Cincinnati Bengals: James Wright

CINCINNATI -- Four Cincinnati Bengals missed practice Wednesday, being told to stay away because a flu has run amok throughout the team.

The virus has affected different position groups and different corners of the locker room.

Quarterback Andy Dalton was the biggest name player who was sidelined because of it, forced to head home about a half hour before his regularly-scheduled Wednesday news conference. Along with him, tight end Jermaine Gresham, safety Reggie Nelson and cornerback Terence Newman had illnesses, too.

It's the second time a contagious bug has hit the team, following the spread of a stomach bug four and five weeks ago. In all, seven Bengals were hit by that one, including Dalton who got it the night before the Bengals' Week 13 game at Tampa Bay. After taking three IVs before the game and throwing up in the locker room during pregame introductions, Dalton threw three first-half interceptions before tossing a touchdown pass and running for another in the second half.

Along with the sick quartet, the Bengals were unsurprisingly without receiver A.J. Green, too. Although he participated in the stretching period, he didn't go through any other part of the practice as he starts trying to recover from a right biceps bruise. Green suffered the injury Monday night when the helmet of a Broncos defensive back barreled hard into him as he leaped for a high pass.

When the ball deflected off Green's hand, it ricocheted into cornerback's Aqib Talib's hands. Untouched, he got off the ground and ran 33 yards for a touchdown on the Bengals' fifth offensive play.

Green told ESPN on Wednesday that he initially thought he had broken his arm on the hit.

During his news conference, coach Marvin Lewis said Green was "progressing." Lewis added that he thought Green had a shot to play Sunday at Pittsburgh in the unofficial AFC North title game. The winner of the matchup will win the division.

Along with the notes on Dalton and Green, the Bengals also are hopeful that receiver James Wright and linebacker Emmanuel Lamur will return this week. Both missed Monday night's game, and Wright missed the two before that. They both practiced Wednesday, going in limited capacity during the Christmas Eve session.

Unlike most teams the Bengals will practice on Christmas Day. Part of the reason they aren't taking the day off is because this keeps them in a daily rhythm ahead of the big Sunday game. It also made sense that they practice after being done no favors by the NFL schedule-makers.

The same week as Christmas, the Bengals had a Monday night game and a Sunday one immediately after it. Normally they'd have six days of practice between games. They would have had only four if they took Thursday off.

Here's the full Wednesday injury report:

QB Andy Dalton (illness)
TE Jermaine Gresham (illness)
CB Terence Newman (illness)
S Reggie Nelson (illness)
LB Chris Carter (knee)
DE Wallace Gilberry (hamstring)

CB Darqueze Dennard (shin)
LB Emmanuel Lamur (hamstring)
WR James Wright (knee)
CINCINNATI -- If Peyton Manning ends up playing for the Denver Broncos on Monday night, the Cincinnati Bengals could be without one of their best weapons for combating him.

Although he practiced Saturday morning for the first time this week, linebacker Emmanuel Lamur was listed later in the day as doubtful on the Bengals' final injury report of the week.

He could be a game-time decision.

"He's made a lot of progress," coach Marvin Lewis said. "With the extra day this week, obviously that helps a lot."

Lamur had an extra day early in the week to rest his sore hamstring, and he will have time even early Monday to get it treated several hours before the game if need be.

"It wasn't real severe, and we shut him down right away," Lewis said of the injury.

Lamur was run from last Sunday's 30-0 win against the Browns because of the issue.

If Lamur is ruled unable to play, the Bengals likely will use a combination of backups Marquis Flowers, Chris Carter and Nico Johnson at the "Sam" linebacker position he occupies in the base defense. When Cincinnati shifts into nickel packages as it likely will do often against the Broncos' multi-receiver and tight end sets, safety Taylor Mays likely will come off the bench and shift into Lamur's role as the cover linebacker. Despite playing the "Sam" in base, it has been Lamur's responsibility to defend tight ends in passing situations this season.

Last season, with Lamur out for the season, Mays moved down into a linebacker role. He was covering tight ends in a similar capacity before suffering his own season-ending shoulder injury in Week 8.

In addition to watching Lamur, eyes will be on Manning before Monday's game, too. After fighting through a thigh injury and an illness this week, the quarterback was listed as questionable on the Broncos' Saturday injury report.

Here is Cincinnati's full injury report*:

WR James Wright (knee)
LB Lamur (hamstring)

QB AJ McCarron (illness)

WR Brandon Tate (illness)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Achilles)
DE Carlos Dunlap (calf)
TE Jermaine Gresham (toe)
DE Margus Hunt (ankle)
CB Terence Newman (ankle)
OT Marshall Newhouse (illness)

Receiver A.J. Green was taken off the injury report. He's healthy after dealing with an illness this week.
CINCINNATI -- As they face yet another tough tight end matchup, the Cincinnati Bengals may be without their top cover linebacker Monday night when they host the Denver Broncos.

That's because for the second straight day, Emmanuel Lamur missed practice, working instead Friday on the rehab portion of the practice field. The base strongside linebacker typically lines up with tight ends in certain passing situations. He's drawn his fair share of good ones this year, too.

After facing Rob Gronkowski, Delanie Walker and Jimmy Graham among others, Lamur would be expected this weekend to defend Julius Thomas, Denver's big red zone passing target.

If the hamstring injury Lamur suffered late in last Sunday's 30-0 win over Cleveland hasn't calmed by Monday night, then he'll likely be replaced by Taylor Mays, a safety who has been used as a linebacker in the past. There are other options available to the Bengals, too, including backups Marquis Flowers, Chris Carter and Nico Johnson, linebackers coach Matt Burke said.

Burke acknowledged that Mays has been in his meeting room all this week in the event Lamur can't go.

Before a season-ending Week 8 injury last season, Mays was beginning to emerge as a solid enough option at the nickel linebacker spot. He spent much of his time before the injury playing there with Lamur shelved from the preseason due to his own season-ending issue.

As far as the health of the linebacker positions are concerned, it's been a year to forget for Burke. Lamur's latest injury comes after he, Rey Maualuga, Vontaze Burfict and Jayson DiManche have all already missed games. Maualuga missed four, Burfict is on season-ending injured reserve after finishing just two games, and DiManche went on IR two weeks ago.

"That's just how it goes. We're cursed this year," Burke said. "We know that's part of sports, it's part of the game. If you deal with injuries, it's 'when.' So you always have to have those contingency plans. We're not changing what we do. Next man up. Those guys have been here. They're responsible for knowing what they're doing to play and it's time to go."

Along with Lamur, receiver James Wright, who has missed the last two games with a knee injury, also didn't practice Friday. Like Lamur, he got in work on the rehab and conditioning parts of the practice field. Fellow receiver A.J. Green, who was sick Thursday, returned to full practice participation.

Here's the full Friday injury report:

LB Emmanuel Lamur (hamstring)
WR James Wright (knee)
OT Andrew Whitworth (veteran's day off)
WR Brandon Tate (illness)

CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Achilles)
DE Carlos Dunlap (calf)

WR A.J. Green (illness)
TE Jermaine Gresham (toe)
DE Margus Hunt (ankle)
CB Terence Newman (ankle)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
CINCINNATI -- In their first practice of the week, the Cincinnati Bengals got tight end Jermaine Gresham back from a toe injury that forced him to miss last Sunday's game at Cleveland.

Gresham was in and out of practice last week after picking up the injury in one of the week's workouts. He tested out the toe before Sunday's game and, for the most part, looked pretty good. But he apparently didn't feel good enough.

He told coaches and trainers he was in too much pain and was thus declared inactive.

On Thursday, he not only was active, but he participated fully alongside defensive end Margus Hunt and cornerback Terence Newman. Hunt returned after missing four weeks with an ankle injury. He was injured in the Week 11 game at New Orleans and was quickly placed into a walking boot and crutches. Newman practiced after also being inactive last Sunday due to his own ankle injury.

Of concern Thursday was the absence of A.J. Green. The Pro Bowl receiver was sent home after the Bengals' morning walk-through because of an illness. It is believed he'll be OK to practice Friday, and his status for Monday night's game against the Denver Broncos isn't in doubt.

While there doesn't appear to be any issue with Green this week, the same can't be said just yet about linebacker Emmanuel Lamur and receiver James Wright. Neither practiced, but they did participate in rehab and conditioning exercises on the side of the practice fields. This was only the second time Wright has gone through rehab drills in the nearly three weeks he has missed with a knee injury. It's a promising sign that he could be activated this week if the Bengals are comfortable with the injury's progress.

Lamur hurt his hamstring in the second half of the 30-0 win over the Browns on Sunday.

Here is the complete Thursday injury report:

WR A.J. Green (illness)
LB Emmanuel Lamur (hamstring)
WR James Wright (knee)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)

CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Achilles)
DE Carlos Dunlap (calf)

DE Margus Hunt (ankle)
CB Terence Newman (ankle)
TE Jermaine Gresham (toe)
CINCINNATI -- It might ultimately wind up meaning very little by the end of the week, but Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham appeared on Thursday's injury report after being full-go Wednesday.

Listed with a toe injury, Gresham practiced in a limited capacity along with three other players. One of them, safety Shawn Williams, also popped up underneath the "limited" designation after working through the entire workout the day before.

It's unclear when Gresham might have hurt himself. There's no reason to believe the injury will prevent him from playing at Cleveland on Sunday, but if that does happen, the Bengals would suddenly find themselves in a tough spot at the position. Fellow tight ends Tyler Eifert and Alex Smith are on injured reserve, although Eifert does still hold a "to return" designation. He definitely won't be coming back this week, though, even if he does make it back into the rotation before the end of season.

So that leaves Kevin Brock and H-back Ryan Hewitt.

Again, there's no reason to believe the Bengals will be down to just those two players at tight end. But do keep that scenario in mind in the event Gresham isn't able to overcome his toe injury by Sunday.

While Gresham and Williams were downgraded, the Bengals had a couple of upgrades, too. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and offensive guard Mike Pollak worked out after being sidelined Wednesday. Pollak normally takes Wednesdays off. Kirkpatrick was out with a ribs injury that occurred last Sunday. He was limited Thursday.

Among the five players who didn't practice, Adam Jones and James Wright could be the ones to watch this weekend. Jones missed his second straight practice after suffering a chest injury in Sunday's 42-21 loss to Pittsburgh. Wright hasn't practiced in two weeks, since just before his three-catch, 59-yard performance in the 14-13 victory at Tampa Bay. He's still working through a knee injury.

Here is the complete Thursday injury report:

Did not practice
Limited practice participation
  • TE Jermaine Gresham (toe)
  • CB Dre Kirkpatrick (ribs)
  • CB Terence Newman (ankle)
  • S Shawn Williams (chest)
Full practice participation
  • OG Mike Pollak (knee)

PFF reviews Bengals' Week 14 loss

December, 9, 2014
Dec 9
CINCINNATI -- Before we move on from Sunday's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, let's take a peek at how Pro Football Focus graded the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14.

As always, take the grades with a certain grain of salt because they can end up being later amended. They can also sometimes be the byproduct of particular schemes or coverages or setups a team happens to play that week.

Here are a few Bengals grades and notes following the 42-21 loss:

  • Boling
    According to PFF, all of offensive tackle Clint Boling's 65 snaps against the Steelers came at the injury-depleted right tackle position. Boling made his first career start at the spot as the Bengals continue figuring out their path forward with Andre Smith done for the year with a triceps injury. Boling's best work came in the run, where he posted a plus-1.8 PFF grade. He also allowed just one quarterback hurry and a quarterback hit on his 42 pass protections.
  • With Boling blocking on the edge, Mike Pollak came off the bench and started at left guard. He was part of 54 snaps, and didn't allow a single pressure. At plus-2.7 and plus-2.2, respectively, Boling and Pollak had some of the highest overall grades for Bengals linemen.
  • Veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth also has been strong much of the season in pass protection. PFF's Nate Jahnke tweeted Tuesday Whitworth hasn't allowed a sack or a quarterback hit in his past 11 games. The lineman also has yielded just four quarterback hurries in that stretch. Per Jahnke, in Week 14 alone, 17 tackles across the league allowed four or more pressures.
  • Reserve receiver Brandon Tate's play-making opportunities grew exponentially Sunday with rookie James Wright out nursing a knee injury. Tate played 32 snaps after participating in just 29 on offense over the previous four weeks.
  • Quarterback Andy Dalton saw pressure on seven of his 32 dropbacks (21.9 percent), a figure that closely resembles what he has faced all season. PFF said he has a pressure percentage this season of 23.2 percent. By comparison, Atlanta's Matt Ryan has been pressured on 35.6 percent of his dropbacks, and Russell Wilson on 44.8 percent of his this season. He went 5-for-7 for 117 yards and two touchdowns on those plays.
  • Dalton's 75.9 percent accuracy percentage was eighth best among quarterbacks Sunday. Of his 29 passing attempts, 22 were on target. He had 21 completions and a dropped ball to Mohamed Sanu.
  • Per PFF, running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill did not force a missed tackle, and combined for only 15 yards after contact.
  • In the last four games, A.J. Green's receiving grade has been a plus-10.2. On Sunday, he received a plus-3.5 receiving grade for catching 11 of 15 targets for a career-high 224 yards and a touchdown, earning him a spot on PFF's Week 14 team of the week.
  • Rey

    Linebacker Vincent Rey wasn't very pleased with his afternoon, particularly the way he failed to fit into run gaps during the crucial fourth quarter. Still, there was no denying that he was everywhere, and had a good game statistically. Rey posted a plus-3.7 overall grade. He had nine run stops without missing a tackle, and had one quarterback pressure on his three rush attempts. He also defended a pass in coverage early in the game, and helped stop a key screen on third down. He finished with 15 tackles.
  • No Bengals lineman had a positive pass-rush grade.
  • Veteran cornerback Leon Hall also gave up two catches on four targets in coverage, including the 94-yard touchdown late to Martavis Bryant. Hall had a minus-1.1 coverage grade.
CINCINNATI -- Since Giovani Bernard returned two weeks ago from a series of injuries that held him out of three games, the Cincinnati Bengals have been trying to figure out how to balance he and rookie Jeremy Hill's production out of the backfield. It's safe to say, they are handling it on a week-by-week basis. The week Bernard returned, he had one touch more than Hill in a mostly balanced split of rushes and receptions. Last week at Tampa Bay, though, Hill outpaced Bernard in touches 17 to 11. Does it appear the Bengals are getting back this week to more of the 50-50 split? That's where we begin with Part 2 of this week's Bengals mailbag:

@ColeyHarvey: For now, that appears to be the case, Taylor, but it's hard to truly put a number or percentage on it. The Bengals have shown they will give touches each week to whichever back warrants it, and however they are slated to receive them. It depends a lot on the defensive scheme and which ways they can exploit it. This will be the first time in three weeks the Bengals have faced a 3-4 team. Past games in which both runners have been healthy have presented a bit of a mixed bag for the Bengals. They've run well against the 3-4 this year, and they've run poorly. With Bernard now back to a semblance of health, it's possible to believe he'll receive a few extra opportunities he hasn't had recently, but you never know. Hill also expects to have a big game.

@ColeyHarvey: Based on what coach Marvin Lewis said Friday when we asked about James Wright's knee issue, the Bengals don't anticipate him being out for long. He'll almost certainly miss Sunday's game, but perhaps he'll be back next week. The rookie doesn't appear to be in a sour mood about being injured. He also looks like he has been moving well in the time he has been around the team all week. But without feeling what he's going through, it's tough to truly say the severity of the injury. We can only state what is believed about it. As for Vontaze Burfict, the linebacker's return is still up in the air. For now, we have to believe that he comes back this regular season, but it doesn't appear a comeback is imminent. There appears to be more going on with his left knee than was apparent when he underwent simple arthroscopic surgery now six weeks ago.

@ColeyHarvey: Good question, Bengals UK. It appears the medical staff has slowed the spread of the illness, for now. I'm not sure if we can say the storm has passed completely, though. It is the time of year when illnesses like this bizarre 24-hour superbug can spread and attack with impunity. Since last Wednesday, at least seven players have spent time sidelined with it. Each who has spoken about it said it was one of the worst experiences they've had in their lives. Needless to say, let's hope the virus doesn't hit the press corps. At least one writer I know is not in the business of getting sick at this time.

@ColeyHarvey: I have a feeling I'm higher on him than others around the team may be, Thomas. It just seemed coaches were a little lukewarm on his most recent play. There wasn't much outward praise from them when asked about how he and other linemen performed in the win at Tampa Bay. Andrew Whitworth was singled out, as was Kevin Zeitler. Both are having two of the best seasons of their careers. Now, none of this means Clint Boling has been bad this year. He has plus-1.5 overall grade from Pro Football Focus this season, including four straight positive grades in the games before last Sunday's. Forced to play both left guard and right tackle, he had a minus-2.2 mark. Now that the Bengals have a new backup right tackle in Eric Winston, Boling only has to focus this week on one position. That could be big for him. 
CINCINNATI -- While broader long-term uncertainty looms about two of the Cincinnati Bengals' biggest stars, they have one other young player whose anticipated absence Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers comes just when he was beginning to peak.

Receiver James Wright, the rookie who was one of the heroes of last week's win at Tampa Bay, was tabbed as doubtful on the injury report released Friday afternoon.

Wright has a knee injury that has kept him out of practice all week. Coach Marvin Lewis doesn't think the injury is anything to be overly concerned about. It's one he believes Wright will return from soon. As for whether that return would be this weekend, Lewis, before the injury report was released, offered his patented "we'll see."

With Wright likely not playing, look for veteran Brandon Tate to resume his duties as the team's third receiver. Tate had been in that role early in the season before Wright began soaring in recent weeks. The seventh-round draft pick had the best game of his young career last week when he caught three passes for 59 yards. Each of them converted pivotal third downs, but none was more impressive than his catch along the Bengals' sideline with 2:37 to go. His leaping, 30-yard grab extended a key late Bengals drive and helped take time off the clock the Buccaneers needed on their ensuing possession.

After averaging 12.8 snaps in the first nine games he played this season, Wright was part of 39 snaps two weeks ago and played 22 last week.

Wright's absence could mean the Bengals place receiver Greg Little on the active gameday roster for the first time in four weeks. Dane Sanzenbacher also has a chance to be part of the active group after being on the fringe all season.

Long-term uncertainty remains for linebacker Vontaze Burfict and tight end Tyler Eifert. Neither will be playing this weekend. It still isn't clear when the pair will rejoin the team, or even if that will happen before the postseason begins.

Here's the Bengals' complete Friday injury report:

LB Jayson DiManche (forearm -- placed on IR earlier this week)
LB Vontaze Burfict (knee)

DE Margus Hunt (ankle)
WR James Wright (knee)

DT Domata Peko (elbow)

DE Robert Geathers (hip)
WR A.J. Green (thigh)
H-back Ryan Hewitt (illness)
OT Marshall Newhouse (hip)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
CB Adam Jones (concussion)
CINCINNATI -- After a physical stretch of three road games in as many weeks, the Cincinnati Bengals were without eight players when they practiced again Wednesday.

Another two, including Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green, were limited.

Cornerback and punt returner Adam Jones was among the missing, sidelined after being placed under concussion protocol following a pair of hard hits he took as a returner Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Head injuries rarely consistent as far as a standard recovery time, so there's no telling just yet how long he could be out, or if he'll be able to play this weekend when the Bengals host the Pittsburgh Steelers.

One player who it doesn't appear will be playing this week is linebacker Vontaze Burfict. The third-year defender has already missed the past five games because of a simple arthroscopic knee surgery he had to clear particles from the inside of his left knee. Typically, an athlete can get back to competition within three weeks of having that type of surgery. He's now going on Week 6 of not participating.

Burfict had been going through low-intensity agility and conditioning drills at practice the past two weeks, but he wasn't out there Wednesday. He also tried to work through a ladder drill before Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium, but didn't look comfortable. He also didn't look like someone able-bodied enough to play a 60-minute game this weekend.

Along with Jones and Burfict, the Bengals were without rookie H-back Ryan Hewitt, who had an illness. He's the seventh player in the last week to have fallen ill with a bug that has hopped around the locker room. Quarterback Andy Dalton had it Saturday night into Sunday, and offensive guard Kevin Zeitler had it Tuesday and Wednesday. Zeitler, who said he could barely move Tuesday because of how hard the illness hit him, practiced Wednesday.

"It's Pittsburgh week," he said, raspy voiced.

Defensive tackle Domata Peko didn't practice, but he still seems optimistic about playing later in the week. Swelling and soreness are the only real issues his hurt left elbow seem to be experiencing now. Peko said he was hurt on the second play of Sunday's game, although he ended up taking 13 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

As the week progresses, it will be interesting to track the progress of Green and fellow receiver James Wright. Both could be critical to the Bengals' passing plans as they welcome in a team that ranks 16th in passing defense.

Here's the Bengals' full Wednesday injury report:

LB Jayson DiManche (forearm -- on injured reserve)

CB Adam Jones (concussion)
LB Vontaze Burfict (knee)
DE Robert Geathers (hip)
DE Margus Hunt (ankle)
H-back Ryan Hewitt (illness)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
DT Domata Peko (elbow)
WR James Wright (knee)

WR A.J. Green (thigh)
OT Marshall Newhouse (hip)

PFF reviews Bengals' Week 13 win

December, 2, 2014
Dec 2
CINCINNATI -- Before we move on from Sunday's win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, let's take a peek at how Pro Football Focus graded the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 13.

As always, take the grades with a certain grain of salt because they can end up being later amended. They can also sometimes be the byproduct of particular schemes or coverages or setups a team happens to play that week.

Here are a few Bengals grades and notes following the 14-13 win:

  • Britt
    It seemed clear when watching the game live that left tackle Andrew Whitworth was playing the best game of anybody on the Bengals' offensive line. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson confirmed as much Monday, going so far as saying it was Whitworth's finest performance of the season. Per PFF, Whitworth didn't allow a single quarterback pressure and controlled the left edge in the running game. He was awarded a season-high plus-4.4 run-block grade from PFF and also recorded a plus-5.6 overall score.
  • Alternatively, PFF noted struggles for rookie center Russell Bodine. He wasn't able to sustain blocks against the run, and he yielded two quarterback hurries.
  • While rookie receiver James Wright may have had his best game as a Bengal Sunday (something it seems keeps getting written each week as he continues performing better and better), he saw a dramatically reduced role from a snap standpoint than he had the game before. After playing a season-high 43 snaps at Houston last week, Wright was part of just 25 snaps at Tampa Bay.
  • Quarterback Andy Dalton hasn't taken much pressure throughout the season, but he felt it fairly often against the Buccaneers. He had pressure on 12 (or 40 percent) of his 30 dropbacks, per PFF. Most of it came from standard four-man rushes. The Bucs copied the formula most teams have and barely blitzed Dalton, only sending four. He's been reasonably sharp against the blitz at times this season. On the 12 pressure plays, Dalton went 4-for-10 for 38 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
  • After averaging 1.88 seconds from snap to release last week, the ill Dalton took much more time Sunday. Before he threw, 2.47 seconds went by on average.
  • All 15 of his completions traveled nine yards in the air or less. Each of his three interceptions came on throws that traveled longer.
  • Tight end Jermaine Gresham has only allowed one pressure on 85 pass-block snaps, according to PFF. That's good for a pass-blocking efficiency rating of 99.1. That ranks fifth among qualifying tight ends.
  • Newman
    Once again, there aren't many defensive notes to highlight from PFF. A large part of that is the result of continued consistent play from all three levels of the unit. For a third straight week, the defense held an offense to 75 yards rushing or less. This comes on the heels of seven straight games in which the defense allowed teams to have better than 100-yard rushing performances.
  • Cincinnati's secondary was particularly strong overall this week, with Adam Jones, George Iloka, Reggie Nelson, Terence Newman and Leon Hall receiving positive coverage grades. Newman may have had the lowest coverage grade, but he also came away with an interception.
  • Run support was another area in which the secondary played well. Hall, Iloka and Nelson had seven run stops between them.
  • Defensive tackle Geno Atkins had four quarterback pressures (two hurries, a hit and one sack), according to PFF.
  • Iloka continues having a strong season from an advanced statistics standpoint. PFF says he leads all qualifying safeties in cover snaps per reception. He's only allowed eight catches this season on 480 cover snaps.

PFF reviews Bengals' Week 12 win

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
CINCINNATI -- Before we move on from Sunday's win over the Houston Texans, let's take a peek at how Pro Football Focus graded the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 12.

As always, take the grades with a certain grain of salt because they can end up being later amended. They can also sometimes be the byproduct of particular schemes or coverages or set ups a team happens to play that week.

Here are a few Bengals grades and notes following the 22-13 win:

  • It certainly wasn't pretty, but right offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse's protection for quarterback Andy Dalton was just good enough on the 73 plays when he was thrust into the fray by an unexpected injury to starter Andre Smith. He didn't allow possible league MVP J.J. Watt to sack the quarterback, and held his own in other quarterback pressure situations.
  • Still, as expected, the grades weren't kind to Newhouse. They have been worse, but they certainly could have been better, and he knows the reasons why. According to PFF, he allowed a quarterback hit and hurry, en route to a minus-2.9 pass block grade. While he was only beaten on two pressures, Newhouse still was turned around a lot by Watt, beaten on a handful of other plays that turned out favorably for the Bengals because Dalton got the ball out quickly.
  • Dalton had a quick trigger, taking the ball from snap to release in an average 1.88 seconds, per PFF. That was the best among quarterbacks in Week 12 entering Monday night's game. Slants and screens were among the shorter routes the Bengals employed to make sure he got it out before Watt could get his hand up and swat the ball away. That also was the tactic employed to help lessen the amount of time Newhouse had to hold his blocks.
  • Per PFF, receiver James Wright saw a season-high 43 snaps. He didn't catch a pass, although he was targeted twice.
  • Houston blitzed on 18 of Dalton's dropbacks. On them, he was 10-for-17 for 102 yards and the infamous pick-6 that occurred with a lineman actually set up in the neutral zone (officials didn't see it) and the house being sent. Dalton also scrambled once.
  • Of his 35 passing attempts, Dalton didn't throw a single pass 20 or more yards in the air. Twenty-five of them traveled within nine yards of the line of scrimmage.
  • Of the combined 132 rushing yards backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill combined for, 72 (54.4 percent) came after contact.
  • Early in the season, Wallace Gilberry was the defensive end getting the most recognition. Now it's Carlos Dunlap who is. The lineman ended up with a plus-4.3 grade, creating pressures on five of his 43 pass rushes. One of those was a sack. He also had four tackles against the run. As a result of his play, PFF named Dunlap an honorable mention selection to this week's Team of the Week.
  • Geno Atkins continues to start gaining traction in the pass rush. He has 28 total pressures on 329 pass rush snaps this season. His 6.5 pass rushing productivity rating (one of PFF's signature stats) ranks 13th among defensive tackles.

Bengal Morning Takes: Heading home

November, 12, 2014
Nov 12
CINCINNATI -- When Jeremy Hill was in high school, his dream was to play inside the Superdome in New Orleans.

Every year, the Louisiana high school football state championships were held there. Hill's Redemptorist High School never made it.

The dream ended there.

Sunday afternoon, the Cincinnati Bengals rookie will get a chance to walk through the massive stadium's tunnels for the first time as the Bengals meet the New Orleans Saints. He wouldn't call it a dream come true, though. Once his high school days were over, he didn't have much use for the Saints and their venue unless they had drafted him.

"I was more a fan of players ... I never liked too many [professional] teams," Hill said of his adolescent self. "I'm from Baton Rouge, so I've been more of an LSU fan my whole life. Being able to play for them was kind of my dream come true."

He isn't the only Bengal and former LSU Tiger who will be having a homecoming this week. Pro Bowl offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth and rookie receiver James Wright will be making the trek back to their native state, too. Practice squad defensive lineman Sam Montgomery isn't a native Louisianan, but he also went to LSU.

"They won't be rooting for us, but I will have a lot of people down there," said Whitworth, a Monroe, Louisiana, native.

Can heading back home give a player an extra jolt?

Most weeks the answer probably would be a lukewarm "maybe." But this week, there are reasons to believe the three Bengals who will play this weekend will be carrying just a little more than normal onto the field with them. After all, they each are trying to turn the Bengals' season back around after an awful offensive performance in last week's 24-3 loss in prime time to the Browns. They also are at the beginning of a three-game road trip that could be their toughest stretch of games this season.

Then there's the fact they'll be on the visiting team against one of the most energized crowds in all of sports.

"That place, it's a wild game every time you go there," Whitworth said. "They've hosted a lot of big football games, and the energy there will always be huge. So it will be a heck of a challenge this week to go in and win."

As Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis told the New Orleans Times-Picayune earlier this week: "We know we're a good team. We're 4-5, but we're a scary 4-5."

Part of what makes the Saints so scary, even in the meek NFC South, is the fact that they have one of the best home environments in the league. All but one of their wins this season have come at the Superdome, and all of their losses have come on the road.

"It will be a great opportunity for us to go in and kind of do the same thing that just happened to us," Whitworth said, referring to Thursday's loss at Paul Brown Stadium that halted a 14-game, regular-season undefeated streak at home. "It's a chance to kind of pay it forward a little bit. That's kind of going to be on our minds. It'll be a heck of a challenge, but a great opportunity to step up and win."
CINCINNATI -- Dre Kirkpatrick was laughing when he said it, but he was serious.

If the Cincinnati Bengals are no longer in the Super Bowl hunt in late January, he wants to make the Pro Bowl as a special teamer.

"Y'all got to get me in there," Kirkpatrick said earlier this week, half-joking with reporters. "Ramp this thing up."

It wasn't the first time he mentioned the end-of-season all-star game, and it probably won't be the last, especially if he continues playing the way he has on the Bengals' punt coverage team. As one of the team's star gunners, he has helped punter Kevin Huber lead the NFL in net punting average by getting downfield quickly enough to record tackles deep in opposing territory, and down Huber's kicks as close to the goal line as possible.

In addition to leading the league with his 44.1-yard net punting average, Huber also has the highest percentage of punts to get downed inside the 10- and 5-yard lines. Kirkpatrick has downed the many of them. So have Darqueze Dennard, Cedric Peerman and James Wright, other key contributors to the Bengals' punt coverage team.

"He's playing fast," Huber said of Kirkpatrick. "He's hitting his stride right now where he's getting out quick, making a good move off the line. He's naturally fast. He's got the ability once he gets a step on a guy that they have no chance to get him.

"He's taking pride in his special teams play. He's taken that to heart and put everything he can into it."

Kirkpatrick admitted last week to fighting frustrations related to being relegated to the bottom of the Bengals' depth chart at cornerback. Three veterans are playing ahead of him, and he's splitting time with the rookie Dennard in a backup capacity. Despite those frustrations, though, he has realized his best chance of getting on the field is to continue performing well on special teams.

"That's his role on our team right now," special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons said. "Until he's told differently, that's his contribution to our team."

Huber, who claimed punter of the week honors Tuesday from ESPN Stats & Information's Mark Simon for a third time, credited Kirkpatrick and the other gunners for helping erase some of his mistakes this season.

"My punt team is bailing me out," Huber said. "I've got faith in the gunners that they are going to get down there and make plays. You can be a little bit more aggressive when you have that. At the same time, you don't want to be overly aggressive and pipe the ball as far down the field as you can and not even give them a chance. You still have to give them the opportunity to get down the field and get in position."

Huber has been doing that so far, and it's worked out quite well for Cincinnati. But time will tell if Kirkpatrick does enough to make it to Arizona for the Pro Bowl.

"It's a passion. You're fighting for your brothers," Kirkpatrick said of his punt-team duties. "They're out there going hard so I feel like it's my job to go out there and go hard. Because of that, I feel like I'm one of the best gunners in the league."

W2W4: Panthers vs. Bengals

October, 11, 2014
Oct 11
CINCINNATI -- Three storylines to watch Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals host the Carolina Panthers at Paul Brown Stadium:

Replacing Green: It has been the biggest issue involving the Bengals this week, and with good reason. Once A.J. Green left the practice field early Wednesday because of an aggravation of an old toe injury, it became clear he probably would be absent Sunday. His teammates are now charged with trying to account for him not being on the field. Who will be the one who rises up and becomes big playmaking star? The Bengals spent the offseason lauding themselves for the high volume of playmakers in their system. But with Green joining tight end Tyler Eifert and receiver Marvin Jones on the shelf, the number of key skill players has been greatly diminished. Watch for running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill and receiver Mohamed Sanu to be the biggest difference-makers.

Defending the run: The Bengals' rushing defense last week could best be summed with the following word: "atrocious." Indeed, there have been better days for the unit. New England rushed for 220 yards, including 112 of those yards on six plays. The other 108 came on another 40 carries. While the Bengals were mostly good against the run, they had some glaring missed tackles and a few misfits as they slipped into incorrect gaps for run support. It was primarily on those six plays in which the missed tackles and poor gap support and gap angles were the most costly.

Part of the issue stemmed from "Will" linebacker Vontaze Burfict being out with a concussion. In his place, Emmanuel Lamur was charged with calling plays for only the second time in his career. With the Patriots quick-snapping Lamur and the rest of the defense, the Bengals barely had time to get plays set before the Patriots were running. With Burfict back this week, the Bengals ought to get their calls in more efficiently and smoother this week, even if the Panthers quick-snap them. Burfict knows the defense a little better and can anticipate plays slightly better than Lamur. If the rush defense improves, you can thank Burfict for some of that.

Keep an eye on punts: In the event Sunday's game is close, it could be decided by special-teams play. So keep an eye on two of the Bengals' special-teams units in particular. When it comes to punt coverage, Cincinnati has been one of the best, routinely pinning opposing return teams deep. According to ESPN Stats & Information, punter Kevin Huber leads the NFL in percentage of punts inside the 10 and inside the 5. A whopping 25 percent of his punts (that's four of his 16 total) have been stopped inside the 5-yard line. At one point across the second and third games of the year, he had three consecutive punts that were downed on the opposing 4, 1 and 2. While you have to credit Huber for some of that, also tip a cap to his coverage team, including gunners Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick in particular has consistently stopped returners as soon as they touch the ball.

With respect to the Bengals' punt return unit, chew on this stat: Returner Adam Jones hasn't had a fair catch since Nov. 2006, when he was at Tennessee. He's returned 82 straight punts without waving for a fair catch, meaning he'll be looking to take one back Sunday.
CINCINNATI -- The top storyline involving the Cincinnati Bengals this week has revolved around Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green and the injured right toe that has been a cause of concern for him since Wednesday.

So it's only right to wonder about what's next for the Bengals.

That's precisely where we begin as we open up this week's mailbag. Now that sources are telling our Bob Holtzman that Green is out for Sunday's game against Carolina, where do the Bengals turn? Who steps up in his place?

@ColeyHarvey: Yes, Duncan, Mohamed Sanu is one passing option the Bengals will have with Green sidelined following the aggravation earlier this week of an injury that appears to be similar to turf toe. Coach Marvin Lewis said earlier this week that it's "a little more than" turf toe. It's possible Green won't just miss this game, either, but the obvious hope is that he'll be healthy enough to play in subsequent weeks, beginning next Sunday at Indianapolis.

In addition to Sanu, who is tied for the team lead in receptions and is Cincinnati's most targeted receiver, the Bengals also could get a jolt this weekend from running back Giovani Bernard, among others. I've written about both players this week, but I do see them doing an adequate job in shouldering the load in Green's place. Sanu ought to, simply because he's been playing lights-out since training camp. Bernard should because the Bengals are facing a poor rush defense. The last time the Bengals had to replace Green (Week 2 vs. Atlanta), Bernard was their most targeted receiver. In addition to picking up more than 70 yards in the passing game, he also rushed for 90.

Oh, and on Gresham, he's not done in any sense of the word this season, particularly because of the injury hits the Bengals have taken to their tight end group this year. Still, you have to imagine that internally patience is wearing thin as Gresham continues to have problems catching passes, finishing routes and proving his quarterbacks can trust him.

@ColeyHarvey: Anyone who has been following along with me since minicamp and organized team activities knows I'm a James Wright fan. He has been an attention-getting player ever since arriving in Cincinnati in May as a rookie. The seventh-round pick was overlooked by many because he didn't catch a pass last year despite being listed as a receiver. The main reason he didn't have a catch his final year at LSU was because he wasn't a fixture of the offense at the time, and the Tigers had other plans that namely involved getting the ball anyway they could into the hands of running back Jeremy Hill. Selected five rounds before Wright, Hill was another one of Cincinnati's draft picks in May.

What impresses me most about Wright is his consistency. It seemed like he very seldom dropped balls in OTAs and the preseason. He also wasn't overly flashy, but could go up and get a tough-to-catch ball, too. He was drafted primarily for his special-teams prowess but Wright certainly has shown he has what it takes to be a regular contributor in time. Teammates and coaches alike have said that based on what they've seen in practice, he's another player who has a chance to fill Green's shoes Sunday.

@ColeyHarvey: I do foresee the aforementioned Jeremy Hill getting his share of touches this week. Again, the Panthers have a poor rushing defense, and the Bengals didn't have a chance to move the ball on the ground as much as they would have liked last weekend after getting behind so early to New England. Hill had just two carries last week. As he said to myself and another reporter earlier this week, he feels fresh. Given Carolina's run woes and Green's absence, it only makes sense for Cincinnati to make its backs key parts of this week's offense.

@ColeyHarvey: Honestly, it's tough to say intelligently. The Bengals have suddenly turned into Fort Knox when it comes to his injury. No secrets are getting out with respect to what has been ailing him. All we know is that Marvin Jones tweaked an ankle at practice last week, two practices after returning from a broken foot. Ankle injuries don't always heal quickly. And in this case, once it does heal, Jones still will need to undergo a period of time where he'll be able to get some conditioning in, mainly because he hasn't hardly worked out with the team all year. Cincinnati might be lucky to get him back next week at Indianapolis, but I'd doubt that happens. Start focusing on the weeks that follow, Austin.

@ColeyHarvey: Good question, wanderer. I'll answer by saying that practice-squad players are treated much like other players on the team when it comes to practice. They're out there for every one of them and go through the same drills. Sometimes, they are the practice dummies for certain drills, asked to feign a blocker on offense or a defender as offensive players try to get an idea of what gaps are present for them to run through. It all depends upon the player's responsibilities and what position he plays, but they are full-go in practice as well. You'll typically see very little standing around from them.