Blogs

What they’ll buzz about

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on October 4, 2010 – 11:36 am

Here’s a guess on what will be the handful of sound bites buzzing around Sunday’s 1 p.m. game against Tampa Bay after the Bengals whiffed their chance to move into a three-way tie for first place in the AFC North with their loss to winless Cleveland.

» The only good thing that came out of Sunday is that people will get off quarterback Carson Palmer’s back for at least a week. He clearly showed he’s still got gamebreaking skills and that he and T.O. and The Ocho and Gresham can make some beautiful music together. He threw a couple of long ones and he fired some sideline-lasers.  His only questionable play seemed to come in that ugly red-zone sequence late in the third quarter. There was a sack and a checkdown pass with no shot into the end zone.  But then, he’s won a lot North games taking what they give him.

What Palmer showed Sunday is that he’s obviously still able to take over a game.

» Cornerback Leon Hall quietly keeps doing his thing. He’s got an interception in each of the last three games, giving him 17 for his career. It shows you how much the game has changed. That puts him in a tie for sixth on the all-time Bengals list in 52 games. He’s tied with safety Tommy Casanova’s 17 in 71 games from 1972-77. 

» Is it my imagination, or is running back Cedric Benson Palmer’s best pass protector in more ways than one?

Forget the way Benson picked up three blitzes in the touchdown drive that cut the lead to 23-20 Sunday. He simply manned up and didn’t let anyone touch Palmer with an extremely gutty effort.

And his numbers also suggest he keeps people off Palmer and his offense. The Bengals are 9-0 when Benson carries it at least 25 times and 12-1-1 when he gets it at least 21.

But it’s more than the numbers and more than blitz pickups. It’s the feel, the pace, the energy, the running formations that keeps defenses honest. They can’t tee it up and go after an offensive line that clearly has trouble protecting. That’s why they ran it first last year and they may have to head that way again this year if they want to keep Palmer healthy.

The bid for balance is precarious. The passing game looked  good as it has looked in years. But Benson’s 15 carries made them almost look more like the sub-.500  finesse team that struggled in 2007 than the smashmouth running team that won the division in 2009. It is hard to see them passing on all five situations of third-and-three or less last year. But they did in Cleveland, and converted two.

You had to love the way the pass game worked Sunday, though. But the sacks make you wonder if they still have to protect their line with some more Benson.

» The improved pass rush just isn’t there. Sunday’s one sack came on WILL linebacker Keith Rivers’ blitz. They need to get something from their pass-rushing ends. Seneca Wallace’s ability to extend plays out of the pocket didn’t happen last year against this defense, never mind all the crucial rush yardage. Three sacks in four games are going to be fodder for comment this week.

» With rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley spread out unconscious on the field Sunday, it looked like what rookie cornerback Brandon Ghee went through in the Sept. 2 preseason finale at Indianapolis. And he didn’t return to practice for two weeks. So don’t look for Shipley this week. But the Oct. 17 bye comes at a good time for him. He could be back for the game in Atlanta in three weeks.

» You have to feel that all the Redsmania is spreading and is going to help the Bengals extend their sellout streak to 55 and make Sunday quite a festive day on the riverfront.


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Summer reading

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on July 6, 2010 – 8:47 pm

I saw Peter “The” King before he saw me streetside on Boylston at Dillon’s Café on my walk to Fenway Park for the first time since ’95.

He looked up with the same smile he must have had when he penned the note, “Enjoy your first trip back to Fenway since the Malzone era.”

My wife and I wanted to thank him one last time for giving us his tickets to last week’s Red Sox-Rays game, but it turned out to be one tough beer.

King, the former Bengals beat writer who has become one of the leading NFL authorities for Sports Illustrated, was supposed to be enjoying his first day back from South Africa and covering the World Cup.  But he had been back for a week, brought home suddenly when his brother Bob died of a heart attack after a bike ride.

As usual, King taught me a lesson instead of wallowing in one. We talked about Bob in and around snippets. Like the Sox newest improbable hero, Darnell McDonald, a stud high school running back that almost ended up at Texas with Cedric Benson. Like Sara’s first trip to Fenway in 1984, when she watched me grouse about a rookie right-hander named Roger Clemens unable to beat Steve McCatty and the A’s with just four strikeouts in seven innings.

And she still married me.

But mainly we talked about Bob and how everyone in South Windsor, Conn., admired the marathon man and church deacon who produced Eagle scouts like miles as a scoutmaster. And how the day he died he delivered his first sermon, a Father’s Day examination of “real happiness.”

“I’m sad, but I’m also happy because he found the real happiness,”  King said. “I think of his last day and how he was doing everything that he loved. The bike ride. The sermon.  The gifts his kids gave him. They didn’t give him a tie or anything. They gave him coupons for jobs they could do for him. Like mowing the lawn … and that made him feel great because they got it.”

And the thing is, Peter made you get it, too. He was able to pick through the paragraph of grief and isolate the truest sentence. You’ve got to find the best because there is no time for the worst.

We talked Bengals, too. I tried to calm his fears about Carson Palmer. I reminded him about the seven last-drive TDs that either won or tied games last year and that seemed to make him feel better. But he’s still worried about the passing game.

I certainly felt better about the Sox five hours later. James Shields refused to walk David Ortiz with first base open in a scoreless game in the fifth and Big Papi promptly put the first pitch in the right field bullpen to ignite the win. That had to be my first bullpen homer since Mike Greenwell in ’90.

The owners have done a great job with the Sox, no question. They’ve somehow tucked 21st century amenities into 19th century crevices and the seats on top of the left-field wall are a superb touch. But as Neil Diamond launched into “Sweet Caroline” in the middle of the eighth, I found myself missing John Kiley.

Kiley is the answer to the trivia question, “Name the only man to play for the Sox, Celtics and Bruins.”  He played a mean organ, but you don’t hear one at Fenway any more unless you show up about an hour before the game. That’s kind of sad.

And it’s not the same kind of crowd. You just got the sense everybody was networking or out on a field trip from the office, and the batting averages were an afterthought. Ah, maybe it was always like that and I’m just looking at it like I was 10 years old.

Everything is better in the summer, right?

Like songs on the radio. Summer songs are the ones you always remember. The ones that make you feel and taste and think exactly what you were feeling and tasting and thinking when you first heard them.

They don’t have to be bad or good. They just have to be played over and over in the good times. For the “Me” generation, a lot of them were one-hit wonders and for good reason because it was a wonder they were a hit at all. Songs like  “Brandy” (1972),  “The Night Chicago Died” (1974) and “Afternoon Delight” (1976).

Yikes.

Summer is also the time to read trashy novels but I couldn’t pull it off and am going with “1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and The Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York.” A superb book about the turning point in baseball, when Babe Ruth’s power game finally eclipsed John McGraw’s dead-ball era of bunting, stealing and defense.

It got me thinking about Benson and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell because the book spends a lot of time talking about how the new baseball commissioner, Judge Landis, got the game back on its feet after the Black Sox threw the 1919 World Series for the gamblers. Well, Ruth was the guy that got baseball back on its feet but Landis did his share by coming down hard on the Eight Men Out and made them an example by banning them for life even though they were acquitted by a jury.

It reminded me of how Goodell effectively began implementing his new personal conduct policy in 2007 to combat the stunning spate of criminal behavior off the field.  He was tough and decisive and, like Landis, wasn’t going to wait for the courts or be influenced by them.  It was well done and needed.

But it also got me thinking about how Goodell gets more scrutiny and criticism in this 24-7 news cycle than Landis ever could have imagined, making his slope much slicker.

Goodell is either looking or is going to look at the case in which Benson is accused of punching someone in a Texas bar. But  that’s all we know. Until we hear Benson’s side, what can you say? What if it was self defense? Reports have said Benson could be in a jam because of two alcohol incidents in 2008. But he was cleared when a grand jury chose not to indict him, an unusual development indicating the cases had no merit. So that shouldn’t be part of the discussion, right?

Frankly, no one knows. It is Goodell’s call. Asked how the ’08 grand jury dismissal affects the case, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail, “All relevant information is reviewed. We cannot answer more specific questions at this time. The matter is under review.”

Indications are if it is considered Benson’s first offense, he’ll only be fined and not suspended. In discussing Vince Young’s arrest, ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio noted the precedents involving Cardinals linebacker Joey Porter and Jets receiver Braylon Edwards.

Florio notes Porter, a first-time offender, was fined a game check after pleading no contest to misdemeanor assault in 2008. Edwards, another first-time offender, reportedly won’t be suspended, Florio said, after pleading no contest to misdemeanor assault arising from an October 2009 incident.

But the spine of the conduct policy is that it is simply Goodell’s call and nothing else as he uses his own guidelines and feel for the situation and person. So how can you speculate on that?

The 1921 authors could have easily been talking about how Goodell faced his own very severe problem that also threatened the integrity of his game nearly 90 years later: “The commissioner declared that his justice would be more demanding than the courts.” Even if an indicted player were found innocent in a trial, Landis declared, “He has got to make good with the commissioner. Juries sometimes make mistakes.”

Goodell seems to understand every case is different, which makes you think Benson should get a fair shake.

It is funny how a baseball book about 1921 can get you thinking about today’s NFL headlines.


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