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McCarron Watching And Waiting

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 28, 2014 – 12:09 pm

AJ McCarron is no longer at the University of Alabama, but he is going to school.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals-Minicamp

Cincinnati’s fifth round draft pick has been rehabbing a sore throwing shoulder since joining the Bengals in May, so he’s tried to treat his rookie year as a “redshirt” season while studying established NFL quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Jason Campbell.

“The biggest thing that I’m taking away from this is trying to learn everything that I can from Andy and Jason, week in and week out,” AJ told me. “I can’t thank Mr. Brown and them enough for taking care of me and looking out for my best interests. It’s been a blessing to be here with the great staff and organization that we have. Hopefully there’s better stuff in the future for sure.”

McCarron is currently on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list which is a deceptive term because it includes injuries sustained while playing college football. AJ says that his shoulder woes resulted from the wear and tear of being a three-year starter for the Crimson Tide.

“I think it was just starting a lot of games in the SEC,” said McCarron. “You definitely get beat up some and I was also playing through some things at the same time. I never really had a chance to rest my body coming from my senior year and getting ready for the draft. This was a good time to give myself some time to heal and rest up and it feels great.

“My trainer Nick Cosgray has been unbelievable and has helped me tremendously. The back of my shoulder feels great and I feel like I’m throwing the ball really well with a lot of zip at the yardage that I want to be throwing.”

McCarron SI cover (332x440)

McCarron is among the winningest quarterbacks in college football history, going 36-4 as a starter at Alabama and leading the Crimson Tide to back-to-back national championships in 2011 and 2012. Now he’s trying to learn from a teammate in Andy Dalton who went 42-7 as the starting quarterback at TCU and has led the Bengals to a 33-21 record in his first 54 NFL starts (including playoffs).

“I like to watch his footwork,” said McCarron. “From his old film and now this year, I can definitely see a difference and this is my first year being around him. I like to watch his footwork in the pocket. When he throws to his left he does a good job of getting his feet back that way. Using baseball terms, he’s not falling off of the mound when he’s throwing back to his left, so that’s one of the biggest things that I’ve been trying to take away is footwork and how he moves in the pocket.”

He’s also formed a good relationship with 32-year-old Jason Campbell – despite the heated Alabama-Auburn rivalry.

“I mess with Jason that it feels like I’ve been watching him since preschool,” said McCarron. “I used to love watching him play in college and being able to be around him right now after he’s had so many years in the NFL – it’s just awesome to sit back and learn from guys of that caliber and it’s definitely a pretty cool experience.

“I’m married to an Auburn girl so I don’t take (the rivalry) that seriously.”

Ah yes, perhaps you’ve heard of Mrs. McCarron.

AJ planned to spend the Bengals’ bye weekend back home in Alabama spending time with his family and celebrating his grandmother’s birthday. Then it’s back to work at Paul Brown Stadium attending meetings, studying film, and continuing to strengthen his shoulder. Because of his current status on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list, McCarron can throw passes as part of his rehab program but cannot take part in full-team practices.

“It’s not the best feeling sitting there and having to watch practice every day for however many weeks I’ve been watching,” AJ told me. “It hurts, but I know that everything happens for a reason and God’s got a plan. You just have to enjoy life and take it day by day and better times will come.”

McCarron is required to sit out the first six weeks of the regular season. At that point, there is a five week period where he is eligible to begin practicing. If the Bengals choose that option, they would have a 21-day window to decide whether to active him to the 53-man roster.

“I feel good,” said McCarron. “I’m back to my old self and feel 100 percent. I’m just waiting to see what we’re going to do.”

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The Category Is Great Protection For $1000

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 21, 2014 – 10:18 pm

 Let’s do this Jeopardy! style. The category is “NFL Rarities.”

Take it away Alex Trebek.

“On December 22, 2013, Everson Griffen and Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings did something that hasn’t been done since.”

“What is sack Andy Dalton.”

Correct!

Andy Dalton, Mohamed Sanu

Since Griffen and Allen combined to bring down Dalton in the fourth quarter of last year’s meeting at Paul Brown Stadium, the Red Rifle has thrown an NFL-high 121 consecutive passes without being sacked. In Sunday’s 33-7 win over Tennessee, the Bengals did not allow a sack for the fourth straight regular season game. It’s no coincidence that Cincinnati has won all four.

“Every time we go out there that’s our goal,” said right guard Mike Pollak. “It’s on the board in our room to not give up any sacks. So far we’ve done a great job with that and we’re going to strive to continue with it.”

The sack-less streak seemed unlikely to continue against the Titans under uber-aggressive defensive coordinator Ray Horton. In a season-opening win at Kansas City, Tennessee hit-or-pressured Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith on 14 dropbacks and sacked him four times. The Titans followed that up with four sacks of Tony Romo in week two.

“They have a great front,” said left guard Clint Boling. “There are a lot of guys inside and outside that can get after the quarterback.”

But according to the press box stats after Sunday’s game, the Titans did not register a single quarterback hit against the Bengals.

“They’ve been playing really well up front,” said Andy Dalton when asked about his offensive line. “It’s a point of emphasis. I’m trying not to hold on to the ball too long so that I can help out. My hat’s off to them.”

“It’s a group effort,” said Boling. “From the offensive line, to Andy getting us in the right protections, to (center) Russell (Bodine) making the right calls – it’s the whole group. It’s something to be proud of. Hopefully we can keep it going for the rest of the year.”

One of Cincinnati’s biggest question marks going into the season was how the offensive line would fare with a rookie fourth round draft pick starting at center. Well heading into the Monday night game, the Bengals rank 6th in the NFL in points scored and 7th in total yards and offensive line coach Paul Alexander says Bodine is getting better by the day.

“When we faced Atlanta, the Falcons had Paul Soliai, the big nose guard that we haven’t blocked very well in recent years,” said Alexander. “(Bodine) had him on his back several times. He played big-man football against the Falcons. He went against some big guys and didn’t back down.

“Before that game, we had a line meeting on Thursday and we were going over a couple of things and Russ just out of nowhere said, ‘Hey listen guys. We’re doing it this way. I’m going to call that and that’s how we’re doing it.’ I almost fell out of my chair. He did it three times in the Thursday meeting and I was like, ‘Nice.’ That’s how centers are. That’s how (Kyle) Cook was and that’s how Richie (Braham) was. But they’re usually not like that in the second game of their rookie season. So that was impressive.”

In addition to playing with a rookie at center, the Bengals offensive line has thrived despite injuries. Andre Smith did not take a single snap in the preseason due to a concussion, and this week Pollak stepped in for Kevin Zeitler who appears likely to miss a few games with an injured calf.

“We have to get Zeitler back quickly,” said Alexander. “He’s playing like a top guard really – I don’t know that there’s one better. He’s big, strong, athletic, tough, and smart. He’s everything we wanted.”

After two weeks of the season, Cincinnati and Houston were the only NFL teams that had not allowed a sack. Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was dropped twice in a loss to the New York Giants, so the Bengals are the lone team with a clean slate.

“Everybody’s been bringing that up,” said Pollak. “At some point it’s going to happen.”

That is undoubtedly the case, but for now, a solid offensive line and a quarterback that doesn’t hold on to the ball is proving to be a winning Daily Double.

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Bengals Put On Tackling Clinic In Grounding Falcons

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 14, 2014 – 11:42 pm

The Bengals should take the game tape from Sunday’s 24-10 win over the Falcons and sell it as a “How to Tackle” instructional video.

“That’s one thing that the coaches here stress – being physical and tackling,” said Adam Jones. “Last week when the Falcons played New Orleans, the Saints missed a lot of tackles so that was a big emphasis.”

Bengals tackle Falcons (440x343)

According to ProFootballFocus.com, New Orleans whiffed on a mind-boggling 16 tackles in last week’s game including six by safety Kenny Vaccaro. PFF credited Atlanta with 195 “yards after catch” in the passing game and 73 “yards after contact” in the running game, helping the Falcons set a franchise record with 568 yards of total offense and score a league-best 37 points.

“That is a good bunch of receivers and they’re going to catch some balls, so when they catch it you have got to get them on the ground,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.

In Sunday’s game at Paul Brown Stadium, I can recall Rey Maualuga missing a tackle on a swing pass to Steven Jackson that the veteran running back turned into a 7-yard gain, but that’s about it. On the remaining 23 passes completed by Matt Ryan, the receivers were typically stopped in their tracks the instant the ball arrived.

“Coach (Guenther) put a lot of emphasis on running to the ball and gang tackling them,” said Emmanuel Lamur. “We did a great job of that.”

One week after posting an NFL-best 128.8 passer rating, Ryan managed a 48.6 rating against the Bengals. Since the start of last season, 8 of 9 quarterbacks to face the Bengals defense at Paul Brown Stadium in the regular season have posted passer ratings under 75 including Ben Roethlisberger (73.1), Aaron Rodgers (64.5), Tom Brady (52.2), and Joe Flacco (49.8).

“Me personally, I try to get those guys on my resume and as a defense we feel the same way,” said Carlos Dunlap.

After converting 6-of-11 third down opportunities last week, the Falcons went 3-for-12 against the Bengals as Cincinnati’s sure tackling led to several third-and-long situations. The average distance of Atlanta’s 12 third down attempts was third-and-10.

“You tackle the catch when it’s second-and-10 and now it’s third-and-eight or third-and-six, as opposed to third-and-one,” said Marvin Lewis. “That makes a huge difference throughout the course of a football game. Even the situation today in the fourth quarter where we’ve got the lead and we’re tackling them and they’re not able to get the ball out of bounds. Those are huge plays in the football game to keep the clock going. If we want to be a great defensive football team, we’ve got to continue to be a great tackling team.”

“I want us to be ‘smart bullies.’” said Guenther. “I know you’ve heard that saying, and what I mean is that we understand football, we understand how to attack offenses, and we frustrate the other team. It’s like playing those guys at the YMCA in basketball that have knee braces on, but you can’t beat ‘em.”

In four of the last five years, the Bengals finished in the NFL’s Top 10 in yards and points allowed under Mike Zimmer, and the defense is off to a strong start under his replacement Guenther. After scoring 16 points on opening day against the Bengals, Baltimore increased that to 26 this week in a win over Pittsburgh. Atlanta’s point total dropped from 37 against the Saints to 10 against Cincinnati.

“They came in as the number one offense and we held them to 10 points and it probably should have been three,” said Jones. “We all have stuff that we have to work on, but if we just keep getting better every week and guys stay healthy, we have a good chance to be in Arizona.”

As in the site of Super Bowl XLIX.

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Dalton Checks Winning In Baltimore Off List

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 7, 2014 – 10:32 pm

Leading the Bengals to a playoff win is obviously the number one thing that Andy Dalton needs to do to shut up his critics. But beating the Ravens in Baltimore was on the list too.

Not anymore.

“Nobody can say that the young guys haven’t won here because they did,” said offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. “Kudos to Andy. I’m very proud and excited about what he did today.”

Dalton at Baltimore 2014 (440x293)

Dalton finished 25-for-38 for 301 yards with 1 TD, 0 INT, and a passer rating of 98.7. If you include the preseason, Andy has completed 68% of his 72 pass attempts without an interception or fumble.

“The biggest thing we’ve been preaching is that if we don’t turn the ball over, we’re going to be hard to beat,” said Jackson.

“That’s the one thing that’s been an emphasis for us – taking care of the ball,” said Dalton.

But avoiding turnovers isn’t always enough to win. In Sunday’s season opener, the Bengals appeared to be in trouble after blowing a 15-point halftime lead, as Joe Flacco’s 80-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith put the Ravens in front with 5:46 remaining.

“We didn’t flinch man,” said A.J. Green. “Our sideline was very calm.”

It didn’t stay calm for long as a celebration broke out just 48 seconds later when Dalton delivered a 77-yard strike to Green to win the game.

“We knew all that we needed was a field goal, but we had a chance to hit a big one,” said Dalton. “It comes to executing those and A.J. made a great play.”

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Green. “I was telling the guys that if we want to take that next step toward being great, that this is one of those games that could get us ready for heading into the playoffs in December where everything is not going to go your way. But when your number is called and you’ve got a chance to make a play, then you’ve got to make a play.”

The touchdown went to the same end zone where Green hauled in a 51-yard “Hail Mary” on the final play of regulation to force overtime in last year’s game in Baltimore.

Does Green think Ravens fans are sick of him?

“I hope so,” he said with a laugh.

It was Dalton’s seventh fourth quarter come-from-behind victory and he clearly outperformed Flacco. The Ravens quarterback threw an interception, had a passer rating of 71.0, and inexplicably held on to the ball for the last 8 seconds of the first half deep in Bengals territory to cost his team an easy field goal.

“That was probably the stupidest play I’ve ever made in football,” said Flacco. “I kind of just got caught up in the play and forgot about the situation. There’s no excuse for it – can’t happen.”

Imagine the national bash-fest if Dalton had done the same thing.

Instead he played a smart, turnover-free game and while the Bengals offense obviously has to improve in the red zone, Dalton can check another thing off of his “haven’t been able to do” list.

“There are a lot of tough places to play in this league and this is certainly one of the toughest,” said Dalton. “It was the only place (in the division) where I had not won since joining the Bengals. This was a complete victory by our whole team, but we have to remember it’s just one win and we have a lot of games left.”

“I thought our quarterback played his tail off,” said Jackson.

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Cosell Says Bengals Are Most Talented Team In AFC North

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 4, 2014 – 9:56 pm

Our Wednesday night “Bengals Gameplan” show kicked off this week with one of my favorite guests – Greg Cosell from NFL Films who is also the Executive Producer of “NFL Matchup” (8:30 on Saturday mornings on ESPN2 and 6:30 on Sunday mornings on ESPN). Greg is a frequent guest on Colin Cowherd’s ESPN radio show and for my money, nobody breaks down the X’s and O’s better.

Here’s a slightly condensed version of Cosell’s Q and A with Dave Lapham and yours truly.

You’ve watched new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson call plays at previous NFL stops. Is he a good fit for Andy Dalton and the Bengals offensive personnel?

The Bengals have a lot of offensive talent. I think any coordinator theoretically would be a good fit. This is a team that’s put together all kinds of talent so that they can go with multiple packages. They can run the ball with power with Jeremy Hill. They can put Gio Bernard in there who can certainly run on the perimeter and be used in the passing game. They can go with two tight ends in Gresham and Eifert – two guys that can either line up in-line or be split. They have an excellent wide receiver corps – I know that he’ll be out for a few weeks, but I was a big fan of Marvin Jones coming out of Cal and I think he’s a really interesting player. This theoretically is an offense than can do anything.

On the other side of the ball, a lesser-known guy – Paul Guenther – takes over for Mike Zimmer. How big of a challenge is that and do you think he is up to it?

I do. I know that Paul was very much responsible for a lot of those pressure packages and double A-gap looks. Paul pretty much masterminded a lot of those. So I think from an X’s-and-O’s standpoint, there won’t be much of a change whatsoever. I’m a big fan of Paul Guenther. The personality part is something you never know. Different coaches just react differently with players and that’s impossible for me to know because I’m not there. But from a tactical X-and-O standpoint, I think Paul will do a great job.

Dalton vs Jets (440x293)

You’ve studied Andy Dalton going back to his TCU days and you and Ron Jaworski spent time with him in Texas last year studying film. Do you see a guy that is still improving or do you think he has plateaued?

That’s a hard question to answer. First of all, you’ve got to start with one thing – the guy loves football and he works at it. But there are always a couple of things when you watch him throughout the course of the season where you feel like he’s got to get a little better in those areas. Sometimes I think that he can play a little fast and hurry himself. A perfect example – and it’s always easy to pick one play, I’m mentioning this because it’s symptomatic of other things – is when he threw that interception in the playoffs to Shareece Wright when they came with a blitz and he was under pressure and kind of threw it with no definition. You would expect a quarterback with about 50 NFL starts at that point not to make that throw in a playoff game. Very often with a quarterback that’s not necessarily going to beat you with his legs, there are good incompletions. I would like to see him do that at times.

Because he doesn’t have a power arm, it has to be about decision making. It has to be about ball placement. It has to be about pre-snap reading. I’m sure that he would tell you that he has to get better in all of those areas.

When you watched Vontaze Burfict’s Arizona State tape before the 2012 draft, did you think there was any way that he would be the player that he is two years later?

I’m going to tell you exactly what I thought and it was one of those times where I was wrong. In his last year of college, I watched maybe five or six games on tape and I hated him. I didn’t think he was a draftable player – which I guess I wasn’t wrong compared to the league, but that’s what I thought.

Obviously, he’s turned out to be pretty good! You watch film and without knowing every assignment that he has – I can’t watch tape like that or I’d spend five hours just watching one team’s side of the ball – but he shows up all over the field. He flashes on a large majority of the plays.

Who wins the AFC North in your estimation?

I’m a bad prognosticator. There are about 10 variables and you don’t know how they are going to play out, so I’m going to have to cop out on that one. I can’t answer those questions. But I think the Bengals are the most talented team in the division. There was a really interesting article that I read somewhere that suggested that the Bengals get at the most fascinating question of the NFL’s modern era: Can you win a Super Bowl without a “quote unquote” superstar quarterback. They’re a really good team and Andy is a solid player. I don’t think anybody would say that he’s a superstar – would you say that’s fair? So that gets to the heart of that question. It’s going to be a fascinating team to watch because I think this team is good enough to compete for a Super Bowl.

We hope you’ll tune in to “Bengals Gameplan” every Wednesday night from 6 to 8 on ESPN 1530 and hope you’ll join us in person for “Bengals Pep Rally” every Friday afternoon from 3 to 6 at a Buffalo Wild Wings location in the Cincinnati area. We’ll be at the Mason location at 6050 Snider Road this week (Sept 5) and our special guest in the final hour of the show will be Andrew Whitworth. If you can’t make it out to the show, we hope you’ll be listening on ESPN 1530.

Click this link to see what Buffalo Wild Wings location we’ll be visiting each week.

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

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