One of the things I enjoy about my job is the homework (my 9-year-old son finds that hard to believe). In addition to spending time simply memorizing names and numbers each week, I am always looking for anecdotes and statistics that will help to make the broadcast both entertaining and informative.
But most of the material never gets used.
The number one priority during a game broadcast is to try to paint a vivid word picture of what’s happening on the field. As a result, much of the prep work gets left on the cutting room floor.
That’s why I’ve decided to write some of it in blog form. Each week I plan to plan to share some “Bits from the Booth” leading into that week’s matchup, beginning with Sunday’s game at Oakland.
As you have probably heard this week, the Bengals have never won a game in Oakland in franchise history. Their all-time record is 0-10. But that shouldn’t mean much to the current players. Seven of the 10 games took place before 1981, meaning no current Bengals were even born for 70% of the losing streak. The only game of the 10 that any of the current players appeared in was a 20-17 loss in 2009. Seven players (Leon Hall, Michael Johnson, Rey Maualuga, Domata Peko, Pat Sims, Andrew Whitworth, and Kevin Huber) played in that game. Andre Smith was on the roster but inactive that day. The current Bengal who has played in the most games at Oakland is Wallace Gilberry, and he went 3-1 as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Raiders third preseason game was nationally televised on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, and if you tuned in you saw Khalil Mack put on an incredible show against the Arizona Cardinals. The fifth pick in last year’s draft tormented Carson Palmer in the first half, sacking him twice and hitting him four times. I asked Raiders radio voice Greg Papa about Mack’s performance when he joined us on “Bengals Game Plan” this Wednesday night.
“Last year he was unblockable at times in the run game,” said Papa. “He would just rag doll whoever was against him, and a lot of times they would put a tight end on him because he played strong-side linebacker. It was just amazing to me week after week after week. I remember Jordan Cameron of Cleveland trying to block him and that’s just not going to work. But he’s changed positions now. He’s not playing SAM linebacker, he’s playing defensive end. I was a little bit worried about it because he’s going up against bigger men now. He’s not going up against tight ends and backs chipping, he’s going up against 325 pound offensive lineman. But as you saw in the Arizona game, Jared Veldheer is a little top-heavy, and I think Mack’s low leverage – a lot like Elvis Dumerville who is able to be explosive as a pass rusher under six feet tall with those long arms – Khalil was getting under his pad level and showing him a variety of moves that I had never seen before. He was strictly a bull rusher last year as a rookie and he could do it because he’s so strong. But in that game he showed a spin move back to the inside, and he showed an edge rush to the outside. Now the Bengals have good tackles in Whitworth and Smith – I don’t know if he’ll be on Whitworth’s side as much come Sunday, but I think that’s going to be an area where Hue is possibly going to send help.”
Last year the Bengals were one of only four teams to hold J.J. Watt without a sack in their 22-13 win at Houston. We’ll see if the O-line can neutralize Mack on Sunday.
Carter on Culture
One of the biggest standouts during the Bengals’ four preseason games was linebacker Chris Carter who led the team with 3.5 sacks and earned a spot on the 53-man roster.
The four year veteran joined the team prior to Game 13 last year and told me he feels like he’s found a home.
“Since I walked into this building, everybody has treated me with nothing but courtesy and respect,” said Carter. “My teammates welcomed me in like a brother. As soon as I got here, Vontaze Burfict – a guy that I thought didn’t want to talk to anybody and was just doing his own thing – he was the first person to take me in and try to teach me the plays and he helped me get around the city. He talked to me and motivated me and I’m very grateful to him. Rey Maualuga, Domata Peko…all of those guys. It’s more like a family here than any environment that I have ever been in before. I’m happy and grateful to be here.”
Carter spent three years in Pittsburgh and part of last season in Indianapolis. His comment about the family environment in Cincinnati is indicative of the great culture Marvin Lewis has built in the Bengals locker room.
Bengals fans remember all too well how much of a struggle it was for the team in the 1990s and early 2000s. In the 12 years before Marvin Lewis was hired as head coach, the Bengals went 55-137.
So we can sympathize with Raiders fans. Over the last 12 years, Oakland’s record is nearly identical: 56-136. Since a 48-21 loss to Tampa Bay in the 2002 Super Bowl, the Raiders have lost at least 11 games in 10 out of the last 12 seasons.
Additionally, during Marvin Lewis’s tenure in Cincinnati, Oakland has had nine head coaches: Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell, Lane Kiffin, Tom Cable, Hue Jackson, Dennis Allen, Tony Sparano, and Jack Del Rio.
Speaking of Hue
In the last 12 years, the only seasons where the Raiders managed to win more than five games were the two years that Hue Jackson was part of the coaching staff. He was dumped after going 8-8 in his one year as the head coach and Oakland has gone 11-37 in the three seasons since.
I asked Hue how emotional it will be to return to the Oakland sidelines on Sunday.
“I don’t know if it will be emotional, but there will be memories,” said Jackson. “I had a great run there in my opinion. I was the coordinator in 2010 for Tom Cable and we won eight games. I was the head coach the year after and we won eight games. The guy that gave me both of those opportunities, Al Davis, was like my mentor – he’s like what Mike Brown is to me now. Al gave me the opportunity to lead an organization and for that I will always be grateful. There are some old wounds there, but we’ll let those go really quickly because we have a game to win.”
My broadcast partner Dave Lapham expects the Bengals players to get added motivation on Sunday from their desire to ‘Win It For Hue.”
Black Hole Beckons
I’m excited to get my first-ever look at Oakland’s famed “Black Hole” on Sunday. The late Hunter S. Thompson once wrote that, “The massive Raider Nation is beyond a doubt, the sleaziest, rudest, and most sinister mob of thugs ever assembled.”
But Dre Kirkpatrick doesn’t sound concerned.
“I played in the SEC,” Dre told me. “LSU is crazy, Auburn is crazy, Florida is crazy, so every week was mayhem. Every week was chaotic. So it kind of prepared me.”
I’m guessing that a majority of Bengals players have been in a road environment that was every bit as rowdy as Oakland will be on Sunday.
Mike Brown on Odell Thurman
On this week’s radio pregame show, my weekly “Fun Facts” segment is with Bengals president Mike Brown as we look back at the 10-year anniversary of the 2005 team.
Here’s what Mike had to say about linebacker Odell Thurman who led the team in tackles and had five interceptions and five forced fumbles in his only NFL season before violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
“He was a great talent and it’s such a shame that we lost him and he lost his career to the off-field problems that he had,” said Brown. “I have real regrets about that. He’s a nice person – you’d like him if you knew him. He had the whole package – quickness, suddenness, and he was as decisive as you could be. He was a difference maker and I think he would have been a Hall of Fame player if he could have hung on to his career.”
The Mike Brown interview is scheduled to run at approximately 3:50 this Sunday on the Bengals Radio Network.
Talk to you from Oakland. Hope you’ll be listening.
I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net
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