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So Watt?

Posted by Dan Hoard on November 23, 2014 – 9:56 pm

In the words of Yosemite Sam (you know you have an 8-year-old when you cite cartoon characters), J.J. Watt’s initials could stand for “Jumpin’ Jehosaphat!” this year.

But on Sunday against the Bengals, the overwhelming favorite to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year didn’t have a sack, force a fumble, intercept a pass, or score a touchdown. More importantly, his team didn’t get a win.

“Losing sucks,” said Watt. “You all know how I feel about it. As an athlete, that is the worst feeling.”

“They had Watt down for seven tackles – four unassisted – and I can’t remember all of those tackles,” said my broadcasting partner Dave Lapham. “He did bat down a pass and have a quarterback hurry when he got a hit on Andy, but he did not wreck the game plan which he has done to almost every team he’s played this season.”

Bengals block Watt (440x342)

Cincinnati’s ability to neutralize Watt was even more remarkable when you consider that the Bengals lost the primary player assigned to block him. When Andre Smith went down with a triceps injury in the first quarter, Marshall Newhouse had to square off against #99.

“Coming off the bench and having to go up against J.J. Watt is not the easiest thing to do,” said A.J. Green. “Hats off to him today. He played well; he was ready and accepted the challenge.”

“(Watt) makes you honest on every play,” said Newhouse. “Every snap in the first, second, third, and fourth quarter. I think I did pretty well for myself. I hold myself to a high standard.”

Regardless of down or distance, running play or passing play, Newhouse frequently remained standing before the snap or, in football language, in a two-point stance.

“It was a mix (of two-point and three-point stances) and it just depended on the play and where the ball was going,” said Newhouse. “Occasionally it was to make sure I stayed back and make him make the first move.”

“I thought the technique of playing in a two-point stance quite a bit of the time impacted (Watt) a little bit,” said Lapham. “I don’t think he quite knew how to attack that. If you lunge or lean against J.J. Watt you’re playing right into his hands and they didn’t do that.”

The Bengals didn’t leave Newhouse on an island as they frequently used Jermaine Gresham and Ryan Hewitt to assist Newhouse on double-teaming Watt and also adjusted the game plan to account for J.J.’s unique strengths.

“He’s ‘Mr. All-Everything’ so it is hats off to our offense, our O-line, and Coach Hue for putting together a good game plan,” said Rey Maualuga.

“We ran a lot of plays at him, away from him; we were kind of all over the place pass blocking,” said Newhouse.

“He didn’t really have explosive plays like he normally does so kudos to our offensive line,” said Mohamed Sanu.

The bottom line is that the Bengals turned J.J. Megawatt into So Watt?

“Marshall Newhouse deserves a lot of credit, but I thought the entire offensive line really did a good job,” said Lapham. “Across the board every single one of them should take a bow.”

“He’s a fantastic player, but they have a lot of other good players and we knew that we were going to have to block all of them in order to win,” said Andrew Whitworth.

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

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A Rey Of Hope For Bengals Run Defense

Posted by Dan Hoard on November 16, 2014 – 10:04 pm

For the first time this season, the Bengals excelled at stopping the run in Sunday’s 27-10 win at New Orleans.

For the first time in five games, Rey Maualuga was in the middle of the Bengals’ defense.

So how much of a difference did Rey’s return make?

“Like night and day,” said Adam Jones. “When we get 5-5 back (Vontaze Burfict) we’ll be right back on stride. But I take my hat off to the other guys too. They play hard and play to the best of their ability but Rey makes a big difference. He’s one of the most physical guys that you’re ever going to meet and that’s what we need right now. Somebody that’s going to go full speed and go downhill at that position.”

Maualuga vs run (440x313)

Maualuga gets roasted on talk radio and message boards for his deficiencies in pass coverage, but for the NFL’s 31st-rated run defense going into the New Orleans game, he was exactly what the doctor ordered.

“All of you Rey Maualuga haters – how do you like him now?” said my broadcasting partner Dave Lapham. “You don’t realize how important he is in defending the run until he’s not in there. He’s a 260 pound downhill linebacker that will rattle your fillings. That’s exactly what he did and everybody started feeding off him. Domata Peko had his best game of the season in my estimation and it’s a huge ripple effect.”

“We had to get better at stopping the running game and I thought we did today,” said Marvin Lewis. “That was big and Rey was a big part of that. His presence and his abilities – both mentally and physically – showed up out there.”

But Rey’s impact wasn’t limited to running plays.

The defensive play of the game came early in the second quarter when the Saints went for a touchdown on 4th-and-goal from the one yard line with the Bengals leading 7-3. Drew Brees threw a swing pass to fullback Erik Lorig and Maualuga drilled him for a one yard loss to keep New Orleans off of the scoreboard.

“Sometimes it’s a guessing game,” said Maualuga. “You have to figure out, ‘OK, what kind of plays could they do here?’ Shawn Williams came over late and ended up taking my responsibility which was the seven route by the tight end. The fullback went out into the flat and we just swapped responsibilities and I took his job. We were heads-up and didn’t go too fast downhill. It was a play-action play and we did a good job. I think it started from there. It gave a spark to our defense that we could come out and stop a high-powered offense.”

After allowing at least 23 points in six straight games, the Bengals held the NFL’s second-ranked offense to a season-low 10 points.

“Despite what we’re ranked and what we’ve done, we’re a damn good defense” said Maualuga. “Sometimes people make mistakes and it shows in the stats, but we still have more games to fix what we need to fix. Somebody said that we were 31st in the league against the run and I promise at the end of the year we won’t be 31st.

“It’s just a sense of want-to. It was there on Monday after we had a couple of days to replenish ourselves after the Thursday night game. Coach (Guenther) said if somebody wasn’t doing the job or being coachable than you weren’t going to be in the game. I think that hit everybody hard and we had a good week.”

Having #58 back in the lineup was a big reason why.

“I’m just excited to be playing with my brothers and my teammates,” said Maualuga. “I’m glad to be back.”

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

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Big Challenge In Big Easy For Dalton

Posted by Dan Hoard on November 11, 2014 – 7:05 pm

What do Hall of Fame quarterbacks Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Namath, Dan Fouts, Warren Moon, Len Dawson, and Bob Griese have in common?

They all had single-game passer ratings lower than the 2.0 posted by Andy Dalton in last week’s loss to Cleveland.

I’m not trying to suggest that Dalton is as accomplished as any of those eight names or that his performance against the Browns isn’t cause for concern. But the fact of the matter is, even the best quarterbacks in history have had atrocious games.

Like Ken Anderson.

At the age of 32, his 11th NFL season began with his worst-ever performance. In his 124th regular season start, Anderson went 5-for-15 for 39 yards and 2 INT in the 1981 opener at Riverfront Stadium for a passer rating of 2.8.

Anderson’s former road roommate hopes that Dalton rebounds from his lousy game much like a previous #14 did.

“He threw two early interceptions and Forrest Gregg pulled him because we were down big to the Seahawks,” said Dave Lapham. “Turk Schonert came in and rallied the troops to victory and Ken Anderson had to basically beg Forest Gregg to get his starting job back. It was just like this – bad game at home for the quarterback and we went on the road the next week to face the New York Jets. They had the “Sack Exchange” with Joe Klecko and Mark Gastineau and they’re bringing it. Ken Anderson had a great day, we won the game 31-30 in a shootout, and Kenny felt like the best thing for him was to be on the road after a performance like that at home. He went on to win MVP, we won the first playoff game in team history and went on to the Super Bowl, but it started terribly for Ken Anderson. He did not let one terrible performance turn into two.”

Browns tackle Dalton (344x440)

That’s the challenge for the Red Rifle this Sunday in New Orleans: To immediately bounce back with a solid game after a prime time flop that’s taken Dalton-bashing to a new level.

“He looks like he’s in a panic state at times,” said Rich Gannon on CBS Sports Network’s “NFL Monday QB” show. “He’s pre-determining where to go with the football. I don’t trust Andy Dalton right now and I think it’s a real problem for the Cincinnati Bengals.”

“My first thought after last week’s game was, ‘This genie is going to be hard to completely put back in the bottle for Andy Dalton,’” said Don Banks from Sports Illustrated. “It wasn’t that it was a bad night; it was a historically bad night. I don’t know if it was the wind, or the grip on the footballs, or his mojo was off, but he was so far from what you normally see from an NFL quarterback. He’s going to have to own that performance and live with that until he makes it go away.”

On Tuesday, I asked Marvin Lewis if he was worried about Dalton’s teammates losing confidence in their quarterback.

“Andy’s teammates had a lot to do with that rough game so no I’m not,” said Lewis. “To the naked eye it looks like it’s the quarterback’s issues, but there were a lot of issues to go around – both offensively and defensively. We have to do everything better and just allow Andy to do his job.”

But let’s face it; Dalton will be under a white-hot spotlight this Sunday.

Prior to last week, the lowest passer rating of Andy’s career was in the third game of his rookie season when he posted a 40.8 clunker in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The following week, Dalton rallied the Bengals from a 17-3 halftime deficit to beat the previously undefeated Buffalo Bills 23-20.

“Andy’s track record is to be resilient and bounce back,” said Banks. “He seems to have the ability to put blinders on and refocus.”

Last week on the “Bengals Gameplan” show on ESPN 1530, special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons discussed the challenge that Mike Nugent faced after missing a potential game-winning field goal at the end of the 37-37 overtime tie against Carolina.

“One of the first things that Mike told me was, ‘I can’t look at any of my teammates. I can’t face them.’” Simmons recalled. “I said, ‘Sure you can. You have to because that’s what they need. They don’t want you to hide; they want you to confront it.’ That’s what ultimately defines you as a player and as a person – it’s how you deal with adversity. Everybody gets knocked down, it’s how quickly you get back up that matters. I told him that he was at a career defining moment right now.”

Nugent hasn’t missed a field goal or extra point in the four games since.

Andy Dalton can’t erase his 2.0 passer rating against the Browns, but here’s another number worth mentioning: .623. It’s the Bengals’ winning percentage in Dalton’s regular season starts and it’s the highest of any Bengals QB with more than 10 starts.

Let’s see what number everybody is focusing on next week.

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

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Hill Earns Rave Reviews…Except From Himself

Posted by Dan Hoard on November 2, 2014 – 9:18 pm

After rushing for 154 yards on 24 carries in his first NFL start, rookie Jeremy Hill must have been excited to race home and watch the tape of his performance. Especially the 60-yard touchdown run that helped put the Jaguars away in the fourth quarter.

Then again, maybe not.

“Honestly I’m not,” Hill told me. “There are probably five or six plays that I would like to have back. Just bad reads man. Obviously the fans and people that watched the game are going to be stuck on the big play, but as runners, we get bent out of shape on the stuff that we didn’t get right.

“It’s like one of my high school coaches told me, ‘The tape is never as good as you think or as bad as you think.’ Once you go watch it you can analyze it and see.”

Hill stiff arm (440x294)

We’ll have to take Jeremy’s word for it that he made a few mistakes, because he was good enough to post the fifth-best rushing performance in the NFL this season.

“Running the ball is about having an attitude,” said center Russell Bodine. “Jeremy carried the ball really well. He ran with good low pads, ran some guys over, and made some guys miss.”

“He’s a consistent player,” said fullback Ryan Hewitt. “He shows up every day and comes to work. It was no surprise to anybody in this locker room – it’s what he does. Obviously we can’t wait to get Gio back, but it’s awesome to have depth like that.”

With Giovani Bernard out of the lineup with hip and shoulder injuries, Hill didn’t need to be told by coaches and teammates that he had to carry the load against Jacksonville.

“I don’t think anybody had to do that,” said Hill. “Like I’ve said, I’m a great self-motivator and there’s probably no bigger critic of my play than myself. I expect the world out of me and sometimes it’s to my disadvantage but I continue to keep pushing.”

Hill’s long TD run came when the Bengals desperately needed it. After Jacksonville scored two touchdowns in less than two minutes to pull within a field goal with 8:13 to go, Cincinnati started its next possession at the 40 yard line.

“I honestly didn’t know how (offensive coordinator) Hue (Jackson) was going to go about it,” Jeremy told me. “I didn’t know if he was going to be aggressive and try to pass or if he was just going to pound it. I really didn’t have a clue.”

Jackson’s decision was to pound it. The Bengals put two tight ends on the right side of the line and ran in that direction. Jermaine Gresham, Kevin Brock, Mike Pollak and Hewitt opened a gigantic hole and Hill did the rest, putting a great fake on safety Josh Evans before running through his attempted tackle inside the 10 yard line.

 

“If you look at it, everyone was blocked up and it was just up to me to make one guy miss,” said Hill.

“It was just a heck of a play,” left guard Clint Boling told me. “Everybody did what they were supposed to do. Jeremy made a heck of a run and in that situation it was huge. We really needed that, and everybody got it done.”

“He does a great job of running downhill and was awesome today,” said Marvin Lewis.

Before that play, Hill’s longest NFL run was 15 yards. The 60-yard touchdown was reminiscent of Jeremy’s LSU days where he had six rushes of 50-or-more yards last season.

“That’s what the coaches have been telling me for a while now,” said Hill. “Just get back to the old SEC way and do the things I did in college. I put the onus on myself as well to keep working and running like I used to. I had a few flashes of that today and want to continue to pick up where I left off and put myself in position.”

Halfway through his first NFL season, the 55th pick in this year’s draft is averaging 4.7 yards a carry and shares the team lead in touchdowns (5) with Bernard.

And he won’t need to watch the tape to remember his first NFL start.

“I’m going to take this with me for the rest of my life and hopefully it will give me the momentum and the confidence I need going down the stretch to help keep us on top of this division,” he said.

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

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