Cincinnati Bengals: matthew stafford

Now that the Cincinnati Bengals' season has ended, and coaching changes have kicked off the unofficial start to the offseason, we're counting down the 10 plays that helped shape the Bengals' 11-5, AFC North championship year.

Big plays, particularly those from Cincinnati's defense, and explosive ones from the likes of Giovani Bernard, were critical to the way 2013 played out.

As is the case with most top 10 lists, determining these plays was completely subjective. They could be placed in virtually any slot among these 10, or not among them at all. Some certainly won't make the cut that many believe should. It's the nature of lists. Somewhere a cut-off has to come. Anyway, let's get to it, starting off with No. 10:

[+] EnlargeStafford/Nelson
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesReggie Nelson's rush of Matthew Stafford set in place a series of events that helped the Bengals top the Lions.
NELSON BLITZES STAFFORD

When: Oct. 20, 2013

Where: Ford Field, where the Bengals beat the Detroit Lions, 27-24.

What happened: Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer called for a third-and-4 safety blitz that put Reggie Nelson in position to pull off the momentum-turning play of the game. Before the play started, there were 40 seconds left in regulation with the score tied at 24. Cincinnati was coming off an overtime win at Buffalo the week before and wasn't looking to head to another extra period if it could help it.

As Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was making his final line checks, he was confronted by a seven-man Bengals box that looked set on sending the full arsenal toward him. Six ended up rushing, with Nelson coming off the blind-side edge, untouched. Once Stafford felt the pressure, it was too late. He rolled right and threw an incomplete pass to the turf to avoid taking a sack deep in his own territory. The incompletion came in part to Nelson's ability to hook his right arm around Stafford's throwing arm as he tried to deliver the pass.

Five seconds later, Lions punter Sam Martin shanked a 28-yard punt into his sideline to set up positive field position for Andy Dalton and the Bengals' offense. Four plays and 15 yards later, Bengals kicker Mike Nugent was called upon to bury his second game-winning field goal in as many weeks. This time, with the seconds expiring, Nugent slammed through a 45-yard field goal that gave Cincinnati its fifth win of the season. The Bengals were 5-2.

What they said about it: Nugent: "I love how confident everyone always is. Nobody freaks out [when tied or losing]. It all begins with [coach Marvin Lewis] because he and his staff don't get too high or too low."

Nelson: "That's just poise. We always preach poise. And we did a good job of that. We just have to keep on grinding."

Martin: "I thought they were going to try blocking the punt and I rushed myself. I was trying to put the ball on the sideline and keep it away from the returner, and I pulled it."

Defensive end Carlos Dunlap: "It means we're growing up. We're going to need this win right here down the road when we play a few other good teams on the road. Teams like this help build our confidence and make us grow up. We had a young football team last year and now we're older."

How the Bengals' season was impacted: It was clear that win gave the Bengals a jolt of confidence as they headed into their eighth game of the season at home against the Jets the following week. By winning back-to-back games in dramatic fashion on the road to a pair of teams that had snatched a few big wins of their own that early in the season, the Bengals felt some sense of validation. Like Dunlap said, they really had grown up.

After shutting down the Jets 49-9 in the next game, the Bengals were riding high at 6-2, and in the middle of a four-game winning streak that was ultimately halted on the road in a Week 9 Thursday night thriller at Miami. In the preseason, Lewis compartmentalized the season. He felt if his team could win all of its home games and take a few tough early road games like the ones at Buffalo and Detroit, it had a chance to be pretty good. The Bengals went 8-0 at home all year and were 2-2 on the road during the first half of the season.

Bengals at Lions: Numbers Watch

October, 19, 2013
10/19/13
8:00
AM ET
CINCINNATI -- Among the many matchups to watch Sunday afternoon when the Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions meet at Ford Field will be the battle between the offensive lines.

The Bengals and Lions feature two of the NFL's premier pass-blocking units, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Both also are going against two of the best defensive lines in the league, as well. So will Cincinnati's 84.5 pass-blocking efficiency rating slip because of the Lions' intense, physical pass rush? Or will Detroit's own 83.1 pass-blocking efficiency rating take a hit because of the push that the Bengals' linemen will get?

Again, that's one matchup you'll want to pay close attention to.

There are several other items that deserve your focus, too, this weekend. Here are a few of them, as we take a deeper look at a few other numbers from both sides ahead of the ballgame:

5: The magical number both the Bengals and Lions are hoping to obtain this weekend. With mirrored 4-2 records, both are seeking their fifth win of the season.

20: Consecutive regular season games the Bengals have gone without allowing an opposing offense to have a 300-yard passing game. That's the longest active streak in the NFL. Including last year's playoff loss at Houston, that number increases to 21.

19: Number of 300-yard passing games Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford has since he joined the league in 2009. He has two already this season.

1: Number of times during his career that Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has thrown for three touchdowns in back-to-back games. He last did it during Weeks 2 and 3 of last season. In last week's win at Buffalo, he threw for three touchdowns for the first time since Week 12 against the Raiders.

205: Plays the Bengals have run with rookie running back Giovani Bernard on the field.

203: Plays the Bengals have run without Bernard on the field.

5.9: Yards per play the Bengals are averaging when Bernard is on the field.

4.4: Yards per play the Bengals are averaging when Bernard isn't on the field.

4.3: Yards per rush the Bengals are averaging when Bernard is on the field.

3.2: Yards per rush the Bengals are averaging when Bernard isn't on the field.

24.5: Sacks for Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins since the start of the 2010 season. No other interior lineman in the league has had that many sacks in that time.

21.5: Sacks for Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh since the start of the 2010 season. He ranks second on that list only to Atkins.

23: Times Lions receiver Calvin Johnson has been targeted in the end zone the last two seasons. He's caught four of those passes.

30: Times Bengals receiver A.J. Green has been targeted in the end zone the last two seasons. He's caught 10 of those passes.

1: Johnson's ranking among NFL receivers who have been part of 30-yard-plus plays since 2011.

2: Green's ranking among NFL receivers who have been part of 30-yard-plus plays since 2011.

67: Percentage of end zone targets Lions tight end Joseph Fauria has caught this season. He's 4-for-6 on balls thrown his way in the end zone this year. Johnson is only 2-for-8 with a dropped ball. Last year, Johnson was 2-for-15 on those opportunities.

68.0: QBR for quarterbacks who faced the Lions' defense last season.

38.7: QBR for quarterbacks who have faced the Lions' defense this season. That's good enough for fourth-best in the league this year.

7.41: Yards per passing attempt for Stafford, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

7.22: Yards per passing attempt for Dalton, according to PFF.com.

4.0: Average yards after catch attempt for Stafford, according to PFF.com.

3.9: Average yards after catch attempt for Dalton, according to PFF.com.

2.21: Average number of seconds it takes for Stafford to get the football out of his hand and into his receivers' hands. That pass release time is the fastest in the NFL, PFF.com says.

2.31: Average number of seconds it takes for Dalton to get the football out of his hand and into his receivers' hands. That pass release time is the third-fastest in the NFL, per PFF.com.

Information from ESPN's Stats & Info was used in this report. Follow on Twitter @ESPNStatsInfo.
CINCINNATI -- It all started with a Bulldog and continued with a Yellow Jacket.

During the summer of 2011, NFL players were unable to work out at team facilities and played the lockout waiting game unsure of what their immediate futures held. Meanwhile, two of the league's best young receivers teamed up in a familiar state down south to keep in shape.

[+] EnlargeA.J. Green
AP Photo/Tony DejakA.J. Green has followed in the steps of his Sunday counterpart Calvin Johnson, although Green's path seems to be more accelerated.
A.J. Green, the Cincinnati Bengals' first-year wideout who starred at the University of Georgia, was in Atlanta. So was his former Georgia teammate, Mohamed Massaquoi.

"Mohamed Massaquoi was working [at Georgia Tech]," Green said. "So I went out for a couple days and met him."

Green, just a wide-eyed rookie awaiting his first snaps as an NFL receiver then, also met Calvin Johnson, the Detroit Lions' large and beloved pass-catcher nicknamed the apropos "Megatron." A former Georgia Tech standout, Johnson was back in the city, too, training at the institute where his birth name and nickname first became synonymous with the freakish circus catch.

Deep in Dixie, where college football passions run as thick and deep as Georgia red clay after mid-afternoon summertime rainshowers, a pair of supposed rivals came together for a cause league coaches like the Bengals' Marvin Lewis now praises.

"Calvin has been a great mentor to A.J., and they've been very close," Lewis said earlier this week. "It's been great the way Calvin carries himself as a pro and as a man. It's very similar to A.J."

For just the second time since their now clockwork offseason tag-team regimens began, Johnson and Green will be facing off Sunday at Detroit's Ford Field. Unlike that time, though, the pair will be playing for more than just a few preseason reps. Both will be trying to help their respective team one-up the other's in a midseason game that could have all kinds of postseason implications.

Detroit enters the contest 4-2. Cincinnati is also 4-2.

Something will have to give.

Lately, it has been Johnson's knee and hands that have given in a bit. Three weeks ago, he missed the Lions' game at Green Bay because of a knee injury. Last week, he came back and played through it but wasn't effective, catching just three passes for 25 yards. He also had two drops.

Overall, Johnson has 24 receptions for 337 yards and four touchdowns this season.

Green, who has been targeted 22 more times than Johnson, has 37 catches for 464 yards and four scores. He comes into the the game one catch shy of 200 for his career. In his third season, Green is about to play in his 38th game. It took Johnson 47 games to reach his 200-catch milestone.

"He had an outstanding first couple of years," Johnson said. "I'm about to tell him, you've got to come over, come take the reins over."

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson
AP Photo/Darryl WebbCalvin Johnson has come to enjoy his workout sessions with A.J. Green -- despite he fact that the receivers attended rival schools in Georgia.
From the time his career began in 2007, Johnson has been widely regarded as the best player at his position. His combination of imposing size, raw strength and lightning-quick speed make him seemingly unstoppable. Most passes thrown within a 10-yard radius of him are caught. When they are, he seldom goes down right away. Typically it takes multiple defenders to slow down his yard-after-catch pickups.

Asked if he believed Johnson was the No. 1 receiver in the NFL, Green didn't hesitate with his response.

"I think so," he said. "He can do everything. He can go get the ball, run any routes, take a screen 80 yards for a touchdown."

Come to think of it. That kind of sounds like Green describing Green. He, too, catches most balls thrown his way, even if they require one-hand snags or acrobatic grabs. One of his best plays last week came on a screen that he turned into a big gain. After catching a quick pass at the line, he sprinted 54 yards by following his blockers.

So could Green and Johnson safely be considered the same guy?

"Both of them don't have to be open for a quarterback to throw the ball to them," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "They are tall with great hands and leaping ability. ... Both have the quarterback's confidence that if they are covered, they can get it to them."

About the only thing that separates them is their size. Johnson is about an inch taller and 30 pounds heavier. He also is older, having left Georgia Tech one year before Green left South Carolina to begin his college career at Georgia. When he arrived, his quarterback was a senior from Texas: Matthew Stafford. That, of course, is the same Matthew Stafford who completes passes to Johnson in Detroit now.

When it comes to Johnson's and Green's offseason workouts, as much mental work goes into them as physical.

"We get a good workout there, whether it be on the field, in the weight room, wherever we're at," Johnson said. "Even if we're just sitting there talking, it's just to understand his mindset.

"We're so cool right now, it's just like a [having] brother, you know?"

In the Peach State, it's an unlikely brotherhood: one a Bulldog, one a Yellow Jacket.

ESPN NFL Nation reporter Michael Rothstein contributed to this report.
CINCINNATI -- It all started with a Bulldog, and continued with a Yellow Jacket.

During the summer of 2011, while NFL players unable to workout at team facilities and unsure what their immediate futures held had to sit at home and play the lockout waiting game, two of the league's best young receivers teamed up in a familiar state down south to keep in shape.

That summer, A.J. Green, the Cincinnati Bengals' first-year wideout who once starred at the University of Georgia, was in Atlanta. So was his former Georgia teammate, Mohamed Massaquoi.

"Mohamed Massaquoi was working [at Georgia Tech]," Green said. "So I went out for a couple days and met him."

Green, just a wide-eyed rookie awaiting his first snaps as an NFL receiver back then, also ended up meeting Calvin Johnson, the Detroit Lions' large and beloved pass-catcher nicknamed the apropos "Megatron." A former Georgia Tech standout, Johnson was back in the city, too, training at the institute where his birth name and nickname first became synonymous with the freakish, circus catch.

Deep in Dixie, where college football passions run as thick and deep as Georgia red clay after mid-afternoon summertime rainshowers, a pair of supposed rivals came together for a cause league coaches like the Bengals' Marvin Lewis now praises.

"Calvin has been a great mentor to A.J., and they've been very close," Lewis said earlier this week. "It's been great the way Calvin carries himself as a pro and as a man. It's very similar to A.J."

This Sunday, for just the second time since their now clockwork offseason tag-team regimens began, Johnson and Green will be facing off at Detroit's Ford Field. Unlike that time, though, the pair will actually be playing for more than just a few preseason reps. Both players will be trying to help their respective team one-up the other's in a midseason game that could have all kinds of postseason implications.

Detroit enters the contest 4-2.

Cincinnati enters the contest 4-2.

Something will have to give.

Lately, it has been Johnson's knee and hands that have given in a bit. Three weeks ago, he missed the Lions' game at Green Bay because of a knee injury. Last week, he came back and played through it, but wasn't very effective, catching just three passes for 25 yards. He also had two drops.

Overall, Johnson has 24 receptions for 337 yards and four touchdowns this season.

Green, who has been targeted 22 more times than Johnson, has 37 catches for 464 yards and four scores. He comes into the the game one catch shy of 200 for his career. Now in his third season, he's about to play in his 38th game. It took Johnson 47 games to reach his 200-catch milestone.

"He had an outstanding first couple of years," Johnson said. "I'm about to tell him, you've got to come over, come take the reins over."

From the time his career began in 2007, Johnson has been widely regarded as the best player at his position. His combination of imposing size, raw strength and lightning-quick speed make him seemingly unstoppable. Most passes thrown within a 10-yard radius of him get caught. And when they do, he very seldom goes down right away. Typically it takes multiple defenders to slow down his yard-after-catch pickups.

Asked if he believed Johnson was the No. 1 receiver in the NFL, Green didn't hesitate with his response.

"I think so," he said. "He can do everything. He can go get the ball, run any routes, take a screen 80 yards for a touchdown."

Come to think of it. That kind of sounds like Green describing Green. He, too, catches most balls thrown his way, even if they require one-hand snags or acrobatic grabs. One of his best plays last week came on a screen that he turned into a big gain. After catching a quick pass at the line, he sprinted 54 yards by following his blockers.

So, could Green and Johnson safely be considered the same guy?

"Both of them don't have to be open for a quarterback to throw the ball to them," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "They are tall with great hands and leaping ability. ... Both have the quarterback's confidence that if they are covered, they can get it to them."

About the only thing that separates them is their size. Johnson is about an inch taller and 30 pounds heavier. He also is older, having left Georgia Tech one year before Green left South Carolina to begin his college career at Georgia. When he arrived, his quarterback was a senior from Texas: Matthew Stafford. That, of course, is the same Matthew Stafford who completes passes to Johnson in Detroit now.

When it comes to Johnson and Green's offseason workouts, as much mental work goes into them as physical.

"We get a good workout there, whether it be on the field, in the weight room, wherever we're at," Johnson said. "Even if we're just sitting there talking, it's just to understand his mindset.

"We're so cool right now, it's just like a [having] brother, you know?"

In the Peach State, it's an unlikely brotherhood: a Bulldog, one a Yellow Jacket.

ESPN NFL Nation reporter Michael Rothstein contributed to this report.

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