for that and has up to this point, and I think that he’s going to be a very good player.”

As for this week’s game against the Redskins, Cosell says that Dalton’s ability to read defenses will be crucial.

“I think the loss of Brian Orakpo is critical for the Redskins,” said Cosell.  “(Defensive coordinator) Jim Haslett likes to blitz and I think you’ll see a lot of blitz this weekend because I think that he’ll feel that he can double A.J. Green and live with one-on-one coverage in the other matchups.”

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“On Sunday I Get To Be Pac-Man”

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 19, 2012 – 4:53 pm

Chicago’s Devin Hester holds the NFL career record with 12 punt returns for touchdowns.

Adam Jones ranks second among active players and is tied for 13th on the all-time list with five punt return TDs.

Considering that he has missed 60 games over the last seven years due to injuries or suspensions, does Jones think that he would be close to Hester’s mark if he hadn’t missed so much time?

“I don’t want to assume anything,” Jones told me.  “Devin Hester is a great friend of mine and one of the best returners to ever play the game.  He’s good man – he’s really, really good.  We’re two different types of returners.”

You might say that Adam dodged the question as well as he dodged the Cleveland Browns last week (watch the highlight here).

I did some research into Adam’s success as a punt returner and was surprised by what I discovered:  Statistically he is as likely to return a punt for a TD as nearly anyone that has ever played the game.

Jones has scored five touchdowns despite only returning 94 punts in his career – that’s a touchdown every 18.8 returns.  While that’s not quite as good as Hester (TD every 17.4 returns), it’s far superior to Deion Sanders (TD every 35.3), Dante Hall (TD every 36.0) and Billy “White Shoes” Johnson (TD every 47.0).

“I marvel at his abilities in many ways,” said head coach Marvin Lewis.  “He is amazing with the ball in his hands.  He’s amazing when they do their individual DB drills and they’re doing a tackling drill and he’s the ball carrier.  He’s very, very difficult to get your hands on.”

“Instinct,” answered Jones when I asked him what makes a great return man.  “A lot of people ask me if I remembered what happened after a big return and nine times out of 10, I don’t remember what happened until I go back and look at it and then I’m like, ‘Whoa.’  Instinct has a lot to do with it.”

Considering how explosive that Adam is with the ball in his hands, how did he ever wind up on defense?

“That’s a good question,” Jones said with a laugh.  “I actually went to (West Virginia) to play running back and at the time we had Avon Cobourne.  The coaches were like, ‘Well, you’re not playing running back, so if you want a chance to play this year, you can go to defense and do punt returns and kick returns.’  I was so young and eager to play that I ran over to cornerback.”

With his 29th birthday coming up in less than two weeks, Jones isn’t quite so young anymore, but he remains as eager as ever to take the field every Sunday.

“Sunday is one of the best feelings you can get,” said Jones.  “In life you have to tone things down and live up to standards.  On Sundays, it’s the only day that I can go out and just be reckless.  You have to know when to turn it on and turn it off and that’s the day that I get to turn it on.  That’s the day that I get to be Pac-Man and not Adam.  I love playing this game and I love competing against other guys.”

Jones was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Wednesday after returning three punts for 90 yards and one kickoff for 31 yards in last week’s win over Cleveland.  He’s hoping to get as many opportunities to return kicks and punts as the coaching staff will give him.

“When my number is called, I’ll be ready,” said Jones.  “I’m just going to keep working hard and pray that my body stays healthy.  The sky is the limit.”

“He’s dynamic and we’ve known that for a long time,” said special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons.  “It’s just a matter of him being healthy and the situation being right.  I’m glad that it finally happened for him.”

“He’s done a wonderful job of becoming responsible with the football, and of understanding the schematics of the return game,” said Coach Lewis.  “He’s come light years in that way.  He really is a good student of it right now.  He’s an exciting guy, he’s electrifying.  He gets everybody excited when he’s back there. Some of the things we were more concerned with him with before, he’s really done a good job of proving that he can make the good choices and the good decisions with that.  It’s a good thing, and it’s a big positive for us.”



Here’s a look at how Jones compares to the 12 players in NFL history that have returned more punts for touchdowns than he has:

Devin Hester:  12 TD in 209 returns (every 17.4)

Eric Metcalf:  10 TD in 351 returns (every 35.1)

Brian Mitchell:  9 TD in 463 returns (every 51.4)

Desmond Howard:  8 TD in 244 returns (every 30.5)

Jack Christiansen:  8 TD in 85 returns (every 10.6)

Rich Upchurch:  8 TD in 248 returns (every 31.0)

Dave Meggett:  7 TD in 349 returns (every 49.9)

Deion Sanders:  6 TD in 212 returns (every 35.3)

Jermaine Lewis:  6 TD in 295 returns (every 49.2)

Billy “White Shoes” Johnson:  6 TD in 282 returns (every 47.0)

Dante Hall:  6 TD in 216 returns (every 36.0)

Darrien Gordon:  6 TD in 314 returns (every 52.3)

Adam Jones:  5 TD in 94 returns (every 18.8)


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Bengals Win Despite Defensive Concerns

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 16, 2012 – 9:46 pm

The Eagles beat the Browns by a mere point last week and Philly would have lost if Cleveland linebacker L.J. Fort didn’t drop a potential clinching interception with less than two minutes to go.

The Bengals beat the Browns by seven points this week and it never felt like a Cincinnati win was in serious jeopardy.

So what’s the problem?

Simply put, it’s impossible not to be concerned about the Bengals defense after two games.

Six days after allowing 430 totals yards in the lopsided loss at Baltimore, Cincinnati allowed 439 yards to a Cleveland team that had foundered offensively (210 yards, 0 TD) the week before.

“We’re a little shaky,” said linebacker Rey Maualuga.  “We’re very hard on ourselves.  We don’t like giving up that many points to any team.  It’s the NFL — every team is good, despite their record.  All we can do is keep practicing and trying to get better week in week out.”

The Bengals were unable to get significant pressure on rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden who went 26-for-37 for 322 yards, 2 TD and 0 INT.  After posting an anemic quarterback rating of 5.1 in his NFL debut, the 28-year-old rookie raised it by nearly 100 points against Cincinnati to 114.9.

“We were hoping that he could rattle him,” said linebacker Manny Lawson.  “We were hoping that if we could get around his feet or got close to him, that he would start overthrowing people or come out of the pocket.  He showed a lot of poise in the pocket and he made all the throws.  They ran an offense that he can handle and he did a really good job.”

Then there’s rookie Trent Richardson who served notice that he is going to be a twice-a-year nightmare for the Bengals in the Battle of Ohio.  After gaining 39 yards on 19 carries against Philadelphia, the former Alabama star finished with 109 yards on 19 carries vs. Cincinnati, and added 36 receiving yards on 4 receptions.

“That guy runs very hard and he’s elusive,” said linebacker Vinny Rey.  “I was looking for him after the game to pay my respect.”

In fairness to the Bengals, they are playing shorthanded on defense.  They should get their best pass rusher Carlos Dunlap back from a knee injury as soon as next week, and cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and Jason Allen are making progress from their injuries.  But Cincinnati will clearly miss linebacker Thomas Howard — their leading tackler from last year — who is out for the season after hurting his knee at practice on Wednesday.

“At first (Howard’s injury) was very shocking,” said Rey.  “But we realized that we would have to replace him by committee.  You don’t replace a guy that makes that many plays and takes that many snaps with one guy – at least in that week.”

“We’ve got some guys playing that we didn’t necessarily know would be playing when we got started, but they are and we’re going to have to coach them and make them better,” said Marvin Lewis.  “Everybody is going to have to play better.  When you’ve got young guys getting in and playing for the first time, other guys have to play better around them. Defensively I think that’s what we have to focus on right now.”

The Bengals still have most of the key players back from the NFL’s seventh-ranked defense last year along with one of the league’s top defensive coordinators in Mike Zimmer.  They’re bound to get better right?

“Last year is last year and what we have to do is keep on moving,” said Lawson.  “We have to watch the film, learn from our mistakes, and get ready for the next game.”

And while Cleveland’s offensive output leaves the Bengals looking for answers on defense, at least they’ll conduct the search from a first-place tie in the AFC North with Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

“I’m happy to come out of this with a win,” said Rey.  “We know as a defense that we have to play better.  I know that I have to play better.  But a win is a win.  We’re going to learn from this and then we are going to move on.”

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Two Big Surprises In Baltimore…And One Was Actually Good

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 11, 2012 – 9:27 am

Even Nostradamus couldn’t have seen that coming.

I don’t mean the loss – after all, the Ravens have won 19 of their last 20 at home and will probably be favored in every game at M & T Bank Stadium this season.  And I don’t even mean the margin of defeat since it was a four point game in the third quarter before turnovers helped turn it into a blowout.

What was shocking wasn’t what happened…

“It was how Baltimore won the football game,” said my radio partner Dave Lapham.  “I mean, Sam Koch only punted the ball twice – once in the first half and once in the second half.  You have got to make more stops than that.  Defensively they got shredded – there’s no other way to put it.  There’s not one thing they did defensively that spells winning football.  Mike Zimmer has to be livid, and Marvin Lewis had to be absolutely shocked that his team played the way it did.”

The Ravens finished with 430 yards on 58 plays – an average of 7.4 yards every time they snapped the football.  And if Joe Flacco were a stock, I’d be investing every penny.  Flacco is the only quarterback in NFL history to take his team to the playoffs in each of his first four seasons and yet, he has never gone to a Pro Bowl.  After throwing for 299 yards on opening night and posting a quarterback rating of 128.4, it looks like the 27-year-old could be on his way to a monster season.

“I think it could be his year,” said Lapham.  “He obviously has a very, very strong throwing arm and he was on-point on Monday night.  His accuracy was unbelievable.  He threw the ball in very tight windows and a lot of times he did it just with his arm strength when he couldn’t set his feet and step into the throw.  He’s a big, strong guy with a cannon hanging off of that right shoulder and was amazing against the Bengals on Monday night.”

But as bad as the Bengals defense looked in the opener, there was a pleasant surprise on the other side of the ball:  The patched-up offensive line featuring a just-signed center in Jeff Faine actually functioned pretty well in one of the most difficult environments in sports.

“I think it was a bright spot,” said Lapham.  “If I had to pick a position group that played the best, it was the offensive line.  I thought that Andre Smith was a bull at the right tackle position…I thought that Jeff Faine did a remarkable job in the middle…I thought that Kevin Zeitler held up very well as a rookie…Clint Boling did the job at left guard…and Andrew Whitworth was his solid self.  I think that is the one block in the foundation that you can build off of.”

Faine’s performance was especially encouraging when you consider that it came after five practices and no preseason games.

“I felt good about my play and I didn’t feel rusty at all,” Jeff told me.  “It was the first game that I’ve played since last season and it felt good to get back out there.  I thought our communication was good.  There were a couple of things that we missed assignment-wise that led to a couple of big hits on Andy, but we’ll fix that.

“He’s a veteran and knows what to do,” said rookie Kevin Zeitler.  “It was very impressive that he was able to learn the whole offense in 12 days.”

“I think we did some pretty good things,” said Andre Smith.  “Being a brand new unit with a new middle between me and Whit, I felt like we did a good job of communicating what we had to do.  Jeff did a great job of calling out things, but we can still execute better as a unit.”

That goes for the entire team.

The Cleveland Browns are coming to town on Sunday after nearly upsetting Philadelphia in their season opener.  There’s no time for the Bengals to mourn their dreadful performance on Monday night.

“The won/loss column is what you look at in this league,” said Zeitler.  “We have to improve by next week.”


I enjoyed a college reunion of sorts in the season opener.

Mike Tirico called the game on ESPN and Ian Eagle did the play-by-play of the national radio broadcast.  All three of us graduated from Syracuse University between 1985 and 1990 and worked at student radio station WAER.  Additionally, my broadcast partner Dave Lapham and Ravens color analyst Qadry Ismail both played football at the ‘Cuse.

That’s five announcers from one school on the same Monday Night Football game ( editor Geoff Hobson is also Syracuse alum).

I don’t think Nostradamus could have seen that coming either.

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How Quickly Can Faine Learn The Language?

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 4, 2012 – 6:37 pm

There’s no point in sugarcoating it.  With a rookie at right guard, a second year pro with minimal experience at left guard, and a just-signed newcomer at center, the Bengals face a huge challenge on Monday night in Baltimore.

“The NFL is full of challenges and if you like challenges you’ll like the NFL,” said offensive line coach Paul Alexander.  “If you like REALLY big challenges, you’ll like the one that we have this week.”

Nobody faces a bigger challenge than center Jeff Faine.  The 10-year veteran was the highest-paid center in NFL history when he signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent in 2008, and the Bucs let him go in March largely for salary cap relief.  The Bengals were fortunate that Faine turned down overtures from other teams and was still available when Kyle Cook injured his ankle.

“We have a list of all of the guys that are available on the street and aren’t with a team and he was right at the top of the list,” said Alexander.  “He’s been such a good, solid player for so long and we moved quickly to sign him.”

Faine has 113 starts under his belt and has been a Pro Bowl alternate.  But can he join the team at the end of training camp and pick up the Bengals offense in less than two weeks?

“The only problem that I see is language,” said my radio partner Dave Lapham.  “He understands the concepts and ran this exact offense when he was at Tampa Bay and Jon and Jay Gruden were down there.  The blocking scheme is the same, the protections are the same.  The only thing is, he’s speaking French and everybody else is speaking German in terms of what things are named.  He has to unlearn one language and learn another.  He told me that he’s been in here six to eight hours every single day, trying to get up to speed.”

“He’s really worked hard,” said Alexander.  “He’s a very conscientious guy and he’s put in the time.  We’ve tried to teach him one game at a time and give him the specific game plan for this week’s game against Baltimore rather than teach him the entire playbook because he wouldn’t be able to digest that in a week.”

Of course, it’s not just Faine.  The entire offensive line has to gel quickly for the Bengals to have a chance in Baltimore.

“They have to just about live together here,” said head coach Marvin Lewis.  “I think it will be 12 days from the time that we signed Jeff until we play a game and those guys have just about been living together along with Coach Paul Alexander.  That offensive line is such a chemistry thing and it’s the hand-in-glove theory – all five have to work in conjunction all the time and they have to see it through the same eyes.”

“It’s exciting, it really is,” said Alexander.  “The biggest thing is making a call at the last second.  It’s easy if they just line up in a basic defense and you have time to think about it and make your calls.  But the center is the guy that directs the whole thing.  He sets it all in motion to begin with and then he makes the last-second adjustment right before the ball is snapped, and your mind has to think very quickly and you have to communicate it properly so that everyone can pull it off.”

While the Bengals had Kevin Zeitler penciled in as the starting right guard immediately after drafting him, veteran Travelle Wharton was expected to be the starter at left guard.  His knee injury in the first preseason game moved Clint Boling into the lineup.

“I told Clint honestly last year that I didn’t have a lot of hope for him,” said Alexander.  “But he worked hard in the off-season and improved his flexibility tremendously.  He’s able to play lower, he’s playing with much better technique, and he’s really a different guy.  He’s made as much progress in one year as any player I can remember.”

The line will be tested by the NFL’s third-ranked defense last year under new defensive coordinator Dean Pees.

“It’s the exact same defense,” said Alexander.  “Same techniques, same structure, same everything.  I think he’s going to let those players do the things that they’ve been so successful at.”

“I think that they’ll do their share of blitzing,” said Lapham.  “They’ll try to do some crosses and hit the A-gap between the center and guard and use Ray Lewis in stunts and twists with the lineman.  They’ll test the Bengals and see how they handle it mentally and physically.”

Calling it a really big challenge might be an understatement.

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