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Bengals Fall From First Place In Shutout Loss To Colts

Posted by Dan Hoard on October 19, 2014 – 9:05 pm

To paraphrase the old commercial for a medical alarm, the Bengals have fallen and they can’t get up.

At least not yet.

Colts shutout Bengals (440x330)

After a lopsided loss at New England and a bitterly disappointing tie vs. Carolina, the Bengals played their worst all-around game since the 2011 Dalton-Green reboot in a 27-0 defeat at Indianapolis.

“We played horrible,” said Andre Smith. “We didn’t play well in any phase of the game.”

“We’re not playing good football right now,” said Carlos Dunlap. “We’ve got to figure it out and get back to doing what we were doing in the first three games.”

Ah yes, the first three games. Back then, the Bengals were the toast of the NFL having outscored the opposition 80-33. Since then, they’ve been outscored 107-54 over a winless three game stretch and fallen out of at least a share of first place in the AFC North for the first time since the next-to-last game of the 2012 season.

Have we reached a crisis?

“I wouldn’t call it a crisis,” said Dunlap. “We can still be on top of our division if we beat Baltimore (next Sunday), so that’s the biggest goal in mind right now.”

Aside from Kevin Huber averaging 50.7 yards (47.7 net) on 11 punts – tying the team record for most punts in a game – the Bengals didn’t do anything well against the Colts.

“We didn’t attack,” said Marvin Lewis. “We ended up playing from our heels today.”

Especially on offense where the Colts took advantage of injuries to A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, and Tyler Eifert and ganged up on the Bengals at the line of scrimmage.

“They were playing press man-to-man and basically saying, ‘You guys have to beat us down the field.’” said Mohamed Sanu. “We had opportunities there, but we have to capitalize on those opportunities.”

“The Indianapolis Colts had no fear whatsoever of anything being thrown over the top of them,” said my broadcasting partner Dave Lapham. “They were just squatting on everything and breaking on underneath routes. It was like fly paper on the shallow crosses or Geo out of the backfield.”

The Bengals entered the game averaging 7.05 yards on first-down plays – best in the NFL. But on Sunday in Indianapolis, Cincinnati averaged a meager 2.6 yards on 14 first-down plays. On their first 10 first-down plays, the Bengals gained more than three yards just once. That led to numerous third-and-long situations where the Colts were able to get pressure on Andy Dalton.

“We ended up third-and-too much,” said Coach Lewis.

“We knew they were a great defense and knew we had our hands full with them,” said Sanu.

In their previous three games, the Colts had held Tennessee (1-for-9), Baltimore (1-for-11), and Houston (1-for-8) to a combined 3-for-28 on third down conversions. Cincinnati finished 1-for-13.

“They have a lot of good rushers that they can move around and do a whole lot of stuff with,” said Andrew Whitworth. “It’s almost like every third down they’ve got guys in totally different spots and they’re all twisting and turning. Today we gave them a great opportunity. It was third and long for the most part and when you do that you’re going to get everybody’s crazy stuff – everything they have in the playbook.”

“We weren’t in rhythm at all,” said Sanu. “We didn’t find ways to make plays that we needed to make and that’s everybody including myself. We cannot play like that.”

Injuries are obviously a major concern. In addition to the missing targets in the passing attack, the Bengals played most of Sunday’s game without all three of their starting linebackers as well as cornerback Leon Hall.

But even with those injuries, the Bengals should be much better than they were in Indianapolis and I continue to believe they are the best team in the AFC North. Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium would be a great time to show it.

“We’re on to the Ravens now,” said Smith. “We’re playing a division game at home next week and we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”

“We’ve been through struggles like this before and always found a way to bounce back,” said Sanu.

“It’s time to get down to brass tacks and focus and reopen the football season,” said Coach Lewis. “Let’s reopen it at home and get going.”

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

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How Does Adam Jones Do It?

Posted by Dan Hoard on October 13, 2014 – 11:02 am

I asked Adam Jones last week if he remembers his last fair catch.

“No,” he replied.

“It was in November of 2006,” I said. “You had back-to-back fair catches and then you took one back 90 yards for a touchdown.”

“Must have been the Philly game then,” he said with a grin. “That was a pretty good one.”

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Cincinnati Bengals

Indeed it was. Until Sunday’s game against Carolina, it was the longest return of Jones’ career. But after the Panthers scored a touchdown to take a 31-24 lead with 4:50 to go; Adam looked for an opportunity to top it.

“Did you ask (special teams coach) Darrin Simmons to return the kickoff?” a reporter asked Jones after the game.

“Yes I did,” he said.

The 31-year-old cornerback hadn’t returned a kickoff in two years and hasn’t been his team’s primary kickoff return man since playing for Tennessee eight years ago.

“I’ve done it more in practice,” said Jones. “(Darrin) told me to just be smart with the ball. It all worked out for the best.”

Carolina kicker Graham Gano might have the strongest leg in the NFL. Last year a league-high 79.7% of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. But with Jones waiting near the back of the end zone, Gano only kicked the ball to the goal line and Adam made him pay for it with a career-long 97 yard return to the Panthers’ 3-yard-line.

“Man, we didn’t win the game so I don’t care,” said Jones.

Mike Nugent’s 36-yard game-ending missed field goal in the 37-37 tie turned Jones’ electrifying return into a footnote, but it doesn’t diminish his remarkable numbers as a return man this season. Adam has only touched the ball six times and has returns of 24, 45, 47, and 97 yards.

“It’s something that you can’t explain,” Jones told me. “I know that Darrin does a good job of getting us prepared to go on Sundays with the guys up front and the blocking schemes so a lot of that goes to him.”

Last week after interviewing Simmons in his office, we watched Adam’s first punt return in each of the last four seasons:

2011: 63-yard return at Seattle.

2012: 81-yard TD return vs. Cleveland.

2013: 50-yard return at Chicago (negated by penalty).

2014: 45-yard return at Baltimore.

How does Jones do it?

“I think he’s got a great amount of confidence in himself, first and foremost, and I think he has a great amount of confidence in our blockers,” said Simmons. “But he has very natural feel. And I think he still has elite quickness and body control and that’s what gets him loose.”

On two of his big returns this year, Jones has used hesitation moves to elude the gunners before bursting into the open field.

“It’s just the little things that I can see before it happens – just to give (the blockers) a second to open up the holes,” said Jones. “Nine times out of 10 I like to just hit it, but sometimes you have to hesitate.”

Jones has returned 82 consecutive punts since his last fair catch (for trivia buffs, Philadelphia’s Dirk Johnson was the punter) but the only streak that mattered to him on Sunday was the Bengals’ home winning streak. He was bitterly disappointed that his long kickoff return that helped to force overtime did not lead to Cincinnati’s 12th straight regular season home victory.

“When the coaches put you in the position to win the game after everything we went through, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t win the game right there. Period,” said Jones.

“I know Mike is going to be hard on himself, but we’re a team so I guess we have to get it back together and try not to get in those situations where we get all the way to the end of the game like that. The only thing we can do is come watch the film and try to get better on Monday.”

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

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Changing Prime Time Perception Will Have To Wait

Posted by Dan Hoard on October 9, 2014 – 10:58 am

The original “Not Ready For Prime Time Players” included Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, and Gilda Radner.

The Bengals will have to live with the same nickname for at least another month.

W2ST7052.JPG

Sunday night’s 43-17 loss at New England reinforced the notion that Cincinnati is a talented team that fails to play its best when the spotlight is brightest. Fortunately, the Bengals still have nationally televised night games against Cleveland (Nov. 6) and Denver (Dec. 22) to change the perception.

“We still have two more prime time games and hopefully we’ll win enough games to have a playoff game,” said George Iloka. “So we still have two or three more chances. We’re not saying, ‘Oh here we go again.’ This is a different team. I feel it. I sense it.”

Now they have to prove it.

The Patriots emphatically answered the critics after a Monday night drubbing at Kansas City by playing their best game of the year against Cincinnati. Suddenly nobody seems to be saying that New England is a mediocre team with a declining quarterback. Instead, it’s the Bengals who are taking potshots after their first poor showing of the season.

“That stuff is just garbage,” said Andrew Whitworth. “I’m not worried about the fans or the media or any of the crap. We just need to play well and win. The same people thought Tom Brady should quit football a week ago so I bet they don’t think that now.

“That’s football. Every week you have to show up and play your best. If you don’t, you’re going to get beat.”

But does a legitimate contender lose by 26 points?

Believe it or not, it’s not uncommon for good teams to get hammered by at least three touchdowns. In fact, four of the last eight Super Bowl champions have suffered a regular season loss similar to what the Bengals experienced last Sunday.

2012 Ravens: 43-13 loss at Houston (week 7)

2011 Giants: 49-24 loss at New Orleans (week 12)

2007 Giants: 41-17 loss vs. Vikings (week 12)

2006 Colts: 44-17 at Jacksonville (week 14)

The Patriots used the embarrassment of a 27-point loss at Kansas City to fire them up six nights later, and the Bengals will attempt to do the same thing as they get ready to face Carolina this Sunday.

“We have to bounce back like they did – that’s a good example,” said Iloka.

“I think there’s an adjustment in how you go about your work and probably a new-found focus,” said Marvin Lewis.

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Like the Bengals, the Panthers will come to town on Sunday in first place in their division. Carolina is 3-2 and has a one game lead in the NFC South over New Orleans and Atlanta.

One of the Panthers biggest stars is St. Xavier High School grad Luke Kuechly who has some big fans on the Bengals coaching staff.

“You show him one play and then you come back and run it later on and he’s already standing there where the play is going to come,” said Hue Jackson. “He understands football as well as anybody I’ve ever seen.”

“Luke is probably the finest linebacker I’ve ever evaluated coming out of college,” said Marvin Lewis. “I just thought he had it all. Not only that, but he’s such a great kid. One that was a pleasure to have in our building for a day or so (before the 2012 draft). I’ve known him for a long time – since he was an 8th or 9th grader playing lacrosse with my son.”

Marcus Lewis is now a member of the Bengals coaching staff.

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In addition to losing three fumbles on Sunday night, the Bengals lost four points when Jermaine Gresham dropped a touchdown pass forcing Cincinnati to have to settle for a field goal.

Gresham drop (440x325)

I asked offensive coordinator Hue Jackson if Gresham has a hard time bouncing back from a mistake.

“I hope not,” Hue told me. “He can’t let those things linger. It’s unfortunate that it happened to him that night, but it’s just like the fumble by A.J. – that’s football and those things are going to happen. We don’t want it to continue to happen and that’s what we have to guard against. We’ll work at ball security all week and we’ll work on catching the ball better – we want to catch the ball better than any other team in the NFL and we didn’t the other night. So I hope guys don’t let things linger from play to play.”

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Brandon Tate did not have a good game against his former team on his 27th birthday.

Tate vs Pats (440x297)

But after watching the “All-22” video of his kick returns and discussing them with special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, I can confirm that there were big plays to be made if his teammates had carried out their responsibilities.

“I don’t have a problem with his decision-making process,” said Simmons. “We put a yard line back there where he lines up. Anything in front of that he can bring out and anything behind that he sets it down. Aside from the fumble which was a big mistake, the rest of the times where he got tackled were not his fault because we didn’t block it well enough. I give New England credit – they changed a couple of things up – and we just didn’t do a good enough job of finishing blocks. We were one block away on a couple of those plays from having huge returns. I don’t say that a lot unless it’s there.”

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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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