AFC North: Andrew Whitworth

CINCINNATI -- If you have already jumped off the Cincinnati Bengals' once-growing bandwagon, two players have a message for you.

Stay off.

Britt
Whitworth
Iloka
Safety George Iloka and veteran Pro Bowl offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth weren't very happy Monday afternoon when asked to discuss concerns related to fans who had already given up on the team after Sunday night's disappointing 43-17 loss at New England.

Comments on social media during yet another Bengals loss in a prime-time, nationally televised game had many of the team's most loyal supporters questioning their faith in this year's group, even after the promising 3-0 start that made Cincinnati one of two unbeatens left standing.

"Let them jump off," Iloka said. "I'm not worried about the people who jump off. We don't want them as fans anyway."

Sunday's loss made the Bengals 2-5 in prime-time games since 2011 and dropped their franchise record to 3-13 in Sunday night games. They still haven't won a Sunday night game since 2004.

Much like the Bengals, the Patriots had their own experience with a blowout loss just last week. In the days that immediately followed last Monday night's 41-14 loss at Kansas City, the Patriots heard from fans who were starting to give up on them and their future Hall of Fame quarterback who led them to three Super Bowl victories. A pall settled over New England, and many questioned if the Patriots could even show up against the Bengals.

Less than 15 minutes into Sunday's game, the Patriots made it clear that they not only would survive the Bengals, but that they would pummel them. The Patriots of old were back, and their fearless leader, Tom Brady, was in the good graces of his fan base once again. At times during his 292-yard, two-touchdown passing performance at Gillette Stadium, Brady's exploits caused fans to loudly chant his name. It was a completely different reaction from earlier in the week.

"We look to the Patriots, how they came out and lost on Monday night in prime time and saw all their fair-weather fans jump off the bandwagon," Iloka said. "They're probably back on after they beat us. So we look to them and see how they came out, and we hope to do the same things on Sunday and beat the Panthers."

Cincinnati hosts Carolina at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Initially, Whitworth didn't want to address a question about his response to Bengals fans abandoning the team.

"They didn't come to the games when we were 3-0, so I don't know what to say to them," he began, citing the Bengals' lack of home sellouts in Week 2 and 3.

"That stuff's just garbage," Whitworth continued. "I'm not worried about the fans or the media or any of that crap. We need to go play well and win. The same people thought Tom Brady should quit football and retire from the NFL a week ago, so I bet they don't think that now. There's a lot of people [who] are reaping what they sowed in their comments last week about the New England Patriots, and now the team that was what everyone considered the hottest team [the Bengals], they beat the snot out of. So what does everybody have to say now?

"That's football. Every week you have to show up and play your best, and if you don't, you're going to get beat. That's NFL football, and that's why even with the best team in the league and the worst team in the league, there's not much difference as people would like to think."

And there's nothing a win wouldn't solve for Whitworth, Iloka and all their fans, die-hard and fair-weather alike.
CINCINNATI -- The New England Patriots, for better or worse, are now in the Cincinnati Bengals' rearview mirror. But before we completely move on from Sunday night's game, let's take a quick peek at some of the ways our friends at Pro Football Focus analyzed and examined Cincinnati's Week 5 game.

As always, take the grades and notes you see below with a certain grain of salt because they can end up being amended. Bad grades also can sometimes simply be the product of particular schemes, coverages or formations a team happens to employ in a respective week based upon the opponent.

Here are a few Bengals grades and notes following Sunday's 43-17 loss:

OFFENSE
  • It seemed like just about anything that could go wrong for the Bengals on Sunday did. But to its credit, the Bengals' offensive line held up much better than what may have been originally perceived, according to PFF. In pass protection, the group held its own with veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth leading the way with a plus-1.4 pass-blocking grade. Whitworth also had a plus grade in run blocking, collecting a 1.2 grade there. He was the only offensive lineman with a positive run-blocking grade.
  • As well as Whitworth played on the left side of the line, the right side struggled, according to PFF's evaluation. Right tackle Andre Smith, right guard Mike Pollak and center Russell Bodine all had run-block grades below minus-2.0.
  • Behind A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu, who both played more than 50 snaps, James Wright received the most at receiver, totaling 22 snaps.
  • The running back snap breakdown went as follows: Giovani Bernard (44), Jeremy Hill (12). It was tough to get the balance the Bengals wanted in the running game because they were down by so much so early. The Bengals were down immediately 14-0 before starting to come back, briefly.
  • Quarterback Andy Dalton was barely pressured. He received pressure on just seven of his 27 dropbacks.
  • With Darrelle Revis covering him, Green was targeted five times. On those passes, Green caught three for 64 yards, helping bolster his claim that he didn't think Revis shut him down.
  • The Bengals threw seven passes that traveled 20 yards or more downfield, the most they have attempted in a single game all season. Entering Sunday's game, 63 percent of Dalton's passing attempts had traveled 15 yards or less in the air, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
DEFENSE
  • New England targeted Cincinnati's linebackers all night, attempting 15 passes in their areas of coverage. Vincent Rey allowed six catches on six targets and Emmanuel Lamur allowed three on six targets.
  • Lamur also was credited with just one missed tackle by PFF (although from my personal recollection, I can remember him missing at least three) and received his lowest overall grade of the season: minus-5.0. He now has a minus-4.2 overall grade this season. Only Robert Geathers and Domata Peko have worse overall grades from PFF.
  • Cornerback Leon Hall also had his struggles. He allowed five catches on eight targets and missed three tackles.
  • Defensive end Wallace Gilberry recorded the Bengals' highest grades in overall play, play against the pass and play against the run. He had a plus-3.8 overall grade.
  • Defensive tackle Geno Atkins played 51 snaps, recording two tackles and a quarterback hurry.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cincinnati Bengals' 43-17 loss to the New England Patriots:

Green
Green goes to Revis Island: Bengals receiver A.J. Green knew he would have his hands full on the outside with cornerback Darrelle Revis expected to be matched up with him all night. Even if Green's expectations were reached, he still walked away from the game feeling as if Revis didn't get the best of him. "He did a good job," Green said about Revis. "But I didn't feel like he shut me down. I had steps on him. ... I didn't feel like he did anything special that I had never seen before." Green was targeted seven times and caught five hard-earned passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.

Defending high tempo: From the first drive through the last, the Patriots maintained a brisk pace to their offense. It was so brisk that it apparently caused some issues for the Bengals, who had little answer, particularly against the run. New England had more than 500 yards of total offense, and 220 yards of it came on the ground. A sizable chunk of their 500 yards came when the Bengals quick-snapped the Bengals. "They were just on the ball. We didn't have our calls in. We were still looking at the sideline trying to get a call in and they had their hands on the ball already, snapping before we were even ready," Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko said.

Humbled locker room: After the loss, the Bengals were mostly quiet as they changed quickly and slipped out of the locker room in order to make their charter that was expected to get back to Cincinnati around 4 a.m. ET. There wasn't much said about the defeat. Most players acknowledged that they knew the game had the potential to go the way it did. At least one also didn't think this game proved anything about the Bengals' performances in prime time. "We still don't think about it that way," offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "We think about the fact we came to New England and were going against a team that just got their teeth kicked in and were going to play their best game possible."

Lesson learned? Whitworth was quick to say he believed the loss could prove beneficial for the Bengals. Just like the Patriots, who lost last Monday in blowout fashion, 41-14, the Bengals can't drop two in a row. "This is how championship football goes," Whitworth said. "If you lose a game, you bounce back the next week and you make somebody pay for it. That'll be our job next week."
CINCINNATI -- Each week, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson charges his Cincinnati Bengals ball carriers to pick up enough yards on the ground that they will match or exceed his target of 4.5 yards per carry.

Through three games, the Bengals aren't gaining enough yards to suit Jackson's liking, averaging 3.6 yards per carry. It's a low average mostly brought down by second-year back Giovani Bernard, who is averaging 3.4 yards per attempt. On 55 carries, he has gained just 185 yards.

His sidekick, rookie Jeremy Hill, is averaging 5.1 yards on about half the rushes. But that number isn't good enough for Hill. Mainly because he is desperate to start breaking loose on bigger gains. To this point, his longest rush is 13 yards.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriJeremy Hill, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, is determined to break more big runs.
"Yeah, I got to bust one," Hill said. "I got to hit one on the second level. That's what Coach Hue has been saying will help the running backs' average."

Among other factors, better blocking downfield could provide a spark in getting backs like Hill and Bernard to the next level of the defense.

"It's a key. It's an emphasis," Jackson said ahead of Sunday night's game at New England. "It's something we have to continue to harp on to do better, because that's where the big runs are. You have 11 guys playing as hard as they can play, and that's what uplifts your team and gets them to play even better.

"We've talked about it. It's been brought to their attention, but at the end of the day, it's an attitude and a mindset. You've got to want to do it [block downfield], and I think our guys do."

Downfield blocking specifically refers to what receivers like A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu are doing eight, 10, 15 yards from the line of scrimmage. It also refers to what takes place when guards pull off the line and tackles get going upfield by pushing into a defense's secondary.

Last season, the Bengals' downfield blocking was among their best attributes. One of the more memorable plays that showcased it was Green's 54-yard reception at Buffalo off a screen at the line of scrimmage. Just as Green turned to run following his catch, he sprinted through holes supplied by left tackle Andrew Whitworth and Sanu. After opening the alley, Whitworth wasn't done. He sprinted ahead of Green and pushed back another defensive back about 25 yards downfield, giving Green additional space to wiggle free for the big first-down gain.

When it comes to the ground attack, blocking isn't the only issue for Jackson. He would like to see his backs plow through defenders even better than they have.

"The finish part of blocks and runs and attitude, you've just got to come out the other side sometimes. Sometimes you have to just make those plays and make them happen," Jackson said. "The runners understand that, and they've watched the tape. The linemen watch the tape, so collectively we understand what we need to do to create that kind of opportunity for our backs, and sometimes they have to create it for themselves."

If you ask New England coach Bill Belichick, both running backs can do just that.

"The yardage they get, they get on their own," Belichick said. "They're able to create extra yards on their own by breaking tackles or running through arm tackles or using vision and patience to set up blocks, get a block from a slot receiver or tight end, somebody on the second level. Their receivers do block well. They're aggressive and big. They do a good job of helping the running game with their blocking, which sets up opportunities for them on play-action passes.

"You have to deal with all of that. So it's all those things [that the backs do well]."
CINCINNATI -- Good teams don't just earn respect, they command it.

The Cincinnati Bengals think they have done just that.

They also think the rest of the sports world isn't giving them as much attention as they should. They feel their 3-0 record -- which includes convincing wins over the Ravens, Falcons and Titans -- is getting overlooked. To them, this is an even better team than it has been given credit for being.

[+] EnlargeGreen
AP Photo/Don WrightDespite the improvements the Cincinnati Bengals have made in recent years, they've had a shortage of answers in prime-time games.
Just ask veteran cornerback Adam Jones. Asked if he thought people across the country appreciated what the Bengals have done to this point, he said, "I don't know. It could be better."

He said it with enough resignation in his voice that clearly a) deep down, he didn't care much what people thought about his team, and b) he's not upset enough to stage a protest of the major sports outlets.

Pro Bowl offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth on the other hand, was.

Near the end of an interview session with reporters Thursday, Whitworth barely held back when asked about the attention his team's poor performance in prime-time has received this week. He did acknowledge that yes, the Bengals are 2-4 in nighttime games since 2011 and that they have a 1-9 showing in their last 10 Sunday night games. But he also acknowledged that those past results mean little when the Bengals take on the Patriots on Sunday.

"If we hadn't been in the playoffs three years in a row, this probably wouldn't even be a topic of conversation," Whitworth said. "It's not a negative to be in the playoffs three times in a row. The truth of the matter is, there's some team in the playoffs every year getting beat for two teams to go to the Super Bowl. You've accomplished something to be there, and you've played a lot of obviously significant games to get there. You don't go 10-6 and 11-5 and not have won a game that meant something."

The Bengals were 11-5 last season and 10-6 in 2012. The year before, with a rookie Andy Dalton at quarterback, they went 9-7, finishing the season just strong enough to end up in the playoffs for the first of three straight times. All three of those trips have ended with the Bengals losing in the wild-card round.

Whitworth knows the playoff problem has to be corrected this season, and like other Bengals, he believes this year's team can be the one to do just that. He also believes the incessant harping on the teams' prime-time performances is overblown.

"The coolest thing about this team is that we don't care about that kind of stuff," Whitworth said. "This year is the best year I've seen of that. The guys' attitudes of that doesn't matter. We're excited to go out and have fun and play.

"That's one of those things that I think honestly is more of a national media, outside media thing to hold over us. It's like somebody wants to find some way to doubt you when the truth is, we've won our division, we've gotten better every single year, our record has gotten better every single year. So what's something you can come up with that's going to say 'this team is not there?' That's the one thing they can look for and say is that we can't play in prime-time. To me, people are always going to find a way to try and put a team down. That's what people look for. We don't really listen to it. But we just need to go out and play and have fun and beat the New England Patriots and go about our business."

Do that, and the chatter Whitworth has grown tired of hearing will have reason to soon fade away.

Undefeated Bengals notice empty seats

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
11:30
AM ET
CINCINNATI -- When ESPN's NFL Power Rankings come out later Tuesday afternoon, there's a strong chance the Cincinnati Bengals will be among the top two teams.

They opened Week 3 of the 2006 season at No. 2, but that's as high as they have ever been ranked. And even if the Bengals fail to claim the top spot, there is no disputing the fact they are among the strongest teams in the NFL right now.

[+] EnlargeReggie Nelson
Aaron Doster/USA TODAY SportsNumerous open seats can be spotted during the Bengals' Week 3 home game against the Titans at Paul Brown Stadium.
But as good as the Bengals have been so far, on the surface, they don't seem to be getting the respect locally that they're starting to receive nationally. Empty seats have filled the upper reaches of Paul Brown Stadium the past two weeks, leaving the Bengals some 10,000 patrons shy of having sold out each of those games. The 65,500-seat stadium has had attendance figures of 58,574 and 56,743.

For a team that has gotten off to the start the Bengals have, the sight has been disheartening.

"We definitely notice it," receiver Marvin Jones said. "We're doing stuff right now to change that. That's on them. We're doing our job on our end."

Not only are the Bengals winning games, but they are doing so in convincing fashion. Cincinnati is scoring 26.7 points per game this season while its opponents are averaging just 11.0. The Falcons and Ravens, the first two teams the Bengals beat, have collected rather impressive wins in the wake of their respective losses to the Bengals. Atlanta last Thursday pounded Tampa Bay, 56-14.

The Bengals beat the Falcons 24-10, and could have had a more lopsided victory had kicker Mike Nugent's made his three missed field goals.

Optimism nationwide is high for the Bengals. In an ESPN.com poll after Sunday's 33-7 win against Tennessee, nearly 150,000 weighed in with their opinions about whether the Bengals are a legit Super Bowl contender. While just 48 percent said "yes," that's a higher number than most would anticipate. Remember, this also is a franchise that has come off three straight seasons of teasing its fans with a first-round playoff exit.

Closer examination of the poll showed -- perhaps unsurprisingly -- that the most optimism comes from Ohio and the states that border it. West Virginians and Kentuckians share the opinions of Buckeye Staters. Indianans are split 50-50, and football fans in Georgia apparently thought the Week 2 win against Atlanta showed how good the Bengals are. They, too, see the Bengals as a legit Super Bowl team.

So why doesn't it seem the local online optimism is manifesting itself in the stands on game day?

"You hear so much in the media about how the owners and the stadiums are really having to compete with DirecTV and everybody sitting at home watching TV," Bengals kicker Mike Nugent said. "It's easier to go to the restroom, it's easier to get a drink out of the fridge [at home]."

Those have been among the chief concerns Bengals fans have had in recent seasons. To address them, the club this offseason came up with a fan-experience strategy that was headlined by improvements to in-stadium wireless. The hope is to allow fans better bandwith to stream video and chat on social media, so they can have a home experience at the game.

Ticket prices also are concerning for fans. But Bengals tickets remain among the cheapest in the league.

According to secondary ticket site SeatGeek, the Bengals have the seventh-cheapest ticket, averaging $83 this season. That's $40 lower than the league average.

ESPN The Magazine also recently ranked the franchise as having the 15th-best bang for fans' buck in all of professional sports. The team was ranked fifth in that same survey among NFL franchises. The "bang for the buck" metric weighed wins during the past three seasons per revenue generated from fans.

While Bengals players have noticed the empty seats, they're growing weary of discussing the issue.

"Honestly, any other year I'd probably sit here and complain about it or whine about it, but this football team is so focused on winning," veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said last week, amid threats of a blackout. "We set out at the beginning of the year with the goal of trying to win the Super Bowl, and that's the only thing we really care about. I can honestly say that about this team. We don't care. We want to play and we want the people that want to be here to watch us play."
CINCINNATI -- It was clear Sunday afternoon in Baltimore that the heat and humidity that sat inside M&T Bank Stadium got to several of the Cincinnati Bengals.

With temperatures hovering near the mid-80s and their bench in the sunlight the duration of the afternoon, the Bengals saw fatigue set in with multiple players a lot sooner than anticipated.

Defensive linemen and linebackers, on the field in the second half for more than 10 minutes longer than they were in the first half, were checking in and out regularly. Constantly they were tapping their helmets asking for a brief rest while they caught their breath and collected their thoughts.

Gilberry
Defensive end Wallace Gilberry was so out sorts after the hot and physical game that he had trouble putting into words how his two sacks on the final stand impacted the outcome of the game.

“I’m going to be honest with you, man. I don’t even remember the last series. I was just in a zone,” Gilberry said. “It was just about hunting and working. I’m so tired right now I can’t even think straight to give you an answer.”

By the end, the Bengals' defense had been on the field for 88 plays.

Gilberry played most of the second half, even shifting into Geno Atkins’ interior line position on the final drive after the Pro Bowl tackle left for the sideline. Minutes later, after the game ended, Atkins was carted into the tunnel and helped into the Bengals’ locker room. Coach Marvin Lewis wasn’t sure immediately after the game what happened to Atkins but said he believed he was simply dehydrated.

That probably was to be an expected ailment for Atkins, who appeared in only one preseason game due to his recovery from ACL surgery last year. He only played 13 snaps in the Week 3 preseason meeting at Arizona two weeks ago.

Safety Reggie Nelson said the team-wide conditioning issue is one that must get straightened out ahead of Sunday’s Week 2 home opener against the Falcons.

“We were blowing a little bit,” Nelson said. “Everybody saw that. We’ll come in Monday and make that happen.”

Injuries also affected the Bengals' snap counts. Starters Tyler Eifert and Vontaze Burfict were run from the game with first-half injuries.

Keeping in mind how much the defense rotated personnel due to the conditions, here is this week’s snap-count breakdown:

OFFENSE (67 plays)*
C Russell Bodine (67), OG Kevin Zeitler, (67), OG Clint Boling (67), OT Andrew Whitworth (67), QB Andy Dalton (67), OT Andre Smith (65), WR A.J. Green (63), WR Mohamed Sanu (62), TE Jermaine Gresham (61), RB Giovani Bernard (58), WR Brandon Tate (41), H-back/TE Ryan Hewitt (11), RB Jeremy Hill (10), TE Alex Smith (9), TE Tyler Eifert (8), WR Dane Sanzenbacher (8), OT Marshall Newhouse (5), RB Cedric Peerman (1).

DEFENSE (88 plays)*
CB Terence Newman (88), S Reggie Nelson (88), S George Iloka (88), LB Emmanuel Lamur (87), DE Carlos Dunlap (76), CB Leon Hall (74), DE Wallace Gilberry (67), CB Adam Jones (64), LB Vincent Rey (62), DE Robert Geathers (57), DT Geno Atkins (49), DT Domata Peko (39), DT Brandon Thompson (33), LB Rey Maualuga (31), DE Margus Hunt (30), LB Vontaze Burfict (23), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (10), S Taylor Mays (2).

SPECIAL TEAMS (30 plays)**
LB Jayson DiManche (21), S Shawn Williams (21), Rey (21), LB Marquis Flowers (20), Mays (18), Peerman (18), Hunt (16), Kirkpatrick (14), K Mike Nugent (13), Alex Smith (10), Jones (10), Peko (10), P Kevin Huber (10), LS Clark Harris (10), Nelson (9), Tate (7), Whitworth (6), Boling (6), Zeitler (6), Newhouse (6), Andre Smith (6), Gresham (6), Hewitt (5), McCalebb (5), Newman (5), Lamur (5), Maualuga (5), Thompson (4), Dunlap (3), Hill (3), Sanzenbacher (2), Hall (2), Geathers (2), Iloka (1), Gilberry (1).

*Snap counts come from Pro Football Focus
**Snap counts come from the NFL Game Statistics & Information System.
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BALTIMORE -- At first it was shocking. Then it was galvanizing.

When A.J. Green stalked the Cincinnati Bengals' sideline with about six minutes remaining in Sunday's season opener against the Ravens, he did something he doesn't normally do.

He opened his mouth.

"Hey, we got one play," Green said, looking in Giovani Bernard's eyes.

"Let's make that play," Green followed up as he turned toward Mohamed Sanu.

Momentum had just escaped the Bengals as cornerback Adam Jones got crossed up on a go route the Ravens completed to Steve Smith. The 80-yard touchdown put Baltimore on top 16-15 and gave the Ravens their first lead of the game.

That's when Green got involved.

"I've never seen A.J. talk during the game," Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "He told every single offensive guy that it only takes one big play to get this thing back going the other way.

"And he did it."

Exactly 51 game seconds after Green gave his surprising pep talk, he crossed the goal line with his own go route touchdown, one that put the Bengals back ahead and gave them the game's final lead and the comfort of knowing they can close out a game when they have to.

The reception occurred on just the second play of the Bengals' penultimate drive and came in part thanks to a pregame Ravens roster change. When cornerback Lardarius Webb was declared inactive because of an achy lower back, Green had every reason to believe this was going to be his day to shine.

Green's six catches for 131 yards were a sign he did exactly that.

With Webb absent, the Ravens had just three corners. They mostly rotated them, but on some occasions safeties had to be lined up on receivers. During Green's game-changing reception, fourth-year backup corner Chykie Brown was on him. When the play began, Brown got pushed to the outside by Green, who got inside leverage. Once that happened, quarterback Andy Dalton had a lane to pass.

"We had the look we wanted," Dalton said. "A.J. had been telling me that he felt they were playing him soft and that he could get by them."

As Brown tried to recover, a finger hit the ball. The ball went in the air along with Green's hands. With his back partially turned to the line of scrimmage, Green caught the pass before turning up the field. As Ravens safety Darian Stewart sprinted up, Green juked once to his left and once more to the right before cruising into the end zone untouched.

"There was no way I was going down," Green said. "Like I was telling the guys before that play, 'If we want to be great, we've got to take that next step.' The whole past of the Bengals is that we'll get here and we'll [crack] in big games. One of the biggest things for us was setting the mindset of going into every game [saying] that we can win."
CINCINNATI -- With temperatures around southwest Ohio at their highest in a week and the humidity at similarly elevated levels, Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict had trouble completing Thursday afternoon's practice as a full participant.

According to the Bengals' injury report, the third-year player was "limited" in the practice with a non-injury, heat-related issue. The Bengals didn't provide specifics on what type of heat-related issue Burfict had, but they did say that he was not a full participant in the workout.

Burfict
Burfict's partial absence came one day after he practiced fully in the wake of a hamstring injury that forced him out of the Bengals' Week 3 preseason game at Arizona. Wednesday was the first day the Bengals had to announce an injury report, and "full practice participation" was the designation they gave him. Burfict said earlier this week that he thought he'd be healthy enough from the hamstring injury to play Sunday when the Bengals visit Baltimore for the regular-season opener.

Along with Burfict, the Bengals also kept offensive linemen Clint Boling and Andrew Whitworth on the sideline Thursday, listed with non-injury related issues. In their case, it was a veteran's day off. Whitworth has been known to have those from time to time in his career, and Boling, who still is about nine months removed from ACL surgery, likely will be taking a few days here and there to keep his knee somewhat rested. The knee itself isn't an issue, but the team still wants to take it slowly with him and not put too much wear and tear on his legs early in the season.

The same goes for offensive guard Mike Pollak, who returned to practice Thursday after being completely sidelined Wednesday. He has a knee issue of his own that the Bengals have been cautious about.

In addition to those injury additions, the Bengals also still listed cornerback Darqueze Dennard (hip) as practicing in a limited capacity. He remains hopeful that he'll play Sunday after missing all but one play in the last three preseason games.

Here's the complete Thursday injury report:

Out
WR Marvin Jones (foot)
RB Rex Burkhead (knee)

Did Not Practice
OG Clint Boling (vet day off)
OT Andrew Whitworth (vet day off)
LB Sean Porter (hamstring)
WR James Wright (concussion)

Limited Practice Participation
LB Vontaze Burfict (heat)
CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)

Full Practice Participation
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder)
RB Cedric Peerman (hip)
OT Andre Smith (concussion)
CINCINNATI -- A.J. Green is currently the second-best receiver in the NFL -- one pass-catching tight end notwithstanding -- and Geno Atkins is the fourth-best defensive lineman in the league, according to ESPN's #NFLRank project that concluded on ESPN.com on Friday.

Are we shocked the Cincinnati Bengals duo is so highly regarded? Are we stunned? Did we really expect anything more?

No. No. And no.

 Respectively, Green and Atkins were ranked the ninth- and 10th-best players on their side of the ball. Only eight players were ahead of Green, including the top overall offensive player, Detroit wideout Calvin Johnson, and New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham. Atkins was surpassed by nine other defensive players including Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, the player tabbed in this survey as the top current defender in the league.

Atkins actually fell to 10th after being ranked seventh last year. Still, it's rather amazing he still was included in the top 10 after missing half of last season with an ACL injury. That's a testament to his past success and the optimism many share this season as he comes off the serious injury. He's set to open the season next weekend with the Bengals when they travel to Baltimore. Green remained at No. 9, where he was the year before.

Green and Atkins joined linebacker Vontaze Burfict (No. 32, defense), defensive end Carlos Dunlap (No. 86, defense), running back Giovani Bernard (No. 88, offense) and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth (No. 92, offense) as Bengals to appear on the countdown. Only two players in that group haven't been to the Pro Bowl, Bernard and Dunlap. A former undrafted free agent, Burfict attended his first Pro Bowl at the end of his second season last year.

All but two of those players also have negotiated big second deals with the Bengals. Green and Bernard are the only ones who have not. Bernard can't start speaking with the Bengals about a contract extension until after next season. Green and his representatives can begin those conversations now, but it's not likely he'll receive a long-term deal for some time. Earlier this year the Bengals exercised their fifth-year option on him, meaning he's slated to make more than $10 million next season after playing out the final year of his original four-year rookie contract this season.

Green and Atkins have been among the best at their positions in recent seasons. An NFL.com survey of players earlier this year actually considered Green the No. 2 receiver in the league behind Johnson. If you classify Graham as a tight end and not a receiver, the same holds true in the #NFLRank survey.

The #NFLRank series, which debuted last Monday, ranked the Top 100 players in the league. Players were separated into offense and defense.

Earlier this summer, many of the people behind ESPN's NFL coverage, including myself, made individual rankings for the overall project.

You can read the full series here.

Below are blurbs from the series on Green and Atkins:
Green was the most-targeted receiver in the NFL last year, leading the league with 178 targets. Green's eight touchdown receptions on passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield last season were the most in the NFL.
-- ESPN Stats & Information (@ESPNStatsInfo)

Despite missing nearly half of last season, Atkins leads all defensive tackles with 29 sacks since he entered the league in 2010. Atkins is the first Bengals defender selected to consecutive Pro Bowls since David Fulcher (1988-90).
-- ESPN Stats & Information (@ESPNStatsInfo)
CINCINNATI -- If you had the opportunity to watch the Cincinnati Bengals' open training camp practices earlier this month, you probably heard one word shouted more frequently and more emphatically than any other.

Finish!

[+] EnlargeBengals offensive line
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanThe blocking by the Bengals' offensive linemen won't just be focused at the line of scrimmage in 2014.
It was a command most often given by offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, receivers coach James Urban and running backs coach Kyle Caskey. Their goal: to get the skill players on offense to continue running downfield even if they had been "tackled" or stood up by a defender or series of defenders who had touched them down. That encouragement was referenced in this ESPN.com story last month on running back Rex Burkhead, the now-injured back who was upheld as an example of finishing practice-play runs even after he got knocked down.

Running backs and receivers weren't the only ones prodded to keep going, though. Offensive linemen were, too. If the 300-pound blockers get up and down the field the way they have so far this preseason, the Bengals believe they will be in good shape when the regular season starts.

"It's an emphasis every team has this time of year, but the key is we're working hard to actually get it done," right guard Kevin Zeitler said. "As you know, we had a couple of fumbling issues at times last year and it would have been nice if we had been there to pick them up."

Fumbles and the possibility of having linemen there to help scoop them up aren't the only reasons behind the added push to get linemen downfield. By getting linemen automatically running downfield, the pace of the Bengals' no-huddle offense could get quickened, too. Additionally, Jackson believes that by getting all of his players to flow to wherever the football is, he'll enhance the intensity and aggressive nature he's trying to instill in Cincinnati's offense.

"That's how you get bigger runs," he added.

In a recent film session he showed evidence of what downfield blocking can do. He put on screen one lengthy Bengals run that was sparked in part by receiver A.J. Green, who rode a defender into the sideline, helping open an alley.

"To me when our star players do that, it shows that they're into it like everybody else," Jackson said.

"It's just got to be the mindset. It's my mindset," he added Monday. "You've got to become that and do it every day. It can't be a sometime thing. I told the guys this morning, if you're going to play on our offensive football team, you've got to demonstrate those characteristics, and they have."

One of the in-game instances of finishing that Zeitler was proud of came in the first quarter of Saturday's 25-17 loss to the Jets after he and center Russell Bodine had trouble holding off defenders at the line of scrimmage. As a result of their issue at the snap, a screen pass to the right to tight end Jermaine Gresham very nearly resulted in a lost-yardage play. But because Zeilter and Bodine didn't resign themselves to the play being over, they cleared a post-catch hole that Gresham scooted through to turn an apparent negative play into a 9-yard gain.

Quarterback Andy Dalton has noticed the extra attention his linemen have made in trying to get down the field even after the ball has been thrown, and believes it's paying off. So does veteran leader and Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who echoed Jackson's sentiments when he pushed Jackson's desire to get the entire unit to showcase that scrappy style of play.

Whitworth would rather point to some of the less recognizable intangibles like players finishing to Jackson's liking, as a theory behind why the first-team offense has looked so impressive through two preseason games. Dalton's stats, including his perfect passer rating last weekend, are good, Whitworth said. But they wouldn't be so high if it weren't, in part, for some of what Jackson is reinforcing.

"That kind of thing," Whitworth said, "is the kind of mentality that helps you win football games."
CINCINNATI -- Preseason games are usually boring, uninteresting, uneventful and, aside from perhaps five plays in the first quarter, are mostly lacking in entertainment value.

That might not be the case in Cincinnati this weekend. If New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson gets his way, there ought to be a few fireworks going off inside Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday night.

Five days after Richardson told his team's website that he felt the Jets needed retribution this weekend for last season's 49-9 regular-season defeat against the Cincinnati Bengals, two Bengals players embraced the comments, saying they will be glad to see an opponent who doesn't plan on taking them lightly.

[+] EnlargeMarvin Jones
John Grieshop/Getty ImagesThe Jets surrendered four TD catches to Marvin Jones in a 49-9 loss against the Bengals in October.
"That's good," Bengals Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "We want their best. Sometimes for older guys -- especially myself, who have played as much as I have -- it's kind of disheartening when you go out there and guys are playing, but not really playing. You want people to bring their best. You want to get better. That's what [the preseason] is for."

Whitworth was responding to comments Richardson made Saturday when, according to the Jets' website, he said, "We owe them one. We owe them one big time."

Richardson continued, adding: "That was pretty much the only team that dog-walked this defense like that."

The Bengals dominated both sides of the ball that October afternoon. Receiver Marvin Jones, who won't be playing Saturday because of a foot injury, caught a franchise-record four touchdown passes in the game. Quarterback Andy Dalton completed just 19 passes, but he threw for 325 yards and the Bengals racked up 402 total yards. Cincinnati's offense was so strong in the red zone that it converted five of its six series that made it there into touchdowns. The defense was so stout that it didn't allow the Jets a red-zone possession.

"That game got really out of hand at one point," Bengals defensive end Margus Hunt remembered Wednesday.

It was the ugliness of the game that had Whitworth unfazed by Richardson's comments.

He knows teams often remember the bad more than they remember the good.

"You remember the last time you played a team and how it went. It sticks in the back of your mind," Whitworth said. "It doesn't mean they're going to come out and do something cheap or something different. It just means they remember that, 'Hey, last time these guys got the best of us and this time we plan on reversing it.'"

Even though it is the preseason and he doesn't anticipate Richardson to play for long, Hunt still is glad to hear the emotion coming from his fellow defender.

"We need that," Hunt said. "We need to be physical and we need to match their physicality or set the physicality first and foremost. We need to be the aggressors and we need to set the tempo."

Despite knowing they will only see New York's first-team units for a few plays in the first half, the Bengals hope to still match the intensity they had last October. The trick, Whitworth added, will be maintaining it all game with the second- and third-team groups seeing action.

"For these young guys it'll be a good opportunity to get in there and play against a [good] group -- [Jets head coach] Rex Ryan's D-lines are always going to be some of the best you're going to play," Whitworth said. "They're excellent with their hands, they're physical. Every year they're a great-run defense, and it'll be no different this year."

Bengals clear five to practice

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
6:45
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- Five Cincinnati Bengals were cleared to return to practice by the team's medical staff Monday.

All five participated in some capacity.

Receiver Marvin Jones, offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth and receiver Ryan Whalen were limited to participating in primarily position-specific drills. Jones did take part in some seven-on-seven work, but was not part of the 11-on-11 exercises the Bengals went through.

Tight end Jermaine Gresham and defensive tackle Zach Minter, however, did participate in full-squad activities. Gresham mostly worked with the second- and third-team units. His diving catch at the goal line during a red zone segment was the team's final play of the workout.

Four of the five began training camp on the active physically unable to perform list. Only Jones began on the active non-football injury list for an ankle ailment he wanted to make sure was 100 percent healthy before he practiced again.

"It went well," Jones said. "As the days go on, I'll get more and more out there. It's just good to get the pads on and to get the helmet on again."

He said he wasn't expecting to play Thursday when the Bengals open the preseason at Kansas City.

Only three players continue to have some injury designation. Quarterback AJ McCarron remains on the non-football injury list with a shoulder issue, and offensive tackle Andre Smith and linebacker J.K. Schaffer are still under concussion protocol.
CINCINNATI -- As the Cincinnati Bengals get going with Day 9 of training camp, here are three items we are going to be watching:

Emphasizing penalties. Among the items I'll be keeping my eyes on Saturday is the Bengals' ability to negotiate some of the added emphasis the league is placing on certain penalties this season. Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth spoke at length Friday night about how he didn't quite understand what an offensive lineman was to do now that the NFL is pushing harder on penalties involving linemen engaging the player rushing them with a shot to the head. Before, the rule stipulated that contact could be made, but it couldn't be prolonged. Now, even if an offensive lineman's hand slips and accidentally makes subtle contact with a defender's helmet, the lineman could be penalized. As defensive ends start bull-rushing more, Whitworth believes all a tackle can do to protect himself is put his hands up. Along with that rule tweak, we saw cornerback Terence Newman trying to get clarification from an official Friday about the emphasis on contact downfield. It's a rule alteration that, for now, seems to really favor offenses.

Rookie watch: Nikita Whitlock. He hasn't had the number of reps overall that some of the other H-backs or other blockers have had, but the undrafted rookie free agent has caught my attention through the first eight days of practice. While I'm still not sure a roster spot will come open for him, I do believe he'll make a very real push for it. From my vantage point, he's been solid in blitz pickup. As a former defensive tackle, you have to imagine he has a unique approach to pass- and run-blocking that other fullbacks or H-backs may not have. Another young blocker to watch is tight end Ryan Hewitt. The undrafted rookie has had his share of time with the first-teamers in recent practices with Jermaine Gresham and Kevin Brock both injured.

Going live? Coach Marvin Lewis contended the Bengals didn't go live on their final six plays of Friday's practice, but might they add just a tad more contact Saturday? Since the team is heading into an off day Sunday, it's possible. But it's also not all that likely. As part of the "Family Day" festivities, they will hold a few mock, simulated-game drills inside Paul Brown Stadium to push up the excitement level for fans attending. But don't expect the type of contact you may associate with a true scrimmage. After getting a number of players banged up and placed under concussion protocol last week, they seem to be taking it a little easier with the contact this week.

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