Tag:Mike Zimmer
Posted on: January 9, 2012 12:13 pm
Edited on: January 15, 2012 11:14 am
 

Latest coaching rumors, news

Coaching news and rumors abound through the playoffs. (EoF Illustration)
By Eye on Football staff

Coaching news and rumors don't slow down just because there's football. If you missed all of last week's action, hit it here to catch up and then scroll down. Make sure to bookmark this page as we'll be updating it throughout the week with the latest news and rumors.

SUNDAY
11:15 a.m. ET

FRIDAY
2:05 p.m. ET

12:45 p.m. ET
11:33 a.m. ET
  • Bill Callahan is officially on board with the Cowboys, and he's actually going to be named the offensive coordinator, which is pretty interesting. However, Jason Garrett will continue to call plays. And, presumably, timeouts. Ahem.
THURSDAY
8:35 p.m. ET

3:15 p.m. ET
  • With the loss of Mike Mularkey to Jacksonville, the Falcons reportedly are looking at Brian Billick, former Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and former Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to fill the Atlanta OC job.
  • Saints coach Sean Payton confirmed that Aaron Kromer, New Orlean's OL coach, will interview for the Rams head coaching job.

11:50 a.m. ET
  • If the Colts fire coach Jim Caldwell, could new Indianapolis GM Ryan Grigson, formerly the personnel director of the Eagles, consider Philadelphia offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg? The Philadelphia Inquirer thinks there might be some merit to that idea.
8:50 a.m. ET
  • According to a radio station in Orlando, the Bengals have signed a three-year extension with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. So, it appears that Gruden will be staying in Cincinnati.

WEDNESDAY


8:05 p.m. ET
  • Former Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris has landed a new job as the defensive backs coach for the Redskins. It's nice to see that Washington DOES provide jobs to the unemployed.
7:30 p.m.
  • Todd Bowles, formerly the interim coach in Miami, is the first Raiders coaching candidate to emerge in the wake of Hue Jackson's firing, according to ESPN.
  • Mike Mularkey wants to keep former Jaguars interim coach Mel Tucker in Jacksonville as the defensive coordinator. That's via the Florida Times-Union, which quotes Mularkey as saying, "I want to really just have a chance to sit down and talk to him. I’ve spoken to him already, prior to this going down. We really have a pretty good relationship, so hopefully it works out.” Tucker has already interviewed for the Vikings defensive coordinator job.
6:05 p.m. ET
  • According to the Newark Star Ledger, former Chiefs coach Todd Haley will arrive in New Jersey on Wednesday night to interview for the Jets offensive coordinator job. It's not yet Tony Sparano's gig.

5:35 p.m. ET
  • Here are a couple of reasons why we shouldn't be holding our breath about a Schottenheimer family reunion.

10:25 a.m. ET

  • Ryan Grigson is the new general manager for the Indianapolis Colts. Grigson served as director of player personnel with the Eagles for the past year and was the director of college scouting before that.
  • The Jaguars hiring Mike Mularkey eliminated Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski from leaving for Jacksonville, but the Associated Press reports he's now interviewing for the Rams job.
  • One report has the Falcons, who "let" Brian VanGorder leave for Auburn, checking out Steve Spagnuolo for the defensive coordinator position. That'd be a nice fit.
TUESDAY
11:45 p.m. ET

  • It's your standard quiet Tuesday night on the NFL coaching rumor front: Brian Schottenheimer is out as Jets offensive coordinator and the latest reports have Tony Sparano stepping into that role in 2012. (Schotty didn't get "fired" by the way, but yeah, it sounds awkward.)
10:35 p.m. ET
6:40 p.m ET
  • The Dolphins announced that they interviewed Mike Zimmer, defensive coordinator of the Bengals. Meanwhile, Cincy offensive coordinator Jay Gruden declined to interview with the Rams and Jaguars and will stay with Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton.

3:30 p.m ET

  • Winston Moss, the assistant head coach/linebackers coach for the Packers, is considered the front-runner for the open Raiders job.
2:20 p.m. ET
MONDAY
8:40 p.m. ET
  • Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has drawn interest from the Rams and will interview for their head coaching position Thursday, according to the Denver Post.
6 p.m. ET
  • One time-Rams scout Ryan Grigson, now the Eagles director of player personnel, interviewed Monday for the St. Louis general manager job, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
  • As Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was scheduled to interview for the Dolphins head coaching job Monday. Strangely enough, Cincinnati offensive coordinator has NOT been approached by the Jaguars to interview. “I have not heard anything," Gruden said. "I don’t know what’s happening to be honest with you. I don’t know if I’m ready. I’m just dealing with the season that came to an end and whatever happens, happens. I got a couple texts from people that heard I was a candidate for the job but I haven’t heard anything otherwise. I don’t know exactly how it works. I’ll probably find shortly if it is true.”
2:57 p.m. ET
  • Cowboys secondary coach Dave Campo, formerly Dallas' head coach, will not return for 2012, writes the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Apparently, the rest of Jason Garrett's staff should be safe.
  • Via ESPN's Adam Schefter, Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey will interview for the Jaguars job on Tuesday.
11:10 p.m. ET

10:30 a.m. ET

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Posted on: January 8, 2012 3:04 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 3:25 pm
 

Texans Phillips to talk to Bucs; Mike Zimmer too?

Wade Phillips is going to talk to Tampa about their opening. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Earlier on Sunday we passed along the report that the Bucs might be closing in on naming Mike Sherman their next head coach. So it's interesting (very interesting actually) that the Buccaneers asked the Texans for permission to interview defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

And, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans gave Tampa Bay permission to talk with Wade and the two sides will speak on Friday.

Latest Coaching Rumors, News

"I'm gratified somebody noticed," Phillips said, per McClain. "I don't want to leave Houston but I want to be a head coach. We'll talk and see how much interest [the Bucs] have in me."

Phillips has been a head coach at the NFL level three times. He went 16-16 as the Broncos head coach in 1993 and 1994, 29-19 as the Bills head coach from 1998-2000 and 34-22 as the Cowboys head coach from 2007-2010. He was also an interim head coach for four games with the Saints in 1985 and for three games with the Falcons in 2003.

Wade's gotten the lion's share of credit for turning the Texans defense from the NFL's worst unit in 2010 to the NFL's second-best unit in 2011. Even though the additions of Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning also helped, there's no question Phillips made a huge impact and his stock went way up after the Texans strong defensive performance this season.

Given the way the Buccaneers finished the season -- losing 10 straight in embarrassing defensive fashion and falling to 30th in the NFL in defense in the process -- talking with Phillips makes a lot of sense.

According to Chris Mortensen of ESPN, the Bucs will also speak with Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.

Zimmer can interview and take the position at any point since Cincinnati's eliminated from the playoffs. But the Bucs can't actually hire Phillips until the Texans are knocked out, which would be Monday, January 16 at the earliest (Houston and Baltimore play that Sunday).

All of this makes it much less likely that Sherman's announced as the next coach within the week.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 4, 2012 11:21 am
Edited on: January 4, 2012 11:46 am
 

Film Room: Texans vs. Bengals wild-card preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


The Bengals managed to back-in to the playoffs despite going 1-6 against teams with a winning record. They may not seem like a dangerous playoff opponent, but if you’re the Texans – a team that’s 0-0 all-time in postseason play – every playoff opponent is dangerous. Here’s a breakdown of the Saturday afternoon wild card matchup.


1. Bengals run game vs. Texans front seven
Cincinnati’s methodical, power-based rushing attack (ranked 19th) struggles against fast defensive front sevens. Cedric Benson has more lateral agility than you’d guess, but he lacks the elite initial quickness to make dramatic cutbacks early in the run.

This lends a certain predictability to Cincinnati’s ground game. Less concerned about getting burned in their own over-pursuit, front seven defenders take a faster, more attack-oriented approach.

The Bengals counter this by overloading with six-man offensive lines and multiple lead-and motion-blockers. A speedy defense might trip them up early in the game, but the belief is Benson and his blockers can wear it down late.

That wasn’t the case when these teams met in Week 14. The Bengals tried to go to the ground to protect a late lead, but Benson totaled minus-five yards on five carries in the fourth quarter. Not only are the Texans’ linebackers collectively faster than any in the NFL, but defensive ends – J.J. Watt, Antonio Smith and Tim Jamison are elite penetrating run-stoppers.

If the Bengals want to sustain offense against Wade Phillips’ crew, they’ll have to go to the air.

2. Dalton and the passing attack
The second-rounder from TCU has been one of the steadiest, most cerebral game-managers in all of football this season. What Dalton lacks in arm strength he makes up for in timing, poise and confidence.

First-year offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has built a system ideally suited for Dalton, featuring play-action and rollouts, moving pockets and quick-strike reads to the slot and flats (hence the expanded joker role for tight end Jermaine Gresham). Dalton has the pocket toughness and moxie to make it work.

But that speedy front seven from Houston can jeopardize all this. It’s not just that the Texans sack quarterbacks (they ranked sixth in that department this season), it’s that they make them play fast. Connor Barwin’s and Brooks Reed’s relentless off the edge rattles pockets; J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith are two of the few 3-4 ends who can beat a pass-blocker with a quick first step; and perhaps most significant, inside linebacker

Brian Cushing blitzes with impeccable speed and timing. Cushing’s effectiveness in this sense is a big reason why Houston has frequently had success blitzing with just five rushers. Able to keep defenders back, the Texans have racked up gobs of coverage sacks.

Dalton is willing to hang in there against the blitz (worth noting is that last time these teams met, Phillips was more aggressive than usual, occasionally playing Cover 0 and bringing the entire gauntlet of defenders). He’s been just a tad inconsistent in his precision accuracy the last few games, and he quietly struggled throughout the year on deep balls. These issues, however, have not derived from hasty or flawed mechanics and aren’t prominent enough for a defense to intentionally exploit.

Green and Joseph will square off again in the playoffs. (Getty Images)

3. Johnathan Joseph on A.J. Green
The Bengals passing attack centers around the downfield acrobatics of A.J. Green. They take several deep shots a game with the rookie Pro Bowler – often off play-action from run formations – and have him clear out coverage for the underneath receivers in the flats.

Interestingly, Green will be guarded by Johnathan Joseph, the sensational ex-Bengals corner who’s now the fulcrum of Houston’s coverage schemes. Joseph is arguably the premier deep ball defender in the NFL. That’s a big reason why he’s in the select group of corners who truly shadow the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver week in and week out.

Joseph’s unique talent lends multiplicity and versatility to the rest of Houston’s secondary. That’s something Dalton and his ancillary targets must adjust to (one-on-one coverage for Jerome Simpson is not guaranteed this Saturday). The Joseph-Green matchup could very well decide the outcome. The last bout was a draw; Green finished with just 59 yards receiving but did have a tremendous 36-yard touchdown.

4. Bengals D vs. T.J. Yates
Even though it was Yates’ first start on the road, Gary Kubiak did not keep tight reigns on his fifth-round rookie quarterback at Cincinnati. He ran Houston’s regular passing attack, which is built around play-action off the stretch handoff (see: below), screens and downfield crossing patterns that attack man-to-man or Cover 3 (a zone the Bengals commonly play against base offensive personnel).

If you could characterize Gary Kubiak’s offense in one snapshot, this would be it. This is the stretch handoff, the most potent play in Houston’s zone run game. We froze the shot here because it’s indeterminable whether it’s a run or a play-action pass. Look at the Bengals back level defenders. The linebackers (53 Thomas Howard and 58 Rey Maualuga) have no choice but to flow right; the defensive backs are playing back and not attacking the run or their receiver.

The stretch handoff forces an entire defense to pause before committing to an attack. It presents a more dynamic play-action element because when it’s finally revealed whether the quarterback handed the ball off or kept it himself, the play has been unfolding for nearly two seconds (much longer than a traditional play-action). By this point, if it’s a handoff, the offensive linemen are further down their run-blocking paths; if it’s a pass, the receivers are further into their routes. Thus, any defenders who misdiagnoses the play is caught even further out of position than usual.

This is the case if the stretch play is executed well. As an offense, the risk is that when your stretch play is executed poorly, the drawn-out time elements work just as potently against you, as defenders that easily sniff out what you’re doing now have more time to react.

Kubiak trusted Yates to make plays; aside from a few short-armed throws, Yates responded extremely well. He exhibited his quick release, poise in the pocket and patience in progressions, completing 26 of 44 for 300 yards and engineering a brilliant 13-play, 80-yard game-winning touchdown drive.

Since then, Yates’ confidence has led to a few bad decisions. He had two atrocious interceptions in the loss to Carolina and did not push the ball downfield the next week when Indianapolis’ defense took away the crossing routes and rollout passes. There’s no telling how Yates might respond to unfamiliar looks in a playoff game.

A deep, lively defensive line has allowed Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to drift away from some of the high-risk pressure concepts that have long defined his system, but don’t be surprised if Zimmer throws a few safety/corner blitzes at the rookie on Saturday.

5. Texans zone run game
Even if they’re confident in Yates and finally have Andre Johnson at full force, the Texans will center their offensive attack around the ground game. Their front five is by far the best zone-blocking unit in the league – LT Duane Brown, C Chris Myers and RT Eric Winston have all had Pro Bowl caliber seasons – and they have the AFC’s best all-around runner in Arian Foster.

Compact 220-pound backup Ben Tate can also move the chains. The Bengals have a staunch run defense, thanks to meaty nose tackle Domata Peko and the great one-on-one play of his sidekick Geno Atkins. They also benefit from the athleticism at linebackers and the superb outside tackling of cornerback Nate Clements.

However, this defense did give up a big run to Ben Tate in Week 14 and got burned on huge runs by Ray Rice (who plays in a zone scheme similar to Houston’s) in both losses to Baltimore.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Wild Card games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 8, 2011 10:56 am
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Posted on: December 8, 2011 10:55 am
Edited on: December 8, 2011 10:58 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Potential head coaches

Zimmer (US Presswire).

By Josh Katzowitz

It’s getting to be about that time. Christmas? Yes, of course. Hannukah? Naturally. Festivus? It depends on your syndicated TV viewing habits. The carousel of coaches who are fired and hired, changing the courses of several franchises for the foreseeable future? Abso-freakin-lutely.

Personally, I hate to see any coach drawing the pink slip, but as Bum Phillips once said, “There’s two kinds of coaches, them that's fired and them that's gonna be fired." Jack Del Rio knows of what Phillips speaks -- he’s already been asked to vacate the Jaguars premises. And there will be plenty more firings to come.

As colleague Will Brinson pointed out in this week’s Sorting the Sunday Pile, at least seven coaches (Steve Spagnuolo, Andy Reid, Jim Caldwell, Raheem Morris, Tony Sparano, Todd Haley and Norv Turner) are on the hot seat, and that means there’s a strong possibility a whole mess of new coaches will be needed. Like last year, when I presented my list of potential coaches*, many of the candidates are career assistants who have never had a chance at a head coaching slot. Some you’ve seen in this role before. All, though, deserve a chance --- or another chance -- to run a team of their own. And who knows, maybe they’d be the one to turn around a franchise in need of a jump-start.

*Only two from last year’s list made it this list (Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer), and with Leslie Frazier, Jim Harbaugh and John Fox in new jobs, I’ve also dropped candidates like Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron from consideration.

10. Bruce Arians: I had Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau on the list last year, though I figured that’s not going to happen at this point, but why shouldn’t teams take a look at Arians, Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator? He was the head coach at Temple in the 1980s -- his record is an unshiny 21-45 -- but the paradigm shift made by the team since he’s been offensive coordinator is impressive. The Steelers are no longer a smashmouth, pound-the-rock offense. No, with Ben Roethlisberger and a trio of talented young receivers, the Steelers have entered the 21st century with their offense. There was talk Arians was a contender for the Ole Miss job, and it sounds like these people also would be rooting for Arians to get a head coaching job.

9. Joe DeCamillis: Before you say, “Why in the hell would you hire a special teams coach to be your head coach?” remember that John Harbaugh followed a similar path -- he spent nine years as the Eagles special teams coach and didn’t spend one second as a coordinator -- and it seems to have worked out OK for the Ravens. Plus, as CBSSports.com Pete Prisco said in a recent chat, DeCamillis, the Cowboys special teams ace, is organized and passionate. And if Prisco says he’s OK, it must be true.

8. Rob Chudzinski: He hasn’t spent much time as an NFL offensive coordinator, but he’s performed his finest work this year. Sure, he has some talent on his hands (Cam Newton and Steve Smith, obviously), but the work he’s done with Newton this season has been impressive. It’s difficult to remember this now, but Newton was considered a raw specimen with only one year of major college football before the Panthers took him No. 1 in the draft. But with Chudzinski’s help, Newton oftentimes plays amazing football for a rookie. It’s doubtful anybody will take a chance on Chudzinski at this point, but he’s one to keep an eye on in the future.

7. Chuck Pagano: While the Ravens offense has been in a state of flux this season, there’s little question about the effectiveness of Baltimore’s defense, which is ranked third in the league in points allowed and yards. Pagano is only in his first season as a coordinator, taking over this season for Greg Mattison, but the Ravens have been more effective this year (they were 10th in the league in yards in 2010). Pagano might need more seasoning, but he’s a guy who could ride Baltimore’s wave, particularly if the Ravens go deep into the playoffs, into a possible new job.

6. Brian Billick: There are plenty of reasons not to hire Billick. Like he said recently, he’s not young and he’s not cheap. But if you’re not necessarily looking to hire somebody for the next three decades and you have some money to spend, why wouldn’t you take a look at Billick? Yes, he’s pompous (though very good while being interviewed, and I like him on the NFL Network), but he’s also confident in his abilities. As well he should be. In nine years in Baltimore, he went 80-64, and you might remember that he won a Super Bowl title. It would take a special owner to turn to Billick, but I think it could be a very good choice.

5. Wade Phillips: The job Phillips has done in Houston this year has convinced me that Phillips deserves another chance at a head coaching job. Obviously, things didn’t end well in Dallas -- do they ever with Jerry Jones, though? -- but did you know he has a better winning percentage (.573) than Jeff Fisher (.542) and Brian Billick (.556)? And that in his nine full seasons as a head coach, he only had one losing record? There’s no doubt that Phillips knows what he’s doing as a defensive coordinator, and we know Phillips can win as a head coach as well. He’s deserving of another chance.
Ryan
4. Rob Ryan: This is what I wrote last year: “We need – I mean, we NEED – another Ryan brother as a head coach in the NFL. Aside from being the most entertaining coach out there today – publically, at least – Rex Ryan has done a wonderful job turning the Jets into Super Bowl contenders. Now, Rob Ryan, the Browns (now Cowboys) defensive coordinator, needs to get his chance. With the marked improvement in Cleveland, does Ryan deserve the shot? Probably not at this point. But how awesome would it be if somebody gave him a job?” Indeed Josh from 2010, it would be pretty awesome.

3. Russ Grimm: He was finally elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year as a player. Now he deserves his own team to run. He was nearly selected to follow Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh -- and some believe he was offered the job before the Steelers rescinded the offer and gave it to Mike Tomlin -- and for now, Grimm is an assistant head coach to Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona. You’d think Grimm would get his chance eventually, but he has to wonder how much longer he’ll have to wait.

2. Jeff Fisher: If you were going to hire a former head coach and you had an infinite amount of money to woo even the most resistant of people, you might go with Bill Cowher as the first choice. But my second choice probably would be Fisher. For 17 seasons with the Oilers/Titans, he recorded a 142-120 record, and he came ever so close to a Super Bowl victory. Aside from Cowher, I’m not sure there’s another former head coach out there that would command as much instant respect as Fisher.

1. Mike Zimmer: After a one-year slip-up, when the team was ranked 24th in the NFL in points allowed, the Bengals, once again, are one of the top units in the league. This, even after losing top cornerback Johnathan Joseph to the Texans and after failing to re-sign starting linebacker Dhani Jones. Zimmer has received effective play from youngsters Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, and though there are no legit stars on defense, somehow Zimmer keeps making the case why somebody (anybody?!?) should give him a job. It’s time for Zimmer to have his shot.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.

Posted on: November 9, 2011 7:17 pm
 

Film Room: Bengals vs. Steelers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



So let’s get this straight: the Steelers, at a respectable 6-3, are in third place of the AFC North? And it’s not the soft-scheduled Browns they’re chasing, but rather, the dysfunctional Bengals?

We’re going to find out over the next two months whether the Bengals are a Cinderella story or a farce. First, let’s establish some expectations by examining what the film has revealed over the past two months.



1. The ginger rookie & Jon Gruden’s brother
There’s a growing movement to anoint Andy Dalton the Offensive Rookie of the Year instead of Cam Newton. That’s a fair. Dalton’s team is 6-2, Newton’s is 2-6. But let’s keep our perspective and remember that Dalton is NOT the physical specimen that Newton is. He doesn’t have Newton’s arm, wheels or athletic improv skills. And he’s not being asked to do the same things as Newton.

That said, Dalton has been much closer to Newton’s athletic level than anyone would have ever guessed. He has shown the arm strength to make just about every throw that first-year offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has asked of him. He’s been poised when operating from a muddied pocket, and he’s very good at releasing the ball on the move.

Gruden has done a phenomenal job playing to Dalton’s strengths. The Bengals have a balanced attack that hinges on play-action and rollouts, two concepts that slice the field for a quarterback and help define his reads (see graphic). Gruden also incorporates a lot of three-and five-step drops – another simplification tactic. As a result, the Bengals offense has not only been nearly mistake-free but also calm and consistent.

A play-action rollout simplifies things for a quarterback by essentially slicing the field in half. In this sample (against a basic two-man coverage), a fake handoff compels the defense to flow left. The only defenders who go right are the ones responsible for the two receivers running their patterns to the right.

Quarterbacking 101 teaches you to never throw across your body or back across the field. Thus, after the quarterback rolls out, he only has to read the right side of the field, which consists of nothing but his two receivers and their defensive matchups. Often, the read is simplified even more by throwing to wherever the free safety is not giving help-coverage. If a play is there, it’s easy for the quarterback to see.

If nothing’s there, the quarterback has plenty of room to throw the ball away or scramble.

2. The “sure thing” receiver & other weapons
Wideout A.J. Green has been exactly what you’d expect a No. 4 overall pick to be in Year One. He’s averaging roughly five catches, 75 yards and a little more than half a touchdown per game. He’s clearly Dalton’s go-to guy, being targeted almost automatically when facing one-on-one coverage. Green has a wide catching radius thanks to uncommon body control and a great vertical leap. He’ll climb to the top echelon of receivers once he polishes his route running (he has a bad tendency to yield ground and inside positioning on downfield patterns).

The receiving weapons around Green have been solid. Jermaine Gresham can cause matchup problems in the flats. Veteran Donald Lee has filled in well in the wake of Gresham’s hamstring injury the past two weeks. Jerome Simpson has shown why the team did not discipline him harshly after police found Costco amounts of marijuana in his home this past September. To be blunt, Simpson’s quickness is too valuable to take off the field. He’s much more reliable than Andre Caldwell.

Surprisingly, the black-and-blue ground game that figured to define Cincy’s offense has been extremely average thus far (the statistics support this, as Cincy ranks 28th with 3.7 yards per carry). Cedric Benson is a methodical, patient runner who needs steady blocking in order to thrive. He has gotten that, but not at the level he did two years ago when he averaged nearly 100 yards per game.

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, despite a poor outing last week, has played at a Pro Bowl level, and right tackle Andre Smith has flashed astonishing power a few times. But the interior line and ancillary blockers (such as a sixth offensive lineman/fullback/tight end) have been up-and-down.

3. Defensive Overview
The Bengals have a deep, active defensive line that’s extremely potent against the run but just so-so against the pass. Tackles Geno Atkins and Pat Sims both regularly win phone booth matchups in impressive fashion, and Domata Peko almost always punishes teams who try to block him one-on-one. If he’s not penetrating, he’s stalemating in a way that allows teammates to make plays.
 
None of these inside players are dominant pass-rushers, though. And there isn’t much firepower outside. End Michael Johnson uses his athleticism in myriad ways but is not a regular presence in the backfield. Intriguing second-year pro Carlos Dunlap replaces Robert Geathers on passing downs. Dunlap, with his unusual upright style and sinewy explosiveness, is certainly capable of reaching the quarterback, but he’s also capable of disappearing for long stretches.

An impotent pass-rush can put considerable pressure on a secondary. Leon Hall is an elite cover corner who does not command a lot of safety help over the top. Using him in isolated solo coverage is a double-edge sword that has stabbed opponents slightly more than it’s stabbed the Bengals this season. Safeties Reggie Nelson and Chris Crocker are hit-or-miss in coverage but capable of playing in space or the box. They give Mike Zimmer options.

Veteran Nate Clements has done a commendable job replacing Johnathan Joseph. Clements has been especially aggressive in short, underneath coverage. Helping in this facet is the fact that linebackers Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson both move well in the flats. It’s a little surprising that Lawson, who is replaced by Brandon Johnson in nickel (Johnson is the more comfortable of the two between the tackles), hasn’t been asked to put his hand in the dirt on passing downs.

4. Something to consider
This is a sharp, fundamentally sound defense that plays well as a unit in Mike Zimmer’s fairly aggressive scheme. But it’s also a defense that has yet to be tested. Look at the Bengals’ schedule thus far. They opened against Cleveland and Denver, two teams with major problems at wide receiver.

They faced San Francisco in Week 3, a good team but a very, very basic offense. They beat Buffalo in Week 4. Buffalo has a much-improved offense, but they’re not exactly Green Bay. Or even Dallas (never mind what the stats might say). After that it was Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Seattle, three teams with a total of zero proven quarterbacks. Last week the Bengals handled a Tennessee offense that’s respectable but nothing close to dynamic (especially through the air).

You couldn’t ask to face a more banal collection of offenses. This defense is fantastic against the run, but it remains to be seen how it will respond against a rhythmic, up-tempo passing attack.  

5. Matchup with the Steelers
Pittsburgh does have an elite, formidable offense. Cincinnati’s ho-hum pass-rush is not ideal for defending Ben Roethlisberger’s late-in-the-down magic.

The Bengals at least catch a break with wideout Emmanuel Sanders being out (arthroscopic knee surgery). Sanders would have given the Steelers aerial attack third source of speed, which Zimmer’s nickel unit may not be equipped to combat. Instead, it will be either Hines Ward or Jericho Cotchery threatening to catch six-yard slants out of the slot.

On the other side, the only defense comparable to Pittsburgh’s that this Cincy offense has faced is San Francisco’s in Week 3. The Niners were physical in taking away the receivers’ quick routes. The result was eight points and a 1/10 third down success rate for the Bengals. However, Dalton’s game has expanded since then. If need be, it’s possible, though not probable, that he’ll be able to put the team on his back and open things up for the first time this season.

Unless there continues to be slews of the fortuitous field position breaks that this Bengals offense has frequently enjoyed this season, he’ll need to.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 10 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: October 18, 2011 7:31 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 6

Posted by Will Brinson



Every week, our NFL experts will hand out the Eye on Football hardware to the best of the best from the NFL week that was.

Week 3 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman  Rodgers  Revis  Hester Schwartz
Prisco   Gore Coleman  Hester  Morris
Brinson Bradshaw  Revis  Hester Schwartz
Katzowitz Bradhsaw Coleman  Hester  Zimmer
Wilson  Cutler Coleman  Hester Harbaugh

Week 6 was -- quite obviously -- all about the handshake. But there are other awards to get to as well. And the Eye on Offense Award was a hotly contested little battle here, but Ahmad Bradshaw, with 104 yards and three teeters in a Giants win, takes home the hardware.

On defense, things were a bit of a toss-up too, as Darrelle Revis' pick six garnered him plenty of support. But Kurt Coleman's three-pick game won the day. Although, yes, we are checking with the judges on whether or not Rex Grossman was eligible.

We're just going to go ahead and rename the Eye on Special Teams Award the Weekly Contest to Be Better Than Devin Hester.

And, as mentioned, coaching was a toss-up too, but Jim Harbaugh gets the Eye on Coaching Award ... simply for entertainment purposes?

Leave your votes in the comments below or scream angrily at us on Twitter @EyeOnNFL.

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Ryan Wilson
Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
He's undefeated and doing things at the quarterback position we've seen before but rarely. I know, I know. You're sick of Rodgers. Get used to him, though. He's going to be around these here award neighborhoods for some time as the Packers are likely to enter the nine and 10 win range and start entering the 1972 Miami Dolphins neighborhood.
Jay Cutler Jay Cutler, QB, Bears
He was 21 of 31 for 267 yards and tossed two touchdowns against a very good pass-rushing Vikings defense. Perhaps more amazing: Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz left six, seven and sometimes eight players in to block, and, it turns out, Cutler is a pretty good quarterback when he's not getting blasted for 60 minutes (he was sacked just once).
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Frank Gore Frank Gore, RB, 49ers
He ran for 141 yards and scored a touchdown in the team's upset of the Lions. What's truly impressive is that Gore averaged 9.4 per carry. That is special.
Ahmad BradshawAhmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants
The Giants fell apart against the Seahawks at home in Week 5, making Week 6's game against the Bills absolutely critical for them. Bradshaw was most critical to the win, running for 104 yards and three touchdowns in the Giants win.
Josh Katzowitz
Ahmad BradshawAhmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants
In a huge game for the Giants, Bradshaw, without Brandon Jacobs in the lineup, had a tremendous performance, rushing for 104 yards and three touchdowns. I imagine Eli Manning appreciated the contribution. 
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Wilson
Darrelle RevisDarrelle Revis, CB, Jets
He did get beat a few times against Miami on Monday night but that 100-yard interception return was spectacular. Sure, he practically knocked Brandon Marshall on his butt in a great display of non-called pass interference, but Revis is getting those non-calls now.
Kurt Coleman Kurt Coleman, S, Eagles
Obviously, Rex Grossman shares this award because without him, Coleman's three interceptions wouldn't have been possible. In related news: nothing like a BAD REX unannounced visit to make Juan Castillo seem like he knows how to coordinate a defense.
Prisco Brinson
Kurt ColemanKurt Coleman, S, Eagles
He was benched a few weeks ago, but when inserted back into the lineup he made the most of it against the Redskins. Coleman had three picks of Rex Grossman in the game and had one of his best cover days. He was benched for his poor tackling.
Darrelle RevisDarrelle Revis, CB, Jets
I'd love to nominate Rex Grossman, but I'm not sure that's in the spirit of the awards. Instead, I'll give it to the guy who took a pick 100 yards to the house, giving the Jets a 7-3 lead when they should have been down 14-0. Revis showed why he's the best CB in the NFL today.
Katzowitz
Kurt Coleman Kurt Coleman, S, Eagles
Vindication for the Eagles safety. A few weeks after Coleman was benched, he reemerged as Rex Grossman’s biggest foil (well, second to Grossman himself), intercepting three passes and helping Philadelphia to perhaps a season-saving win. Chances are Coleman won’t be benched this week.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Wilson
Devin HesterDevin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
Why kick to him? Why, why, why? One more time: WHY? Kick the football out of bounds. Kick it into the stands. Kick it into the dirt. Anywhere except to him. He burned yet another team -- this time the Minnesota Vikings -- that stupidly kicked to him. And he'll keep doing that until teams finally get smart and stop doing it.
Devin Hester Devin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
I'll repeat what I wrote in Week 4, the last time Hester was our Special Teams Player of the Week. "We'll never understand why any team thinks kicking to Hester is a good idea." The Vikings did it, and Hester scored. Weird how that keeps happening.
Prisco Brinson
Devin HesterDevin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
Can it go to anyone but Hester? He ripped off a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown Sunday night against the Vikings. He also returned a punt 27 yards and almost broke that one.
Devin HesterDevin Hester, WR/KR/ Bears
As long as teams continue to kick to Hester, he's probably going to keep winning this award. Hester was the difference against the Panthers two weeks ago; against Minnesota he simply squashed any hope they had for their entire season with one magnificent burst of speed.
Katzowitz
Devin Hester Devin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
He’s made strides as a receiver this season, but as the Vikings -- who, for some strange reason, continued kicking to Hester -- can attest, he’s still awfully dangerous as a kick returner. Early in the third quarter, he returned a kick 98 yards for the touchdown nearly took back a punt as well. He is, as the Vikings know now, pretty good on special teams.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Wilson
Bill BelichickJim Schwartz, HC, Lions
We went to the same high school. I think we played on the same football team together though I only sorta remember him. I was concussed a lot so bear with me. He's obviously a fiery guy and though his scamper after Harbaugh was unneeded most people would have wanted to punch Harbaugh in the mouth after that obnoxious post-game reaction.
Hue Jackson Jim Harbaugh, HC, 49ers
I think Harbaugh is a crazy-arms meltdown away from a tenured professorship at clown college, but the guy has the 49ers believing something not even Mike Singletary could convince them of: they're a good football team. Through six weeks, they're 5-1. Last year, they were 6-10.
Prisco Brinson
Raheem MorrisRaheem Morris, HC, Buccaneers
After his team's horrible trip to San Francisco that saw them get blown out 48-3, he got his team ready to play against the Saints and pulled off a 26-20 upset.  The Bucs were without running back LaGarrette Blount, so Morris turned the game over to Josh Freeman, who had a big game.
Mike MunchakJim Schwartz, HC, Lions
People are complaining about Schwartz' roll in Handshake-Gate (ugh), but here's the thing: Schwartz celebrates on his own sideline. Not at midfield. I'll hand him this award just based on the fact that 90 percent of America would have punched Jim Harbaugh Sunday. He didn't.
Katzowitz
Mike Zimmer Mike Zimmer, DC, Bengals
The Bengals DC continues to be one of those long-time assistant coaches who needs to be rewarded with a head coaching job. The Bengals have the No. 2 D in the NFL, and have allowed just one opponent to score more than 20 points. Cincy hasn’t played a Murderer’s Row of quarterbacks, but still, Zimmer’s unit has been impressive.
 

Posted on: August 31, 2011 9:25 pm
 

What do the Bengals hope to get from Taylor Mays?

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Taylor Mays, the safety from USC taken by the 49ers in the second round of the 2010 draft, was traded to the Bengals nine days ago. At the time, the terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but various outlets are now reporting that San Francisco got a 2013 seventh-round pick for their troubles. It doesn't take much draft-math calculating to figure out that it's a shoddy return-on-investment for the 49ers, who saw enough in one season to give up on a player with through-the-roof measurables but not much in the way of on-field ability.

So, naturally, Mays ends up in Cincinnati.

The move didn't immediately make sense (at least in terms of Mays filling an obvious void in the secondary); the team had Roy Williams on the roster for the '09 and '10 season and he didn't make much of impact. Mays is similar to Williams in that he's supposed to be a hard-hitting safety, but he comes without the NFL track record or Pro Bowl pedigree.

There's also the issue of the Bengals willingly giving up a draft pick when, earlier this month, the 49ers sent out a mass email to 31 teams asking if there was any interest in Mays. At the time, there were no takers but the implication was that, barely a year after San Francisco had drafted him, Mays would be released before the start of the season.

It never got to that point.

Maybe the Bengals should've waited until Mays was cut to go after him. But if they really wanted him, you could argue that they were smart to give up just a seventh-rounder ... two years from now. It allowed the team to get Mays for literally next to nothing while also guaranteeing he wouldn't hit the open market.

But we still don't know why Cincinnati acquired Mays. He didn't show much as a rookie and the feeling around the league was that he probably never would.

So we asked CBS analyst, Cincinnati resident, and former NFL defensive back Solomon Wilcots what the Bengals might be thinking.

"Clearly, a player like Mays does have some ability … but you've got to have a plan for him because he hasn't proven that he can embrace all the elements of what it means to be a good defensive back in the NFL, whether its coverage, run-stopping, or quarterbacking your secondary," Wilcots told CBSSports.com recently.

"But for (defensive coordinator) Mike Zimmer and the Cincinnati Bengals defense, they've been lacking that big physical presence at the safety position. And traditionally, they have loved to have that kind of David Fulcher-type player. I think that's kind of what they're thinking (with Mays), I think they'd love to have a guy they can use in all their blitz packages.

 
Then-49ers coach Mike Singletary was instrumental in bringing Taylor Mays to San Francisco. Now it will be up to Bengals' defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer (center) and head coach Marvin Lewis (right) to mold Mays into an NFL safety. (Getty Images)  
"Remember," Wilcots continued, "their head coach, Marvin Lewis, was a defensive coordinator … they understand that if they have a safety who can change the line of scrimmage -- whether it's stuffing the run or pressuring the quarterback in the blitz packages -- and have him be an in-the-box defender, (in theory) it makes them a much better defense. And this defense is going to have to carry the team. You have such a young offense, young quarterback, young wide receivers. … I think that's just some of the psychology behind (making the trade). Now whether or not Mays can do all those things remains to be seen."

As for why the Bengals would trade for a player destined to get cut? One reason, according to Wilcots, could be that the team needed to bolster the position and were willing "taking a flier on him."

He continued: "I think the reasons why a lot of other teams passed, they were probably hoping that [the 49ers] would release him and they'd get him (for nothing). But he hasn't proven that he can do those things and these were some of the questions we had on him coming out of USC. Great specimen but not what we'd call an instinctive football player. The bar is so high when it comes to the Adrian Wilsons, the Ed Reeds, the Troy Polamalus -- big play-making safeties -- that's what we were wanting to see from Mays coming out. We saw that in Eric Berry. We saw it from Earl Thomas. We didn't see that with (Mays)."

It's a no-risk proposition for the Bengals, a team in transition and with needs at key positions on the roster, including safety. Worst case: Mays doesn't work out, the two sides go their separate ways, and the all the Bengals lose is a 2013 seventh-rounder. Best case: Mays flourishes in Zimmer's system and he proves his doubters wrong.

Either way, Cincy has much bigger problems heading into 2011, starting with the aforementioned young quarterback and the group of young pass-catchers.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com