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Notes: Former Bengal spices AFC North defense

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on January 18, 2013 – 7:20 pm

The toughest division in football just got tougher for the Bengals, thanks to one of their own.

Thirty years ago the Bengals drafted Washington cornerback Ray Horton in the second round, hired him 16 years ago as a secondary coach, and on Friday saw the Cleveland Browns hire him as their defensive coordinator. Horton, who played and coached for Dick LeBeau in Cincinnati and then later in Pittsburgh, brings two years of solid work as Arizona’s defensive coordinator, including this past season when the defense kept a quarterback-less franchise breathing.

And he apparently let new Cardinals general manager Steve Keim know it when they reportedly had a heated exchange after Arizona hired Bruce Arians to be the head coach instead of Horton.

Per a Browns press release via The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Horton’s unit this past season:

Led the NFL in passer rating allowed (71.2) and interception percentage (4.4), ranked second in the NFL in interceptions (22) and third-down efficiency (32.9 percent), third in red zone defense (44.4 percent) and fourth in takeaways (33). The defense also ranked fifth in passing defense (200.8 ypg), first downs allowed (288) and points allowed per drive (1.42).

That makes quite a trio in the AC North with LeBeau bringing back the NFL’s No. 1 defense, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer weighing in with the No. 6 unit and Horton, the LeBeau clone, bringing back elements of the zone blitz from the desert. Horton could also be bringing back secondary coach Louie Cioffi, the man he took to Arizona in 2011 after he worked for 14 seasons with the Bengals.

Horton interviewed for the Browns head coaching job back on Jan. 1 and told the Plain-Dealer he had a “fantastic” interview while predicting he would be a head coach this season. It sounds like he would have been if it wasn’t for Keim.

HUE UPDATE: The status of Bengals defensive assistant Hue Jackson is unclear. He interviewed for the Panthers offensive coordinator job that went on Friday to Carolina quarterbacks coach Mike Shula. At the moment, the Bengals don’t look like they’re making changes on offense.

SMITH ARRESTED: NFL discipline may await right tackle Andre Smith after he was arrested Thursday when Atlanta police say they found a loaded .380 pistol in Smith’s carry-on bag when he tried to board a plane at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. He appeared in court Friday morning and was issued a $3,000 bond.  TV reports indicated that Smith wasn’t aware he had the gun with him.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Friday that former Browns defensive tackle Shaun Rogers was fined but not suspended for the same thing at the Cleveland airport in 2010. The league is saying that it is looking into the case to see if Smith, arrested for the first time, violated the personal conduct policy and reports that in the last three years seven players have been arrested in cases involving guns.


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Jackson signing impresses T.J.

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on February 20, 2012 – 6:20 am

Count T.J. Houshmandzadeh as an interested bystander in the Hue Jackson signing.

“I saw that and I was thinking, ‘What are the Bengals doing? It’s like they’re putting together an all-star coaching staff,’ ” he said this weekend. “They’re stacked.”

Houshmandzadeh, who jump-started his career in his fourth season when Jackson became the Bengals wide receivers coach, thinks it makes plenty of sense to fit Jackson in on the defensive side of the ball as an assistant secondary coach. In a part-time role for him during the last half of 2011, Houshmandzadeh saw what Jackson did this past year in his only season as the Raiders head coach with an injury-riddled offense in transition.

With quarterback Carson Palmer not arriving until the sixth week of the regular season and No. 1 running back Darren McFadden missing the last nine games, the Raiders still finished ninth in offense and a win away from taking the AFC West title.

“Hue knows offense. He knows it as well as anyone in the league. He’s one of the best offensive coaches there is,” Houshmandzadeh said. “He can help the defense get ready for that. He can help the defense break that down and he can help the DBs with what to expect. And he’s got Mike Zimmer and I think he’s the best defensive coordinator. I was really impressed with him the one year I was there. And you’ve got Marvin (Lewis) on defense, too.”

Houshmandzadeh’s last season with the Bengals was 2008 and even though that was two playoff appearances ago, he thinks he’s still got a pretty good feel for the guys that he worked with, such as running backs coach Jim Anderson and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese.

“I worked enough with Kenny to know he’s a good one and you know J.A. has to be good at what he does because he’s been doing it so long (29 years),” he said. “Obviously I wasn’t there with (offensive coordinator) Jay Gruden, but for them to do what he did in his first year, you know he’s got to be a good coach. And Darrin (Simmons) is one of the best special teams coaches in the league.”

Heading into his 10th season, Lewis not only has developed a young crop of players that has already made the playoffs, but he’s put together his biggest named staff. There is a former head coach (Jackson), a coach that interviewed for two head coaching jobs last month (Zimmer) and a coach that turned down two interviews for head coaching jobs (Gruden).

Houshmandzadeh thought Jackson had the Raiders on the verge of big things with the acquisition of Palmer, but he wasn’t all that surprised when new general manager Reggie McKenzie fired Jackson.

“Hue did a great job in one year and you have to figure it was only going to get better on offense,” Houshmandzadeh said. “But at the same time I can understand that the guy wants to be comfortable with his head coach and wants to make sure he gets a guy that’s on the same page.”

Houshmandzadeh, who turns 35 the third week of this season, says he wants to keep playing and is looking. If not, expect him announcing for somebody.


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Bengals had Marshall Plan; Taylor being made

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on December 18, 2011 – 9:08 am

ST. LOUIS — The Rams are honoring Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk in Sunday’s game against the Bengals (1 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Local 12), the man Cincinnati could have had at the top of the 1994 draft instead of defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson.

The Bengals honored the concept of Faulk 10 years later when they opted for Chris Perry instead of Steven Jackson at running back in the first round of the 2004 draft. Perry wasn’t Faulk, of course, but they felt he would be a more versatile player than Jackson that could split out and cause matchup problems for defenses that only had to be concerned about wide receiver Chad Johnson’s speed.

(This was before the emergence of T.J. Houshmandzadeh and drafting of Chris Henry at wide receiver.)

But Perry was healthy only one year while Jackson became one of the top backs in the league year after year. Perry has been out of the league three years while on Sunday, Jackson can add another line to the Pro Bowl resume with 105 yards that would make him the seventh man to have seven straight 1,000-yard seasons.

It’s not exactly a grocery shop list with the names Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Eric Dickerson, Curtis Martin and LaDainian Tomlinson. At some point, all are going to be in Canton.

Jackson has piled up a steel-belted career 4.3 yards per carry on some brutal clubs and has pounded 4.4 per this season behind a patchwork offensive line that has won just two games. It makes you wonder what Jackson could have done with the Bengals running game enhanced by Carson Palmer and his receivers. Heading into Sunday’s game, Rudi Johnson and Cedric Benson have 3.8 per carry since ’04.

Faulk made his Rams debut in the ’99 opener against, of all people, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis when Lewis was the Ravens defensive coordinator. Lewis remembers it as Rams quarterback Kurt Warner’s coming out with 309 yards passing and three TDs rather than a Marshall Plan. Still, the versatility was on display in the Rams 27-10 win. Faulk had seven catches for 72 yards with 54 yards rushing on 19 carries.

“He was an awesome player. His versatility not only to run the ball but to catch the football out of the backfield or flanked out right. He caused you some adjustment issues,” Lewis said last week. “We were a pretty good defense but the thing you have a hard time replicating was the speed of that offense, the angles and cuts and how precise they are. We got a lot of pressure on Warner but he made a lot of big throws and we lost the game. That was the genesis of that offense. We played well on defense but not well enough to win.”

It was Faulk that was the X-factor, just the way the Bengals had hoped Perry would be.

“He gave them that third element that now you had to make sure the linebacker could win that matchup if you got put on him on the screens,” Lewis said.

TAYLOR MADE: Safety Taylor Mays took his most snaps as a Bengal last Sunday, his most encouraging day since he came over in the August trade with the 49ers. He took 23, almost as many as he took the week before in Pittsburgh, but they were pretty much in different situations.

Against the Steelers he played mainly in running downs while against the Texans he worked against tight end Owen Daniels in coverage and he can’t remember Daniels catching a ball on the six snaps he went against him during his100-yard day. The Bengals made the switch after Daniels had his way with the linebackers and some felt the 6-3, 230-pound Mays was the only defender that effectively got his hands on Daniels.

Mays is only listening to defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and secondary coaches Kevin Coyle and Paul Guenther these days. He thinks he can be an all-round safety and not just a physical presence in the box.

“If Zim says I’m all right, then I know I’m all right,” Mays said last week. “We’ve been working on stuff like that the last couple of weeks. Playing downhill as well as working in coverage. I’m not singling anything out because I want to be the best and I’m working on everything. It was good to get out there and finally get it on film to show the coaches.”

As Mays says, “Daniels is a beast,” and gave him a lot to work on.

“He moved well off the line of scrimmage. He’s got quick feet and he uses his hands well,” he said. “He’s like a big wide receiver.”

Coyle is playing it cautiously. He calls Mays “a work in progress,” and says “he’s got some real potential.” Mays has been getting a lot of work in practice with starter Chris Crocker getting held out on at least Wednesdays and he got even more last week prepping for the Rams with Gibril Wilson also sitting out with a nick. But both are expected to play and Mays is primed again for special teams, where he’s got seven tackles.

But Coyle doesn’t look at just Mays, a 23-year-old second-year player. There is Jeromy Miles, 24, another second-year safety second in special teams tackles with 10 and fifth-rounder Robert Sands, who turned 22 last month and has been active for only one game.

“These young safeties have a lot of upside,” Coyle said.

And that’s one of the things to hammer out in the offseason. How much do you pay the other starting safety, Reggie Nelson, as he heads into free agency when balancing it against the youth?


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Thinking and Believing…again

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on November 29, 2011 – 5:32 pm

Jay Gruden

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.


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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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