October 2013

Cincinnati Wrecks Ryan And Crushes Jets

New York Jets coach Rex Ryan ran with the bulls in Pamplona last summer.

I wonder if he felt like he was being chased by angry beasts again on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

“This is one of the best performances that we’ve had here from start to finish,” said James Harrison.

“We suffocated them all day,” said Chris Crocker.

The final score was Cincinnati 49 New York 9. Did A.J. Green feel like he was back in a college game at Georgia?

“A little bit,” Green said with a laugh.

Dalton vs Jets (440x293)

It was the Bengals most dominant all-around performance in the Andy Dalton/A.J. Green era. The 49 points scored were 11 more than the Bengals had tallied in any previous game with Dalton at quarterback, and the 40-point margin of victory was Cincinnati’s most lopsided win since Sam Wyche famously rubbed Jerry Glanville’s nose in a 61-7 drubbing of Houston in 1989.

“The whole team’s just clicking,” said Green. “I feel like this is the first game where we actually put all three phases together.”

On offense, Andy Dalton threw a career-high five touchdown passes, joining Carson Palmer and Boomer Esiason as the only Bengals quarterbacks to throw five-or-more in a game (Palmer holds the team record with six). During the Bengals 4-game winning streak, Dalton is 89-for-131 (68%), 1246 yards, 11 TD, 3 INT for a passer rating of 116.8.

“Dalton was hot,” said Rex Ryan. “That’s the thing about him – when he gets hot like that, we’ve seen over the last 3 weeks (he’s passed for) over 300 yards. He’s talented enough to do it and he’s got an outstanding group of receivers and skill position players.”

Marvin Jones leaping TD (304x440)

Green topped 100 yards receiving for the third straight game with three catches for 115 yards, but the star was Marvin Jones who finished with eight catches for 122 yards and four touchdowns. The Bengals have had some outstanding wide receivers over the years like Isaac Curtis, Cris Collinsworth, Carl Pickens, Chad Johnson, and Green (among others), but none of them caught four touchdown passes in a game.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Jones of setting a team record. “It means a lot.”

“I’m happy for him because he comes to play every week man,” said Green. “He plays with a chip on his shoulder like he has something to prove every week.”

“It’s hard when you have a guy like A.J. who is the focal point and going to get a lot of balls, but Marvin’s made the most of his opportunities and has gotten a lot better since his rookie year,” said Crocker. “I’m proud of the guy.”

On defense, the Bengals held their opponent without a touchdown for the second straight home game and scored a pair of TDs on interception returns by Crocker and Adam Jones.

“I give all the kudos to Coach Zim for putting us in great situations the whole game,” said Adam Jones. “We played a helluva game on defense today.”

Perhaps the biggest mistake that the Bengals made all day was when the 33-year-old Crocker tossed the ball into the crowd after scoring his second career touchdown and first in nine seasons.

“I wanted to go back and get it, but that’s the emotion of it,” Chris told me. “When you’re having such a good day like that – let the fans enjoy it too.”

Trust me. They did.

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More Weapons Mean More Wins For Bengals

A.J. Green and Calvin Johnson traded compliments before the game…spectacular highlights during it…and jerseys after the Bengals 27-24 win.

AJ and Calvin jersey swap (440x435)

“I’ve worked out with this guy for three years and he taught me a lot,” A.J. told me.  “I’m glad I came out OK in a comparison of my stats to his.  I know our trainer was proud of us today.”

Remarkably, Green and Johnson each finished with 155 receiving yards.

“It was like fantasy football out there,” said Marvin Lewis.  “It was a helluva deal.”

“It’s kinda fun to watch those guys,” said Andy Dalton.

Cincinnati Bengals v Detroit Lions

But take away Green’s six catches and Dalton still completed 18 of 26 passes for 217 yards, 2 TD and 0 INT.  That’s a passer rating of 120.2 to guys not named Adriel Jeremiah Green.  Dalton’s overall passer rating of 135.9 was the highest of his NFL career.

“He played really well again,” said Tyler Eifert.  “I was looking up at the fantasy stats that they displayed on the scoreboard during the game and he was up there with the leaders and only had half of the attempts of the other guys.  He’s an efficient guy and he’s playing really well.”

“A win is a win and that’s all that I care about,” said Dalton.

Last week, Boomer Esiason was in the TV booth when Dalton earned AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after throwing for 337 yards and 3 touchdowns in Buffalo.  In that game, Andy completed passes to a season-high eight receivers, led by Green was six catches for 103 yards.

“You go where the defense takes you,” Boomer told me a few days later.  “And believe you me, A.J. Green would much rather be on a team where he catches five balls for 110 yards and a touchdown and wins, than opposed to being targeted 15 times, catching seven balls for 155 yards and losing.  It’s a team game for a reason, and the more guys that you can get involved; the more morale is going to be really high.  They’re going to want to make plays for you because they know that the ball is going to come.”

Esiason proved that at age 36 in his final NFL season when he replaced Jeff Blake in the starting lineup for the final five games and posted a 100+ passer rating in all five outings.

“One of the things that happened during those last five weeks that I would try to impress upon Andy Dalton now as he moves forward – especially after the success he had last week in Buffalo – is that Jeff Blake and Carl Pickens had something very special together,” said Esiason.  “It was ‘Shake and Blake,’ it was big bombs down the sideline, but that morphed into a situation where it was always Carl Pickens and there were guys like David Dunn, Darnay Scott, James Hundon, Tony McGee, Marco Battaglia, Ki-Jana Carter, Eric Bieniemy, and Corey Dillon that all sat around watching those two play football and not really feeling like they were a part of something.  When I got in there, I said, ‘Guys, I’m going to where the defense takes me.  Plus, I can’t throw it 80 yards down the field so you had all better be ready.  You had better have your thinking caps on, your eyes open, and you better be ready for the ball when it comes to you.’  I think the guys really appreciated that they all got to participate in those last five games and I think it’s one of the reasons why we were so successful and I was so successful.  That young group of players had a new toy – it was called a football and they could actually go make plays with it.”

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In Sunday’s win in Detroit, Dalton threw touchdown passes to Eifert and Marvin Jones, completed a big 30-yard pass to Jermaine Gresham to set up a third quarter field goal, and hit Mohamed Sanu for a 12-yard gain on 3rd-and-9.  And with :26 left, needing to gain about 15 yards to give Mike Nugent a shot at a game-winning field goal, Andy hit Dane Sanzenbacher for seven yards and Giovani Bernard for eight.  That’s six critical passes that were not to A.J. Green.

“In order to be a great offense, we have to be efficient,” said Marvin Jones.  “I think Andy did a good job of that – especially with the play-calling and getting all of us rolling.”

“We’re able to spread the ball around to a bunch of different guys,” said Dalton.

Since a subpar performance in Cleveland where 15 of his 42 passes were thrown to Green (36%), Dalton has been spectacular during the Bengals three-game winning streak, going 70-for-101, for 921 yards, 6 TD, 2 INT, and a passer rating of 109.4.  Green has been targeted 27 times for 27% of Dalton’s attempts.

By taking what the defense is giving and relying more heavily on the running game, the Bengals have managed to pull out three straight thrillers and take a two-game lead in the AFC North.

“To be in a game like this with your brothers who you’ve went through a lot with for three straight months of grinding and training camp – these are the moments you live for, practice for, and get ready for,” said Green.

“We keep it interesting don’t we?” said Jones.  “That just shows the heart of the team.  We stick together for four quarters and that’s what we have to do to win games.  Every game is going to be tough in this league.”

“It was one of those games where you just keep fighting and scrapping and it was really a dogfight,” said Chris Crocker.  “I’ll tell you what – I’m gonna have gray hairs when this year is over.”

It will be well worth it if a certain teammate with red hair continues to shine.

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Can Dalton Lead Bengals To Super Bowl

You know that the bashing of Andy Dalton has gone comically over-the-top when a compliment is twisted into a criticism.

Here’s what Adam Jones said to Erik Kuselias of NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk when asked, “Are you 100% convinced that Andy Dalton is good enough to take this team to the Super Bowl?”

“I’m convinced,” said Jones.  “I’m 99% convinced that Andy can take us to the Super Bowl.”

That comment produced this headline “Adam Jones Not 100% Convinced Andy Dalton Can Lead Bengals to Super Bowl.”

Technically speaking that’s accurate, but really?

When pressed to say what it would take to be completely convinced, here’s what Adam added:

“I think he just needs to step up vocally and lead the team,” he said.  “That’s about the only thing – the other one percent.  But I think he has all the tools and all the weapons, to lead us there.”

Not exactly a rip job.

Dalton vs. Bills (440x307)

Listen, we all know that quarterbacks – especially in the Twitter era – are going to be hammered every time they make a lousy throw.

“That’s what he signed up for,” said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.  “I tell him all of the time that if he didn’t want the criticism, he should have sold insurance.”

The harsh spotlight has been warranted in the playoffs where Dalton has not performed well in a pair of losses to Houston.  But it’s hard to find too much fault with what he’s accomplished in the regular season.  After inheriting a 4-12 team that was expected to be among the NFL’s worst squads in 2011, Dalton has completed 61% of his career passes, with 55 TD and only 35 INT.  The Bengals are 23-15 in his 38 regular season starts.  I doubt that a single Bengals fan would have objected to those numbers when Dalton was selected in the second round of the draft.

“It comes with the position,” said Marvin Lewis.  “If he were 38-0, everybody would feel better – I know I would.  But you’ve got to love his demeanor.”

Last week in Buffalo, the Bengals quarterback was 26-for-40 for 337 yards, 3 TD and 1 INT for a passer rating of 105.9.  However, Dalton still took heat for not throwing the ball downfield since 243 of his passing yards came after the catch.

“Andy had an amazing game,” said Giovani Bernard.  “He was able to limit the turnovers, move the ball, and control the tempo.”

For those who have a negative opinion of Dalton, it generally centers around two things we knew about him before he ever put on a Bengals uniform:  That he’s not that tall and doesn’t possess a John Elway-like cannon for a throwing arm.

“I think what it comes down to is whether you believed in Andy Dalton or not,” said ESPN’s John Clayton.  “I’m sure that those who did not believe in Andy Dalton are saying, ‘Told you so.  Told you he didn’t have the strongest arm,’ and all of that stuff.”

But is Andy’s arm strong enough to get the job done?

“Repetitive accuracy is the number one quality we’re looking for in a quarterback,” said Eagles coach Chip Kelly when asked about arm strength during last year’s draft.  “We’re not trying to knock over milk cartons at the county fair.”

I don’t mean to suggest that all criticism of Dalton is unfair.  His deep ball accuracy is the most obvious area of concern, and Andy remains a work in progress in terms of reading defenses and reacting to pressure in the pocket.

“I think he comes in every day with the right frame of mind trying to get better,” said Gruden.  “He knows he’s not perfect, but he’s trying to get there.  He’s doing the best that he can and we’re trying to help him find plays that he’s comfortable with and trying not to force things down his throat.  We’re trying to keep him protected in the running game and the short passing game, but if we get down or he needs to throw it deep, he needs to do a better job.”

Uh-oh.  I can see the headline now:  “Gruden Says Dalton Needs To Do A Better Job.”

Let’s get back to the original question:  Can Andy Dalton lead the Bengals to the Super Bowl?

Jeff Hostetler, Brad Johnson, and Mark Rypien are Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.  David Woodley, Neil O’Donnell, and Rex Grossman guided their team to the Super Bowl before losing the big game.

Put me down as 100% convinced.

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Bengals Weather The Storm

About five minutes before our radio pregame show began on Sunday; I called my friend and favorite meteorologist – Fox 19’s Steve Horstmeyer – to get a weather forecast for the Bengals-Patriots game.

“Scattered showers between one and four o’clock,” Steve told me.  “And there could be a brief heavy downpour.”

Accurate as usual – but Steve neglected to point out that the downpour would arrive when the Bengals needed it most.

Brady in rain (348x440)

With 1:48 left in the game and Cincinnati leading 13-6, the Patriots got the ball at their 35-yard-line giving Tom Brady a chance to engineer his 39th career fourth-quarter comeback.  But Mother Nature provided the 12th man (woman?) as heavy wind and rain made it difficult to throw, catch, and even see.

“I was praying for a monsoon,” said Chris Crocker.  “It just came down at the perfect time.”

Adam Jones INT in rain (440x273)

On the Patriots final drive, Brady was 1-for-6 for 6 yards, and his final pass of the game was a wobbly, underthrown deep ball that was intercepted by Adam Jones.

“I was thanking God for the rain as it came down,” Jones told me with a grin.  “I was like, ‘Thank you Jesus!’  It worked out man.”

While the Bengals got some heavenly help in the final two minutes, they didn’t need any in the first 58.

Cincinnati’s defense was nothing short of remarkable.  Brady only completed 48% of his passes (18-for-38), his lowest completion percentage in a game since 2007, and the Bengals ended Tom’s near-record streak of 52 straight games with at least one touchdown pass.

“Honestly, I don’t think that any of the DBs even knew that,” said Crocker.  “Seriously, Zim knows stuff like that, but we could have cared less.  People were saying, ‘Brady is a Hall of Fame quarterback…it doesn’t really matter what receivers he has’ and we just felt like, ‘We’re pretty daggone good in the back-end.’ We can play, and we took that as a challenge.

“We really smothered those guys all day.  And you have to be aggressive with a team like that because when you sit back on your heels it’s like seven-on-seven and Tom Brady just picks you apart.”

Brady came within inches of extending his TD streak early in the fourth quarter when he connected with a wide-open Danny Amendola as he fell over backwards at the one yard.  But moments before the Patriots wide receiver rolled into the end zone, Crocker alertly touched him to prevent the touchdown.  The Bengals came through with a goal line stand and forced the Patriots to settle for a field goal.

“Goodness gracious…he could have literally leaned over and put the ball across the goal line,” said Crocker.  “It was one of those games where it fell right for us.  I’ve been in a situation where hell, the balls gets tipped in the air and Brandon Stokley catches it at the end of the game and runs for a touchdown.  I’ve been on the other side of it.”

And while the Bengals offense only scored one touchdown, they had to drive 98 yards to do it.  The biggest play coming on 3rd-and-15 from the 2-yard-line when they quick-snapped it to Andy Dalton and he delivered a perfect throw between two defenders for a 28-yard gain to Marvin Jones.

“The quick snap was the perfect call,” said Jones.  “Andy threw a good ball and I just came down with it.  In those situations, all you care about is that football.  I told myself, ‘Whatever happens happens.  If I get hit, then I get hit.’  But it was a great call.

“Normally when you’re on the two-yard-line, you think about just getting out of there and punt it away.  But we didn’t want to give them a short field and we capitalized on our opportunities.  That just goes to show you that we can drive the ball.”

Giovani Bernard followed with a 28-yard run as the Bengals put together a 14-play drive that took 7:48 off the clock. On the touchdown drive, the Bengals called for seven passing plays and seven runs

“This week we really emphasized calling the run and getting after them,” said Clint Boling.  “I felt like we did a good job of doing that.  We stuck to the run throughout the game and kept calling them even though some of them didn’t work.  I feel like that really helped us.”

“We knew that we were going to have to body them up and be physical,” said Marvin Lewis.  “We worked all week at that.  I thought that we did a great job on Wednesday and Thursday at practice and I almost had to back off as we went through the week because we had guys so sore.  We had to go back to being us.”

After a poor performance in Cleveland, you might say that the Bengals weathered the storm.

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Big Willie Comes To Dalton’s Defense

For 12 years, Willie Anderson protected Cincinnati quarterbacks as well as nearly any offensive tackle in the NFL.

Willie Anderson

Even though the four-time Pro Bowler played his last game for the Bengals in 2007, he’s still trying to prevent the Cincinnati quarterback from taking too many hits.

Last Sunday as Andy Dalton struggled to a 58.2 passer rating in Cleveland – the fifth lowest of his 38 NFL starts – Anderson took to Twitter to defend the Bengals QB.

Anderson joined Dave Lapham and me on “Bengals Game Plan” on Wednesday night (ESPN 1530) to discuss his defense of the Red Rifle.

“To be able to say that you’ve taken your organization to the playoffs in your first two years with that young of a team is a big deal,” said Anderson.  “In Cincinnati, we as fans are so desperate to get over the hump that I think sometimes we lose perspective.  This kid was fresh out of college as a second round draft pick and he’s playing with a lot of young guys on the offensive side of the ball.  They’re 2-2 now, and you can’t judge this kid’s career four games into year three.”

Anderson also cautioned people that are blasting Dalton to remember what happened to the quarterback that preceded him in Cincinnati.

“Carson turned cold toward the city because of the way things transpired around him,” said Anderson.  “This kid Andy has a very good team around him.  I think the coaches have changed.  I think the personnel and the perspective of the team have changed.  Carson was brought into Cincinnati to be the savior, and unbeknownst to him, he had some things around him that he couldn’t control.  It wore down on him and you saw this southern California kid lose interest in football.

“I’ve never met Andy Dalton, but I’ve heard from coaches and people that work in the building that he’s a strong-minded kid.  So rest assured, even though I defended him on Twitter, I don’t think the pressure is getting to him.  He wouldn’t have made it this far in his career as a quarterback if he listened to outside pressure.  One of the things that Marvin preaches is not to listen to critics outside of that building.”

After a dozen years in Cincinnati, Willie ended his career with one season in Baltimore.  That year, the Ravens won a pair of playoff games before losing in the AFC Championship game to Pittsburgh.  Baltimore’s quarterback was a 23-year-old rookie named Joe Flacco.

“I remember in my last year with the Ravens, we were on the practice field joking around and Joe Flacco said, ‘Man, I’ve never won anything.’  I said, ‘What do you mean?’  And he said, ‘I never won in high school or in college.’  But with the Ravens, he got put into a situation where the guys around him were so good that he learned what to do.  He won some playoff games but he had a veteran team around him.  I think the progression with Andy is still going upward.  Give the kid some time because I definitely think that he’s the kind of guy that you want running your franchise.

“There are a lot of teams in the NFL that would love to have Andy Dalton as their starting quarterback and I think we as fans should be patient and give it some time to play out.”

Big #71 still has the quarterback’s back.

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