If the Bengals were going to have one All-Pro, it would be defensive tackle Geno Atkins and that’s what happened Saturday when the Associated Press released its All-Pro team and Atkins grabbed 42 of the 50 votes. Atkins, who led the Bengals and all NFL defensive tackles with 12.5 sacks, was the only Bengal to make it in voting by the 50-member national panel. Atkins joins wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham in the Cincinnati contingent headed to the Pro Bowl later this month.
The AP All-Pros via ProFootballTalk.com:
QB: Peyton Manning, Broncos
RB: Adrian Peterson, Vikings (unanimous); Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
FB: Vonta Leach, Ravens
WR: Calvin Johnson, Lions; Brandon Marshall, Bears
TE: Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
T: Duane Brown, Texans; Ryan Clady, Broncos
G: Jahri Evans, Saints; Mike Iupati, 49ers
C: Max Unger, Seahawks
DE: J.J. Watt, Texans (unanimous); Cameron Wake, Dolphins
DT: Geno Atkins, Bengals; Vince Wilfork, Patriots
OLB: Von Miller, Broncos; Aldon Smith, 49ers
ILB: Patrick Willis, San Francisco; NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco
CB: Richard Sherman, Seahawks; Charles Tillman, Bears
S: Earl Thomas, Seahawks; Dashon Goldson, 49ers
P: Andy Lee, 49ers
K: Blair Walsh, Seahawks
KR: Jacoby Jones, Ravens
Should any other Bengal be in the discussion on that list? Certainly you could talk about Green instead of Marshall and Kevin Huber at punter. Green made the second team with 16.5 votes, (6.5 behind Marshall in third place ) but Lee (24 votes) and New Orleans’s Thomas Morstead (18) finished 1-2. And if Brown and Clady are on the list then left tackle Andrew Whitworth has to be in the debate. One thing about the Texans and Broncos: Each team allowed the Bengals no sacks.
Tags: Atkins AP All-Pro, Geno Atkins
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 3 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 »
Again in honor of Listen to Lance A Lot and Peter The King, here are some things I Think I Believe:
I THINK I BELIEVE the Bengals must be having a very good year. It is not even December and already the name of a Bengals assistant coach has surfaced as a candidate for a head coaching job. In the wake of Jack Del Rio’s firing in Jacksonville on Tuesday, Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com tweeted the names of Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher.
It’s not just an idle report because Prisco lives in Jacksonville, covered the Jags forever at the Florida Times-Union, and still has good ties to the club. Plus, connect the dots. Jags general manager Gene Smith and Gruden’s father are both Heidelberg College football guys.
And it makes sense. Gruden and his staff have done a remarkable job with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, while in Jacksonville franchise QB Blaine Gabbert, the guy the Bengals thankfully passed at No. 4 for A.J. Green, is backsliding.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer figures to get some interest, too, as the defense sniffs a top five ranking for the second time in three years. Especially since Bill Parcells is so staunchly in his corner.
It only happens when people take notice what you’re doing and the Bengals have made them do that.
I THINK I BELIEVE Geno Atkins has a shot to be the first Bengals defensive tackle to make the Pro Bowl since nose tackle Tim Krumrie in 1988. Players and coaches are no different than everyone else and vote off stats, so his NFL-leading 6.5 sacks among tackles are huge. And you’ve got national media writing that Atkins was the best defensive tackle on the field in Baltimore the other week, not Ravens Pro Bowl tackle Haloti Ngata.
I THINK I BELIEVE that Sunday’s 51-yarder from Andy Dalton to A.J. Green showcased the kind of chemistry between a QB and receiver that hasn’t been seen around these parts since Carson Palmer was throwing to T.J. Houshmandzadeh in 2007, when Houshmandzadeh shared the NFL receiving title with 112 catches.
I THINK I BELIEVE the offense’s not-so-secret weapon is tight end Jermaine Gresham. The guy is a matchup nightmare when you also have to cover the speed of Green and Jerome Simpson downfield. It is shaping up to be the best season by a Bengals tight end since Rodney Holman went to the Pro Bowl in 1990. Gresham isn’t going to the Pro Bowl, but he’s on pace for 58 catches for 575 yards and while Tony McGee had 754 yards receiving on 55 catches in 1995, he only had four TDs. Gresham already has five. Holman also had five TDs in 1990 and 14.9 yards per his 40 catches.
I THINK I BELIEVE one of the most underrated stats of this season is Mike Nugent’s 8-for-9 effort on field goals in the fourth quarter. How good has Nugent been? He’s 35-for-40 from all over for an 87.5 percentage since he became the Bengals kicker in 2010. When he arrived before the season, his career percentage was 79 percent on 79-for-100.
I THINK BELIEVE if I’m left alone in the draft room with a box of Cap’n Crunch and Stephen King’s Nov. 22, 1963, I go cornerback, wide receiver, guard, D-lineman, running back in that order with those five projected picks in the first three rounds, the guess being that extra pick in the third ends up as the compensatory pick for cornerback Johnathan Joseph.
The Bengals have to think about D-line, too. With tackle Pat Sims and DT/DEs Frostee Rucker and Jonathan Fanene looking at free agency, how many stick around to keep being part of a rotation instead of a starter? One thing, though. Every lineman gets a pretty significant number of snaps.
I THINK I BELIEVE this is a scheme league. How else to explain that quarterback Carson Palmer is winning the kind of games in Oakland in his first month that he didn’t win in Cincinnati for several years, if ever? On Sunday in the win over the Bears he threw for 301 yards without his top running back (Darren McFadden) and two of his top three receivers in Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore.
Running back Michael Bush had just 69 yards on 24 carries. And there’s the nut. The Raiders are pounding the ball and mixing play-action for deep shots downfield with short throws to the backs as Palmer averages a whopping 8.9 yards per throw. Against the Bears he threw nine times to his fullback and running back.
He had back-to-back 100 passer rating games against Minnesota and San Diego. The last time he did that was the first two games of 2007. The last time he threw for 300 yards in a win was the last game of 2007.
The reports of his demise were clearly false. The guy can still play.
So, as it turns out, can Dalton.
Tags: Carson Palmer, Geno Atkins, Jay Gruden, Jeff Fisher, Jermaine Gresham, Mike Nugent, Mike Zimmer
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 21 Comments »