While the Bengals are extolled for their finest all-around performance of the season in Sunday’s 31-13 victory over the Giants at Paul Brown Stadium, middle linebacker Rey Maualuga is hearing the same thing.
Gone were the defense’s wide open receivers across the middle and the missed tackles that turned three-yard gains into eight and nine. Maualuga’s game-high 12 tackles were of the sure variety and he made certain his defense covered close enough to the receiver that the Bengals virtually eliminated yards after catch.
While cornerback Leon Hall shadowed Giants leading receiver Victor Cruz for much of the game, he had some help in holding him to three catches for 26 yards.
“Everything was similar from last week’s offense to this week’s offense,” Maualuga said. “We knew that Victor Cruz was such a big part of their offense and is a great weapon. Most of our plays were based on doubling him and making sure where he aligned on every play. We wanted to execute him out of the game plan and then stop the run and I think we did a good job.”
THIRD DOWN THRILLS: Talk about what a win can do for the locker room. It doesn’t hurt the stat sheet, either.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton came into the game next to last in the NFL in third-down passing ahead of only Arizona’s John Skelton with a 57.6 passer rating in 32nd place. But three of Sunday’s four touchdown passes came on third down, launching him 10 spots to No. 22 with a 74. 3 that is a rung ahead of Colts rookie Andrew Luck.
With a 91.1 passer rating, Dalton is 11th in the league and his 18 touchdown passes are tied for fifth behind co-leaders Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees with 25.
With 820 yards receiving, Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green has moved into sixth in the NFL. Dalton is three TD passes away from eclipsing his rookie total and Green is 238 yards away from passing his rookie total.
RUN GAME: The Bengals are still looking for their first 100-yard rusher of the season after nine games, the longest drought to open a season since the Bengals didn’t get any 100-yard rushing game during the 1993-96 seasons. Running back Cedric Benson got the first 100-yard game of 2008 in the ninth game when his 104 yards against Jacksonville became the first of his 15 100-yarders with the Bengals.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis didn’t get his first 100-yard rusher until the eighth game of his first season, when Rudi Johnson got the first 100-yard game of his career with 101 in a PBS victory over Seattle in 2003.
Tags: A.J. Green, Andy Dalton, Leon Hall, Rey Maualuga, Victor Cruz
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 8 Comments »
PITTSBURGH — With five games left and already at 745 yards, wide receiver A.J. Green looks to be a lock to break Cris Collinsworth’s 30-year-old rookie club record of 1,009 and to become the first NFL rookie to grab 1,000 yards in five years since Marques Colston.
He’s just 122 yards from the Bengals’ best rookie year in 17 years when Darnay Scott went for 866 and with 74.5 yards per game, he’ll pass the great Isaac Curtis (843) against Houston at Paul Brown Stadium next week, Eddie Brown (942) the week after in St. Louis and Collinsworth against Arizona on Christmas Eve at PBS.
It’s amazing given that Green is doing it with a rookie quarterback and neither had access to coaching or practice until training camp. Collinsworth had both, as well as an 11-year veteran in Ken Anderson’s MVP season. Curtis had Anderson in his third season. Brown had Boomer Esiason in his second season. Scott did most of his damage in Jeff Blake’s first nine starts, but it was Blake’s third year in offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet’s system.
So in any era it has been tough for even the great receivers to make the jump to the NFL so quickly. A few reasons why Green is an exception from offensive coordinator Jay Gruden:
“He’s got a good feel for the game. And he takes a lot of pride in work,” Gruden last week of Green. “When you’ve got a guy with the demeanor that he has and a guy willing to work hard to get better every day and has the talent he has, he’s got all the makings to be one of the great receivers to play.”
While most everyone believes that Gruden has kept his versatile scheme relatively vanilla for the kids, Gruden has enormous confidence in them.
“They’re great players, that’s why,” Gruden said. “There’s a lot of plays you can run for those guys to be successful. Andy’s a great competitor. He knows what he likes; he knows what plays work against certain things. And of course A.J. is one of the most talented people around.
“It’s exciting to have those two guys here. To know they’re going to be here for a while is even more exciting. And to know what type of people they are makes it even more fun to come to work. That’s the thing about those two guys: you know you’re going to get the best out of them every day and they’re going to learn and be pleasant and want to learn and want to improve.”
Gruden sees Green having no shot of becoming a diva receiver. This isn’t a guy who is huffing and puffing after every series about not getting the ball.
“You have to talk to him and ask him what he likes; he’s not going to tell you,” Gruden said. “He just wants to win and he’s going to do what he’s asked to do and when the game is over he’s going to give it all he’s got. Usually when the game’s over, I’ll be kicking myself as the coordinator, ‘Why didn’t we go to him more often?’ We’ve got other good players. It’s worked out so far.”
If Green ever does start calling for the ball, “he’ll probably have a reason,” Gruden said with a laugh.
But that’s not to say Gruden and receivers coach James Urban aren’t coaching up Green. There are things he needs to develop. He’ll get a big test Sunday against Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, a guy Gruden calls one of the league’s best technicians that exploits bad routes.
“Sometimes his releases might be too quick, or too predictable, or he doesn’t work the corner at all. He rounds (some routes) or he’s short on some depths,” Gruden said. “Just a little too impatient. He has to get open so quick and maybe the ball’s not there by a second but the quarterback isn’t ready to throw it and the corner closes in on him. Timing and working the corner is every bit as important as athleticism and talent.
“Sometimes you really have to be patient, work the corner, push him up to a certain depth, use your head, use your shoulders. Stick him. Be physical some times.”
Gruden admits that anybody with that much natural ability can get away with bad habits but like he said, “He still runs good routes; he can get a lot better. That’s all I’m saying.”
Which is a bit frightening.
UP FRONT TALK: Look at how much defensive tackle Geno Atkins has improved over his rookie season. He’s leading all NFL defensive tackles in sacks with 6.5, but line coach Jay Hayes says his biggest improvement has come stopping the run.
“He’s just learning the little intricacies of playing it, studying it and using what he has to his advantage,” Hayes said. “His strength, his quickness, his leverage, his foot speed. He understands the game very well. When you point out to him what to do when they do this, he gets it.”
Although Frostee Rucker has moved ahead of Michael Johnson at right end on the depth chart, Hayes is hesitant to call him the starter because he says Rucker is the starter in base and Johnson is the starter in nickel and the individual game depends on who plays the most. But with nickel rusher Carlos Dunlap out again this Sunday against the Steelers, both figure to get a lot of snaps in nickel because Rucker can play left end and inside on nickel if need be. Plus, Johnson can stand up on some snaps.
In his sixth season, Rucker is having a career year with four sacks, more than he had combined in his five previous seasons. Besides the maturity Hayes talks about, there is the health former Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton talks about. By playing Sunday, it will tie his career high for games played at 12.
Thornton, Rucker’s mentor breaking in, also talks about trust gaining him more snaps.
“Veteran coaches like veteran players,” Thornton said. “You have to show them you can stay healthy and be reliable and that takes time. He’s just matured.”
NOT A SNAP: Even though former Browns long snapper Ryan Pontbriand’s rolled field-goal snap was a huge factor last week in the Bengals 23-20 victory, Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons couldn’t help but have pangs of sympathy for him.
Simmons has seen it all too often. Solid performers for years, they inexplicably get the yips. Pontbriand had blown a couple before last Sunday, including one on what would have been a game-winning chip shot.
Simmons saw it happen with the Bengals’ own Brad St. Louis in 2009, his 10th season in the league. He says for special-teamers, there is no such thing as an incomplete pass in first down.
“Every down,” he says, “is fourth down.”
He doesn’t expect any meltdowns from the man that has replaced St. Louis so seamlessly. Clark Harris has had 347 straight successful snaps since he arrived.
“It’s a little different with Clark. He’s played in the league as a tight end,” Simmons said.
“He’s a happy-go-lucky guy.”
Tags: A.J. Green, Andy Dalton, Clark Harris Darrin Simmons, Frostee Rucker, Geno Atkins, Jay Gruden, John Thornton, Marques Colston
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 19 Comments »
Five takes from NFL Draft weekend:
GOOD OPENING KARMA: Here’s some good vibes for second-round pick Andy Dalton, quarterback, and first-round pick A.J. Green, wide receiver. In the only Opening Day game ever started by a Bengals rookie quarterback, Greg Cook engineered a 27-14 win over Miami at Nippert Stadium on Sept. 14, 1969. Cook outdueled Bob Griese’s 327-yard day when two of his 11 completions went for 69- and 25-yard touchdown passes to wide receiver Eric Crabtree, also making his Bengals debut. Crabtree had played the previous three seasons for the Broncos, but you get the idea.
The opener is in Cleveland, scene of the last road win by a Bengals rookie QB when Akili Smith beat the Browns on a last second two-pointer to Carl Pickens in 1999 in his first NFL start.
BEST NON-DRAFT NEWS: The one day Bengals kicker Mike Nugent was able to come into the facility last week, he was able to kick a football and make all of his handful of field-goal tries. And that’s just five months after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his kicking knee.
TEA LEAVES: Trying to read the tea leaves on Chad Ochocinco, although the rhetoric from both The Ocho and head coach Marvin Lewis seems to make it pretty clear cut. But when the Bengals take two wide receivers in the same draft (Green and Stanford’s Ryan Whalen in the sixth round), it usually means at least one major move.
» In 2010, the Bengals drafted Jordan Shipley (3) and Dez Briscoe (6) after they let loose Laveranues Coles, second in yards in ’09.
» In 2008, the Bengals drafted Jerome Simpson (2) and Andre Caldwell (3) before ’08 leading receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh left in free agency.
» We won’t count 2006 with Reggie McNeal and Bennie Brazell. McNeal was a college quarterback and Brazell was an Olympic sprinter.
» In 2005, they took Chris Henry (3) and Tab Perry (6), and 2004 turned out to be the last year for former No. 1 pick Peter Warrick.
» In 2001 they drafted The Ocho (2) and Houshmandzadeh (7) and their second-leading wide receiver, Craig Yeast, was gone for the next season.
So the past 10 years would tell you there’s going to be some sea change after a two-receiver draft.
WHICH FREE AGENTS? Unclear when the word is going to come on a permanent stay of the lockout, the Bengals spent Monday prioritizing their list of undrafted players. And, as head coach Marvin Lewis wondered on Saturday, if the free-agent gates open at the same time, which ones do you pursue first?
The Bengals already have Kyle Cook and Reggie Stephens at center, so that’s probably not a need, but NFL.com draft titan Gil Brandt says Dalton’s center at TCU, Jake Kirkpatrick, is better than some of the guys that got drafted.
And if they think they need another running back, Brandt likes Auburn’s Mario Fannin. The 5-10, 231-pounder led the SEC with quality runs, converting 70.5 percent of the time for four yards per carry, third-down conversions, and touchdowns. And they watched Kentucky’s Derrick Locke gouge them in the first half of the Senior Bowl.
Yet the Bengals could have had them ahead of Baylor’s Jake Finley, since they took him with their last pick deep in the seventh round with the mentality of picking the best free agent on the board.
The Bengals coaches had North Carolina cornerback Kendric Burney at the Senior Bowl. The best SAM backer on the board, Brandt says, looks to be 6-4, 230-pound Quentin Davie out of Northwestern. The productive-minded Bengals might like his 24 tackles for a loss, nine sacks, and five forced fumbles in 50 games.
Another safety? They had Joe Lefeged of Rutgers at the Senior Bowl and he’s another college producer with 238 tackles and eight forced fumbles in his career.
CARSON UPDATE: Somebody said they read Carson Palmer is one of the big winners of the weekend since the selection of TCU quarterback Andy Dalton allows the Bengals to move on and trade Palmer.
As Sgt. Hulka said in Stripes, ” Lighten up, Francis.”
If anything, the Dalton pick may make sure a trade doesn’t come off. Now the Bengals are not forced to do much of anything, although they are mulling a veteran free agent quarterback for a staff that has all of 14 NFL passes. Draft picks are going to have to be involved if they trade Palmer, so maybe they’re thinking why not wait until next year when a) they actually know what they’re trading for and the things have some value and b) they know what the rules of the draft are actually going to be.
Maybe the pick sparks a compromise. Palmer comes in with the understanding Dalton is the QB of the future, plays for a year, takes the kid under his wing, and they call it even after 2011 and do a deal.
And, of course, maybe not.
But their best short to contend is with No. 9; no one debates that.
“The Bengals are a good team,” says Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com. “If Palmer is there, they’re in the mix. If he’s not, you have to scale that back. But they’re a team on the verge.”
Tags: 2-receiver drafts, A.J. Green, Andy Dalton, Eric Crabtree, Greg Cook, Mike Nugent, undrafted free agents, undrafted players
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 26 Comments »
We’ve been talking about the wrong trade here.
How about one the Bengals can actually make during the lockout?
Trade the fourth pick.
They can’t talk to players. They can’t talk to player agents. They can’t even talk to their literary agents. To borrow a line from the Five Man Electrical Band’s 1970s classic “Signs,” “You ain’t supposed to be here.”
But they can talk to other teams. But they can trade draft picks.
Trade the fourth pick.
It sounds like there is going to be no consensus quarterback there at No. 4. In that case, Trade the pick. Heck, give it away if you have to. Unload it before the flame gets any lower. OK, OK, just make sure you get a fourth-rounder. But don’t pick hairs, just trade.
There are only two top 10 QBs out there. Arizona wants a QB at 5? San Fran wants one at No. 7? Tennessee at 8? Washington at 10?
Trade the pick.
Wage scale or no wage scale, the fourth pick is still going to be a huge number. There still may be some room for the first-rounder to negotiate, so if there is one training camp the rookie quarterback would seem to have the leverage in contract talks, it’s this one. And there are some tough agents at the top.
Tom Condon’s group represents Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert and Georgia receiver A.J. Green, and those have proven to be tough negotiations for the Bengals. In ’05, No. 1 pick David Pollack held out for three weeks. A quarterback holdout like that (or any position, really,) in what looks to be a truncated offseason would be devastating.
See Smith, Akili, 1999.
The lower the pick, the less chance of a stalemate.
Trade the pick.
The draft selection points would no doubt give you at least a third-rounder and maybe even a second, depending how far they went down in the first. But the fourth pick is so unattractive, take the fourth-rounder if you have to.
Don’t get me wrong. You’ll get a very talented position player at No. 4. But in this draft, which is deep but lacks the marquee players, the difference between what you get at Nos. 4 or 8 or 10 or even 15 and 16, home of Jacksonville and Oakland, respectively, (two other teams that can use a QB), is looking to be pretty small.
(The Jags head coach and OC, along with the Titans head coach, GM and OC were on hand for Gabbert’s workout Thursday.)
Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones and Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara aren’t rated that far behind Green and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson. Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley could be hanging around and is he that far off Alabama’s Marcell Dareus? And if you go down far enough, you’ll be staring at the best running back in the draft in Alabama’s Mark Ingram.
Trade the pick.
But the reason(s) to do it is to get the extra pick or picks. This draft is supposed to be stocked in rounds three through five, great places to get a safety, guard, running back, or blocking tight end.
Trade the pick.
And the longer you wait the better. Get through the Pro Days, the private workouts, the team visits, and it’s just like a soap opera any day of the week. Somebody is going to fall in love with one of those top five guys.
Trade the pick.
And it’s a trade that can actually be done.
We’ve been talking the wrong one.
Tags: A.J. Green, Blaine Gabbert, Draft trade, Julio Jones, Patrick Peterson, Prince Amukamara
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 26 Comments »