Cincinnati Bengals

2011 NFL Season: Comebacks, Comedowns, and “Come On” (Week 4)

The story of Week 4 was the dramatic comeback of the Detroit Lions over the Dallas Cowboys in Dallas. The Lions were being soundly beaten in all three phases of the game and trailed 27-3 in the second quarter. The Cowboys were poised to restore hope in the Lone Star State and serve notice that they could deliver convincing wins against quality opponents. Instead, following consecutive Pick Six plays off passes by Tony Romo, the Dallas Cowboys proved they remain uniquely positioned to lose games in frustratingly compelling ways. The Cowboys fell 34-30 and headed into the bye week with the same old questions and the same old answers.

The second big story of Week 4 unfolded in Cincinnati where the brash Bengals, led by coach Marvin Lewis, upset the undefeated Buffalo Bills, 23-20. The Bengals held Harvard’s Finest (Ryan Fitzpatrick) out of the end zone for the first time all season. With the smartest guy in the room unable to manufacture much offense, the visitors were left to lick their wounds. The Bills should have seen this coming. In 2010, the undefeated Houston Texans took a flight to Cincinnati and returned home without Owen Daniels and without their unblemished record. The Bengals, a team that has come to bank on physical, imposing wins over the Ravens, pushed themselves within striking distance with a 2-2 record.

Ok, maybe the second biggest story of the week was the 49ers surprising win over the Philadelphia Eagles. A few quick things about the Niners: Jim Harbaugh is a Michigan man and he’s cut out for this coaching business. He routinely handed Pete Carroll his lunch while both were at Stanford. Jim stole the keys from Pete’s Ferrari and drove it all around northern California every time the Cardinal “shocked the world.” The 49ers were a team with great expectations in 2010. The failure of Alex Smith to mature was at the root of much of their trouble — and the team seemed to lack mental toughness and depth in the running game. Remember Favre’s improbable pass to Greg Lewis in 2009? That was the last time the 49ers were where they thought they should be — until Sunday. The Eagles continue their tailspin, but the story of this game was the resilience of the 49ers; the maturation of Alex Smith; the depth of the Niners running game; and the toughness of a defense shaped by Iron Mike Singletary.

In other news:

  1. My Steelers stunk up the joint in Houston with a disheartening road kill look-alike game vs. the Texans. Andre Johnson left the game in the 2nd quarter. His injury provided no relief as Arian Foster ran all the way to Knoxville on the Steelers front 7. The Steelers need to bounce back. The Texans need to sustain momentum as they approach the middle of the most physical stretch of games in franchise history (Pittsburgh, Oakland, Baltimore).
  2. Matt Cassel’s ribs have healed. Look for him to make some noise with Breaston and Bowe until defenses figure out that the Chiefs have changed their offensive script for 2011.
  3. The Redskins are hard on the eyes, but Ryan Torain is a fun player. It would be nice to see Shanahan forego the merry-go-round approach to his running game, but it works. The offense gets yards; the GM gets an expendable player that he can cut at the end of each season. Exit stage left.
  4. What are the Miami Dolphins doing? Really. If you know, please call them and let them know.
  5. The Panthers almost won a close one in Chicago. I know you cannot “play the schedule,” but I can’t help thinking this team is going to start winning some of these close games. Newton continues to impress with his accuracy. Shockey continues to inflame with his tenacity. The refs should have come under fire for that call that took a touchdown off the board.
  6. The Raiders were simply ROBBED by the referees in the 3rd quarter against the New England Patriots. Officials picked up a flag on 3rd down that would have put the ball at the 1-yard line. Oakland was in the midst of creating a Decision Moment for the Patriots front line. Darren McFadden and Michael Bush were enjoying considerable success on the ground. While nothing is guaranteed, it is likely that Oakland manages to punch that in and draw within a touchdown of the Patriots. The Decision Moment never game; the game never tightened; the Patriots won…and all of this was done with nary an explanation.
  7. The Packers look like they would run over a nun.
  8. The Jets are all talk. Funny thing about talking smack — when that’s how you derive your identity, you don’t always play better by shutting up. You have to talk the talk all the time — even when you can’t back it up. And that’s when teams go from FEARING you to LAUGHING at you. It’s a slippery slope. Another beat down in Foxboro and the Jets will be comedic fodder for the indefatigable New York media.
  9. It’s too bad the Colts don’t have Peyton Manning.

Bye weeks begin in Week 5. Not soon enough for Dallas. Too soon for the Ravens. Just in time for the Rams and Browns. Jackson and Hillis could use a little rest before resuming their commitment to deliver pain to defenses around the league. (Through Torain and Hightower in that mix.)

 

2010 NFL Season: Historic Day for Black Quarterbacks

For Black quarterbacks across the NFL, October 10 is a day that many of them (based on their previous recorded statements) will view as just another Sunday.  But, for observers of the game and others aware of the way that questions of race color perceptions of performance, yesterday was a historic day.  For the first time that I can remember, more than one or two Black quarterbacks faced off against elite non-Black quarterbacks on the same Sunday.  I’m sure it’s happened before, but my memory is not coming up with another such Sunday.  I might have to go all the way back to the heyday of Daunte Culpepper and Aaron Brooks to find such a week.  I’ll take a look and see what I come up.  But for now…yesterday was one interesting day.

Irrelevant Excellence?

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2010 NFL Season: John Clayton’s Quest for Integrity

ESPN reporter John Clayton is routinely lambasted on his “blog” for ESPN.com because he makes outlandish and often ridiculous statements.  Perhaps no single statement has garnered as much ridicule as his singular proclamation that Baltimore Ravens starter Joe Flacco is “an elite quarterback.”

Clayton has been stuck on stupid for some time now.  He affirmed Flacco’s future greatness years ago.  He was sure the evidence would come.  Clayton even went so far as to suggest that we were seeing was merely a mirage.  Flacco’s 4-10, 34 yards, 1 INT nightmare vs. the New England Patriots was not really a disaster!  It was a sign of greatness because he was a young QB winning playoff games on the road.  Clayton’s statements read as if Ray Lewis and Ray Rice had suddenly changed uniforms; as if Flacco’s 4 measly completions actually impressed someone in Foxboro other than his own mother and John Clayton.

Clayton, a former beat writer for the Pittsburgh Steelers, even went so far as to ignore the pitiable performance Flacco offered up in the 2008 AFC Championship game.  He served up another fitful apologia after the Colts put Joe to bed without any dinner in 2009.  In 2010, it’s been CRICKETS. (more…)

2010 NFL Pre-Season: Early Thoughts

It’s that time of year again.  The NFL season opens on Thursday with a highly anticipated rematch of the defending champion New Orleans Saints and the team that thoroughly dominated them in the NFC Championship Game, the Minnesota Vikings.  Darrelle Revis is on the roster and ready for a visit from Anquan Boldin.  And Anquan’s not coming alone.  He’s bringing a 10,000 pound offensive line, that “other” defense, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.  These are great bookends to the first week.

Anquan Boldin Discussing Exit Strategies

"Don't Leave Me Hanging on the Island!"

But before we get ahead of ourselves, I have a few takeaways from the pre-season.  Last pre-season, I was impressed by a few teams.  There was something about their intensity, passion and power that stood out.  The Jets were not on that list.  I did put a spotlight on the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Bengals.  Not bad…those teams went 33-15.  That was much better than their combined 20-27-1 record in 2008.  I was also down on Denver.  When they started out 6-0, I was thinking — “Hmmm, might have missed on that one.”  When they finished 2-8, I felt better.

So, who do I think is the real deal this season? (more…)

Troy Polamalu: Quintessential Anticipation

Week 10 vs. the Cincinnati Bengals

Troy Polamalu Knows What's Coming

On this play, Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu has anticipated the snap of the ball and diagnosed the play.  He is already across the line of scrimmage and bearing down on the ball.  Bengals QB Carson Palmer hasn’t even raised the ball to his waist.  The play is a power rush to the left side for Cedric Benson.

Benson doesn’t make it.

No wonder this team was 9-7.

Bengals Hustle on Russell

JaMarcus Russell, the 2007 number one overall draft pick of the Oakland Raiders, was cut this week but may find a home in Cincinnati.  All-World Media man Chad Ochocinco is reporting that Russell will be with the Bengals at mini-camp in June.

From a personnel standpoint, this moves fits the Bengals M.O.  Russell is a great physical talent who will come at a discount.  Mike Brown is a discount shopper of outstanding talent.  The Bengals have signed Adam Jones, Tank Johnson and several others.  The team drafted A.J. Nicholson from Florida State and Rey Maualaga from USC.  And that’s the short list.

From a football perspective, the decision makes sense as well.  If you saw Carson Palmer struggle against the Jets in the playoffs, you know the Bengals have to be looking for a quarterback of the future.  Palmer was unable to make a number of throws against the Jets that cost his team the game.  His abysmal performance did escape close media scrutiny (not surprising given Palmer’s blond hair and USC pedigree), but management and head coach Marvin Lewis must have noticed.

The situation in Cincinnati may not be urgent, but it bears watching.  Palmer, for all his troubles in the passing game, can teach JaMarcus Russell a great deal about playing the position.  I don’t know how much he can teach him about leadership.  I’ve always felt that the true leadership of the Bengals was at other positions (wide receiver, offensive line (Willie Anderson)).  Still, Cincinnati provides a second chance for Russell to learn away from the bright lights of high expectations.  He can toil in the shadows and master his craft.  Twenty games at LSU was clearly insufficient.

In Cincinnati, Carson Palmer will not be looking over his shoulder.  Russell might not even make the team.  The Bengals are looking to contend for a Super Bowl title this season and need some depth at this position.  Palmer has been injured before and four games vs. the Steelers and Ravens will provide ample opportunity for a recurrence.  And, then there is the potential of another visit to Revis Island.

McNabb Trade: Playoff Bound Redskins Cause Expert Reversal

All it took was ONE DAY for ESPN’s Mark Mosley to start hedging his bets.

All it should have taken was a quick look at the fact Washington lost 7 games by less than a touchdown last year…that they always have a chance to beat their division rivals (because that’s the way it is in the NFC East)…and they’ll play the AFC South next season and will surely benefit from Mike and Kyle’s familiarity with Houston, Albert’s knowledge of Tennessee, and their ability to compete against the largely one-dimensional attacks of Indy and Jacksonville.

The Unstable Stable

The additions of Maake Keomeatu on the D-line, the conversion of Brian Orakpo in the new alignment and the addition of quality depth in the secondary and in the offensive backfield mean this team is poised to go to the next level. The Bengals went from 4-11-1 to 10-6 and a Division Title with Carson Palmer at the helm.  The Redskins should have similar expectations.  The Giants and Cowboys cannot be expected to pose a tougher challenge than the Steelers and Ravens.

Good to see Mosley get that hedge in early.  The problem is that the first piece was written as if he’d neglected to even look at the Redskins roster or to weigh the impact of how they will operate on offense.  The Redskins are going to feature three experienced backs in Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker.  Each one has faced different challenges over the past few seasons, but none of them should be concerned with hitting the wall in Week 16.  The Redskins should have one of the most dominating rush attacks in the league in 2010.  Mosley spent so much time attempting to minimize the impact of this trade that he ignored the return of Chris Cooley and maturation of Fred Davis until today.

Doesn’t Mosley know that the last thing a defensive end wants to face is a zone-blocking, two tight end offense featuring all of those backs and Donovan McNabb or any elite mobile QB running play action?  Apparently not.  Mike Shanahan coached a Top 10 offense in Denver for a DECADE.  His son just converted Michael Vick’s perennial backup into the leading passer in the entire league.  And, the Redskins defense has been ranked in the Top 10 for 8 of the past 10 seasons.  Do you really think the wheels are going to fall off with the addition of elite offensive coaching, play-calling and execution?  Really?

GOLD STAR QUESTION: By how many games did the New Orleans Saints improve when they added Sean Payton and Drew Brees?

GOLD STAR ANSWER:  SEVEN.

RED STAR QUESTION: By how many games did the Atlanta Falcons improve when they added Matt Ryan and Alex Gibbs?

RED STAR ANSWER: SEVEN.

Both New Orleans and Atlanta made the playoffs.   Perhaps all that can be said about Mosley and the Redskins playoff chances is that he denied it was possible before he thought it might be “kinda-sorta” possible.


2009 NFL Season: How Brett Favre Beat the Bengals on Two Plays

In sports, you never know when the decisive play or plays in a game will occur.  Sometimes it is the first play of the game.  Sometimes it is the last.  This past Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals visited the Minnesota Vikings and were soundly defeated 30-10.  The score, however, did not reveal how close the game was during the critical moments.  The Vikings’ win wasn’t a mere reversal of what happened to them the week before in Arizona.  Instead, it was the end result of masterful work by Brett Favre — and it didn’t show up in his stat line.

The Bengals trailed 16-7 at the beginning of the second half.  Cincinnati committed a whopping 8 first-half penalties and also fumbled deep in their own territory with 4 seconds remaining.  Carson Palmer began a drive with 31 seconds to go that had no direction or purpose.  Cedric Benson had accumulated 41 yards on his first 7 carries.  Rather than run out the clock or take a deep shot against a man, 1-deep zone coverage, the Bengals threw two short passes to fullback Brian Leonard.  On the second attempt, Antoine Winfield separated him from the ball.  Ryan Longwell connected from 45 yards and the Vikings snatched three “free” points from their guests.

At the opening of the second half, the Bengals kicked off to the Vikings and began a critical drive.  With the score 16-7, a touchdown would likely put the game out of reach.  The defense had to get a stop.   Early in the drive, CBS’ Dan Dierdorf complimented the Bengal defense for its gap discipline and its ability to force Adrian Peterson to down the line of scrimmage in search of a hole.  The Bengals were still in the game.

At the 12:46 mark of the 3rd quarter, the Vikings faced a 2nd and 5 from the Cincinnati 45 yard line.  Chester Taylor had just made two nice plays in the middle of the field to move the ball into Bengal territory.  Prior to the snap, #40, big Jake Kleinsasser jumped early.  2nd and 10.   This is an ideal down for the defense.  The Bengals took full advantage and defensive tackle Tank Johnson planted Favre into the turf for a 7 yard loss.  3rd and 17.

Tank Johnson Sacks Brett Favre

This is the moment that Brett Favre took over the game for the Vikings.  He got up slowly, as he has so many times before, called the next play and brought his team to the line of scrimmage.

"Encroachment, defense. 5 Yard Penalty. Repeat 3rd Down."

HUT!! HUT-HUT!!

That’s all it took to get the Vikings back to a “manageable” 3rd and 12.  Dan Dierdorf said: “Marvin Lewis (Bengals head coach) is just beside himself.”  Favre’s change in cadence sapped the Bengals momentum from the sack on the previous play, slowed down the pass rush for the ensuing play, and opened up the playbook for Darrell Bevel and Brad Childress.  There are many more plays that work on 3rd and 12 than there are for 3rd and 17.

Chester Taylor between 2 Bengal Linebackers -- First Down!!!

The next play was a little circle route that isolated Chester Taylor on a linebacker.  And he was off to the races.

Chester Taylor: One Second Later...10 yards and Separation.

Taylor ran to the Bengal 25-yard line.  First down.  The next play?  Taylor ran a draw down to the 8-yard line.  First and goal!  The Cincinnati Bengal defense blew a great opportunity to get off the field at the most critical juncture of the game.  The drive ended with Adrian Peterson pummeling the Bengal defense for three straight carries and a touchdown.  The drive concluded at the 8:50 mark of the 3rd quarter and many Bengal defenders standing with their hands on their hips.

Exhausted Bengal Defenders at the End of 6 Minute Drive

The most critical moments of this critical drive were determined by something that cannot be wholly quantified — but it was a great demonstration of awareness of “the moment.”  The eagerness and anticipation of an aggressive Bengals defense was ripped out by an innocuous little play at mid-field.  Sometimes, it’s the little things that mean a lot.

The Vikings are going to be a tough out.  I said it in the pre-season.  Not much has changed.

2009 NFL Season: The Steel Curtain Falls

Playoff races are heating up around the NFL.  In Pittsburgh, playoff hopes are as icy as Lake Erie in December.  The Steelers have lost five games in a row, including a Thursday night shocker at the hands of the Cleveland Browns.  Things are so bad in Pittsburgh that Brady Quinn completed a mere 6 of 19 passes for 90 yards — and people blamed the DEFENSE.  This was unthinkable after the Steelers flexed their muscles at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver back in November.  Times have changed.  Pittsburgh is miles away from that victory and is in turmoil following a series of redundant, irritatingly close losses to the dregs of the NFL.

According to Mark Kaboly, the Steelers are unaware of what is wrong with the team.  They do not have solutions and are earnestly looking for answers.   His article in the Pittsburgh Tribune featured quotes from players like Casey Hampton, Hines Ward and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer.  None of them seem to know what the problem has been with this team.  Kaboly does a solid job of listing many of the issues, but he doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head. AP’s Allan Robinson had the same experience in speaking with Chris Kemoeatu and James Farrior.  There is no one single problem and no one single solution.  Some problems can be fixed in 2009.  Some will take time.  The confusion is in the complexity.  So here goes…Top 10 Reasons Why the Steelers Are STILL Losing:

Is Troy Polamalu's Injury the Real Reason?

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