Deja Vu In Baltimore

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 27, 2015 – 10:37 pm

Five days after the passing of Yogi Berra it was déjà vu all over again.

Last year in Baltimore, the Bengals blew a 15-0 halftime lead and fell behind in the fourth quarter before winning on a 77-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green with 4:58 remaining.

This year, the Bengals blew a 14-0 halftime lead and fell behind twice in the fourth quarter before Green answered both times. His 80-yard touchdown grab came 12 seconds after Baltimore took the lead for the first time, and his 7-yard game-winning TD happened 1 minute and 46 seconds after Cincinnati trailed for the second and final time.

Green game winning TD at Baltimore 2015

“It was fun man,” said Green. “We know that every time we come up here that it’s going to be a fight. We stayed the course and just ran our offense and it worked out.”

“What is there to say?” said Marvin Jones. “He’s a great talent obviously. He made the big play that gave us some juice and we feed off of him.”

Green’s biggest play was the 80-yard stadium silencer that came on the first play from scrimmage after C.J. Mosley recovered an Andy Dalton fumble and raced 41 yards for a touchdown to give Baltimore a 17-14 lead with 6:49 on the clock.

“That was the first time we were down all year,” said Domata Peko. “We just had to keep our composure and we did.”

“I was next to (Director of Player Relations) Eric Ball on the sidelines because we only had two receivers out there,” said Mohamed Sanu. “He told me what the play was and said, ‘Watch. In about two minutes it’s about to get real quiet.’ It sure did. A.J. made a phenomenal play. (Eric) came running over and said, ‘I told you! I told you!’ It was pretty cool.”

But the home crowd wasn’t silent for very long as Steve Smith hauled in a 16-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to give Baltimore a 24-21 lead with 3:56 remaining. Smith finished with 13 catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns.

“His competitiveness is breathtaking,” said my broadcast partner Dave Lapham. “In my mind he is Corey Dillon at wide receiver. They couldn’t tackle him because he refused to be tackled. He was just better than they were when they were one-on-one in space.”

For the second straight year in the last five minutes of the Ravens home opener, it was up to the Bengals offense to deliver a game-winning drive.

“If you would have looked into our huddle, our faces all said, ‘We’re going to get this,’” said Jones.

“Of course we were upset, but we knew what we had to do,” said Sanu. “You can’t drop your head. We knew there was time on the clock and that we had to go make plays.”

Jones vs Ravens

On the Bengals final drive it wasn’t strictly the A.J. Green show. Dalton completed four straight passes to four different targets: Giovani Bernard for 23 yards, Sanu for 19, Jones for 31, and Green for the 7-yard touchdown to win the game 28-24.

“Marv made a big play to get us down there,” said Green. “Mo made a 5-yard route into like a 15-yard play. Andy made a play with his legs where he got the ball to Gio and he picked up 23 yards. It’s not just me. We’ve got playmakers all over this field.”

“That’s what we say in the receiver room: ‘Pick your poison,’” said Jones. “We’re all going to do what we have to do to catch the ball and make big plays when we need them. It didn’t come as a surprise. Andy did a great job of getting us the ball and we just did the fun part.”

The end result is a 3-0 record and five wins over the Ravens in their last six meetings.

“We still have things to fix, but at the same time, we have resolve,” said Jones. “They came back and turned it up a little bit, but we did too.”

“To show the fiber that they showed is something that I think will carry over,” said Lapham. “To fall behind twice and answer quickly – I think that’s going to play well during the course of the season.”

“It’s not our first rodeo,” said Green. “We were here last year in the same situation and came out with the ‘W.’ We didn’t flinch.”

“It was kind of like déjà vu,” said Peko.

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Bits From The Booth: Baltimore

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 26, 2015 – 11:02 am

This Thursday, the UC Bearcats played the first of three straight nationally televised weeknight games when they faced Memphis. Next Thursday, the Bearcats host the University of Miami, and 15 days later they travel to Utah for a Friday night game at BYU.

The non-Saturday games are probably not ideal for many Bearcats fans, but they are helpful to a certain broadcaster trying to get from one assignment to the next.

The BYU game is on the same weekend that the Bengals are in Buffalo. I haven’t checked, but I’m guessing that there aren’t a lot of “red-eye” flights from Provo to Buffalo.

So thank you ESPN for making my travel itinerary a little easier.

Now time for this week’s Bits From The Booth.

Dalton Defender

When Memphis beat Cincinnati 53-46 on Thursday, it gave the Tigers an 11-game winning streak.

Justin Fuente

Memphis is coached by Justin Fuente who was the quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator at TCU when Andy Dalton played for the Horned Frogs. Prior to Thursday’s game against the Bearcats, I asked Fuente about his former quarterback.

“He drove through Memphis not too long ago and we sat down and ate lunch and he seems to be handling everything in stride,” Fuente told me. “That league is so tough. I know that the people of Cincinnati are hungry for playoff success and I certainly understand that, and I know that Andy is too. I just hope that they can get to that point with a healthy roster and can really put their best foot forward because I think they have had some things working against them over the last couple of years. But he seems to be handling it well and I know he really loves living there and being a part of the Bengals organization.”

Does it hurt you when you hear or read people taking shots at him?

“Of course it does. Obviously I’m not his dad, but I’m close to him and I know what kind of person he is. It’s the same way I feel about our current players. But it’s part of the business. Right or wrong, that’s the way it goes – especially when you play that position. A lot of people say that you get paid good money not for the hits that you take on the field but for the hits you take off the field. That part if probably true, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t stick up for him because I certainly will.”

Every Play Rey

If you had to guess which Bengals defensive player has not missed a snap so far this season would your answer be Vinny Rey?

The fifth year linebacker has been on the field for all 127 defensive snaps in the first two games and clinched last week’s win over San Diego with a spectacular juggling interception.

“I’m thankful because there was a time where I would never get snaps on defense,” Rey told me. “I love being out there. I know that I need to continue to play better and I know that I can.”

“He’s tremendously valuable,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. “He’s the brains of the operation out there and understands what we’re trying to get done. He’s a guy that can play all three linebacker positions and when Vontaze got hurt last year he stepped in and did a nice job for us. He’s carrying that over to this year so we’re glad to have him out there.”

Rey has gone from being an undrafted free agent…to a practice squad player…to a special teams standout…to an indispensable member of the defense.

I asked the former Duke captain to explain the key to his hard-earned NFL success.

“There are a lot of things that happened in my favor and were out of my control, but listening to the coaches and the authority figures has really helped me,” Vinny said. “They’ve been coaching and have been around the game for a long time, and listening to them and doing what they say over and over and over really helps.”

Takeo’s Takes

Former Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes, now covering the league for Sirius NFL Radio, was among our guests on Friday on the “Bengals Pep Rally” show (3-6 on ESPN 1530).

Takeo Spikes

Takeo spent a day at Bengals training camp in early August and came away raving about Geno Atkins. On Friday I asked Spikes how he could tell from watching one practice that Atkins was back to his pre-injury dominance.

“This was the first indication,” said Spikes. “It was 9-on-7 and they ran a power play with Jeremy Hill running to the right side. Geno was on the back side so the center blocks back on the three technique (Atkins). Geno literally ran through the center and made the play in the backfield for a tackle for a loss. I never had an ACL injury, but I’ve talked to plenty of guys that have and the hardest thing to do is to not only generate power, but to be able to redirect and get upfield. He did all of that on one play. Then another time on 11-on-11, they did a play-action pass where Geno kind of paused a little bit while he looked at the running back and diagnosed the play. Then he immediately got on his saddle, got back upfield and did a pass rush move where he spun his hips and cleared the offensive guard and put all his weight on the surgically-repaired ACL. I knew at that time that he was back.”

The Bengals are obviously hoping for a similar recovery by linebacker Vontaze Burfict when he returns from microfracture knee surgery. Burfict will be eligible to come off of the PUP list in time for the November 1 game at Pittsburgh.

“I love the fact that he plays the game with reckless abandon,” said Spikes. “He doesn’t even care about his body, so you know darn well that he doesn’t care about the person that he’s getting ready to hit. I love that about him. That may be the reason why he’s out right now. But he’s a relentless guy. He’s a tone-setter, and I love the way that he plays the game. When I watch him play he can probably come off as being a little selfish, but he wants to make every play and there’s nothing wrong with that. As an inside backer you have to feel that way. You have to feel like you’re the last line of defense. If they get past you, then chances are it’s going to be a score. I think that mentality is what makes him such a good football player. I wish he could stay healthy, because if he does, he would definitely be one of the better linebackers in the league.”

Several years ago when Bengals fans voted on a 40th Anniversary Team, Spikes received the second-most votes at linebacker behind Reggie Williams.

Willing To Share

In 2013, Giovani Bernard was the first running back selected in the NFL draft. The following year, Jeremy Hill was the second running back picked.

Last week’s win over the Chargers provided a reminder that both are among the best running backs in the NFL.

Hill was the league’s leading rusher over the final nine weeks of the 2014 season, but when he fumbled two times in 10 carries last Sunday, Bernard stayed on the field for nearly every snap and carried 20 times for 123 yards.

After the game, Hill didn’t complain saying that he deserved to be benched and that he was happy for Bernard. Gio deflected praise and said that Hill would bounce back quickly.

This week I asked Marvin Lewis if their willingness to share the load without complaint was unusual in this day and age.

“I think their humility and their ability to be good pros is exceptional,” Lewis told me. “That’s the key element for them to continue to be successful in the league – not only this year but in future years. It’s going to come to that for those guys. That’s where everything is headed. There’s too much pounding for one back to take and you have to feel like you’re a starter even if you’re not the first guy that runs out there because maybe the next time you are. So you’ve got to prepare that way each and every week.”

Quoth The (Former) Raven

Brad Jackson has a unique perspective on a Bengals/Ravens match-up.

Brad Jackson

The former UC linebacker spent his first three NFL seasons in Baltimore and was a member of Marvin Lewis’s record-setting defense on the Ravens’ 2000 Super Bowl winning team. Last year, Jackson worked with Coach Lewis as a coaching intern during training camp for the Bengals.

Jackson currently covers the Ravens for CSN Mid-Atlantic and described the mood in Baltimore after the team’s 0-2 start.

“Right now they don’t have their hand on the panic button but it is close by,” said Jackson. “There’s a lot of concern here.

“Right now there’s no identity. It week one they couldn’t do anything against the Broncos defense. In week two, the offense got it together and the defense didn’t even leave the hotel. Right now they’re counting on the home crowd here in Baltimore and they’re trying to find a way to get a win. Next Wednesday they have to get on a plane and go to Pittsburgh in a short week, so they could go from 0-2 to 0-4 very quickly, or they could have a chance to be 2-2. Iit all starts with trying to figure out that Cincinnati Bengals offense and defense come Sunday at 1 o’clock.”

It should be a great game. Andrew Whitworth is the subject of this week’s “Fun Facts” interview on the Bengals radio network pregame show. It should run at approximately 12:30.

Talk to you from the booth at Paul Brown Stadium. Hope you’ll be listening.

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Dalton Quiets Critics…For Now

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 20, 2015 – 11:19 pm

It was Cincinnati vs. San Diego and Bengals fans turned on their starting quarterback.

His name was Ken Anderson.

Anderson vs Chargers

I’m referring to a 31-14 home loss to the Chargers in 1980. Here’s how it was described in the UPI’s account of the game:

“When Anderson trotted onto the field to start each new offensive series, some of the fans booed. Late in the third quarter when Anderson went down with an injury to an already gimpy knee, cheers erupted from several sections of the stadium”

So if anybody can identify with the harsh treatment that the current #14 often receives, it’s the quarterback who wore that number in Cincinnati for 16 seasons.

“It goes with the territory,” said Anderson. “If you want to play quarterback in the NFL, that’s all part of it. They love you when you’re playing good, and when you’re not playing good, the most popular guy in town is the backup. You’ve got to have thick skin. (Andy Dalton’s) had so much success already in his career. For crying out loud – the numbers of games that he’s won, going to the playoffs in his first four years – it’s been remarkable.”

Dalton fist pump

Remarkable is a good word to describe Dalton’s play in the first two games of the season. He’s completed 68% of his passes with 5 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and has a passer rating of 120.3.

“He hasn’t made any mistakes and he’s not a game-manager either,” said tight end Tyler Eifert. “We’re making big plays and we’re taking care of the football.”

Eifert has been on the receiving end of three of Dalton’s five touchdown passes in the first two games, including what proved to be the game-winner on Sunday. With a 17-13 lead in the fourth quarter, the Bengals faced third-and-goal from the Chargers’ 9-yard-line. The 25-year-old tight end lined up as the lone receiver to the right and faked an outside move before getting inside position on San Diego cornerback Brandon Flowers. As soon as Tyler got separation, Dalton hit him in the back of the end zone.

“It was a perfect ball because it went right by his fingertips,” said Eifert. “I kind of took a while at the line, but Andy stuck with it.”

Dalton also made a pretty throw to A.J. Green to beat Flowers for the Bengals’ first touchdown. Green had a seven inch height advantage in that match-up, and the Bengals quarterback tossed it high enough where Flowers was defenseless.

“We do that every day in practice,” said Green. “Just give me a chance and I’ll go try to make a play. It’s as simple as that.”

“He put the ball up in their eyes where we want it,” said head coach Marvin Lewis.

The stats through two games speak for themselves, but earlier this week, I asked offensive coordinator Hue Jackson to take us behind the scenes into the locker room and the meeting rooms and tell us what he sees out of Dalton.

“I see a different quarterback,” Jackson told me. “I see a quarterback that’s functioning at a high level on-and-off the field with his teammates. I think there is a confidence there and I think there is a comfortability between him and myself, and I think he knows that there’s nothing that we can’t talk about. There might be something that he sees differently than me and we can have that conversation. There might be something that he feels very strongly about and wants to do and my door is always open. To me, that’s the quarterback’s deal. This is your offensive football team. We’re going to go as you go. And you should never go into the game feeling uncomfortable about anything. You should feel very comfortable about what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Dalton obviously won’t have a triple digit passer rating every week and won’t silence his critics until he achieves postseason success.

But first he has to lead the team back to the playoffs, and he’s guided the Bengals to a 2-0 start.

“Andy is a great quarterback,” said Green. “He gets us in great position to score. He’s not going to make any big mistakes and he’s playing great. And if we keep making plays when our number is called he’s going to play even better.”

“He’s done so much work this offseason,” said Jackson. “I cannot commend him enough and hopefully we can stay consistent and he can continue to play like that for the rest of the year.”

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Bits From The Booth: San Diego

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 19, 2015 – 10:38 am

If Sunday’s game was in San Diego, the Bengals would be a lock.

San Diego broadcasting (440x330)

I’ve had the pleasure of calling eight sporting events in San Diego and Cincinnati has won all of them.

2001: Bearcats beat BYU and Kent State in NCAA Tourney to advance to Sweet 16.

2005: Reds sweep a 3-game series vs. the Padres (subbed for George Grande).

2007: UC football team beats San Diego State 52-23.

2012: Bengals beat Chargers 20-13.

2013: Bengals beat Chargers 17-10.

I interviewed to be one of the Padres’ radio announcers once and did not get the job. They missed out on the opportunity to go 81-0 at home.

Enough about me…time for this week’s Bits From The Booth.

Eagle Eye:

Ian Eagle, who will call Sunday’s game on CBS-TV with Dan Fouts, joined Dave Lapham and me on Wednesday night’s “Bengals Game Plan” show. Ian typically broadcasts a few Bengals games every season and told us that he’s impressed by Cincinnati’s ability to draft and develop players.

“The Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers get a lot of credit for homegrown talent and developing talent,” Eagle told us. “When I was going through my prep and my spotting boards and looking through my stuff from last year, it just blows my mind how good the Bengals have been in the draft. And not just hitting home runs occasionally which you have to do – we know that – but a lot of doubles and triples. They’re so efficient year after year. Fourth round picks that play for them, sixth round picks that stick around for a length of time. That’s saying something. It’s saying something about Mike Brown, it’s saying something about Marvin Lewis and this staff and their ability to dissect talent at the collegiate level and translate it to the professional level. Now you know better than me that at the end of the year they’re going to have a lot of decisions to make. There are a bunch of unrestricted free agents on this team, so if this is the last go-round for this particular group as it’s currently constituted, I’m sure they want to change the way there are perceived around this league. The only way to do that is by going out in the postseason and winning a game or two.”

Howdy Neighbor:

UC head coach Tommy Tuberville has a vacation home in Destin, FL. Believe it or not, his next-door neighbor is Chargers’ quarterback Philip Rivers.

“I’ve known Philip for a long time,” said Tuberville. “I’ve actually known his dad a lot longer – his dad is a football coach from Athens, Alabama and when I was at Auburn we actually recruited Philip. Now this is how good of a recruiter I am – I told him that he couldn’t play quarterback; he was probably going to have to play tight end. He was coming to Auburn, and then North Carolina State came in at the last minute and offered him a scholarship to play quarterback. I said, ‘Hey, if you want to play quarterback you probably need to go there because it’s going to be tough to beat out Jason Campbell.’ That’s who we had coming in. We’ve become good friends ever since and recently, in the last eight or nine months, he bought a house next to me in Destin and we kind of renewed our friendship during a week of vacation. He’s got seven kids with an eighth on the way and I tell you, he just loves football. He and Peyton Manning are nearly identical in that they are hard workers, love football, and really understand it. Philip was really excited about his next few years in the NFL.”

With his large – and growing – family, Rivers has to be the only quarterback in the NFL that drives a 12-passenger van.

What’s My Line?

San Diego enters Sunday’s game with some issues on its offensive line. Projected starter Johnnie Trautman suffered a broken arm in the Chargers’ first preseason game and right guard D.J. Fluker was taken off the field on a cart with an ankle injury last week vs. Detroit. Fluker is listed as doubtful for this week’s game.

The likely starter at right guard is converted tackle Chris Hairston who would frequently be matched up against Geno Atkins. Not a fun way to make your first NFL start at guard.

The Chargers are accustomed to having to make changes on the offensive line. Last year they became the first team since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970 to use five starting centers in a season: Nick Hardwick, Rich Ohrnberger, Doug Legursky, Chris Watt, and (former Bengal) Trevor Robinson. That was one of the big reasons why San Diego missed the playoffs last season after a 5-1 start.

Philip Rivers face

Read My Lips:

Last week, the Chargers fell behind Detroit 21-3 before rallying to beat the Lions 33-28. Rivers threw a pick-six in the second quarter and a terrible red zone interception just before halftime before going 21-for-23 in the second half with a team-record 20 straight completions to end the game.

Chargers radio voice Josh Lewin jokingly told us on the “Bengals Pep Rally” show on Friday that you could tell that Rivers was going to turn it around by his language.

“He looks like he’s just a complete maniac on the field, but he doesn’t swear,” said Lewin. “He’s a real goody-goody – he doesn’t drink and he doesn’t swear. You could actually read his lips when he underthrew Malcom Floyd at the end of the second quarter. He let out this huge, ‘Dad-gummit!’ You kind of knew at that point, ‘Ok, now it’s on.’ Once you hear ‘dad-gummit,’ things are about to turn and they did.”

After one week, Rivers leads the NFL in passing yards (404), completion percentage (83.3) and dad-gummits (1).

He Who Shall Not Be Named:

Every Wednesday on “Bengals Game Plan,” we do a deep dive with one of the Bengals assistant coaches and this week it was tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes. Here’s what he had to say about the players he’s currently working with: Tyler Eifert, Ryan Hewitt, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah, and practice squad member Matt Lengel.

“They’re very willing young men and it’s fun when you have a bunch of guys that come to work every day to get better,” said Hayes. “That’s all you ask for as a coach. As a player, I sat in their seats and I wanted to be the same way. You don’t want to be the guy that’s always misstepping. You want to be the guy that’s helping to bring the room up and I think they all do in their own way. It’s good to see and it’s fun to be around. I’m really enjoying coaching these guys.”

Coach Hayes did not specifically mention Jermaine Gresham but you can’t help but wonder if the former first round pick did not fit the above description. In case you missed it, Gresham had 1 catch for 4 yards in Arizona’s season opener.

Mariota debut

Mr. Perfect:

Marcus Mariota began his NFL career by posting a perfect passer rating (158.3) against Tampa Bay. Former Oregon teammate Jake Fisher claims that he was not surprised.

“I told everybody that he’s going to be one of the best that’s ever played this game,” said Fisher.

Fisher helped to protect Mariota’s blind side last year and I asked Jake what it meant to him when his teammate won the Heisman Trophy.

“I guess I can say that I helped a little bit,” Fisher told me. “I was a leader in my group, but that guy works so hard and does such a great job at what he does. He puts his whole lifestyle into it. And off the field he’s a high-character guy that’s probably the best person that I’ve ever met. So for me, nothing personal came from that but I was so happy for him to get that award. He should have had it two years in a row in my opinion. I was extremely happy for him and excited about everything that he’s accomplished.”

Jake Fisher is the subject of this week’s “Fun Facts” interview on the Bengals radio network pregame show. It should run at approximately 12:30.

Among other things, we’ll discuss this.

Talk to you from the booth at Paul Brown Stadium. Hope you’ll be listening.

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Smith and Whitworth Pitch Shutout In Oakland

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 14, 2015 – 8:16 am

The late, great, former Raiders owner Al Davis famously said that, “Somewhere within the first five to 10 plays of the game, the other team’s quarterback must go down, and he must go down hard.”

On Sunday in Oakland, the other team’s quarterback didn’t go down at all. Andy Dalton threw 34 passes without being sacked in Cincinnati’s 33-13 win over the Raiders.

“We came in and wanted to execute a plan and we were able to do that,” said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. “We were able to protect him and give him the opportunity to make the throws that he needed to make.”

All week, the Bengals offensive lineman heard that Oakland defensive end Khalil Mack had been unblockable in the preseason – a “rolling ball of butcher knives” according to offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

“I think Khalil Mack is very deserving of all of the credit that he’s received,” said right guard Kevin Zeitler. “Watching him last year on film and even the preseason, he’s a very good rusher and the sky is the limit for him. But he was not their only weapon.”

On Friday, the Raiders signed free agent Aldon Smith who had 44 sacks in his last 50 regular season games with San Francisco. Throw in two-time Pro Bowler Justin Tuck and his 65.5 career sacks, and it might be the most formidable pass rush the Bengals will face all season.

“The Raiders have a great defensive line,” said Zeitler. “Their depth of pass rushers presented a great challenge for us to start the season. There were a couple of problems here and there but overall we did well. But we’re already thinking about all of the things that we can do so much better.”

“I was proud of what the guys did up front and we have to build upon that,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “This is step one.”

Smith blocks Mack

Mack spent the majority of the game lined up on Andre Smith’s side. In the first half of a nationally televised preseason game against Arizona, the 2nd year defensive end had two sacks, a forced fumble, and four quarterback hits on Carson Palmer. In 58 snaps against Smith and the Bengals offensive line, he came up empty in all of those categories.

“We took pride in that today,” said Smith. “He’s a great football player and does a lot of things for that defense. We knew that if we took him away we could have success and we did an outstanding job.”

So what’s new? Last year, the Bengals were one of only four teams to hold NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt (20.5 sacks) without a sack in a 22-13 win at Houston. Additionally, Von Miller (14 sacks) and Elvis Dumervil (17 sacks) failed to sack Andy Dalton, and Dumervil faced the Bengals twice.

Cincinnati’s top two draft picks this year, Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, are the team’s projected offensive tackles of the future. But the season opener provided a reminder that their tackles of the present – Whitworth and Smith – are still among the NFL’s best.

“That O-line is good, obviously,” said Tuck.

“They did an unbelievable job,” said Dalton. “We knew what we were going up against and they accepted the challenge and played really, really well. It’s what we expect from those guys and I’m really happy for them.”

“Khalil Mack is a fantastic player and Aldon Smith is right there with J.J. Watt in sacks-per-game,” said Whitworth. “They’re both great rushers. But the Cincinnati Bengals have two pretty good guys themselves.”

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Bits From The Booth: Oakland

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 11, 2015 – 2:29 pm

One of the things I enjoy about my job is the homework (my 9-year-old son finds that hard to believe). In addition to spending time simply memorizing names and numbers each week, I am always looking for anecdotes and statistics that will help to make the broadcast both entertaining and informative.

But most of the material never gets used.

The number one priority during a game broadcast is to try to paint a vivid word picture of what’s happening on the field. As a result, much of the prep work gets left on the cutting room floor.

That’s why I’ve decided to write some of it in blog form. Each week I plan to plan to share some “Bits from the Booth” leading into that week’s matchup, beginning with Sunday’s game at Oakland.

Black Hole


As you have probably heard this week, the Bengals have never won a game in Oakland in franchise history. Their all-time record is 0-10. But that shouldn’t mean much to the current players. Seven of the 10 games took place before 1981, meaning no current Bengals were even born for 70% of the losing streak. The only game of the 10 that any of the current players appeared in was a 20-17 loss in 2009. Seven players (Leon Hall, Michael Johnson, Rey Maualuga, Domata Peko, Pat Sims, Andrew Whitworth, and Kevin Huber) played in that game. Andre Smith was on the roster but inactive that day. The current Bengal who has played in the most games at Oakland is Wallace Gilberry, and he went 3-1 as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Big Mack

The Raiders third preseason game was nationally televised on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, and if you tuned in you saw Khalil Mack put on an incredible show against the Arizona Cardinals. The fifth pick in last year’s draft tormented Carson Palmer in the first half, sacking him twice and hitting him four times. I asked Raiders radio voice Greg Papa about Mack’s performance when he joined us on “Bengals Game Plan” this Wednesday night.

“Last year he was unblockable at times in the run game,” said Papa. “He would just rag doll whoever was against him, and a lot of times they would put a tight end on him because he played strong-side linebacker. It was just amazing to me week after week after week. I remember Jordan Cameron of Cleveland trying to block him and that’s just not going to work. But he’s changed positions now. He’s not playing SAM linebacker, he’s playing defensive end. I was a little bit worried about it because he’s going up against bigger men now. He’s not going up against tight ends and backs chipping, he’s going up against 325 pound offensive lineman. But as you saw in the Arizona game, Jared Veldheer is a little top-heavy, and I think Mack’s low leverage – a lot like Elvis Dumerville who is able to be explosive as a pass rusher under six feet tall with those long arms – Khalil was getting under his pad level and showing him a variety of moves that I had never seen before. He was strictly a bull rusher last year as a rookie and he could do it because he’s so strong. But in that game he showed a spin move back to the inside, and he showed an edge rush to the outside. Now the Bengals have good tackles in Whitworth and Smith – I don’t know if he’ll be on Whitworth’s side as much come Sunday, but I think that’s going to be an area where Hue is possibly going to send help.”

Last year the Bengals were one of only four teams to hold J.J. Watt without a sack in their 22-13 win at Houston. We’ll see if the O-line can neutralize Mack on Sunday.

Carter vs Bucs

Carter on Culture

One of the biggest standouts during the Bengals’ four preseason games was linebacker Chris Carter who led the team with 3.5 sacks and earned a spot on the 53-man roster.

The four year veteran joined the team prior to Game 13 last year and told me he feels like he’s found a home.

“Since I walked into this building, everybody has treated me with nothing but courtesy and respect,” said Carter. “My teammates welcomed me in like a brother. As soon as I got here, Vontaze Burfict – a guy that I thought didn’t want to talk to anybody and was just doing his own thing – he was the first person to take me in and try to teach me the plays and he helped me get around the city. He talked to me and motivated me and I’m very grateful to him. Rey Maualuga, Domata Peko…all of those guys. It’s more like a family here than any environment that I have ever been in before. I’m happy and grateful to be here.”

Carter spent three years in Pittsburgh and part of last season in Indianapolis. His comment about the family environment in Cincinnati is indicative of the great culture Marvin Lewis has built in the Bengals locker room.

Dirty Dozen

Bengals fans remember all too well how much of a struggle it was for the team in the 1990s and early 2000s. In the 12 years before Marvin Lewis was hired as head coach, the Bengals went 55-137.

So we can sympathize with Raiders fans. Over the last 12 years, Oakland’s record is nearly identical: 56-136. Since a 48-21 loss to Tampa Bay in the 2002 Super Bowl, the Raiders have lost at least 11 games in 10 out of the last 12 seasons.

Additionally, during Marvin Lewis’s tenure in Cincinnati, Oakland has had nine head coaches: Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell, Lane Kiffin, Tom Cable, Hue Jackson, Dennis Allen, Tony Sparano, and Jack Del Rio.

Speaking of Hue

In the last 12 years, the only seasons where the Raiders managed to win more than five games were the two years that Hue Jackson was part of the coaching staff. He was dumped after going 8-8 in his one year as the head coach and Oakland has gone 11-37 in the three seasons since.

I asked Hue how emotional it will be to return to the Oakland sidelines on Sunday.

“I don’t know if it will be emotional, but there will be memories,” said Jackson. “I had a great run there in my opinion. I was the coordinator in 2010 for Tom Cable and we won eight games. I was the head coach the year after and we won eight games. The guy that gave me both of those opportunities, Al Davis, was like my mentor – he’s like what Mike Brown is to me now. Al gave me the opportunity to lead an organization and for that I will always be grateful. There are some old wounds there, but we’ll let those go really quickly because we have a game to win.”

My broadcast partner Dave Lapham expects the Bengals players to get added motivation on Sunday from their desire to ‘Win It For Hue.”

Black Hole Beckons

I’m excited to get my first-ever look at Oakland’s famed “Black Hole” on Sunday. The late Hunter S. Thompson once wrote that, “The massive Raider Nation is beyond a doubt, the sleaziest, rudest, and most sinister mob of thugs ever assembled.”

But Dre Kirkpatrick doesn’t sound concerned.

“I played in the SEC,” Dre told me. “LSU is crazy, Auburn is crazy, Florida is crazy, so every week was mayhem. Every week was chaotic. So it kind of prepared me.”

I’m guessing that a majority of Bengals players have been in a road environment that was every bit as rowdy as Oakland will be on Sunday.

Odell Thurman

Mike Brown on Odell Thurman

On this week’s radio pregame show, my weekly “Fun Facts” segment is with Bengals president Mike Brown as we look back at the 10-year anniversary of the 2005 team.

Here’s what Mike had to say about linebacker Odell Thurman who led the team in tackles and had five interceptions and five forced fumbles in his only NFL season before violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

“He was a great talent and it’s such a shame that we lost him and he lost his career to the off-field problems that he had,” said Brown. “I have real regrets about that. He’s a nice person – you’d like him if you knew him. He had the whole package – quickness, suddenness, and he was as decisive as you could be. He was a difference maker and I think he would have been a Hall of Fame player if he could have hung on to his career.”

The Mike Brown interview is scheduled to run at approximately 3:50 this Sunday on the Bengals Radio Network.

Talk to you from Oakland. Hope you’ll be listening.

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