Monday quick hits: Rey steps it up vs. Giants

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on November 12, 2012 – 12:35 pm

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.

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Hall timeline a guess, not his impact

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on November 14, 2011 – 10:44 am

This is a tough day at Paul Brown Stadium.

With the Bengals expected to put cornerback Leon Hall on injured reserve as early as Monday, it hits this team right where it lives.

Drawing on past experiences with torn Achilles, Hall could be on the field at the start of the next training camp with limited activity during the spring. The worst case scenario is that he would have to begin the season on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and miss the first six weeks.

It’s all speculation of course because it depends on the player. When tight end Reggie Kelly tore his Achilles in the first week of training camp at age 32 in 2009, the Bengals didn’t give him much chance to come back anywhere near his form. But he surprised them and was at training camp better than ever and held up all year.

It is one of the more challenging injuries from which to return, but with Hall not turning 27 until December and possessing a big-time work ethic, he’s a good guy to, as they say, put down your chip.

But still, this may be the one guy on the 53 that they couldn’t lose for the final seven games.

Sure, he had struggled in the Seattle game and Sunday was probably the worst he had looked in a big game in his five seasons here before he tore his Achilles. But if the Bengals have an indispensable player, it is Hall.

Just listen to safety Chris Crocker after Sunday’s game:

“It changes your mentality if you’re a coordinator because Leon allows us to do so many things,” Crocker said. “He allows us to play a lot of man-to-man, he allows us to do a lot of things in zone. He’s a big part of what we do. You lose him in a game, it’s big. And the guy never gets hurt? How do you plan for that?”

You don’t replace your best man-to-man corner in the middle of the season. Not even Bill Belichick does that. Not only that, you probably have to rip up a lot of what you do if you’re defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. This is going to be a long week on the defensive side of the ball.

Not only has Hall never missed a game, but go back to OTAs and everything else since he arrived here as the 18th pick in 2007, and you can count the number of practices he’s missed. He hadn’t missed a practice until the start of the 2010 training camp for a few days. The durability and reliability are major reasons the Bengals gave him that big extension just before the season.

Not only that, but Hall is a tremendous rallying figure in the locker room. A big-time leader in his position group and one of the all-time nice guys.

But, how many teams in the NFL can turn to a top 10 pick on their bench in Adam Jones? It’s huge. There’s no question that in his mind Jones is a starter and he has the physical talent of a starter. But no one knows when he‘ll be ready as he grapples with his own physical challenges. After not being able to play football for a year because of his neck injury, he’s finding out you need every muscle to turn and run with fast receivers like A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson and his hamstring is struggling to make the transition. And there is the rust factor.

Still, how many teams in the league have that guy on the bench in that premium of position at this point in the season? But, the Bengals are a long way from 2009 when Zimmer based his defense on two solid man-to-man corners. Getting Jones healthy would be a big help on that score. If dedication and enthusiasm counted, it would work out for everyone.
But there is no question that the Bengals are entering the stretch run in one of the toughest spots imaginable.

Leave it to Crocker: “Now,” he said, “this is where you find out where you are as a team.”

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Chemistry change

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on October 9, 2011 – 9:49 am

Nate Clements

JACKSONVILLE – Now that the Bengals starting quarterback was born the same season Boomer Esiason sat in front of the bus and the club’s Pro Bowl wide receiver was born the year Eddie Brown went to his only Pro Bowl, the Andy Dalton-A.J. Green era looks ready to write the next chapter of Bengaldom.

But an old man beat them to the punch. Cornerback Nate Clements, the oldest man on defense at age 31, born during a season Ken Riley still patrolled the corner, may have had the most to say about the new era last Sunday during halftime of the win over Buffalo.

With the Bengals down, 17-3, and looking more interested in their touches than their team, Clements spoke up. As his teammates gathered in their huddle before going back out on to the field, Clements reminded them in a quick, emotional address that they were still in it and that if they stuck together they could win.

“I was just being myself,” Clements said last week as the Bengals prepared for the Jaguars. “I felt like we needed a jump-start before going out there after what happened early in the game.”

If you’re looking for the biggest difference in head coach Marvin Lewis’ third rebuilding process of his nine seasons, this is it.

In 2003 the first one was built on implementing Lewis’ organization and philosophy for a locker room that had none. Before the start of the 2008 and then hurried along by an unbelievable run of injuries, the second reboot featured an overhauling of a veteran roster that couldn’t get over the 8-8, 7-9 hump. It was turned over to guys like Dhani Jones and Chris Crocker, journeymen veterans thankful for one last shot, and Andrew Whitworth and Domata Peko, young players on the rise that saw where the talented teams failed.

Now you have this one in 2011, marked by a massive personnel change on offense led by Dalton and Green, but along with it the installation of a group of veterans such as Whitworth, Peko, Leon Hall and Bobbie Williams that saw how not to do it in the locker room, and the infusion of professional, solid veterans like Clements, Thomas Howard, Manny Lawson and Kelly Jennings have brought a fresh perspective.

Throw in the departures of long-time locker-room personalities, whether they were positive or negative, and it allowed the new breed to flex its muscles.

It helped that the draft classes of 2009-11 yielded a vein of blue-collar players that have blue chip talent. Ask around the locker room, and the long-timers keep talking about how the young guys always seem to be talking about football and not the complementary items.

The result seems to be, as evidenced by Clements’ Buffalo Address, that the players have taken more ownership than at any point in Lewis’ run. No more passive aggressive. If they don’t like it, they’ll tell their teammates.

“I think there’s more ownership, but I don’t think it’s anything over the top,” Hall said. “There aren’t a whole lot of players that are yelling and screaming. I think you definitely get a sense of ownership.”

Clements says he just did what came natural, which may be the best way to describe how the altered chemistry is bubbling. He didn’t have any index cards.

“I’m pretty sure I’ve done it before, but I can’t remember one particular moment,” Clements said. “I didn’t plan it or rehearse it. Nobody was bickering. Nobody had their heads down. It was just something I thought we needed at the time. It wasn’t to chew anybody out. It was motivation. If you keep playing, the score is going to take care of itself.”

Clements said he had no worries that anyone would object to him speaking up or taking it the wrong way. Indeed, the reaction has been overwhelming positive.

“We all understand each other in here,” Clements said.

That could end up being the ’11 mantra. Right next to Lewis’ “Find A Way” T-shirts.

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Resiliency of youth

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on September 18, 2011 – 11:44 am

DENVER — This one just goes to show that an opener means next to nothing.

The Bengals play the team that broke their hearts but didn’t break them when they play the Broncos on Sunday (4:15 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Local 12).

In one of the more significant games in Bengals history, Kyle Orton’s Spike Strike, The Immaculate Deflection, The Tip, whatever you want to call it, beat the Bengals from 87 yards out in the 2009 opener they had won with 11 seconds left. But the Broncos ended the season imploding while the Bengals swept the AFC North and won the title.

It set up arguably the biggest victory of the Marvin Lewis era the next week when the Bengals won in a place they had never won in a 31-24 victory at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, sending them on a 4-1 start that included three division wins all secured in the last 22 seconds.

So, don’t write that opener in stone just yet.

“Just because you lose that game doesn’t mean you go to the playoffs and vice versa,” said cornerback Leon Hall, whose play on the ball went horribly wrong when the tip went behind him and not into the sidelines. “We were able to answer. For the defense it was one of the toughest losses because we played so well and we weren’t able to come up with a win.”

Maybe the most amazing thing about it all is that the Bengals were able to survive such a heartbreak with the NFL’s least experienced roster in that first month of ’09. This ’11 team has the fourth least experience with an average of 3.6 years, according to a chart released by the NFL on Friday, but it’s still a young group. They have the fewest players age 30 and over (cornerback Nate Clements and safety Chris Crocker) and are the third youngest team in the league by average age and youngest in the AFC at 25.74 years.

We’re talking days and percentage points, but it feels like more that to Crocker, 31.

“We’re a lot more younger now,” he said. “It’s a different team than ’09. The only thing that’s similar is nobody expects us to win. We’re really a different team. That was a good locker room. This is a good locker room. We were very talented then and we’re very talented now. It’s hard to compare.”

The biggest difference, of course, is the experience at quarterback. In ’09, Carson Palmer willed the Bengals to the title with seven last drives in regulation and overtime that either tied the game or gave them the lead with 2:03 left or less. Although the Bengals relied on the run to get into those situations, Crocker agrees they have to ride running back Cedric Benson even more.

“Offensively, we’ve got to run the ball. That’s how we have to win,” Crocker said. “Now we’ve got to really run the ball.”

Two years and still young. But not that young.

The Bengals are below the AFC average of 11.2 rookies and first-year players with nine. They’ve got a big number of young players who are 24 or younger and are at least in their second year of being a starter or regular: Seven with middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (24), right tackle Andre Smith (24), right end Michael Johnson (24), tight end Jermaine Gresham (23), wide receiver Brandon Tate (23), defensive tackle Geno Atkins (23), and left end Carlos Dunlap (22).

Plus, you’ve got two guys that will be making their 61st and 60th starts today in defensive tackle Domata Peko and cornerback Leon Hall, respectively, and they are only 26.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys who have a played a lot of football,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “You want young guys. You’ve got to stay young at heart. That’s part of the deal. As long as we’re mature and hopefully we’ll continue to mature.”

So when guys like Crocker and Hall say it is different than ’09, you have to believe them.

“There are a lot of different people,” Hall said. “The linebacking corps is new. Certainly there’s a different feel.”

Such as on the defensive front, where the only additions have been huge in the second-year Atkins and Dunlap. But players like Johnson and defensive tackle Pat Sims have improved.

“They’re a lot better. Even in our four-man rushes we’re getting pressure or pushing the pocket just enough. They’ve been playing like that since the preseason,” Hall said.

Hall is a prime example of that ’09 comeback. He recovered to have a career-high six interceptions and along with cornerback Johnathan Joseph was part of a duo that became the linchpin of the fourth-ranked Bengals defense. After The Tip, during the next 15 weeks wide receivers caught just eight touchdown passes.

Hall was even willing to watch tape of the play Wednesday morning, but he noticed that secondary coach Kevin Coyle left out The Tip on his video of that game, as well as Joseph’s play in that series in which he caught an interception out of bounds. Hall said he knows why Coyle showed it. The Bengals responded to Orton and his receivers and virtually shut them down until The Tip. Until then, the Broncos had just two field goals.

“I was actually looking forward to seeing it,” Hall said of the play. “I’m over it now.”

So is Crocker, it seems.

“Pure luck,” he said. “You can’t explain why anything like that happens. Stuff just happens.”

Some would argue that two openers later, fate conspired to help the Bengals last Sunday in Cleveland as they got a flukey play when they caught the Browns defense breaking late out of its huddle and conjured up the winning 41-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver A.J. Green with 4:28 left in a game they were almost out as much as the Broncos were in ’09.

“We caught them,” Crocker said. “And we took advantage. Stuff happens.”

Other age tidbits: The Steelers are the oldest team in the league as far as age (27.28) and years of experience. They have 13 players 30 and older, but the Chargers lead with 17. The youngest team is Tampa Bay at 25.17, Seattle second at 25.72, and the Bengals are tied with Green Bay 25.74. The Bucs also have the most inexperienced team with 3.3 years of NFL service.

In the rest of the AFC North, Baltimore has 13 players 30-plus and the Browns nine. But Cleveland is the least experienced team in the AFC with 3.5 years while averaging 26.02 years. The Ravens are a year older than the Bengals and Browns at 4.6 years of experience and 26.45 years of age.

What’s better?

Ask the Steelers. If you lose, you’re too old. If you win, you’re mature and experienced.

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