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Tag:Marvin Lewis
Posted on: January 15, 2012 6:43 pm
 

Will Cedric Benson return to Bengals in 2012?

BensonBy Josh Katzowitz

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has wanted to get backup running back Bernard Scott more playing time, and if this Cincinnati Enquirer report is any indication, it sounds like that might happen in 2012. But it might happen because starter Cedric Benson – who’s hit the 1,000-yard milestone the past three seasons -- might not return to Cincinnati.

“From a consistency standpoint you’d like to get Bernard more carries, more touches and Cedric has earned the right to be a feature back in this offense the last couple of years,” Gruden said. “The more you give it to Bernard the more you’ve got Cedric over there scratching his head and not real happy. Really, to me, on a good football team nobody should worry about who’s scoring or who’s getting the ball so long as the team is moving.”

If that seems like a subtle shot at Benson from Gruden, that certainly could be the case. Gruden inherited Benson, and though Benson has resurrected his career with the Bengals, the team might really want to see what they got when they drafted Scott with the sixth-round selection in 2009.

But the fact is that the Bengals have pounded Benson the past three years. In 2009 and 2010, he carried the ball 301 and 321 times, respectively, and though that number decreased to 273 this seasno, he still had the fourth-most attempts of any AFC running back.

Considering he lost some carries to Scott from the previous two years, Benson wasn’t happy with his team’s direction.

“I wasn’t a big fan of it,” Benson told the paper. “Granted I don’t make those decisions or calls and I have to find a way to make it work. It was something they started soon after the first game. There was a vision where they saw the offense going. I may not like it or agree with it but I’ll make it work if given the opportunity.”

Thing is, he might not get the opportunity. He signed a one-year, $3 million deal before the 2011 season, and that means he’s an unrestricted free agent who could make pretty decent money on the open market.

But considering these are some of the free agent running backs that will emerge this offseason -- Peyton Hillis, Michael Bush, Marshawn Lynch, Ryan Grant, and Mike Tolbert -- Benson has to worry about oversaturation. And if that’s the case, maybe he’s better off taking a few less carries and staying in Cincinnati

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Posted on: January 10, 2012 6:56 pm
 

Jay Gruden not interviewing, staying with Bengals

Dalton and Green should be pleased Gruden's staying in Cincy. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Jay Gruden, thanks to the work he did with Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, was a hot name in coaching circles for open positions with a number of teams. But he's not going anywhere in 2012.

Latest Coaching Rumors, News

Gruden's decided to stay with the Bengals and continue working with Dalton and the young Cincinnati offense in 2012.

"I’m happy here," Gruden said, per Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I like working for Marvin (Lewis) and with the team. I feel like we’re just scratching the surface on offense, but we have a lot of good, young players and have the potential to do even better next season."

Gruden was believed to be a possibility for the Jaguars opening, and the Rams called the Bengals seeking permission to speak with Gruden, but he declined any opportunities to interview for anything other than his current job.

This is curious for a couple of reasons. One, Gruden wasn't taking a job -- he was just interviewing, and there's nothing illegal, immoral or otherwise about that. Two, though the Bengals made the playoffs and Dalton had a great season, Cincy got lucky with their schedule.

In 2011, they played the AFC South and NFC West, two of the weaker divisions in football. In 2012 they'll play the NFC East and AFC West, which is substantially tougher. (Although, hey, bonus: Carson Palmer plays the Bengals!)

That being said, Dalton and A.J. Green, along with the two first-round picks Cincy has in 2012 (thanks Carson!), it's possible that the Bengals could continue developing into a potent offense.

If that happens, Gruden's name will continue to be mentioned in the coaching rumor mill, and it's possible he'll have more opportunities for a coaching gig than he had this offseason.

As we've said on the podcast time and time again, just because there are only 32 NFL coaching jobs doesn't mean you have to take one when it's open.

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Posted on: January 8, 2012 8:51 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 10:12 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile, Wild Card: Ranking Tebow

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action, figures out the winners and losers and asks the big questions. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Listen to the Pick-Six Podcast Wild-Card Weekend recap below and don't forget to
subscribe via iTunes
.

Ranking the Remaining QBs

Are you ----ing kidding me? Did that just happen? That, of course, is Tim Tebow hitting Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard, walk-off touchdown in the first-ever game featuring the new NFL overtime rules to push Denver past Pittsburgh and into the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

The lesson, as always? You're gonna want to have someone who can sling the rock when the playoffs roll around and Tebow somehow morphed into that in the first round of the playoffs against one of the all-time great defenses. But where does he rank with the rest of the quarterbacks remaining in the playoffs?

8. T.J. Yates, Houston Texans
With all due respect to the only former UNC quarterback to win a playoff game, he just doesn't stack up with the rest of the folks in the playoffs. That being said, he's a perfect fit for the zone-stretch offense that the Texans run, and as long as he doesn't have to do too much, he's fine. He's probably gonna have to do too much against the Ravens this week.

7. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Smith's been incredibly improved in 2011 so it's not like this is taking a potshot at him. Smith had his best season -- by far -- of his career, throwing just five picks and completing 61.3 percent of his passes. But you're telling me you're taking Smith if you need to win a game? No, no you're not.

6. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Flacco's had great moments this year, but his inconsistency is absolutely terrifying. Seven times (seven!) he's gone under 200 yards passing on the season, and many times this year the Ravens have been forced to overcome his poor play. Some of those times, they just don't lean on Flacco because they have a beasty run game and a really good defense. But that's not exactly helping his cause, you know?

5. Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos
COME ON DOWN THE OLD KOOL-AID FILLED RABBIT HOLE! But, no, seriously. Tebow made throws on Sunday night that he's not supposed to make. And he did it against a defense that doesn't let most quarterbacks make throws like that, much less a would-be remedial QB like Tebow. But he brings a running game, he brings an improved passing game, he brings along the worst wide receiver corps (by far) of anyone in the playoffs and he brings along the dreaded intangibles.

4. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Eli's a top-five quarterback in the NFL this season, and he's got a legitimate case to be right there in Tom Brady's class (just like he said before the season!). When it comes down to it, though, you're not taking him for a playoff stretch run over any of the rest of the guys on the list. At least not yet anyway ... (But yes, there's a HUGE gap between 1-4 and 5-8.)

3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
People keep saying that Brady does the most with the least but that argument's kind of ridiculous when Rob Gronkowski just wrapped up the greatest season by a tight end in the history of the NFL. Three here, by the way, is like "1c."

2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
The third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 450 yards in a playoff game.

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Last I checked he's still the defending champion. Plus, he's got the mobility that no one else on this list (even Tebow) has, he's the most accurate quarterback on the run and he's working on a week's rest in addition to two weeks of hearing everyone talk about how he's not the best quarterback left in the playoffs.

Winners

Josh McDaniels: Not only is the former Broncos head coach and Patriots offensive coordinator now back with the Patriots but he's going to play against Tim Tebow next week. This is a good thing because McDaniels basically got fired for drafting Tebow. I mean, not entirely but it didn't help things. Doesn't everyone look kind of silly for not trusting him now.

T.J. Yates:
Yates was the rookie who was going to screw things up for his team, but instead he played the perfect foil to Andy Dalton's inconsistency, going 11 of 20 for 159 yards and a touchdown. Those aren't mind-blowing numbers, and 40 of the yards came on one touchdown pass to Andre Johnson, but Yates did exactly what he was supposed to do, which is "don't screw things up."

Overtime Rules: It -- literally -- took Ron Winter longer to explain the new overtime rules than it took the Broncos to end the overtime. One play to DeMaryius Thomas and that's it. Which is good for the NFL because a longer, more prolonged overtime opened up the possibility for mistakes by refs and scrutiny by media and fans. Instead now we think it works perfectly!

Pierre Thomas: Dude was kiliing it on Saturday and might be the biggest reason New Orleans won. He "only" scored once and but he put up 121 total yards and he fought for every freaking one of them; there's a reasonable chance 115 of them were after contact. Thomas' refusal to go down to the turf resulted in a lot of Saints drives getting extended a lot further than they should have, and he deserves props for his effort.

Cleveland Browns: When the Falcons were eliminated, the Browns locked up better draft picks in 2012, thanks to the Julio Jones trade. (They'll now pick a lot earlier, no worse than 23rd, in the first and fourth rounds.) Tom Heckhart also looks a little bit smarter today -- even if Julio Jones is special (he is) and even if the Falcons will eventually be more explosive (they should), that deal didn't work out the way the Falcons and Thomas Dimitroff thought it would. Yeah, they made the playoffs, but it was as a wild card and they didn't score a single point on Sunday.

Smith would like you to re-spot that ball, sir. (AP)

Losers

Mike Smith: Twice on Sunday, Smith had a controversial fourth-down decision to make. OK, the decisions weren't really that controversial, but the playcalls -- and the result -- were. Each time, once with Michael Turner on the freaking sideline, the Falcons snuck Ryan against a stout Giants defensive line, and each time, he was stuffed. Those decisions don't change the outcome of the game, per se, because the Giants still outscored Atlanta by more than six points, but Smith's going to answer a lot of questions about his decision-making.

Chris Crocker
: Crocker's a friend of the blog, so we don't want to rip him too hard, but that was a pretty terrible game from the Bengals safety. He dropped a crucial would-be pick-six at the start of the second half, he missed a sack of Yates, and his incredibly poor "tackling" on Arian Foster's 42-yard touchdown run is going to be replayed all week long. Not a good day for Crocker.

Lions Defense: It's not rare for a defense to get surgically dissected by Drew Brees. But the Lions have to be shaking their heads at missing a good chance at up-ending the Saints on Saturday because their defense couldn't get any penetration on Brees, couldn't make any stops on fourth downs, didn't make the Saints punt a single time and generally looked lost in coverage. They also dropped a pair of easy interceptions, one of which Eric Wright should've taken to the house.

Mike Mularkey: After a great season from the Falcons and a strong finish to the year, Mularkey's been a hot name as a coaching candidate and has a slew of interviews lined up. But the people looking to hire him for a full-time job are going to wonder about the incredibly conservative gameplan Mularkey dragged into the Meadowlands on Sunday, and how he managed to get outscored by Eli Manning 2-0. And then there's the short-yardage stuff (see: Mike Smith above). Smith's saying "go" but Mularkey's the guy dialing up the plays, and it might behoove teams to put him through a "Fourth-and-Short Playcalling Quiz" before giving him the gig.

John Elway: At halftime against Pittsburgh, Tim Tebow had thrown for 185 yards (all in the second quarter) and tied two of Elway's playoff records with the Broncos: he and Elway are the only Broncos quarterbacks with a) two 50-yard passes in the same game and b) a rushing and passing score in the same game. Oh and then he walked off the Steelers in overtime with an 80-yards pass. Please tell me how he's not going to bring Tebow back in 2012.

The Big Questions

 
Marvin needs to challenge his challenges. (AP)

1. What was Marvin Lewis thinking on those challenges?
He wasn't. The Bengals didn't lose because Lewis bungled a pair of first-half challenges, but that shouldn't excuse him for the actual bungling. Lewis gave away two timeouts and any chance of challenging in the second half by deciding that the Bengals (4/4 on short-yardage conversions against the Texans in Week 13) needed to challenge a bad spot on a second down and two that only went for one yard. Then he compounded it by challenging a catch in the second quarter, which allowed him to enter halftime with a deficit and no challenges.

2. Can the Saints win on the road?
Of course they can. But will they? The Saints are 0-4 in franchise history away from the Superdome when it comes to the playoffs and that's an applicable lesson for this year's team, who only played five games outside of a dome the entire year.

That's right: just five games. Now, the Saints know this. They talked about it with our own Pete Prisco after their win over Detroit on Saturday. The Saints are guaranteed nine games inside a year, because of eight home matchups and a game at division rival Atlanta. Here's what happened when they did venture away from the comfort of turf:

Week/Location Result Points Scored Passing Yards TD/INT Total Yards
Week 1 @ Green Bay L 34 419 3/0 477
Week 4 @ Jacksonville W 23 351 1/2 503
Week 5 @ Carolina W 30 359 2/1 444
Week 6 @ Tampa Bay L 20 383 1/3 453
Week 14 @ Tennessee W 22 337 2/0 437
Weekly Average N/A 34.2 334.2 2.9/0.9 467.1

Two of the Saints three losses this season came outside on the road, and they only went above 30 points twice on the road, despite averaging 34.2 points per game this season.

To paraphrase our Vice President, that's a big freaking deal.

3. Do Matt Ryan's playoff losses make him a bad quarterback?
No. But Ryan's the guy who'll be heavily judged over the next year with respect to his postseason performance, since he's now 0-3 in the playoffs. In those three games, Ryan's 70 of 110 for 584 passing yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. He's definitely the victim of a) conservative gameplans and b) playing against good teams (the NFC Champion Cardinals, the Super Bowl Champion Packers and this year's Giants), but that isn't going to stop people from discussing the fact that his stats stink in the playoffs and he can't win. It's the same thing people said about Aaron Rodgers before last year.

4. Can the Giants really win the Super Bowl?
Damn right they can. The "shades of 2007" storyline is a bit played out at this point ... but it's just kind of true. They're a wild card that everyone counted out, Eli Manning's hitting his stride at the absolutely perfect time, they've got a running game that's shaping back up and their pass rush is absolutely deadly. This is the kind of the same team, just with different players. (San Fran up-ending the Saints and keeping the Giants away from the Superdome would help a lot, too.)

5. Did you really rank Tim Tebow FIFTH on the remaining quarterbacks list?
Yes. Let's just move on before I emerge from my overtime-induced blackout.

6. How bright is the future for the Lions?
Very bright. They'll obviously want to lock down Calvin Johnson at some point, and they need to get some secondary help this coming offseason, and getting Mikel Leshoure back to provide a power running game is critical. But Matthew Stafford's primed to be the next quarterback who warrants a debate for "elite" status, in case the 5,000+ yards he tossed in 2011 didn't clue you into that. 

7. Why did the Saints draft Mark Ingram?
Not sure. But it at least seemed like a good idea the time, right? Ingram was supposed to be the power runner for the Saints, but in his first season he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and scored only five touchdowns. He's not playing now and Chris Ivory's performance on Saturday night really leads me to believe New Orleans could've gotten better value at a different position in April's draft.

8. Could Kevin Kolb land another big contract?

Possibly! Doing so would mean that Kolb would lose his first big contract though: Charley Casserly reported on Sunday that the Cardinals are a sleeper candidate for Peyton Manning if the Colts let him go. To make that happen, they'd obviously have to bail on Kolb's contract, which they can reportedly do at a fairly cheap cost. The timing is the issue though, since Kolb's roster bonus is due in March as well. But if it happens, Kolb could instantly become the third- or fourth-best quarterback available on the market, along with Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Matt Flynn. It's a longshot, but an interesting situation to watch nonetheless.

9. Does Tebow deserve all the credit for the Broncos win?

As usual, no. Tebow gets a ton of credit because he does some amazing things late in games, but let's be clear: the Steelers played pretty freaking badly on Sunday night. Their pass defense was AWFUL and they ran Ben Roethlisberger out on a bad ankle and looked anemic early on on offense. The Broncos defense deserves some credit too, of course, because they played a nice game. And so do Tebow's wide receivers. Just figure out a way to spread it around.

GIF O' THE WEEK

OH NO Hakeem Nicks DID NOT JUST DO THE DIRTY BIRD. OH YES HE DID Jamaal Anderson.

Worth 1,000 Words


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Posted on: January 7, 2012 6:15 pm
 

Lewis hinders team by making bad challenges

LewisBy Josh Katzowitz

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis isn’t known as one of the game’s great challenging coaches. As in, he oftentimes throws the red challenge flag on plays that clearly shouldn’t be challenged.

The last time the Bengals were in the playoffs, after the 2009 season, Lewis challenged official’s rulings early in the game vs. the Jets. He lost both, and New York went on to upset the Bengals in Cincinnati.

At halftime Saturday, with the Texans leading 17-10, Cincinnati -- and Lewis -- is, once again, out of challenges for the rest of the game.

While his second challenge wasn’t a terrible idea -- it was unclear whether Texans tight end Owen Daniels had made a first-down reception, or if the Bengals had caused an incompletion (though Adam Jones was awfully adamant that it was NOT a catch) -- his first challenge was a disaster.

That occurred on a second-and-two early in the second quarter when Cedric Benson went off right guard to gain one yard. But Lewis was led to believe that Benson actually had made the first down. Instead, after reviewing the call, officials upheld the original spot. On third-and-inches, Andy Dalton sneaked up the middle for the first down.

Which certainly could have been accomplished without challenging the second down in the first place. So, it was all for nothing in the end.

But because the challenges were ridiculous and because it created an instant firestorm on Twitter, here were my favorite reactions to Lewis’ bad decisions.
  • @willbrinson (Sorry, had to go with at least one CBSSports.com account): The Bengals should try to trade one of the Raiders picks for more challenges.
  • @JeromeSolomon I see what Marvin was doing. With no more challenges, he can't make another stupid challenge.
  • @FO_MTanier Challenges squandered like so many of the opportunities of youth.
  • @FauxJohnMadden It wouldn't be a Bengals playoff game without a random awful challenge from Marvin Lewis.
  • @CindyBoren Bengals should do a ceremonial burning of the challenge flag while Marvin Lewis speaks at halftime.

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Posted on: January 4, 2012 10:23 am
Edited on: January 4, 2012 1:47 pm
 

2012 NFL Postseason Awards

Brees and Rodgers could square off three times this year, if you count awards. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

We won't bore you by listing our preseason predictions (you can read those here), but suffice to say, all of mine were correct. Take a peak at the midseason hardware if you want too, but right now we're interested in dishing out the awards for the full season.


Speaking of which, I've already ranted on Drew Brees vs. Aaron Rodgers for the MVP, but I find it fascinating that at midseason, no one even picked Brees for Offensive Player of the Year, much less MVP. I'm not here to knock Brees, I'm just saying the award's for an entire season's worth of work.

Anyway, below are our full season picks. (You can also read Pete's full season picks here and Clark's full season picks here.)

Most are obvious but "BFA" is "Best Free Agent Addition," "WFA" is "Worst Free Agent Addition," and "DOH!" is "Pick I'd Like to Have Back." (Haha, yes I did pick the guy who eventually iced his own kicker to win "Coach of the Year." At least I was driving the Camwagon though.)

Dive in below and leave your gripes and complaints in the comments.

Award Brinson
Wilson
Katzowitz
Prisco
Judge
MVP
Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers
OPOY
Drew Brees Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Drew Brees Drew Brees
DPOY
Jared Allen Terrell Suggs Jared Allen Jason Pierre-Paul Jared Allen
OROY
Cam Newton Cam Newton Cam Newton Cam Newton Cam Newton
DROY
Von Miller Aldon Smith Aldon Smith Von Miller Von Miller
COY
Marvin Lewis Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh
ASST
Rob Chudzinski Rob Chudzinski Wade Phillips Wade Phillips Wade Phillips
BFA
Darren Sproles Darren Sproles Darren Sproles Darren Sproles Darren Sproles
WFA
Sidney Rice Braylon Edwards Santonio Holmes Ray Edwards Ray Edwards
Comeback
Steve Smith D'Qwell Jackson Aaron Maybin Matthew Stafford Matthew Stafford
Most Improved
Matthew Stafford Antonio Brown Victor Cruz Rob Gronkowski Rob Gronkowski
Surprise
Bengals Broncos Broncos Bengals 49ers
Disappoint
Eagles Jets Eagles Eagles Eagles
Executive
Rick Smith Rick Smith Rick Smith Martin Mayhew Mike Brown
DOH!
Garrett for COY Rivers for MVP Rivers for MVP Fins in/Lions out Rams in NFCW

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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: November 4, 2011 10:25 am
Edited on: November 4, 2011 10:26 am
 

Five questions (or more) with Chris Crocker

C. Crocker has been a key defender in Cincinnati (Getty).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Chris Crocker has played on good Bengals teams and bad Bengals teams. Mostly bad. But now that Cincinnati is 5-2, Crocker is receiving a bit more recognition for being a key component on a Bengals squad that has one of the league’s best defenses. After starting only six games during his first years in Cleveland, he’s started 83 of the last 89 contests he’s played, and he’s had himself a nice career. Seven games into this season, he’s already surpassed his career high with 2.5 sacks on the year.

He’s also one of the better quotes in the Bengals locker room, always willing to speak about whatever’s on his mind with nary a nod to the idea of political correctness. That’s not to say he’s in the same league as former teammates Chad Ochocinco or Terrell Owens. Those guys talked because they liked to hear themselves speak. When Crocker speaks, he usually has something interesting to say.

Knowing that, we caught up with Crocker earlier this week where we talked about life in the Bengals organization this year, how the team moved past the Carson Palmer controversy and why Owens can’t get a job.

Previous Five Questions (or more):

Sept. 16:
Actor/former Patriots DB Brian White

Sept. 30: Bills RB Fred Jackson

Oct. 7: Sweetness author Jeff Pearlman

Oct. 21: 49ers LB Aldon Smith

1. CBSSports.com: I was around that locker room for six years, and I know what that organization is like and what the mood in the locker room has been when the team’s been bad. What’s different this year?

Chris Crocker: I can talk specifically on defense where the majority of the guys are the same guys who have been here. Offensively, we’ve changed a lot of guys. We already had really good guys the locker room. It’s just been what the perception has been. We don’t have a Chad (Ochocinco) anymore that’s always in the media. All of our guys are low-key. We don’t have the guys who are in the limelight. The perception has changed. A lot of the guys we had before were getting into trouble with DUIs and suspensions. We’ve always had a good group of guys. We just don’t have any more Hollywood.

2. CBS: I don’t think I was alone in the national media in picking the Bengals to struggle, to go maybe 4-12 or 3-13. That obviously wasn’t right, but if you looked at what was happening, Carson Palmer was maybe going to go, the top two receivers from last year would leave, and we didn’t know why Marvin Lewis came back. Why are you guys winning?

Crocker: Offensively, we haven’t been very good since I’ve been here. I’m not saying that to kick my teammates in the butt. The truth of the matter is we haven’t been great. The defense, we felt like we were the strength of the team. No matter what, we felt like we had to carry our team. It just so happened that we stumbled on a quarterback that could manage the game, we’re very talented at the wide receiver spot, and Cedric (Benson) re-signed. Everything really jelled on the offensive side of the ball. We knew we were going to play stingy defense. But the (offensive) formula has worked for us. There were a lot of questions -- who’s going to be the quarterback, the running back, the receivers, and on defense we had questions too. But we felt like the nucleus was the same. Outside of these walls, nobody saw us as good. But every year, nobody sees us as good, so why should it be any different?

C. Crocker said the team doesn't have any Hollywood this year (US Presswire).3. CBS: But losing Johnathan Joseph to the Texans was a major thing, right? I mean, Joseph and Leon Hall were considered to be one of the better young cornerback tandems in the league.

Crocker: Going into the season, it was a big blow. Me and Leon and John have all been together. We had formed something that was really special. He leaves to go elsewhere, which is fine. He was entitled to do that. But what we were going to do? Nate Clements was a free agent, and he fit right in. He’s been a great player in this league for a while. For him coming in, it was just a matter of time. How long would it take him to learn the system and get on the same page? It’s been really good. You couldn’t have put a better guy in there.

CBS: Why did it fit Clements so well?

Crocker: First of all, experience supersedes everything. He’s a very smart guy. He really wanted to come in here and really get on the same page with everybody. He wasn’t coming here with the attitude that he’s been there and done that. He came in with the attitude that he could learn. It’s hard when you’re an old guy, you get stuck in your ways. But he was completely opposite of that. He wanted to be part of something special. But with us, it’s week to week. If we don’t play well the next week, then we’re a piece of crap. Especially in the media. We want to go out there and play well.

CBS: Yeah, but us in the media can also say, “Well, the Bengals really haven’t faced any great quarterbacks. They haven’t really played anybody yet. Their schedule is weak. They haven’t played Baltimore or Pittsburgh yet."

Crocker: When people say that, you know that you don’t ever apologize for winning. Those other guys in the division, they’re playing the same teams we are. You don’t apologize for winning in this league. We’ll see those guys down the road and see where we stand then.

4. CBS: Regarding Carson Palmer, what was the locker room attitude about him? He had been such a good member of the team, but then he bailed. Did Carson abandon you guys, or did he have a good point?

Crocker: In Cincinnati in general, he had been the quarterback for so long, maybe the fans and the organization were scared of change. Sometimes change is good. In this case, it works out for us. If he didn’t want to be here, that’s fine. It’s all good and dandy. We knew our offense wasn’t the 1999 St. Louis Rams. Let’s be real. We weren’t playing John Elway. I like Carson, but let’s look at what we were.

5. CBS: What about Terrell Owens? You played with him last year, saw him in practice. Does he still have what it takes? Why doesn’t he have a job?

Crocker: I’ll say this. When we talk about how perception is reality, the perception around the league is that he’s a bad locker room guy and a bad teammate. Organizations don’t want to bring that dynamic in the locker room, especially with him 37 or 38 years old. I just don’t think people are willing to do it. I’m not saying he’s a bad teammate, but he was called one when he was in San Fran, in Philly, in Dallas. It’s like a circus. Teams just don’t want to go that route. You bring him in, and you bring in all the stuff that goes with it. He seems healthy, he looks healthy. I’m not a GM, but it’s something you worry about.

CBS: Was it a circus last year with Owens and Ochocinco?

Crocker: I’ll go off what he said. He talks so bad about organizations that nobody wants to deal with that. You bring him in here, and it’s all good. But when it goes bad, he talks bad about the organization. My only rule is this: you might have gripes and you might not be happy, but you don’t bite the hand that feeds you. I think that’s how organizations feel about him.

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Posted on: October 31, 2011 9:14 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Halloween edition

Todd Haley's beard is scaring small children (AP).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Halloween is all about the scary and the freaky and the things that make you shiver in fear in the dead of the night*. The NFL will celebrate the holiday by giving us a Monday Night Football matchup of San Diego and Kansas City, certainly not as scary as last week’s Baltimore-Jacksonville game, and in return, we’re providing a special version of Top Ten with a Twist.

*It’s also about candy corn, but that’s neither here nor there.

In it, we celebrate those coaches, players and accessories that force us to scream in horror and hide underneath the covers. The NFL is filled with large, athletic men that could force you to quicken your pace if you met them in a dark alley. But even those players get frightened. Here are some of the men (and objects) that scare you as fans and scare them as players.

And with that, we wish you a Happy Halloween. Hope everyone survives the scariest night of the year.

10. Jason Babin’s tattoos: It’s more than the tattoos. It’s what the arms that hold the tattoos do to opposing quarterbacks. Namely, they sack them, nine so far this season. The tattoos don’t have a great backstory -- he sketched in a notebook during college, and he liked the tribal design so much that he got them inked on both arms, over his shoulders and across his back -- but they make look him look scary and badass. Reminds me of: Seth Gecko in From Dust Till Dawn.

9. Hank Williams Jr.: He obviously scared the crap out of ESPN executives who immediately excused him from his Monday Night Football services after he compared President Obama and the Speaker of the House playing golf to Hitler yukking it up with Benjamin Netanyahu on the links. Williams, a staunch conservative, even freaked out the Fox News’ morning show crew by his analogy. I’m sure his fans love him even more for his controversial take, but his actions forced ESPN to turn him away from its door without any candy. Reminds me of: The Wolfman.

8. Javon Ringer: This applies only to Chris Johnson, who seemingly has lost his No. 1 role as the Titans running back and is splitting carries with Ringer -- who’s actually out-classing the former 2,000-yard runner. If this keeps up, Ringer will take over Johnson’s starting spot, presenting a scary situation for Tennessee -- having to pay their backup running back $55 million (with $30 million guaranteed). Reminds me of: The Ringer.

7. Roughing the passer: Hardly anybody understands what should be called and what shouldn’t be. If a pass-rusher grazes the helmet of a quarterback, is that a blow to the head? What constitutes unnecessary roughness? I mean, you can still tackle the quarterback, right? And nobody is more skittish about the rules and their implications than the officials who have to make the calls and throw the flags. Since it seems like they don’t know what they should be calling, every time a quarterback is sacked, it’s a roll of the dice. I love the line from Bengals coach Marvin Lewis a few years ago when Justin Smith was called for a penalty against Tampa Bay’s Bruce Gradkowski, "I guess you have to cuddle them to the ground." Except the penalties are anything but cuddly. Reminds me of: Blair Witch Project (fear of the unknown).

Babin6. Ndamukong Suh: We don’t really need to explain why. Suh is a monster come to life whose primary mission (and what seems to sustain his soul) is to destroy quarterbacks. Like here with Andy Dalton. Or here with Jake Delhomme. Suh has spent much of his time lately telling people he’s not a dirty player. But he’s also meeting with Roger Goodell this week to figure out how he can get fined less. Hopefully, he doesn’t scare Goodell the way he scares opposing quarterbacks. Reminds me of: The Hulk.

5. Roger Goodell’s accounting books: Goodell decides the disciplinary fines and then collects tens of thousands of dollars a week for various infractions (from helmet-to-helmet hits to uniform malfunctions). The reason he’s so frightening: it’s all so random. Dunta Robinson should have been six figures for his hit on Jeremy Maclin, but instead, it was in the $40,000 range. Troy Polamalu shouldn’t have been fined for calling his wife from the bench to let her know he was OK after suffering a concussion, but instead, Goodell lifted $10,000 from him. Mess with a player’s money, and for the most part, you’ll have earned their fear. Reminds me of: Ebenezer Scrooge.

4. Peyton Manning’s shadow: This looms high over the city of Indianapolis, and it blots out the sun whenever the Colts are playing. It’s not that he’s trying to be such a scary dude -- he seems to be the consummate teammate even while he’s recovering from his neck surgery -- but his shadow has become a black hole for any chance of the team winning in his absence. It’s quite frightening to think that, all this time, the only thing saving the Colts from long-term irrelevance was Manning’s health. Reminds me of: The Blob.

3. HGH testing: Obviously, this is the biggest bogeyman of all, because the union is in no hurry to allow the NFL to draw blood and test for human growth hormone. The NFL says the tests are safe and reliable. The union says the tests are invasive and unproven. Who do we believe? Just like much of the lockout fodder that emerged from both sides, we have no idea. But it seems pretty clear that the NFLPA is worried about agreeing to the testing. As if there’s a man with a needle waiting inside the union’s closest, ready to spring out after lights out. Reminds me of: the scary dentist from Little Shop of Horrors.

2. Tim Tebow’s throwing motion: After his performance vs. the Lions on Sunday (not to mention the first 55 minutes of the Miami game), it must be clear to anybody who can recognize NFL talent that Tebow doesn’t have what it takes to be a starting quarterback. We make fun of the guy, and I feel bad, because he seems like an absolutely great dude. But his motion is terrible, and his mechanics are flawed. Simply put, it makes us want to cry and go hide in the closet until it goes away. Reminds me of: John Moxon from Varsity Blues (true, not a horror movie, but still a scary portrayal of a Texas prep football player).

1.Todd Haley’s homeless look: Haley is sporting a winning beard, meaning he won’t shave again until the Chiefs lose, and it’ll be on display for Halloween. He looks like a combination of Artie Lang’s younger, skinnier (and more sober) brother and the crazed son of Kevin McAllister’s body-burying neighbor in Home Alone. And it’s beginning to scare small children. If the Chargers beat the Chiefs tonight, I think they’d be doing us -- and our kids -- a huge favor by forcing Haley to razor that thing off his face. Reminds me of: this guy from Hellraiser.

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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