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Up Hill

Posted by Dan Hoard on November 29, 2015 – 9:23 pm

Over the last nine games of his rookie season, Jeremy Hill averaged 103 rushing yards per game. He hasn’t had that many in a single game this year, but his season-high 86 yards in Sunday’s 31-7 win over the Rams was a big step in the right direction.

Hill vs Rams (440x293)

 

“It’s great for us and it’s going to be essential for the rest of our season,” said Andrew Whitworth. “He’s the kind of back that’s made for this time of the year. To get him going and running downhill on people makes us that much better offensively.”

“He didn’t have, like, a 25 yard carry,” said my broadcast partner Dave Lapham. “He had a lot of 6-to-12 yard carries and just kind of pounded it in there. He also had a 14 yard catch, so he had 100 scrimmage yards in the game on 17 touches. That’s pretty darn efficient.”

The second year running back out of LSU says the reason for his biggest output of the season was simple.

“Our offensive line played their butts off,” said Hill. “They got hats on a hat on a lot of those runs and that makes my job easier.”

“The Rams came in with 30 sacks and didn’t get any, and they only had one tackle-for-loss for one yard,” said Lapham. “So hats off to the offensive line.”

“We were able to be efficient on offense and didn’t leave ourselves in third-and-forever,” said Whitworth. “We did a good job with that.”

Through 11 games, Hill has 140 carries for 490 yards. That puts him on a pace for 713 yards this season – roughly 400 fewer than he had as a rookie. But Hill says staying positive has not been a challenge.

“Not at all,” Jeremy told me. “When you’re on a winning football team it makes everything so much easier. You throw out the ‘self’ things and the personal goals. It’s all about the team man, because when you’re on a team like this that has aspirations of winning the big one, you’ve got to do everything you can to reach that ultimate goal. So for me, it’s been all about that ultimate goal – just doing what you can do to help the team win football games. That’s all I’m worried about.”

That’s music to the ears of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

“It’s not about individuals; we get rid of that at the door,” said Jackson. “At the end of the year, they’re going to crown one team as World Champions. They’re not going to say that Jeremy Hill is the champion or Andy Dalton is the champion. They’re going to say the Cincinnati Bengals are the champions. That’s all we talk about.”

Dalton has 23 touchdown passes, 6 interceptions, and a passer rating of 105.3. If Hill can continue to average 5.4 yards a carry as he did against St. Louis, the Bengals offense will be that much more difficult to contain in December and beyond.

“This last stretch is the most important stretch of the season to put yourself where you want to be going into the playoffs,” said Hill. “I just have to keep working and keep pounding and we’ll be fine.”

“I thought that Jeremy ran really well and obviously Gio has been playing well all year,” said Dalton. “We’ve got to keep both of those guys rolling.”

“It was definitely good to see Jeremy rolling today,” said Michael Johnson.

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

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Mike Brown Reflects On Palmer and 2005 Bengals

Posted by Dan Hoard on November 21, 2015 – 6:46 pm

It’s been 10 years since Carson Palmer led the Bengals to the 2005 AFC North title, ending Cincinnati’s 14-year playoff drought.

To me, it feels like it’s been twice that long.

Carson with Bengals

That year the former Heisman Trophy winner led the NFL with 32 touchdown passes and set a Bengals’ record for single season passer rating that still stands at 101.1.

Unfortunately, Palmer’s season ended 4 minutes and 50 seconds into a first round playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers when he shattered his knee while completing his first pass of the game – a perfectly lofted 66-yard strike to Chris Henry.

Carson rebounded from his injury to make the Pro Bowl the following season, but the Bengals were never as good as a team, going 29-39 with Palmer as their starting quarterback in his final five seasons in Cincinnati.

The 2005 season was unquestionably the highlight of his eight years in a Bengals uniform.

Earlier this year, Paul Dehner Jr. from the Cincinnati Enquirer did a terrific series of podcasts looking back at that season with a variety of players and coaches (here’s a link).

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to reflect on the 2005 season with team president Mike Brown for the Bengals radio network and I thought it would be timely to publish the Q and A in blog form before Cincinnati faces Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday night.

When you remember the 2005 season, what immediately comes to mind?

“Carson Palmer. I thought that Carson was a splendid passer and if he had stayed healthy in that final game, I wonder how far we would have gone. We had a good team and we lost our most important cog. Even then it was close and we should have won anyway in that final game.”

Carson was 26 years old at the time, it was his second year as the starting quarterback, and he topped a 100 passer rating in 11 of the first 12 games that season. At that point, did you think that you had the best quarterback moving forward in the NFL?

“I did. I had a high regard for Carson. He was as pretty a thrower as I’ve ever seen. He was accurate at all ranges – not many are as accurate downfield as he was. I don’t know how he would say the injury impacted him – I think it did – but he recovered and he was a very good player for us. In my mind he was a special player.”

Chad Riverdance

That year Chad Johnson was at the height of his powers with 97 catches for more than 1,400 yards and it was also the year of his celebrations. How did you feel about that?

“I thought it was funny at first. I remember in the game with the Bears that he did a little dance that stayed in my mind, but then it began to wear a little bit because he pushed too hard. He thought of it as his weekly act and had to have something new and different. I’m not so sure that if he hadn’t just stayed with the original little dance that he wouldn’t have been better off in the long run. But he was very quick. He got separation and at that stage of his career, nobody could stay with him. We had a tremendous passer in Carson and he’d put the ball on the money when we would do those little 18 yard in-patterns. The ball would be there and Chad would have momentary clearance and catch it. Nobody could really stop that.”

NFL: DEC 31 Steelers v Bengals

Mike, it seems somewhat forgotten to me that Rudi Johnson set the franchise record that year for rushing yards in a season with nearly 1,500. Do you look at him as one of the unsung greats in franchise history?

“Unsung is the word – you’re right. He was a tough, hard runner and he gave us what we needed to counterbalance Chad, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and our ability to throw the ball with Carson. It was a good combination and it was a shame that it broke down due to injury when Carson got hurt. But it’s a fond memory for me. Thinking back on that team is always fun.”

Odell Thurman close up

Your team leader in tackles that year was a rookie linebacker who also had five interceptions and five forced fumbles – Odell Thurman. It turned out to be his only NFL season due to off-the-field problems. He’s 32-year-old now and might still be playing if not for that. Would he have been one of the best defensive players in the NFL in your opinion?

“He was that year. 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. I have real regrets about that. He’s a nice person – you’d like him if you knew him – and he had the whole package. Real 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.”

That team clinched its first playoff berth since the 1990 season with a December win in Detroit. What stands out about that 41 to 17 victory?

“If I told you, you would just scratch your head. I remember sitting on the bus waiting to leave for the airport after the game, and I had a feeling of inner satisfaction that is rare. When I think of that game I honestly think of that moment. Our players are drifting out of the stadium toward the bus, there is a crowd of people around, and our players are going over and talking with family and friends and I was just sitting there being engulfed with, ‘By God, we did it.’ It felt pretty good.”

Palmer knee injury

We all know what happened in the playoff game when Carson tore up his knee when he was hit by Kimo von Oelhoffen. In all of your years in football, was that the lowest point?

“Well I’d have competition for the lowest point (laughs). I don’t know what exactly would be the lowest point. I guess losing the Super Bowl up in Detroit. We had the better team and we lost to the 49ers – at least that’s how I felt. I had a headache to end all headaches after that game. But if you’re in this business for as long as I’ve been in it, there will be moments of all kinds. Elation, depression, dejection, failure, success…that’s all part of it. Maybe that’s what makes it so interesting.”

I was working at Fox 19 back then, and that year any time there was a player appearance in Cincinnati it was a mob scene. Fans in this town loved that 2005 team. Do you remember the feeling in the city that year?

“Well I’ve seen our city when it caught on fire and really got behind the team and supported us. It requires winning and you have to instill hope and then all of a sudden they begin to think, ‘My God, maybe we can.’ They get swept up in it and it’s very exciting and fun. I’d like to see another one of those.”

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

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

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Patriot Night

Posted by Dan Hoard on November 6, 2015 – 6:10 pm

It was appropriate on “Salute To Service” night at Paul Brown Stadium that I felt like we were watching patriots.

As in the New England Patriots.

Salute to service

In their 31-10 win over Cleveland, the Bengals did not have a turnover, only committed two penalties, made great halftime adjustments, had their quarterback post a 139.8 passer rating, and got three touchdown catches from their sensational tight end.

Sound like anybody you know?

To take it a step further, their postgame comments were positively “Belichickian.”

“We can play better,” said Andrew Whitworth. “We’ve got to keep pushing ourselves. That performance is not going to be good enough in four or five weeks so we really have to amp it up.”

“We know the potential that we have,” said Marvin Jones. “It’s up to us every week to go out and reach that potential because it’s so high and we have high expectations for ourselves.”

“We’re a tight group and I feel like we’re a championship-type group,” said Dre Kirkpatrick.

Cincinnati wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. When Cleveland ended the first half with a 10-play, 92 yard touchdown drive, the Bengals only had a 14-10 lead.

But the coaching staff made a great adjustment to keep Johnny Manziel in the pocket and the Browns were only able to gain 32 yards while being shutout in the second half.

“I think the defensive coaches and players did a good job of understanding that, ‘This is their attack. If we want to win the football game, this is what we’ve got to do,’” said Marvin Lewis.

And when the defense got three straight three-and-outs in the second half, the offense scored 17 straight points to turn it into a rout.

“We were all talking about it at halftime and saying, ‘Dang, we only had three possessions,’” said Jones. “But they were effective. Two of them resulted in touchdowns and we were just playing good, solid football.”

“Good” and “solid” are not strong enough words to describe Eifert who put on a show for the nationally-televised audience with a career-high three touchdown catches.

“It’s crazy,” said Jones. “After he scored his first touchdown, I was like, ‘Bro, you’re going to get two more.’ I called it because we know the talent that he has. He’s a match-up nightmare.”

“He’s a better route-runner than I am,” said A.J. Green. “At 250 pounds.”

“It feels good to score touchdowns and it feels good to help this team win, but the best feeling is winning,” said Eifert. “That’s the most important thing, and the guys in this locker room understand that.”

Eifert spike

At the halfway point of the regular season, Eifert has nine touchdown catches putting him on a pace for 18 this season. The NFL single-season record for a tight end is 17 by Rob Gronkowski. Ironically, Eifert debuted a Gronk-like spike after his first TD on Thursday night.

“I’m just getting into the whole spiking thing,” said Eifert. “Growing up, I was always told to just hand the ball to the ref. But sometimes when you have so much time between the score and all of your buddies running up to you, you’ve got to do something or otherwise you look stupid. I’m definitely not going to dance, so I just went with the spike.”

The Bengals are 13-2 in their last 15 regular season games, matching the – you guessed it – Patriots for the NFL’s best record during that stretch. The difference between the two teams, of course, is that New England ended last year with the Lombardi Trophy.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft has four of them in his trophy case and while Mike Brown is still trying to win his first, Carlos Dunlap hopes the Bengals owner was able to savor the team’s eighth straight win on Thursday night.

“I know Mr. Brown is up there excited and probably popping a couple of bottles of champagne,” said Dunlap after the game. “Hopefully he saves one for me.”

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

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Safeties Save Day In Pittsburgh

Posted by Dan Hoard on November 1, 2015 – 11:15 pm

In the Bengals’ 48-year history, they have never used their first pick in the draft on a safety.

Never.

That suggests that the Bengals don’t consider it a top priority in building the roster. But their safeties saved the day on Sunday in Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati’s offense struggled. Twice, the Bengals drove into the red zone and failed to score. On another occasion, an interception by Reggie Nelson gave the Bengals the ball at the Steelers’ 33-yard-line and the offense lost 17 yards before having to punt.

“Playing a great defense like these guys at their place, we knew that it was going to be a little ugly here and there,” said Andrew Whitworth.

After Andy Dalton threw interceptions on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter, the Bengals trailed 10-6 with 6:27 remaining.

“Andy said, ‘The next time we get the ball we’re going to score,’” said Whitworth. “He believed that and I think we all felt that. We really felt like, ‘Hey, if the defense makes another stop, we’ll drive back down there and try it again.’”

“That’s what the defense is supposed to do,” said Nelson. “Get the ball back to Andy and let him go to work.”

Two plays after Dalton’s second INT, Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass, escaped a near-sack by Pat Sims, rolled to his left, pointed down field, and finally – after holding the ball for 9.65 seconds – fired a pass in the direction of fullback Will Johnson. Third year safety Shawn Williams leaped in front of Johnson and made his first career interception at the Pittsburgh 45 yard line.

Williams INT

“There was an opportunity to make a play and that’s what I did to put our team in the best position to win the game,” said Williams.

“That was an unbelievable play,” said Clint Boling. “To see it on the replay screen – I really don’t know how he did it.”

“I’m not sure if he’ll ever have an interception that was tougher,” said my broadcast partner Dave Lapham. “A full dive where he caught the back half of the football and stayed in bounds as he went to the ground. Any of the great Pro Bowl receivers would take that catch.”

“I’m just happy for him because I know how I felt when I got my first career interception,” said fellow safety George Iloka. “It’s like a weight off of your shoulder. It’s like, ‘Man. If I end my career tomorrow, at least I can tell my kids about that.’”

Williams’ INT led to the Bengals only touchdown – a nine yard strike from Andy Dalton to A.J. Green that gave Cincinnati its first lead of the game with 2:57 remaining.

“Shawn made an unbelievable play to turn the game for us and you have to look at what a true team is,” said Whitworth. “When you collect wins, it really isn’t about your best players playing great every week; there’s always that guy who plays a role and steps up and makes a huge play and turns the tide for you.”

“He made the biggest play of his career at the most significant time to make it,” said Lapham.

Nelson INT

But the Bengals safeties weren’t finished. On the Steelers next offensive play, Reggie Nelson came up with his second interception of the game to set up a Mike Nugent field goal with 1:47 remaining. That gave the Bengals a 16-10 lead and meant that the Steelers could not force overtime by driving for a field goal on their last possession.

“Shawn’s pick was more important than my picks,” said Nelson. “He gave us momentum near the end and that’s what we needed.”

The Steelers had a shot at a game-winning touchdown with 4 seconds left from the Bengals 16 yard line, but Nelson did a good job in zone coverage of defending Antonio Brown and Roethlisberger’s final pass sailed through the back of the end zone.

“It feels great man,” said Nelson. “Defense wins games. We always preach that.”

“You just have to continue to play until the whistle blows and all of the time runs off the clock,” said Williams. “That’s what we did.”

The Bengals started three safeties on Sunday. Nelson, Iloka, and Williams combined for 10 tackles, four passes defensed, and three interceptions.

“The safeties came through today and that’s good,” said Nelson.

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

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