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Lewis on Harrison: “That Was Like An Earl Campbell Run”

Posted by Dan Hoard on November 19, 2013 – 10:53 am

In a season that’s already featured a miraculous Hail Mary and a game-ending overtime safety; we witnessed another rarity last Sunday:  A game-changing touchdown that didn’t count.

James Harrison’s first quarter interception when the Bengals trailed the Browns 13-0 and were being showered by boos, did lead to a 25-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to Jermaine Gresham.  But Harrison’s bulldozing 20-yard TD return that was nullified by a penalty was the spark that helped turn the game around.

“It was funny because I had just told the defense, ‘Hey, we need y’all to do something.’” said tight end Alex Smith.  “Big James stepped up right on time.”

“It got us going and I thought that was huge,” said Marvin Lewis.  “I just think the energy of James’ return – even though it got called back – that was like an Earl Campbell run.  That was an impressive physical play.”

Harrison didn’t only resemble Earl Campbell – he evoked memories of himself in Super Bowl XLIII when he intercepted Arizona’s Kurt Warner at the goal line and broke or avoided six clear tackle opportunities by the Cardinals on a record-setting 100 yard return.

That year, Harrison was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year after finishing with 16 sacks and 7 forced fumbles.  As the “Sam” linebacker in the Bengals 4-3 defense, Harrison doesn’t have the opportunity to post such gaudy statistics, but he is having a productive season.  ProFootballFocus.com has Harrison ranked fourth among 4-3 outside linebackers, and in the victory over Cleveland, James played a season-high 55 defensive snaps.

“They’re starting to put me in a lot of different positions,” said Harrison.  “I’m getting extra roles in the defense just from guys that have ended up going down.  I have to expand my role.  I just got an opportunity to go out there and play a little more than I had in some previous games.”

Burfict hair (440x296)

The linebacker one spot ahead of Harrison in the ProFootballFocus.com ratings is Vontaze Burfict.  Following his 18 tackle, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery touchdown performance vs. Cleveland, I asked Marvin Lewis if Burfict has a chance to rank among the best linebackers he’s ever coached – a list that includes Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Greg Lloyd, and Kevin Greene.

“He does – he really does,” Marvin told me.  “I’ve said that from the very first practice that he stepped on the field for us in the rookie camp and he’s not disappointed me.  We just can’t have the penalties.  He gets a foolish personal foul penalty that we can’t have.  Penalties that come within the play and so-forth; we’re going to keep coaching them to play within the rules, but this other stuff we can’t do.  We’re not the WWF and we don’t get to retaliate.  This is the National Football League and we’ve got to respect that and do it the right way.”

If not for penalties, Burfict would move past Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David and Denver’s Von Miller into the number one spot among 4-3 outside linebackers in the ProFootballFocus.com ratings.

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

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Bengals Need To Eliminate Penalties And Picks

Posted by Dan Hoard on November 11, 2013 – 4:04 pm

Terence Newman has played in 164 NFL games and had never seen a “Hail Mary” finish like Sunday’s game in Baltimore.

Green after Hail Mary (440x316)

“That’s definitely a first for me,” Newman told me.  “To be able to get a touchdown on a last-second play to go into overtime?  I’ve never seen that before live.  You see it in high school and videos and whatnot, but that’s a first for me for sure.”

And yet, it’s starting to feel like the norm for the 2013 Bengals.  Their last four road games have ended on three walk-off field goals and one Cameron Wake-off safety.

“There are no moral victories, but this team has a lot of fight,” said Newman.

The Bengals have proven that they can – and will – battle from behind.  They rallied from 16 down in the second half to beat Green Bay, 14 down in the second half to force overtime in Miami, and 17 down in the second half to force OT in Baltimore.  The obvious problem is digging such gigantic holes to begin with.

“We’ve got to play smarter so that we don’t get ourselves in this situation,” said Marvin Lewis.

Cutting down on penalties would be a good place to start.  In the first half in Baltimore, the Bengals had more penalty yards (114) than offensive yards (102)…I bet that’s another thing that Terence Newman had never seen before.  And while the defense played well enough to win, the offense failed to score a touchdown in the first half and was maddeningly inconsistent for the second straight game.

“We didn’t make enough plays,” said A.J. Green.  “We had a couple of turnovers that really hurt us.”

“We just couldn’t make the plays when we had the ball,” said Chris Crocker.  “What can you say?  I mean honestly.  It ain’t for a lack of trying.  We fought our butts off.  You win and you lose as a team.  There’s no other way to put it.”

There’s also no other way to put this:  Andy Dalton has to stop throwing the ball to the other team.  After a magnificent four-game stretch where he threw 11 TD passes and only 3 INT for a passer rating of 116.8, Dalton has thrown 2 TD passes and 6 INT in his last two games for a passer rating of 53.8.  As a result, there are only two quarterbacks that have thrown more interceptions this season than Dalton (13):  Carson Palmer (15) and Eli Manning (16).

“We thought he played inconsistent,” said Coach Lewis.  “We thought he had some marvelous plays with some great audibles and great checks and some things that way.  But there were a couple of things that we wish he could have done a little bit better.  And guys have to do better for him too.

“He’ll continue to play better, and we put the pressure on him always to play better.  He is the offense and he runs the offense so when we’re going good, he gets all the credit.  If we’re not as good as we should be, it’s us that needs to be fixed.  But he had some plays that he could have done better like everybody did – including the head coach.”

After back-to-back overtime losses, you can’t help but think of how close the Bengals are to being 8-2.  Fortunately, 6-4 is still good enough for a 1 ½ game lead in the AFC North with four of the last six games at home.  The Bengals remaining six opponents are a combined 23-31 and the only team left on the schedule that currently has a winning record is Indianapolis at 6-3.

“We need to be better,” said Lewis.  “We pushed things forward very positively and now we’ve dug a little bit of a hole.  We have to climb out and play better this week against the Browns.”

**********

It was fun to have a crew from NFL Films in the booth on Sunday.  They’re doing a feature on my partner and pal Dave Lapham for an upcoming show about the draft class of 1974.  Some well-deserved publicity for a great person, broadcaster, and friend.  Who Dey!

Lap NFL Films photo (440x248)

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

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Zimmer: “If We All Play Good Together, We’ll Still Be A Good Defensive Team”

Posted by Dan Hoard on November 4, 2013 – 10:46 pm

If you know anything about Mike Zimmer, you know that he’s not about to say “Woe is me” after injuries ravaged his 5th-ranked defense.

Zimmer (376x440)

Even after losing Geno Atkins, Leon Hall, Robert Geathers, and Taylor Mays with season-ending injuries, the Bengals defensive coordinator exudes confidence.

“Obviously we can’t replace some of the talent we’ve lost, but we can play really good as a team,” said Zimmer.  “We can do our job, we can play really hard, and we can make sure that we understand all of the situations and those kinds of things.  This is the NFL and this isn’t the first time that this has happened.  I take it as a great opportunity and a great challenge to get this group of guys to play really good defense.”

Still, the loss of Atkins will force Zimmer to make changes since the two-time Pro Bowler is the best interior pass rusher in the NFL and helped the Bengals consistently get pressure on the quarterback without constantly having to blitz.

“Obviously we won’t have the same pressure that we had with Geno with just three guys or four guys, so we’re going to have to manufacture it a little bit more.  That will be our challenge as coaches – to try to find ways to still create pressure on the quarterback.

“It hurts because there were a lot of times where schematically we were trying to put Geno in one-on-one situations.  Now we won’t be doing that quite as much.  We’re going to have to turn to our ends and try to find situations where we can get them into one-on-one matchups.”

The bulk of Geno’s playing time figures to go to second-year pro Brandon Thompson who was in for 36 snaps in Thursday’s loss at Miami.  Like Atkins, Thompson is freakishly strong as evidenced by this YouTube clip of him bench-pressing 495 pounds.

“I look at it as an opportunity,” Thompson told me.  “It’s my chance to showcase my talents and what I bring to the table.  It’s hard losing a player like Geno.  He’s probably one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL if not the greatest.  I’m not going to be able to replace him, but I’m going to come in and do what I do.  I’m rough in there and I’m going to do whatever I have to do to get to the ball.”

“Whoever is playing in place of Geno is going to step up and make plays – I can tell you that for sure,” said Terence Newman.  “That’s how good our depth is on the line.

“It’s a great challenge.  Geno is a great player.  He’s one of the best in the league at his position.  He’s one of the best defensive players in the league period.  It’s a great blow, but like I said, it’s an opportunity.  Whoever is in that position is going to try to step up and make his presence felt.”

As a rookie with Dallas in 2003, Newman was part of a Zimmer-coached defense that finished number one in the NFL in yards allowed and second in points allowed despite not having a dominant pass rusher (Greg Ellis led the team with eight sacks).

“We had a great group of guys that were unselfish and did what they were supposed to do,” said Zimmer.  “They played really hard, and played really smart, and I think this group can be like that.  Obviously we still have more talent than we probably did when I was in Dallas.  Collectively if we all play good together, we’ll still be a good defensive team.”

Zimmer was named the NFL Assistant Coach of the Year in 2009 when the Bengals finished fourth in the league in total defense despite not having a Pro Bowler on that side of the ball.

“When I first got here, we obviously didn’t have the talent that we have now and we played pretty good,” said Zimmer.  “I take a lot of pride in getting 11 guys to do their job, and do it as well as they can, and playing great team defense.  I do feel like we have a nucleus of guys and we have some other good players that can go in there and play well.”

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

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