Here’s a key lesson from the Bengals 30-0 win over Cleveland: The video screen is more powerful than the bulletin board.
For all the talk of the Browns getting added motivation from Jeremy Hill’s “they’re worse than I thought” comment or Marvin Lewis’s “midget” gaffe, that was nothing compared to the Bengals doing a slow burn when they watched the video from their previous loss to Cleveland on Thursday Night Football.
“They came into our house and kicked the door in and we remembered that,” said Reggie Nelson.
While Andy Dalton’s 2.0 passer rating was the stat most frequently mentioned after the first game, the number 2.6 was just as discouraging. That’s how many yards the Bengals averaged on their 63 offensive plays in the home game vs. Cleveland.
“It was just a debacle,” said Hill after rushing for 148 yards in the rematch.
For obvious reasons, the Bengals utter domination of Johnny Manziel was the big story after Sunday’s win, but the tone was set before the rookie quarterback ever set foot on the field. Cincinnati’s offense began the game with a 14-play, 81 yard touchdown drive that took 7:07 off of the clock. Six of the plays were runs by Hill.
“Coming out of the gates like that was key,” said George Iloka. “It sucked the wind out of their fans.”
“The offense did a great job on that first drive of wearing them down,” said Carlos Dunlap.
Particularly the O-line.
“They were embarrassed on Thursday night and our guys have a lot of pride and they’re fighters,” said offensive line coach Paul Alexander.
His fighters delivered knockout blow after knockout blow as the Bengals rushed for 244 yards on 45 carries.
“It’s kind of the way football should be played,” said Alexander. “Guys were pushing around, fighting, getting muddy and dirty, sweaty and bloody. It was a fun game – it really was.”
“It all started up front,” said my broadcasting partner Dave Lapham. “I thought the offensive line played a whale of a game and I thought (fullback) Ryan Hewitt was about as dominant as I’ve ever seen him – and he’s been pretty dominant.”
“I think they’ve been dedicated to being a physical group for a long time around here,” said Eric Winston.
Sunday’s performance lifted the Bengals to 6th in the NFL in rushing yards this season and Cincinnati ranks 4th in the league in fewest sacks allowed. That speaks to strong play from the entire offensive line and in an interview for this week’s “Bengals Gameplan” show (Wednesday from 6-8 on ESPN 1530), Coach Alexander shared some thoughts on his offensive lineman:
LT Andrew Whitworth and RG Kevin Zeitler
“I think they both are certainly Pro Bowl players,” said Alexander. “Whit this year – as crazy as it sounds at his age – I think he’s having his best season ever. He’s completely healthy, the game has really become easy for him because he’s played so long and is so experienced, and he’s leading with great toughness. And Zeitler is really coming into his own now. There are times where he looks absolutely beautiful – technically, physically, and with toughness. He’s very hard on himself and that’s probably why he’s developed into such a good player. I think they’re both outstanding football players.”
Rookie C Russell Bodine
“I think he’s gotten significantly better over the course of the season,” said Alexander. “I remember people saying, ‘Oh my God, he can’t even shotgun snap to the quarterback,’ after OTAs and obviously he’s long past that. He runs the show now and he’s such a tough, solid guy in the middle. He gets along with the other guys and they have fun in there together. He can knock a nose guard back as well as any center in the league really. He still has to continue to work on catching linebackers and so forth, but I’d take the one over the other any day.”
LG Clint Boling who has helped replace the injured Andre Smith at RT
“He did great against Pittsburgh,” said Alexander. “He went out there and graded above 90 percent and I can’t imagine anybody could do that. He helped us out and he helped himself out by being able to do that. He gave up a couple of pass protections that he would like to have back in the Cleveland game, but overall, he’s done better at tackle than you think a guy would who has played guard his whole life.”
Recently signed RT Eric Winston who was in for 33 snaps last week at Cleveland
“He came in the first week and knocked it out,” said Alexander. “I give a pretty difficult test the night before the game, and I was amazed – he’s probably the first player to come in and get 100% on the test in one week. So he’s a very quick study, he knows the players in the league obviously, and he’s still a good player. He played a little bit more last week and we’ll see how this week goes.”
The Bengals offensive line faces a difficult challenge this week in a Denver defense that ranks number one in the NFL in yards allowed per play.
“They’re excellent,” said Alexander. “They’ve got a huge nose guard in there – the kid from Temple, Terrance Knighton – he’s a big man and he clogs up the middle. That helps because their inside linebackers are extremely fast. And if that’s not enough, they’ve probably got the best pair of outside linebackers in the league in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Those guys are great rushers and are also athletic and great in the run game.”
The players will surely be reminded this week of how poorly they’ve played in their two previous prime time games this year, and perhaps video from those games should play on an endless loop in the locker room.
Redemption proved to be a great motivator last Sunday in Cleveland.
“It meant a lot,” said Iloka. “And if anybody says anything different they’re lying.”
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