Cincinnati Bengals


NFL Team Column
2009 Post Draft Analysis
Column Open

7 June 2010

Optimism High Following Bengals Mini-Camp

Fresh off the heals of their AFC North Division title, the Bengals recently concluded their full-squad mini-camp full of confidence.

The passing attack has been upgraded, thanks to a trio of new wide receivers, free agents Matt Jones and Antonio Bryant along with rookie third round pick Jordan Shipley of Texas. That should lead to more productivity from veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, who suffered through a subpar season (for him). Palmer appeared to be still recovering from the affects of a '08 injury, and both his decision-making and arm strength were questionable. The good news for Bengals fans is that Palmer seemed to be back at full strength, flinging the ball effortlessly to a variety of targets. With the rushing attack led by a rejuvenated Cedric Benson, Cincinnati should have ample firepower to keep up with divison rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh in what promises to be a three team race.

First round tight end Jermaine Gresham of Oklahoma also appeared fully recovered from his injury that wiped out his '09 college season. Gresham is the new breed of tight end, pass catcher first and blocking a secondary role. Gresham flashed the athletic ability to create mismatches down the seam and caught the ball well.

One concern continues to be the Bengals pursuit and signing of players with past off the field issues. The signings of receiver Matt Jones and cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones are prime examples. Matt Jones ran afoul of the league with several transgressions that eventually led to Jacksonville releasing him, while "Pacman" has become the poster boy for poor behavior. The Bengals are blessed with two talented, young corners, so "Pacman's" signing was especially puzzling. Cincinnati's recent history of rehabbing former bad boys into team players will bear watching.

Defensively, the Bengals appear poised to take another step in their development. Rookie pass rusher Carlos Dunlap, the club's second round choice from Florida, has talent if he can keep on the straight and narrow. He looked the part during mini-camp. The Bengals also resigned safety Roy Williams and signed Gilbril Wilson away from Miami as part of an active offseason.

Cincinnati will now hope to avoid rookie holdouts and have the full squad report intact to Georgetown College in northern Kentucky when training camp opens in late July.
Jeff Curts

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25 April 2010

Bengals Upgrade Talent/Depth In Late Rounds

The Bengals used their five selections on Saturday's third and final day of the 2010 NFL draft to supplement their defensive front seven and add needed depth to the offense on the line and at wide receiver.

Georgia defensive tackle Geno Atkins, the first of two fourth round picks (120 overall), and Texas linebacker Roddrick Muckleroy, (a compensatory selection at 131), are both productive football players who perform better than they test. Atkins is a short, squat, wide-body who's forte is plugging the gap. He brings needed size to the interior. Meanwhile, Muckleroy is an athletic defender with good instincts and range. He should contribute on special teams immediately.

Fifth (152) and seventh (228) offensive lineman picks Otis Hudson of Eastern Illinois and Reggie Stephens of Iowa State respectively, are developmental projects with Stephens the more highly regarded player. Stephens has good size and was an all-conference Big 12 selection. He unexpectedly saw his stock drop and will add immediate depth.

The other Bengals selection is a wildcard. Sixth rounder Dezmon Briscoe (191), a wide receiver from Kansas, has all the tools and lit up the stat sheets at Kansas. However, he had a poor workout at the scouting combine and has some off-the-field baggage. Some observers question his work ethic as well. When focused, Briscoe flashes an exciting blend of size, speed, and excellent hands. He will join a crowded receiving corps with the Bengals, but has a chance, if his head is right.

With the draft in the books, Cincinnati seems much better on paper, having addressed concerns in the passing game and infusing quality depth to an improving defense.

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23 April 2010

Bengals Add Value With Pick of Ghee

Wake Forest CB Brandon Ghee, initially thought to be a second round pick, fell to the Bengals with their compensatory selection in the third round, the 96th overall. Ghee brings value with his size/speed ratios. and demonstrates ability with his quickness and burst. However, he doesn't offer much in run support and isn't overly physical.

Initially, Ghee will be given time to adjust and learn the Bengals defensive schemes and contribute on special teams.

Texas's Shipley Added to Bengals Receiving Corps

The Bengals continued to strengthen their passing attack with the pick of wide receiver Jordan Shipley from the University of Texas with their first third round selction, the 84th overall. Shipley overcame injuries that eventually led to being granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA to become a highly decorated Longhorn player. He finished as school’s all-time receptions leader and second in reception yardage and touchdowns.

One scouting report provided this evaluation of Shipley: "Dual threat as a receiver and return man. High character guy. Tough and not afraid to go across the middle. Above average hands and route running. Sneaky fast. Gives maximum effort. Downside is his injury past and the possibility he’s played his best football."

Cincinnati Bengals Roll Dice With Florida Pass Rusher

Looking to upgrade their pass rush, the Bengals used their second round selection, the 54th overall, on Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Dunlap, 6'6" 290 lbs., is a classic underachiever. He possesses great size, athletic skills, and a quick burst to the quarterback, but his attitude and character are concerns. Dunlap takes too many plays off and has questionable work habits. When motivated, he displays rare playmaking abilities. As an example, he abused former Oklahoma and current Minnestoa Vikings offensive tackle Phil Loadholt in the 2009 national championship game. However, the flip side occured this past season when he fell asleep in his car and wascharged with a DUI before the Gators showdown game with Alabama for the SEC championship.

Dunlap is another in a long line of players with troubled pasts on the Cincinnati roster. The hope is that with pro coaching and added maturity, he will develop into a reliable pass rush threat and bolster a Bengal defensive line that needs more edge rush.

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22 April 2010

Bengals Fill TE Need With First Round Selection

Seeking to bolster their passing game and give quarterback Carson Palmer another offensive weapon, the Cincinnati Bengals selected Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham with their first pick, the 21st overall, in the 2010 NFL draft.

Gresham, who missed last season with a injury, will replenish the tight end position for the Bengals. Cincinnati suffered through a series of injuries at that spot, including a training camp season-ending injury to last year's starter Reggie Kelly. Gresham's durability issues pushed him down the charts, but he looks to be fully recovered.

A recent scouting report offered this assessment: " His production, when healthy,was decent, but he should be a better pro. He has the size and speed to get down the seam. Pretty good hands. Not a great blocker and will need plenty of work in that area. Willing worker."

The drafting of Gresham and free agent signing of wide receiver Antonio Bryant adds needed firepower to a Benglas offense, which too often relied on the legs of running back Cedric Benson and made Cincy one dimensional. With those needs filled, look for the Bengals to go defense on Friday's second day of the draft.

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11 April 2010

Bengals Need to Add Playmakers in the 2010 NFL Draft

Game-changers are the buzz word around Bengals camp as the NFL Draft nears. Despite a powerful ground game led by Cedric Benson, the Bengals offense struggled mightily to score points. Quarterback Carson Palmer never looked fully recovered from his 2008 injury and the passing game appeared out of synch. Chad "Ochnocinco" Johnson, despite his theatrics, may be slowing down. The death of fellow wideout Chris Henry was untimely in a number of ways, but his absence left a gaping hole in the receiving corps. With those stories as backdrops, the Bengals look to add athletic playmakers to both sides of the ball.

Many observers conclude the club's key needs as wide receiver, tight end, safety, defensive line help (either tackle or end), and guard. The Bengals have done a good job retaining their key free agents and signing ex-Buc Antonio Bryant. Bryant is part of the answer at wide receiver, but not the toal answer. Look for Cincinnati to strike early at that position.

The Bengals would also do well by beefing up their secondary, especially the safety spot. Late season breakdowns in that unit proved to be costly down the stretch and in the playoff loss to the Jets.

As is their custom, expect some small school/local products to get the call in later rounds. Cincinnati's small scouting staff, supplemented by the coaching staff, usually seems enamored with local talent. The Bengals would be wise to select a developmental quarterback prospect. Palmer's struggles lead some to believe his career is past its peak and on the downhill slide.

With those thoughts in mind, here's one writer's view of how the Cincinnati draft might shake out:

Round 1 (21st) Demaryius Thomas, WR, Georgia Tech Big, strong, and physical wide receiver with deep speed. Makes the acrobatic catch and generally displays good hands. Injured hamstring at combine and couldn't work out, but remains elite prospect.

Round 2 (54) Rob Gronkowksi, TE, Arizona Missed junior season with back injury, but came out early anyway. Good size/strength combo. Fine blocker and pass catcher. Not a speedster, but can get down the season and knows how to use his frame. Skilled route runner.

Round 3 (84th & 96th) Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati Local kid makes good. Gilyard rebounded from life setbacks to emerge as one of college football's most exciting playmakers in 2009. Not a blazer, but plays faster than timed speed. Inconsistent hands, and will make the spectacular catch and drop some easy ones. Needs work on route running. Adds value with special teams ability and could be an explosive returner. Ideally, fits in as a slot receiver.

Kurt Coleman, S, Ohio State Heady defender. Best in zone coverage. A bit undersized, but willing to throw his body around in run support. Good special teamer.

Round 4( 120th & 131st) Alex Carrington, DE, Arkansas State Looks the part, but an underachiever. Has the size, natural athletic ability, and first step quickness to get to the edge, but stats don't back that up. Inconsistent motor. Compares to Michael Johnson, who Bengals drafted last year out of Georgia Tech. If the light goes on, could be a much better pro than collegian.

Thaddeus Gibson, DE/OLB, Ohio State Played DE for Buckeyes, but could make transition to OLB. Fine athlete with all the measureables. Excellent pass rush skills with quick first step. High motor player who gives max effort. Can struggle at the point of attack anchoring the run. Sometimes disappears.

Round 5 (152nd) Jeff Byers, G, USC Byers is undersized, but has the football intellligence and street smarts to compete. Agressive streak. Nicked up some in college.

Round 6 (191st) Jevan Snead, QB, Mississippi Came out a year early, despite struggling through his junior season. Made too many poor decisions with the ball, forcing throws. Has the physical/athletic skills you want, but will need seasoning. Needs a good QB coach to hone his fundamentals.

Round 7 (228) Micah Johnson, ILB, Kentucky Fine size and athletic skills, but limited production. Gets caught in the trash too often. Limited range. Could make it depending on special teams ability.

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14 March 2010

Bengals Seek to Upgrade Skill Position Talent

The Bengals recent free agency signing of former Tampa Bay wide receiver Antonio Bryant and their flirtation with Terrell Owens emphasizes the club's desire to improve a stagnant offense. With the NFL combine in the rear-view mirror and pro day workouts upon us, Pro Personnel Director Jim Lippincott and the coaching staff have fanned out across the country to eye the top prospects one more time.

In particular, the club will seek help at the tight end position, with only second-year man Chase Coffman and veteran Reggie Kelly on the roster. Both missed significant time last season with injuries (Kelly the entire season). Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham, himself coming off injury, offers a highly productive, athletic presence with the ability to stretch the field. Gresham is more of a receiver than blocker, but would present matchup problems. Gresham should be there when the Bengals select 21st in round one.

Other options to bolster the passing attack include intriguing wide outs such as Georgia Tech's Demaryius Thomas, a junior speedster who came out early, or Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant, a big, physical receiver who sat out most of the season after being ruled ineligible by the NCAA. Both Thomas and Bryant offer gamebreaking ability, but also have health concerns. Thomas is recovering from a broken foot suffered while training for the scouting combine. Meanwhile, Bryant is nursing a lingering hamstring pull that has prevented him from working out for NFL teams. He has pushed back his pro day workout until the end of March in order to be in top form. Bryant is also trying to overcome a stigma of being a character risk. No matter what, expect the Bengals to spend their first round pick on a skilled position player.

Cincinnati could also use help on the offensive line. A patchwork unit held up reasonably well, but depth is needed at most of the interior line spots. After round one, any of the following would look good in Bengals colors: (C-G) Maurkice Pouncey of Florida, (G)Jon Asamoah from Illinois, Utah's Zane Beadles (G), or (C) Mike Johnson of Alabama.

Further down the draft board, the Bengals could turn to defense and look to supplement those units. The club likes to choose local products and small college players, so Ohio State's Kurt Coleman (S) and (CB) Akwasi Owusu-Ansah from Indiana (PA) can't be overlooked.

Bengals Bits: The team resigned safety Roy Williams to a one-year deal. Though a liability in coverage, Williams still offers a physical presence to the Cincinnati secondary.Bengals Begin "Business Season" Preparations.

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15 February 2010

Off Season Moves

Since the Bengals disappointing 24-14 playoff loss to the New York Jets on January 9th, the club has turned its attention to a series of off-season moves.

Chief among them was the resigning of defensive boss Mike Zimmer to a new contract. Zimmer fought through the adversity of losing his wife unexpectedly during the middle of the season, but continued to coach up a Bengals attack unit that proved to be opportunistic from a takeaway standpoint.

On the other side of the ball, longtime quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese elected to stay with the team after speaking with the Chicago Bears regarding their offensive coordinator opening (a job that eventually went to former Rams head coach Mike Martz).

Not all the news has been positive. Finishing a promising rookie season despite missing playing time late due to injury, linebacker Rey Maualuga became the latest Bengal to show up in the police blotter. Maualuga was arrested in late January on a DUI charge. He has pleaded not guilty, but the story raises troubling signs for a Bengals team that has worked on overcoming a stigma of housing troubled players.

Along the same lines, the team took a flyer and signed former Jacksonville wide out Matt Jones. Jones, the former Arkansas quarterback who transitioned to wide receiver with mixed results, sat out last season after being released by the Jaguars following a slew of arrests. If he's matured, Jones could offer Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer another downfield threat, something lacking following the injury and untimely death of Chris Henry. Look for Cincinnati to scout the college wide receiver class carefully over the next couple months.

The Bengals also made news with word that the club recently worked out troubled cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones. Jones has been out of the league since playing for the Cowboys in 2008. The former Tennessee Titan first rounder has seen his career curtailed by a series of off-field transgressions.

As the calendar moves toward March, the Bengals small personnel department, with heavy reliance from the coaching staff, will need to ramp up its efforts in preparation for not only the draft, but the start of NFL free agency.

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17 January 2010

Bengals Start Planning for 2010

Barely a week after their 24-14 playoff loss to the New York Jets and a day after head coach Marvin Lewis won the AP NFL Coach of the Year award, the Bengals have begun the evaluation/planning stage for the 2010 season.

A key first step in the process was the resigning of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Zimmer fought through the adversity of losing his wife during the season to help guide an aggressive and opportunistic Bengal defense. The attack unit featured standout play from cornerbacks Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall, the emergence of pass rushers Robert Geathers and Antwan Odom, and solid contributions of rookie linebacker Rey Malauga and veteran Dhani Jones.

Offensively, quarterback Carson Palmer had what could best be described as an unenven season. The passing game never did click, with Palmer throwing inaccurately and looking shaky in the pocket. The Bengals receiving corps did him no favors, consistently dropping balls and failing to generate a down field threat. Whether Palmer is still recovering from injuries that sidelined him much of the 2008 season and simply showing the wear and tear of seven years in the NFL, or is the "victim" of unimaginative play calling from offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, has been the subject of much debate amongst Cincinnati sports talkers and fans.

QB Carson Palmer announced he is planning to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair ligament damage to his thumb sometime next week. Cincinnati needs to add depth at the wide receiver and tight end positions. A pre-season injury to starter Reggie Kelly and the lack of development from third round pick Chase Coffman makes this a position of need. With the 21st pick in the draft, the Bengals could look to target players such as hometown wideout Mary Gilyard from Cincinnati or Oklahoma TE Jermaine Gresham.

On the bright side, a retooled offensive line played above expectations and running back Cedric Benson quieted his critics with a career resurgence. Benson ranked among the league leaders in rushing, picking up 1,251 yards on 301 carries, good for a 4.2 average. He also scored 6 touchdowns. Benson's downhill running style was exactly what the doctor ordered to keep the Bengals offense on the field and moving the chains.

Another area of concern is place kicker. Veteran Shayne Graham blew two short field goals in the playoff loss and was inconsistent throughout the year. As a free agent, the Bengals may be wise to let him walk.

The 2010 schedule promises to be tougher as well. Besides home and away games in the AFC North, the Bengals will hit the road to face New England, Carolina, Atlanta, the Jets, and Indiapolis.

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10 January 2010

Gang Greene Ends Bengals Season

The New York Jets unleashed their league-leading rushing attack and took advantage of some costly Cincinnati turnovers to knock the Bengals out of the playoffs with a 24-14 win at Paul Brown Stadium. The loss was Cincinnati's second to the Jets in two weeks and ends their season with a 10-7 slate. The Bengals have not won a playoff game in 19 years.

After taking an early 7-0 lead on Carson Palmer's 11 yard touchdown pass to Laveranues Coles, the Bengals had no answers to stop a pair of Jets rookies, quarterback Mark Sanchez and running back Shon Greene. Sanchez was unflappable in his first playoff game, completing 12 of 15 passes for 182 yards, including a 45 yard touchdown strike to tight end Dustin Keller. Meanwhile, Greene, the first year player from Iowa, stole the show from fellow back Thomas Jones. Greene picked up 135 yards on 21 carries and scored on a 39 yard scamper that got the Jets even at 7-7 in the early going.

Aside from a Bengals playoff record 169 yards rushing from Cedric Benson that included a 47 yard touchdown jaunt, Cincinnati could do little right. Palmer was pressured repeatedly and off target with his throws, but received little help from his receivers, who dropped a number of balls. Palmer finished 18 of 36 for only 146 yards and suffered an interception. Penalties, a missed Shayne Graham field goal, and a leaky defense contributed to the loss.

As the final seconds wound down, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and the sellout crowd at the Jungle looked on in disbelief.
The season that began with modest expectations, only to turn into a thrill a minute rollercoaster ride chalked full of last second wins and yet monumental heartbreak with the losses of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's wife and wide receiver Chris Henry, suddenly came to an abrupt and quiet finish.

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4 January 2010

Bengals Fall Flat in Season-Finale

With little to gain, the Bengals sleepwalked through an embarrassing 37-0 loss to the Jets before a national television audience Sunday night at the Meadowlands.  New York’s win gave the Jets the final AFC playoff slot and sets up a rematch between the two teams Saturday afternoon, this time at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. In what could be the last game played at the Meadowlands complex, the Bengals fell to 0-11 all time, including a 0-8 mark against the Jets.

Nothing went right for the Bengals in the season finale.  The Bengals mustered only seven yards on 15 offensive plays in the first half, and watched helplessly as the Jets league leading ground attack cranked out 190 rushing yards en route to a 27-0 halftime lead.  Quarterback Carson Palmer suffered through a miserable performance, finishing with career lows in completions (1), yards (0), and passer rating (1.7).  In fairness, Palmer’s receivers did him no favors, as several passes were dropped.  Wideout Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson was a non-factor, and left the game with an injured left knee.  While not believed serious, he’ll have an MRI on Monday.

Cincinnati’s defense had no answers for the Jets rushing game.  Versatile wide receiver Brad Smith  scampered for 92 yards, including a 32 yard touchdown run.  Running back Thomas Jones added 78 yards and two touchdowns.

The Bengals played without leading rusher Cedric Benson and defenders Robert Geathers, Domata Petko, and Chris Crocker.  Backup QB J.T. O’Sullivan relieved Palmer in the third quarter.  Cincinnati was shut out for the first time since a 2001 loss to Baltimore. 

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28 December 2009

Bengals Claim AFC North

A 14 play 98 yard drive that culminated in a six yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson lifted the Bengals to a hard-fought 17-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs and the AFC North division title Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium.  The Bengals improved their record to 10-5 and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2005.  Kansas City dropped to 3-12.

In a game short on style points, the script played out as it has all season for Cincinnati—a ball control offense relying heavily on the legs of Cedric Benson and an opportunistic, bend but don’t break defense.  Cornerback Leon Hall’s leaping interception of a Matt Cassel pass with just over a minute remaining solidified the win and gave the Bengals their seventh division crown in team history.  The Bengals overcame a season filled with adversity, including the deaths of wide receiver Chris Henry and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s wife.

Benson rushed for 133 yards on 29 carries and broke the club record with his sixth 100 yard game of the year.  The former Bear bust rejuvenated his career in Cincinnati and has given the Bengals a reliable weapon on the ground.  For his part, Palmer continues to manage the game effectively.  On a cold, blustery winter’s day, Palmer completed 17 of 25 throws for 139 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. 

Amidst the celebration, there was one downer for Cincinnati.  Standout rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga broke his ankle late in the first half and is lost for the remainder of the season.

With the AFC North wrapped up, the Bengals conclude the regular season with a nationally televised Sunday night contest with the Jets in New York.

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21 December 2009

Bengals Lose Heartbreaker

Nate Kaeding’s 52 yard field goal with three seconds left lifted San Diego past an inspired Bengals team 27-24 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.  The win gave the Chargers their ninth straight victory, wrapped up the AFC West, and improved their record to 11-3.  The Bengals dropped to 9-5 and must wait another week to clinch the
AFC North title.

Less than a week after teammate Chris Henry died, the Bengals rallied from behind to tie the game at 24 on Shayne Graham’s 34 yard field goal with 54 seconds remaining.  Carson Palmer, enjoying his first 300 yard passing game this season, engineered a drive that began in the shadows of the San Diego endzone, but ended at the Charger 17.

Cincinnati’s inability to score touchdowns once they entered the red zone cost them.  The Bengals made four red zone trips, crossing the end zone only once.  Palmer finished 27 of 40 for 314 yards passing, two touchdowns and one interception.  Laveranues Coles and Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson each caught touchdown balls. 

After Graham’s field goal, Chargers qb Phillip Rivers went to work, driving San Diego into field goal range with completions to running back Darren Sproles, wide receiver Vincent Jackson, and a key 15 yard hook-up with wide out Malcom Floyd.   Rivers completed 24 of 38 passes for 308 yards, three touchdowns and two picks.  Vincent Jackson enjoyed a monster day, catching five balls for 108 yards and two scores. 

Cincinnati returns home to Paul Brown Stadium to host Kansas City next Sunday.   Toe-to-leather time is set for 1pm.

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15 December 2009

Vikings Dominate Bengals in 30-10 Rout

Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson rushed for two touchdowns and the Vikings defense shut down a mistake-prone Cincinnati offense to record a one-sided 30-10 victory at the Metrodome in Minneapolis Sunday afternoon.  The Vikings improved to 11-2 and clinched a playoff spot.  The Bengals dropped to 9-4 and must wait another week to wrap up the AFC North. 

The one-two punch of Peterson (97 yards) and backup Chester Taylor (57 yards rushing) kept the chains moving and contributed to three first half Ryan Longwell field goals.  The Vikings put the game away with their opening drive of the second half when Petersen scored from the one.  Brett Favre played solidly, completing 17 of 30 passes for 192 yards, a touchdown, and one interception.

The swarming Minnesota defense held Carson Palmer and the Bengals to a season-low 210 total yards of offense.  Palmer threw for only 94 yards on 15 of 24 throws.  He did connect with Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson for second quarter score.  The Bengals were victimized by 11 penalties for 85 yards.  Running back Cedric Benson provided the lone Cincinnati bright spot, rushing for 96 yards on 16 carries.  However, Minnesota continued their string of not allowing a 100 yard rusher in check, now a league-leading 36 games and counting.

Interestingly, the loss was Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis’ first in his career against the NFC North.  He’s 7-1 against the likes of the Vikings, Packers, Lions, and Bears.

Cincinnati faces another stern road test next Sunday when they travel to the left coast to face the red-hot Chargers in San Diego.  The late afternoon kick is set for 4PM.

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7 December 2009

Bengals Tame Lions, 23-13

Using the same script that has thus far produced a comfortable lead in the AFC North, the Bengals hammered out a methodical, if unimpressive, 23-13 win over the Detroit Lions Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium.  The victory improves the Bengals to 9-3 and gives them command of the division with four games left to play.

Cincinnati ran the ball 44 times and dominated the time of possession.  Running back Cedric Benson returned from injury and contributed 104 yards on 30 carries, his fifth 100 yard game in this season.  Still, the Lions hung close and the game wasn’t decided until Detroit quarterback Daunte Culpepper’s throw to wide receiver Calvin Johnson on a attempted two point conversion following a Lion touchdown fell incomplete.

Bengals QB Carson Palmer hooked up with wide receiver Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson nine times for 137 yards and 36 yard td, but generally wasn’t sharp.  Palmer finished 17 of 29 for 220 yards, but threw two picks and struggled throughout with his accuracy.

The Cincinnati defense continues to play a huge role in the team’s resurgence and Sunday was no different. Rookie defensive back Tom Nelson collected his first career interception and defensive tackle Jon Fanene picked off a Matthew Stafford deflected pass and rambled 45 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.  The Bengals attack unit constantly harassed Stafford, knocking the rookie number one pick from the game early in the fourth quarter.  For the day, Stafford completed only 11 of 26 passes for 143 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

The Bengals now hit the road and face a stiff test next week when they travel to Minnesota to face Brett Favre and the NFC North leading Vikings at the Metrodome.  Toe-to-leather time is scheduled for 1PM.

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30 November 2009

Bengals Sweep “Battle of Ohio”; Remain Atop AFC North

Newly acquired running back Larry Johnson rushed for over 100 yards and the Bengals defense stifled Brady Quinn and the Cleveland offense to pound out a 16-6 victory over the Browns at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati Sunday afternoon.  The win gave the Bengals a season sweep over their AFC North foes and more importantly, a two game lead in the division.

Seeing his first extensive action since being picked up by the Bengals following his release in Kansas City, Johnson and rookie running mate Bernard Scott helped the Bengals churn out over 200 yards rushing against the porous Cleveland defense.  While Johnson carried 22 times to rack up his yardage, Scott accounted for the Bengals longest play from scrimmage with a 21 yard gain, a chunk of the 87 yards he gained on the day. 

The Bengals lone touchdown, sandwiched around three Shayne Graham field goals, occurred when quarterback Carson Palmer found tight end J.P. Foschi in the end zone for a four yard score.  Palmer turned in another workmanlike performance, completing 13 of 24 passes for just 110 yards.

While Cincinnati’s offense played ball control, the Bengals defense limited the Browns to 169 yards of total offense, and only 58 yards rushing.  It marked the seven straight game that the Bengals had held an opponent under 100 yards rushing.  Cleveland quarterback Brady Quinn suffered through a miserable day, completing a mere 15 of 34 throws for 100 yards.

Cincinnati’s first round, offensive tackle Andre Smith, made his season debut after being sidelined with a broken foot.  Smith played about ten snaps at right tackle.

Now 8-3, the Bengals remain home to face the Detroit Lions next Sunday at PBS.  Kick time is 1PM.

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24 November 2009

Raiders Late Comeback Stuns Bengals

Sebastian Janokowski’s 33 yard field goal with 15 seconds left capped a wild finish in Oakland as the Raiders defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 20-17.  Oakland scored 10 points in the game’s final minute to come from behind and drop the Bengals to 7-3.  The Raiders improved to 3-7.  Cincinnati has now lost all ten previous meetings to the Raiders in Oakland.

Down 17-10, Oakland quarterback Bruce Gradowski hit wideout Louis Murphy with a  29 yard touchdown strike to tie the game at 17 with 41 seconds left.  On the ensuing kickoff, Bengals returner Andre Caldwell fumbled, setting up the Raider heroics.   Gradowski, a career journeyman who replaced former starter Jamarcus Russell in the lineup, posted solid numbers, completing 17 of 34 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns.

The frantic conclusion was a disappointing ending for Cincinnati, which squandered a early 14-0 lead on two short Carson Palmer td runs.  Palmer enjoyed another solid day in a losing cause, completing 14 of 22 passes for 207 yards with one interception.  However, the Bengals turned the ball over four times, including three fumbles.  Playing without running back Cedric Benson, who sat out with a hip injury suffered in last week’s win over Pittsburgh, the Bengals received a fine performance by rookie backup Bernard Scott.  Scott rushed for a career-high 119 yards.

Even with the loss, the Bengals remain atop the AFC North with a one game lead over Pittsburgh, which suffered a tough defeat of their own in Kansas City.  Cincinnati returns to Paul Brown Stadium to host intra-state rivals Cleveland on Sunday.  Toe-to-leather time is set for 1pm.

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16 November 2009

Bengals Take Command of AFC North With Hard-Fought Road Win

Bernard Scott’s 96 yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a harassing, opportunistic defense led Cincinnati to a 18-12 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.  The victory gives the Bengals sole possession of first place in the AFC North, a season sweep of the Steelers, and improves their record to 7-2.  The loss snapped Pittsburgh’s five game winning streak; the Steelers are now 6-3.

In a game reminiscent of old school “AFC Central” battles, the Bengals took control with an aggressive defense that sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger four times, pressured him consistently, and intercepted him once, a pick by defensive end Frostee Rucker. Cincinnati received fine play from backup defenders such as linebacker Landon Johnson, cornerback Morgan Trent, and rookie defensive end Michael Johnson.  The stingy Bengal defense limited the Steelers to 3 for 15 on third down conversions.

After Pittsburgh took a 3-0 lead, Scott, a rookie sixth round draft choice from Abilene Christian, fielded the ensuing kickoff and weaved from right to left before cutting up the middle for the touchdown.  The extra point was muffed due to a bad snap; a season long trend that bears watching. Ironically, Scott’s former college teammate, fellow rookie Johnny Knox now with the Chicago Bears, has also returned a kickoff for a score.  Scott contributed offensively as well, after being forced into action for an ailing Cedric Benson.  Benson left the game with an apparent hip flexor injury, but said after the game, he should be ok.

Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer enjoyed a solid, if unspectacular game, guiding the Bengals to three Shayne Graham field goals, the last a 43 yarder with 1:56 remaining in the game.  On the day, Palmer completed 18 of 30 passes for 178 yards.

The Bengals travel west next week to Oakland to face the Raiders.  Kickoff is scheduled for 4:15pm.

Bengal Bits:  Cincinnati remained perfect in the AFC North at 5-0…..Sunday marked the first time since 1975 that the Bengals have won their first four road games…..Cincinnati was won six straight in the AFC North…The Steelers lost their first game of the season at home…It was the Bengals first series sweep over Pittsburgh in 11 years.

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9 November 2009

Bengals Ground Ravens in 17-7 Victory

Cedric Benson rushed for 117 yards and the Bengals dominated the time of possession in a methodical, 17-7 win over the Baltimore Ravens Sunday afternoon at sun-splashed Paul Brown Stadium.  The triumph improves Cincinnati to 6-2 and gives them a season sweep over the Ravens.  As well, the Bengals remain undefeated in the AFC North at 4-0.

Using a recipe that has served them well over the season’s first two months, Cincinnati used an effective ball-control and short passing game to keep the Baltimore offense off the field.  Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer had another workmanlike performance, completing 20 of 33 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown.  Palmer’s accurate throws and Benson’s grind it out running style contributed to the Bengals doubling Baltimore’s time of possession, 40 minutes to 20.   Benson topped the 100 yard mark for the second time this year against the usually stout Raven defense. 

 The Ravens were never able to develop an offensive rhythm.  Heading into the contest, Baltimore was third in the league in third down conversions.  Sunday, the Ravens were 1-10.   Ravens quarterback Joel Flacco suffered through an uneven performance, connecting on 18 of 32 passes for only 192 yards and two interceptions.  Bengal cornerback Leon Hall had one of the picks, continuing his streak of four games with an interception.

The Bengals now turn their attention to next week’s road game at Pittsburgh. Depending on Monday night’s outcome between the Steelers and Denver, the contest could be a battle for first place in the AFC North.  Toe-to-leather time is scheduled for 1pm at Heinz Field.

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26 October 2009

Bengals Offensive Avalanche Buries Bears

Powered by the arm of Carson Palmer, the legs of Cedric Benson, and an aggressive, opportunistic defense, the Bengals raced to a 28 point halftime lead and coasted to a surprisingly easy 45-10 victory over the Chicago Bears at Paul Brown Stadium Sunday afternoon.  The win improved the Bengals to 5-2 and atop the AFC North division heading into their bye week.  Chicago dropped their second straight to fall to 3-3.

Cincinnati dominated the game statistically and on the scoreboard.  Palmer shredded the Bears defense, throwing five first half touchdowns in a near perfect performance.  On the day, he completed 20 of 24 passes for 233 yards.  Two of his td strikes went to wide receiver Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, who lived up to his pre-game “tweets” by dominating the Chicago secondary.  “Ochocinco” finished with 10 catches for 118 yards.

Not to be lost in the Bengals offensive explosion were the exploits of Benson.  The one-time first round pick of Chicago, he ran through, around, and past the beleaguered Bears defense for a career-high 189 yards on 37 carries and a touchdown.  Cincinnati collected 215 rushing yards and completed controlled the line of scrimmage.

Defensively, the Bengals pressured Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler all afternoon and never allowed the Bears offense to find any rhythm.  Cutler’s stats, 26 completions in 37 attempts for 251 yards and a touchdown weren’t bad, but he was picked off three times, twice by Bengals cornerback Leon Hall, and most of the completions occurred in garbage time, long after the game had been decided.  Chicago running back Matt Forte continued to struggle as well, gathering 24 yards in just six attempts, although the Bears were forced quickly to abandon their running game in the first half after trailing 31-0.

Sunday’s victory served as a benchmark in a couple of areas.  First, the Bengals have already surpassed last year’s victory total of four.  Secondly, Marvin Lewis continued his mastery over the NFC North, improving to 6-0 lifetime against his intra-conference foes.

Cincinnati returns to action on November 8th when they welcome their AFC North rivals Baltimore to the jungle for a 1PM kick.

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19 October 2009

Texans Snap Bengals Winning Streak

Houston’s Matt Schaub carved up the Bengals defense, throwing for 392 yards and four touchdowns , and the Texans ended Cincinnati’s four game winning streak with a 28-17 victory on a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium.  Houston improved to 3-3 and moved back into the AFC North picture with the road win.

Schaub, the former Virginia and Atlanta Falcon quarterback demonstrated both poise and precision, spreading the ball around to seven different receivers.  Houston’s Andre Johnson and Steve Slaton garnered over 100 yards in receiving yardage, and tight end Owen Daniels caught two t-d passes to aid the Texans cause.

The Bengals were unable to conjure up another last-minute comeback, falling to 4-2.  Cincinnati’s run game was stuffed by the athletic and rangy Texan defense.  Running back Cedric Benson, who was the league’s leading rusher heading into the game, gained only 44 yards on 16 carries.  Quarterback Carson Palmer put up solid stats, 23 completions in 35 attempts for 259 yards with a touchdown and one interception, but couldn’t keep up with the Texans’ Schaub. 

Rookie linebacker Brian Cushing, a first-round pick from USC, was a one man wrecking crew for Houston.  He flew around the field, stopping Benson in a short-yardage situation, and later ended any Bengal hopes by intercepting a Palmer throw.

The Bengals suffered a blow early in Sunday’s contest when pass rushing defensive end Antwan Odom injured his right Achilles and had to leave the game.  His status is uncertain.  Safety Roy Williams was also held out, nursing a forearm injury.

Cincinnati tries to get back on track next week when they host the Chicago Bears at PBS. Toe-to-leather time has been changed to 4:15pm.

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12 October 2009

Cardiac Cats Do It Again

Carson Palmer’s 20 yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Andre Caldwell with 22 seconds left lifted Cincinnati to a 17-14 comeback victory over the home standing Baltimore Ravens and into first place in the AFC North.  Sunday’s dramatic finish continued a season long trend of nail biting games and improved the Bengals record to 4-1.  Baltimore lost their second straight game and is now 3-2.

 The win provided a brief moment of emotional solace to Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who unexpectedly lost his wife of 27 years, Vicki, who died from illness Thursday night.  Zimmer was on the sidelines coaching and received the game ball afterwards from head coach Marvin Lewis in a touching locker room scene.

Trailing 14-10 with just over two minutes remaining, Cincinnati began their eventual game winning drive on their own 20.  Aided by three Baltimore defensive penalties, Palmer kept the drive alive with a six yard scramble on fourth and one before connecting with Caldwell.  Palmer, looking confident and healthy, completed 18 of 31 passes for 271 yards, a touchdown and one interception.

Baltimore’s last chance was snuffed when Bengals cornerback Jonathan Joseph intercepted Joel Flacco’s desperation pass.  It was Joseph’s third interception in the last three games.

Offensively, the Bengals misfired in the early going, but caught some breaks and were able to hang with the Ravens before their decisive drive.  Running back Cedric Benson continued to stake his claim to early comeback player of the year honors, shredding the usually stout Ravens defense for 120 yards on 27 carries.  Benson, a former first round bust with the Chicago Bears, became the first player to gain over 100 yards on the Baltimore defense in 40 games.

Coming off their best start since 2005, the Bengals now return home to “the Jungle” to entertain the Houston Texans next Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. 

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5 October 2009

Palmer Leads Bengals Past Browns in Overtime

Carson Palmer’s gutsy 15 yard scramble on fourth down helped propel the Bengals to
a 23-20 come-from-behind victory over the Cleveland Browns in a Battle of Ohio meeting Sunday afternoon in Cleveland.  Palmer’s run set up Shayne Graham’s 31 yard field goal with four seconds remaining to lift Cincinnati to 3-1 on the season while dropping the Browns to 0-4.

On a dreary day in Cleveland, both teams mirrored one another statistically, including poor third down conversion rates.  But Cincinnati, behind the veteran poise by Palmer, kept the game alive with big plays on fourth down twice as the streaking Bengals won their third straight contest, and six of their last seven dating back to last year.

For the afternoon, Palmer threw two touchdowns to Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, one a spectacular twisting catch in the corner of the end zone, and finished 23 of 44 for 230 yards and an interception.  Ochocinco collected his first multi-touchdown game since 2007.  Cedric Benson provided the ground support, picking up 74 yards on 18 carries, an average of four yards per carry.

Things looked bleak for the Bengals when Cleveland took a late 20-14 lead.  The Browns got a boost from Derek Anderson, who played well in his first start since relieving Brady Quinn.  Anderson completed 26 of 48 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown.  However, as has been their m-o through the first quarter of the 2009 season, Cincinnati proved resilient.  Palmer hooked up with Ochocinco from the two on fourth down to knot the game at 20 with just under two minutes remaining.  When the extra point was blocked, overtime beckoned and set up the late heroics and a chance at redemption for Graham.

Sunday’s win sets up next week’s early season showdown in the AFC North when the Bengals travel to Baltimore to face the division leading and undefeated Ravens.

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28 September 2009

Bengals Late TD Stuns Steelers

Carson Palmer threw a four yard touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell with 14 seconds remaining to give the Cincinnati Bengals a 23-20 come-from-behind win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at sun soaked Paul Brown Stadium Sunday afternoon.  The touchdown culminated a 16 play 71 yard drive that gave the Bengals their first victory over the Steelers in the last six meetings.

Sunday’s wild finish improved Cincinnati’s record to 2-1, a game behind undefeated Baltimore in the AFC North.  Meanwhile, the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers lost in the final seconds for the second straight week, and are now 1-2.

The Bengals overcame a 13-0 deficit and a series of special teams miscues with two long scoring drives in the fourth quarter and a handful of big plays. Cornerback Joseph Jefferson cashed in with the Bengals first interception of the year for a pick six.  It was Pittsburgh’s only turnover, but proved costly in the outcome.  Running back Cedric Benson broke loose to the outside and outraced defenders down the sideline for a 23 yard score that helped set up Palmer’s heroics. Benson turned in a solid outing, carrying 16 times for 76 yards.

On a day when the AFC North rivalry regained some luster, at least from the Cincinnati perspective, Palmer, the veteran signal caller, displayed poise and leadership.  Seemingly recovered from the injury that cut short his ’08 season, the former USC product led two long fourth quarter drives, and completed 20 of 37 passes for 183 yards and the winning touchdown. 

Sunday’s loss was another bitter pill to swallow for the Steelers, who started strong, scoring on their first three drives before faltering.  Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger completed 22 of 31 passes for 276 yards in the defeat.

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21 September 2009

Bengals Sustained Effort Surprises Packers

Fueled by a powerful ground game and a swarming defensive effort, the Cincinnati Bengals claimed one of their biggest victories in head coach Marvin Lewis’ seven seasons, with a nail-biting 31-24 road victory over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.  In an afternoon that featured a little bit of everything-- penalties, interceptions, a long punt return, quick scores, and a recovered onside kick, the Bengals displayed a resilience not recently seen to notch a key early-season win and even their record at 1-1.

Offensively, Cedric Benson rushed for a career-high 141 yards on 29 carries, Carson Palmer rebounded from two early picks to throw throw two touchdowns and run for a score, and Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson caught four passes for 91 yards, including a td reception.  Rookie wide receiver Quan Cosby chipped in with a nifty 60 yard punt return.

Defensively, Antwan Odom tied a Bengal record by collecting five sacks and harassed Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers all afternoon.  Odom leads the NFL in sacks with seven after two weeks of play.  Rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga flashed  big play capabilities as well, dropping Rodgers once and forcing two Green Bay fumbles. 

In a game of sudden momentum changes, Cincinnati looked to put the game away after Shayne Graham’s 41 yard field goal put the Bengals up 31-21 with 1:56 to play.  But the Packers answered on the ensuing drive with their own 41 yard field goal to draw to 31-24 with 45 seconds remaining.  Green Bay then attempted, and recovered the onside kick and moved quickly down to the Cincinnati 10 yard line, courtesy of two Rodgers passes.
However, in a rush to spike the ball, the Packers were whistled for a false start, allowing the remaining time to expire by NFL rule, and Bengals fans were finally able to exhale.

The Bengals return home to the “Jungle” next Sunday for a huge early-season match up in the AFC North with Pittsburgh.  Toe to leather time is set for 4:15pm eastern time at Paul Brown Stadium.

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14 September 2009

Tipped Pass For TD Dooms Bengals

As the clock struck zero, the sun-splashed sell out crowd of nearly 63,000 fans at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati sat in disbelief.  A sluggish offensive display by their home team had seemingly been enough to eek out a victory over the Denver Broncos in the regular season opener.  Enter Brandon Stokley.

The veteran receiver hauled in a deflected pass from Kyle Orton and raced 87 yards in the final seconds to erase a 7-6 Bengal lead and catapult Denver to a unlikely 12-7 win.  Stokley’s catch came after Cincinnati cornerback Leon Hall attempted to bat down the sideline throw, intended for Denver wide receiver Brandon Marshall, only to deflect the ball high in the air and carom perfectly into the outstretched arms of Stokley, who easily outran Bengals defender Dhani Jones for the go-ahead score.

The stunning ending gave embattled first year Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels his first pro victory, and made a winner of new starting quarterback Kyle Orton, acquired from the Bears in the Jay Cutler deal.  Orton, coming off a dislocated finger injury, played adequately, completing 17 of 28 passes for 243 yards and the game winning td throw.

Meanwhile, the disheartening loss dampened the preseason optimism of Bengal fans. Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer looked rusty, coming off a preseason ankle injury, but played well late in the game to engineer a 91yard scoring drive that temporarily gave the Bengals the lead.  For the game, Palmer was 21 of 33 for 247 yards, but he threw two interceptions.  Running back Cedric Benson contributed 76 yards on the ground on 21 carries and provided Cincinnati’s lone score.   Benson fittingly called Sunday’s ending the weirdest and craziest he had ever seen. 

Until the last minute fireworks, the game was largely a snoozefest. Denver had nursed a 6-0 lead throughout the contest, courtesy of kicker Kyle Prater’s two field goals from 48 and 50 yards.  The Bengals, 0-1, now take to the road to face Green Bay Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field for a 1pm kick.

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8 September 2009

Roster Set, Bengals Begin Work for Opener

With the 53 man roster penciled in and the airing of the “Hard Knocks” finale, the Bengals shift into regular season preparation, eagerly awaiting the visit of the Denver Broncos to Paul Brown Stadium for Sunday’s regular season opener.  Toe to leather time is set for 1pm.  The club hopes to continue the streak of 44 consecutive sell-outs at PBS.

Ten rookies made the final cut, including injured first rounder Andre Smith.  Cincinnati received a two week roster exemption while the rookie offensive tackle recovers from a foot fracture.  Among the surprise “survivors” were defensive back Tom Nelson of Illinois State and wide receiver Quan Cosby from Texas.  Both parlayed strong return skills and special teams play into roster spots.  The Bengals 2009 draft class is well represented on the final roster, with eight newcomers sticking, and one other (defensive tackle Clinton McDonald of Memphis) signed to the practice squad.

Quarterback Carson Palmer appears to be healthy after a high ankle sprain sidelined him for the last three preseason games. Given time, Palmer will direct a potentially explosive passing attack, with the likes of Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, Chris Henry, and Laveranues Coles on the receiving end.  The offensive line remains a work in progress, and holds the key to the team’s success in ’09.  Additionally, running back Cedric Benson needs to shake off a lukewarm preseason effort to provide some offensive balance.

Defensively, there is optimism for a renewed pass rush and a more aggressive attack, bolstered by newcomers Tank Johnson, Roy Williams, and rookie outside linebacker Rey
Maualuga.  A former USC standout, Maualuga, earned his stripes with an impressive camp and was rewarded with a starting berth.

Cincinnati may have caught a break with their regular season opener.  Denver appears to be rebuilding under first-year coach Josh McDaniels and has uncertainty at quarterback with starter Kyle Orton nursing a dislocated finger.  The Broncos are also dealing with the Brandon Marshall sideshow, so the timing is right for the Bengals to get off to a good start.

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1 September 2009

Bengals Take Step Back in Preseason Loss to Rams

In what turned out be eerily reminiscent of the Bengals 2008 season, turnovers, sacks, and penalties plagued Cincinnati in a 24-21 loss to the St. Louis Rams Thursday evening at Paul Brown Stadium.  The sloppy performance has to be concerning, coupled with the injury to starting quarterback Carson Palmer and the prolonged holdout of first round pick Andre Smith (signed Sunday).

After grabbing an early 7-0 lead thanks to a 49 yard punt return touchdown by undrafted free agent wide receiver Qwan Cosby of Texas, the Bengals generally stumbled and bumbled through the rest of the game, committing eight penalties, giving up six sacks, and losing three fumbles, one of them returned for a 73 yard touchdown by St. Louis safety James Butler.

The defense took its lumps as well, giving up two scores to Rams veteran running back Samkon Gado, a 16 yard burst that culminated an 11 play 71 yard drive in the first quarter to tie the game, and a two yard reception to give St. Louis a lead they
would not relinquish moments later.  Former Baltimore quarterback Kyle Boller, starting in place of Rams pivot Marc Bulger, looked efficient, completing 14 of 20 passes with the aforementioned touchdown flip to Gado.

Meanwhile, Bengals QB J.T. O’Sullivan struggled to get the Cincinnati offense in gear.  O’Sullivan finished 7 of 13 for 94 yards, but couldn’t lead the offense to a score.  On the bright side, wide receiver Chris Henry hauled in a 54 yard touchdown catch from third-string signal caller Jordan Palmer.  It was Henry’s third td reception of the preseason.

Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis shook off the uneven performance, preferring to focus on the opportunity to continue to evaluate his roster at a number of spots.  In particular, the punt return job appears to be a dead heat between Qwan Cosby and fellow rookie Tom Nelson.  Cosby helped his cause with the touchdown return, but Nelson may be more versatile on special teams.  First cuts are near, as the club will trim down to 75 players by Tuesday. 

Cincinnati concludes their preseason by hosting Indianapolis on Thursday evening at Paul Brown Stadium.  Toe to leather time is scheduled for 7:30PM.

Late Hits:  The team released veteran cornerback Jamar Fletcher over the weekend.  The ninth year defensive back from Wisconsin had appeared in 11 games for the Bengals in 2008. …Upon signing, first round pick Andre Smith participated in his first practice Sunday.  Noticeably rusty, Smith’s availability for Thursday night’s preseason finale will be a game time decision, according to Lewis.

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25 August 2009

Arrow Pointing Up

Overshadowed by the kicking exploits of wide receiver Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, the Bengals are quietly displaying characteristics of an improved football team through two weeks of the preseason.  While Thursday’s 7-6 win over New England wasn’t an artistic success, some underlying themes are emerging. 

The offense has demonstrated an ability to move the ball efficiently, the defense has been opportunistic, the pass rush shows signs of life, and wide out Chris Henry continues to impress.

 The victory over New England, preseason not withstanding, also shows that Cincinnati can go toe to toe with the league’s elite, a fact not lost on Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.  Lewis, in his seventh year at the helm, likes the resilience his club has shown.  Operating without starting quarterback Carson Palmer, who remains sidelined with a high ankle sprain, J.T. O’Sullivan has steered the Bengals flawlessly.  The veteran QB tossed the game’s only touchdown, a 24 yard strike to Chris Henry, and completed 10 of 13 passes for 141 yards.  While Palmer appears to be on schedule to start the September 13th opener against Denver, O’Sullivan provides an upgrade over last year’s backup, Ryan Fitzpatrick (signed with Buffalo as a free agent). 

Speaking of Henry, the former West Virginia standout now entering his fifth NFL season, racked up another stellar performance, grabbing five balls for 55 yards and the score.  His play was complemented by “Ochocinco”, who not only kicked what turned out to be the game’s winning extra point in place of injured Shayne Graham, but also led Cincy in receiving with 69 yards on three catches.

Perhaps the best sign though, is the Bengal defense, which held New England’s high-powered offense without a touchdown, and harassed Tom Brady and the Patriot backup quarterbacks.  Defensive end Robert Geathers collected a sack, and generally looks explosive coming off the edge.  Second year defensive tackle Pat Sims enjoyed a strong game as well, making six tackles and picking up a sack. 

Cincinnati returns home to host the St. Louis Rams in their third preseason contest, aka the “dress rehearsal” game for the regular season, on Thursday evening at Paul Brown Stadium.  Toe to leather time is scheduled for 7:30pm.

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20 August 2009

Preseason week #1
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Review of the Bengals preseason opener with New Orleans:

The Good
Carson Palmer threw the ball well, with the exception of one ill-advised pass.  Overall, the veteran signal caller completed 7 of 11 passes for 133 yards.  Palmer shook off the rust from last year’s elbow injury , connecting with Chad Ochocinco Johnson for a gain of 55 yards, and generally looked sharp.

Troubled wideout Chris Henry continues his rehabilitation, perhaps developing into the Bengals number one receiving option.  Henry, who has enjoyed a strong offseason,
caught 7 balls for 100 yards and a touchdown.

Sixth round running back Bernard Scott of Abilene Christian flashed exciting potential, averaging five yards per carry  (six rushes for 30 yards with a long gain of 14 yards). Scott, in the mix to backup starter Cedric Benson, demonstrated quick feet and good vision.

The Bad
Normally reliable placekicker Shayne Graham missed a 30 yard field goal.

Cedric Benson fumbled, an ominous sign to those who followed his star-crossed Bears career, where ball security was just one of his issues.  Benson could use a strong preseason to solidify his role as one of the Bengals main offensive weapons. 

Rookie punter Kevin Huber, a fifth round selection from the University of Cincinnati who led the nation in net punting the last two seasons, was inconsistent in his debut, with an average of 39 yards on six kicks.

Three starting offensive linemen, tackles Andrew Whitworth and Anthony Collins and right guard Bobbie Williams, racked up holding penalties.

The Ugly
Carson Palmer suffered a high left ankle sprain and had his foot encased in a boot by the fourth quarter.  While the injury doesn’t appear serious, he’s been ruled out for the second preseason contest (Thursday, 8/20) in New England.

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6 August 2009

Training Camp Tidbits

News, notes, and observations:

The sobering reality of training camp hit the Bengals hard this week with the apparent season-ending injury to starting tight end Reggie Kelly.  Kelly, an 11 year veteran from Mississippi State, underwent surgery for a ruptured Achilles’ tendon and is likely lost for the season.  He was a dependable short yardage receiver for Carson Palmer and provided a solid presence on an otherwise shaky offensive line.

 Fifth year man Ben Utecht, who has suffered through his share of injuries, is now thrust into a starting role.  To date, Utecht has received more acclaim for his gospel/Christian singing than his football abilities, but he possesses decent receiving skills.  Rookie Chase Coffman, a third round draft selection from Missouri, moves up the depth chart and will be counted on to play.  Coffman has good bloodlines (his father Paul played the position well for the Packers from ’78-’85) and won the John Mackey award as the nation’s top tight end.  Look for Cincinnati to monitor this position closely through the preseason, and possibly add depth if a veteran becomes available.

Veteran offensive line coach Paul Alexander has his hands full in mixing and matching a offensive line that has little continuity from last season.  Meanwhile, offensive tackle Andre Smith, the Bengals top pick from Alabama, remains a training camp holdout.  To bolster depth at that position, the club signed free agent Augustus Parrish, a three year starter at Kent State who was recently released by New Orleans.

Who backs up starting running back Cedric Benson?  Kenny Watson is the early clubhouse leader, but keep an eye on Brian Leonard, the former Rutgers star acquired in an offseason trade with St. Louis.  Leonard has good hands, and runs with vision

The Bengals agreed to terms with Georgetown College (Kentucky) to keep their training camp at the school through 2010.  The team has trained there since 1997.

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29 July 2009

Building Chemistry or Adding Characters?

On the eve of Bengals training camp opening at Georgetown College in Kentucky, cautiously optimistic Cincinnati fans have renewed optimism following a string of disappointing seasons.  An unprecedented offseason flurry of activity (for the normally quiet Bengals) has elevated hopes.  Whether those additions are positive remains to be seen.  Seventh year head coach Marvin Lewis is gambling on a number of character risks to come up snake eyes’ for job security.

A franchise that has received its share of black eyes and bad publicity through prior poor player behavior continues to add talented, but character challenged players to its roster.  Though many draft experts lauded Cincinnati’s first and second round draft selections of Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith and USC linebacker Rey Maualuga, both came with red flags.  Smith was suspended by Alabama coach Nick Saban prior to the Crimson Tide’s bowl game last season, and later left the NFL scouting combine early.  While possessing rare athletic ability for a man his size (6’ 4’’ 332 lbs.) and dominating at the collegiate level, Smith has a reputation of being lazy and unmotivated.  He also appears headed for a lengthy training camp holdout. 

Meanwhile, Maualuga (6’2’ 235 lbs.) was a tackling machine at USC and spearheaded a strong Trojan defense.  Thought to be a lock for the first round, he fell to the second. His fine play on the field, however, was overshadowed by concerns of a lack of discipline off the field.  Maualuga was involved in a couple of altercations on the SC campus and forced to undergo anger management and Alcoholics Anonymous counseling.  One scouting report
prior to the draft had this summary: “would be best in a strong locker room where teammates hold him accountable.”

Smith and Maualuga will be joined by fellow newcomers Tank Johnson (ex-Bear and Cowboy defensive tackle), Laveranues Coles (ex-Jet and Redskin wide receiver), and Roy Williams (former Cowboy safety), not exactly the poster boys for team leaders.  Curiously, the Bengals continue to follow a disturbing trend of being “turd” collectors. 

Already on the roster are malcontent wide outs Chad “Ocho Cinco” Johnson, who leads the league in outbursts but little else, and oft-troubled Chris Henry, along with running back Cedric Benson, who may have seen the light since being shown the door by the Bears.  Veteran quarterback Carson Palmer may begin to wonder what he did to deserve this penance.  He could have one of the league’s most explosive offenses, in more ways than one.

In all fairness, Cincinnati has upgraded the talent level, a must to compete with Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the AFC North.  However, have they sacrificed character that may cause the team to implode if things don’t go well?  If the holdovers play up to their abilities and the new acquisitions mesh well, the Bengals could surprise and break a two year skid of losing records.

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13 July 2009

Bengals  Hopeful of ’09 Turnaround

As  Marvin Lewis prepares to lead the Cincinnati Bengals through their training camp paces in Georgetown, Kentucky, he realizes the bloom of the AFC North division title in 2005 is a distant memory to Bengals fans.  Though he has the luxury of working for an overly patient owner in Mike Brown, Lewis knows the Cincinnati faithful are getting restless.

To that end, the Bengals were unusually busy this offseason, hoping to stem the tide of consecutive losing seasons.  Whether the additions are upgrades could determine the Bengals season and Lewis’ future.  Gone is reliable and productive  wideout T. J. Houshmandzadeh, replaced by former Jet Laveranues Cole.  Reserve quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick left in free agency, but the club signed journeyman J.T. O’Sullivan to backup Carson Palmer. 

Former Bear and Cowboy defensive tackle Tank Johnson was added to presumably bolster the d-line, while hopefully avoiding off-field issues.  His signing continues to raise eyebrows regarding Cincinnati’s penchant for collecting troublemakers.  Johnson’s ex-Dallas teammate Roy Williams also came aboard, hoping to revert to his Pro Bowl form.   The club acquired fullback Brian Leonard from St. Louis in a trade.

Long a sore spot, the Bengals seemed to make better use of the draft, upgrading their talent through the selections of  top pick Andre Smith, the massive left offensive tackle from Alabama, and  second-rounder Rey Maualuga,  USC’s hard-hitting linebacker.  Both are ticketed for early playing time, pending no contractual holdouts.  Third-rounder Michael Johnson,  the defensive end from Georgia Tech who could develop into a fine situational pass rusher, is a welcome addition as well.

Carson Palmer triggers what potentially could be a potent offense.   The veteran QB continues to be one of the NFL’s top signal callers, despite the lack of team success.  He’ll once again throw to  Chad “Ocho Cinco” Johnson to provide Cincy a legitimate deep threat.  The hope is that the light has come on for both wide receiver Chris Henry and running back Cedric Benson, talented but under-achieving players.  Offensive line stability remains a question mark.

Defensively, the club has some nice pieces to build around with cornerbacks Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph and linebacker Keith Rivers, but the lack of a consistent pass rush has been troublesome.  Marvin Lewis  and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will need to be creative to shore up an attack unit that has been prone to giving up big plays.

One thing is certain.   The Bengals should prove to be an interesting club to watch in ‘09,  thanks to a cast of characters and HBO’s “Inside Training Camp” series. 

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30 April 2009

2009 Post Draft Analysis

By John L. Clarke

Round 1 (pick 6) – Andre Smith, OL, Alabama (6’4”, 332 lbs.)
Smith was one of the best offensive linemen in the country, constantly facing quality defensive ends/linebackers during the past season.  With his talent, he deserves to be in the top ten.  However, very poor work outs and even worse issues caused a red flag in selecting him high.  Hopefully, he has learned from all the media scrutiny and will be a fixture at left tackle for some time.  This was a need for the Bengals whom want to keep All-Pro QB Carson Palmer upright more often.

Round 2 (pick 38) – Rey Maualuga, ILB, USC (6’2”, 249 lbs.)
This thumper should have been selected in round 1, so he should prove to be a steal.  He has had some red flags with off the field issues in this past, but seems to have matured since.  He will team with his former college teammate, Keith Rivers, to bring athleticism and an attitude of winning to the Bengals.  Great pick as long as he doesn’t regress back into a player the Bengals have seen all too often in the past at the position.

Round 3 (pick 70) – Michael Johnson, DE, Georgia Tech (6’7”, 266 lbs.)
Red flags seem to catch the eye of the front office in Cincinnati.  If one could construct a defensive end, Johnson’s measurable’s would be selected as perfect.  However, his production and lack of motor make his naturally gifted athleticism look smaller and slower than he is.  If someone can teach this kid technique and motivate him, he could become and excellent defensive end in this league.  This is a good pick in the 3rd round due to his potential vs. paycheck.

Round 3 (pick 98) – Chase Coffman, TE, Missouri (6’6”, 244 lbs.)
Coffman is a steal for a TE needy team to select him this late.  Although some question his blocking, which he does need to work on, you can’t teach height which he has a lot of.  He also seems to catch the ball rather effortless, which will help control the blitzing of opposing LB’s with Coffman as a hot read.  If they use him as more of a receiver, and develop him as a blocker down the road, he should excel early and often.

Round 4 (pick 106) – Jonathan Lugis, C, Arkansas (6’4”, 301 lbs.)
The Bengals upgrades included a solid pick in the 4th round in center Lugis.  He is a very savvy center, whom needs to get stronger to handle massive nose tackles, but has the technique and the athleticism to start from day 1.  Another good value pick if he gets some more lead in his butt.

Round 5 (pick 142) – Kevin Huber, P, Cincinnati (6’1”, 220 lbs.)
Choosing a punter this high seems absurd, but ask any team with a good punter how vital that position is and you’ll change your mind.  Huber has a very strong leg which matters in the windy Ohio weather.  He also is an excellent directional punter, which again, is valuable when helping the young Bengals defense.

Round 6 (pick 179) – Morgan Trent, DB, Michigan (6’1”, 193 lbs.)
Trent played early and often at Michigan, and held his own vs. the Big Ten elite.  He is a ‘tweener as he has technique issues in his backpedal.  He may be better suited as a safety, and will probably see more playing time early in that spot.  He has the size and speed for the position, although his hands are a question mark.  He will have to earn his living on special teams and as a back up for a few years.

Round 6 (pick 209) – Bernard Scott, RB, Abilene Christian (5’10”, 200 lbs.)
Scott may be another sort of ‘tweener project that the Bengals have on their hands.  When reading his positives and negatives, it sounds as though he may need to become a slot receiver rather than a running back.  He has great vision, hands and very good speed, but has the build of a receiver.  He is another athlete who has questionable character after having trouble in high school and college.  Without a positive veteran presence influencing him (Cedric Benson is not exactly Dr. Phil), he may get cut.

Round 7 (pick 215) – Fui Vakapuna, RB, BYU (5’11”, 244 lbs.)
The Bengals staff has been eyeing his since his Pro Day.  He is another ‘tweener that the Bengals seem to gravitate towards.  He runs with good agility and vision.  He is a sledge hammer and is good at running the ball.  He is not built as an every down running back and he will struggle as a full time full back.  High effort type of player, he may make the team because of his special teams ability.

Round 7 (pick 249) – Clinton McDonald, DE, Memphis (6’2”, 289 lbs.)
Yet another guy that needs a lot of work, but not a risky pick in the 7th round.  He will switch to situational defensive tackle pass rusher, which is his only shot at making the team.  He has a nice burst and is very athletic for his size. 

Round 7 (pick 252) – Freddie Brown, WR, Utah (6’3”, 216 lbs.)
He is a good pick to increase competition at the WR level at mini-camp.  Has great size and good route running skills.  He probably will be relegated to the practice team due to lack of speed and inconsistent hands.  He still has a shot at making the roster with the Bengals being thin at the WR position.

The Bengals just don’t seem to care about character.  After having 10 players arrested in a one year span, they took the 2009 collegiate talent and selected athletes with suspect pasts.  Although they filled almost every need with extreme talent, I wonder if the front office is sacrificing too much to win sooner than later…big risk, big reward.   Hopefully the southern Ohio fans will be rewarded for their loyalty by the 2009 Draft class’s talent shining through.

Most drafts are hard to grade right away.  The real test is in about 3 years, when the player’s have developed.  This draft class could be graded as early as next year, with a group of projects, ‘tweeners and questionable character’s in this class.  If they stay out of trouble, and make strides to contributing consistency, then Bengals will get a solid grade.

In one partially related note, in the arrest video (camera cruiser) in Cincinnati of the head coach of Mississippi State’s basketball team back in December, he told the arresting officer that he was the head coach and that he shouldn't get arrested and all that and how he's a celebrity and it will be big news. Without even hesitating, the officer says 'You don't think we deal with celebrity arrests? We deal with the Bengals!'

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