Cincinnati Bengals: Thomas Howard

Morning Stripes: Johnson the deflector

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
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Michael Johnson's two long limbs are among the many reasons the Cincinnati Bengals have seven wins and hold a 2 1/2-game lead over the rest of the AFC North.

If it weren't for the 6-foot-7 defensive end's lengthy arms -- particularly his left one -- and his large hands, the Bengals may not have beat the Green Bay Packers. A comeback against the Cleveland Browns, likewise, may not have been possible.

In those games, Johnson got his hands up just when he saw Aaron Rodgers' and Jason Campbell's eyes drifting to the left as they looked to complete a pass. He got his hands on passes three times in those games.

"That's why it looks like that," Johnson said earlier this week, showing reporters his swollen and bruised left hand.

Against the Packers in Week 3, Johnson's pass breakup on fourth down fell to the turf, officially ending a Green Bay comeback bid in the closing minute. Cincinnati held on for a 34-30 win. Against the Browns last weekend, one first-quarter Johnson pass deflection near the goal line saved a would-be touchdown. Campbell was throwing to a receiver who had gotten completely open. Instead, the third-down breakup forced a field goal. Later in the quarter, another ball Johnson finger-tipped fluttered into linebacker James Harrison's hands, giving the Bengals an interception and turnover deep in Cleveland territory. After scoring on the ensuing drive, Cincinnati turned a 13-0 deficit into a 31-13 lead by halftime.

Johnson has six pass breakups in all this season, tied with Philadelphia's Connor Barwin for the league lead. As we kick off this Friday edition of the Morning Stripes, we look a little deeper at what makes Johnson so good at disrupting passing lanes with his long arms:
  • Specifically, we turn to Joe Kay of the Associated Press, who has this story on Johnson's pass-disrupting capabilities. You'll notice in Kay's story that STATS LLC has credited Johnson with five pass breakups. ESPN Stats & Info has him with six, tied for the league lead. So, that's what we'll go with. The Bengals' linemen practice high hands drills each day in practice, simulating coming off a low defender and getting their hands up as quickly as possible to knock down a ball a coach puts into the air. While at Georgia Tech, Johnson said he practiced his pass deflections while fending off even lower cut blocks. His last season was the year coach Paul Johnson first arrived with his triple-option offense that primarily calls on offensive linemen to dive low and cut block defenders. The defense practiced regularly against that offense.
  • We wrote about Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga on the blog Thursday, as well, but here's a look at him from Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson. Maualuga is set to rejoin the team next week when it plays at San Diego. He wasn't with the club the last four weeks as he recovered from an MCL sprain suffered at the end of the second quarter in Cincinnati's 49-9 win over the New York Jets. In an effort to be in peak condition by the time the game arrives, Maualuga declined to go home to California during this week's bye. Instead, he has stayed in Cincinnati, working on rehabbing his knee. When he comes back, the Bengals will be awfully deep at middle linebacker now that Vincent Rey has come along and performed well in Maualuga's absence.
  • Speaking of injuries, here's a look from the Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr. at how players like Maualuga battle through injuries and rehab and try to prevent having to endure all of that in the first place. The Bengals have their own rehabilitation program and have had some success in recent years of getting players back to a high level of competition when their injuries heal. They'll need more of it this year with Geno Atkins and Leon Hall rehabbing from serious injuries.
  • Finally, we turn to The Baltimore Sun, which has this short item on former Bengals defensive back Jeromy Miles remembering his former teammate in Cincinnati, Thomas Howard. Early Monday morning, Howard was killed in a car accident in Northern California that also killed another motorist. Howard was 30. Miles, now with the Ravens, spent time with Howard, who played with the Bengals during the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
OK, maybe the headline is a tad misleading. But trust me, it isn't as much of an attempt to grab eyeballs as you think.

Technically, it is true. The Bengals' front office and ticket office have been thinking about the playoffs in recent days, specifically the possibility that their team may end up hosting one or more playoff games. In the coming days, the postseason will certainly be on the minds of season-ticket holders, too. That's if it isn't already.

As you'll read in the first link below, the Bengals on Tuesday released a statement to media and their season-ticket holders, outlining specifics for the process of paying for postseason tickets, and being compensated or reimbursed for those that don't get used in case the Bengals only advance so far.

Why, with six weeks left on the regular-season schedule, are the Bengals already talking about the playoffs?

"Given where the team stands [in the division], the process needs to start now, and we want to accommodate our season-ticket holders first," executive vice president Katie Blackburn said. "Once we have met their needs, we will work to make tickets available to other fans."

In case you're wondering, this isn't some Bengals-specific move to get the ball rolling on the postseason so early. If they haven't already, other teams in the coming days will begin making the same pitches to their season-ticket holders if they believe there is a chance their teams could be hosting games in January. Cincinnati, with a lead of 2 1/2 games over the rest of the AFC North ahead of this week's bye, is in a comfortable enough position to begin believing a home playoff game is a possibility. If that happens, the Bengals stand a good chance of advancing multiple rounds. At Paul Brown Stadium this season, they are 5-0. Twice they have scored more than 40 points in games at home.

As we get into Thursday's Morning Stripes, we start with a little more on the postseason ticket preparations:
  • Specifically, we turn to the Dayton Daily News' Jay Morrison, who has a blog outlining the message the Bengals sent to fans and media Tuesday. Again, with what will be a faster six weeks than any of us can imagine, the postseason will soon be upon us. The Bengals want to be well-prepared for when the time comes to hand out their postseason packages.
  • Sticking with the Bengals and their relationship with the city of Cincinnati and the rest of Hamilton County, Ohio, we turn next to FOX affiliate WXIX. The Southwest Ohio-based television station has this story on the Bengals' stadium deal with the county and its taxpayers. According to the station, some experts call the deal one of the worst struck by a local government. What's at stake with the stadium now, 13 years after it was built, is the fact that the Bengals are looking to renovate their scoreboards. They haven't been updated since the facility was first built, and their quality lags well behind those at other NFL venues. Per the deal, the Bengals are actually behind on getting new scoreboards put in, and whether the county wants to help pay for them or not, they have to go up. The station has found a slight hitch, though. According to one stadium official, some funds that were to be used for stadium upgrades since 2008 have been directed elsewhere. The official wasn't too happy about that. Interesting story to keep an eye on in the coming months.
  • One slightly different Bengals-Cincinnati story that also comes from FOX19 has to do with the team's canned food drive during Sunday's home game against the Browns. The Bengals say fans donated 7,391 pounds of food and nearly $19,600 to a local foodbank. About 65,000 meals can be made off that alone during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
  • Moving out west, we go to the Contra Costa Times. The Bay Area newspaper has a story on the fatal highway accident earlier this week that killed former Bengals linebacker Thomas Howard and another motorist. Investigators believe Howard's reckless driving may have precipitated the events that led to the accident. Toxicology reports won't come back for about two months, so it's unclear whether alcohol was involved, but witness statements, as well as other investigative work has shown that Howard's car was driving recklessly, investigators said. His BMW reached speeds upward of 100 mph before he unsuccessfully tried to swerve around a semi truck. When the car clipped the truck, it went airborne and flipped multiple times into the opposite side of traffic. That's where the car made contact with another, killing that driver, as well.
  • Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson writes that a memorial service for the 30-year-old Howard has been set for Friday in Oakland. Meanwhile, Frank Chamberlin, another former Bengal, will have his life celebrated in a mass Thursday in New Jersey. Chamberlin, 35, died Sunday after a long bout with brain cancer.

Bengals vow to remember Thomas Howard

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
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CINCINNATI -- They spoke about his infectious smile.

They remembered, fondly, his two little girls and the unquestioned love he had for them.

They reminisced about the football lessons he taught them, and the unwavering commitment he made to the community he served.

When various members of the Cincinnati Bengals mentioned Thomas Howard's name earlier this week, they did so wishing the man many considered a brother could have been the subject of a different discussion. They wished they could have been talking about him in the present and future tenses. Not in the past.

"Gone too soon," was the way Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga put it, still visibly shaken by the news that one of his friends and former teammates had died at the tender age of 30. "It sucks talking about it because it doesn't seem real."

Unfortunately for the Bengals and staffs representing two other league franchises, it is.

[+] EnlargeThomas Howard
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesThomas Howard spent two seasons with the Bengals.
According to media reports, Howard, an eight-year NFL veteran who spent two seasons with the Bengals and who had just been released by the Atlanta Falcons last week, was killed in a car accident in Northern California early Monday morning. Reports said the BMW he was driving was traveling at a high rate of speed -- upward of 100 mph -- before it clipped a semi truck and was launched across the median and into oncoming traffic. After clipping another car, Howard's slammed into another motorist. The driver of that final car, 64-year-old Zeng Long Liu, also was killed.

A Texas native, Howard was drafted out of UTEP by the Oakland Raiders in 2006. He spent five years with the Raiders before getting signed by the Bengals in 2011. He appeared in all 16 regular-season games that year, finishing with 70 total tackles and a sack. After one game the following season, he was placed on injured reserve when he tore an ACL during a Week 2 practice. He remained in Cincinnati during his rehab and continued to be a fixture in the Bengals' locker room despite his injury.

Already a veteran when he arrived, Howard played the role of big brother to several young linebackers who had come to Cincinnati around that same time. Maualuga, Vincent Rey and Vontaze Burfict were among those who benefited the most from his instruction. When Howard went down with the injury last year, Burfict, then a rookie, saw his role increase. Now the second-year defender leads the NFL in tackles and has become respected as one of the league's most intimidating enforcers.

Those same young players who sought Howard's guidance are vowing to make their former teammate an integral part of the remainder of the season. Maualuga told Bengals.com that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is working on hanging Howard's No. 53 jersey in the defense's meeting room.

After leaving the Bengals following his injury last offseason, Howard bounced around from tryout to tryout at the start of this season, trying to convince teams he was healthy again. The Bengals were one of them. When Emmanuel Lamur went down at the end of the preseason with a season-ending injury, linebackers coach Paul Guenther reached out to Howard. He and Lewis said Tuesday that Howard just wasn't quite back.

"He was still working back from the injury and we just decided to go a different way with it," Guenther said.

Howard eventually signed with the Falcons and spent two games with them before his release. According to media reports, he maintained a home just outside Oakland.

Here is how the Bengals choose to remember Howard:

LB Vincent Rey

"He's a funny guy. The thing about T-Howard, he's a genuine guy. Real. You love people like that. He always had a smile on his face and was all about helping others. He had a program here where every Tuesday he allowed people to come into the stadium, different people locally would come in and get a tour of the stadium and go on the field. He was about other people. That's what life is about.

"My prayers and thoughts go out to this family. He will be remembered here.

"He will not soon be forgotten."

Coach Marvin Lewis

"The first thing that comes to mind is his personality and his smile. How giving and caring he was to everyone. Him here on Tuesday nights taking his foundation group around and last year even when he was injured he continued to follow through on his commitments. He was a great player and a tremendous friend to everyone. It’s a shame for his two daughters, his mom and dad, such a warm and giving guy. It really affects our football team because this is someone who everyone had a great relationship with and felt for when he got hurt."

LB Rey Maualuga

"I was lost for words because Thomas, I and Taylor Mays, DQ [recently released linebacker DeQuin Evans], we had a strong bond when we were here as far as what we did on and off the field. I got a text from Frostee [Rucker] and I couldn't talk to Taylor about it. This couldn't be the Thomas Howard that we all know. We lost a great teammate, person and friend but my heart goes out to his two little girls. Like I said, you don’t wake up in the morning thinking it is your last time on earth. Things happen for a reason and you have to cherish your time here.

"Vontaze showed me the [accident] photo and they said how they couldn't get him out of the car. Hopefully he didn't have a slow, painful death. Gone too soon. Wish the best for his family and kids. We’ll try to do something for them when we return and they can be well taken care of."

OT Andrew Whitworth

"He was very involved in the community. Just kind of what the emphasis is now. A lot of the guys on this team are as good off the field as they are on it. That's really what's kind of helped change the culture. He was one of those people."

Morning Stripes: Andy Dalton speaks

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
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Good Wednesday morning, everyone. Can you believe it? The Cincinnati Bengals' bye week is already almost half over. Time flies when ...

Speaking of time, it seems like forever ago when Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was scorching through his schedule, putting up the types of numbers that not only made him the AFC offensive player of October, but also had him looking like the engineer of a possible Super Bowl-bound team. For four weeks, Andy wasn't only good. He was great.

But here we are, sitting in the middle of the Bengals' bye, wondering where that quarterback went. Over the past three games, he has looked like a considerably different player. Interceptions have been the norm -- eight in this stretch alone -- and the lowest consecutive showings of completion percentages in his entire career. Defenses in recent weeks, Dalton has said, have been better. This is true.

But the defenses during his assault on October weren't very bad, either.

As the Bengals and their fans continue to scratch their heads over the Jekyll/Hyde nature of their inconsistent quarterback, he let it be known on the final practice day of this week that confidence is not the issue. Like he said in this ESPN.com report from Tuesday, he believes he's "confident as ever."

It's a fair statement for him to make. After all, he was asked by a reporter where his confidence level stood entering the bye and on the heels of the worst three-game stretch, statistically speaking, of his career. It was a fair question, too. As the Bengals' corner of the football universe continues wondering what's going on with Dalton, lacking confidence seems like a logical explanation for his struggles at this point.

With Dalton's comments from Tuesday as the pacesetter, let's kick off the rest of our Wednesday Morning Stripes:
  • Dalton's play has obviously been a hot-button issue of late for those in "Bengaldum," as one Cincinnati Enquirer reader put it. On his "Morning Line" column from Tuesday, a collection of thoughts on Cincinnati sports teams, Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty posted an email he received from a Bengals fan who is on the Dalton train. It was a defense for "Good Andy," as Daugherty put it. Ultimately, Daugherty disagreed with the email's visceral point, but acknowledged that it was a convincing a defense of Dalton. That it was.
  • Didn't get a chance to link to this earlier in the week, but this is the Columbus Dispatch's game story from Sunday's 41-20 Bengals win over the Cleveland Browns. As Todd Jones writes, this pivotal win brightens the Bengals' outlook and should put them in strong position for a postseason run. For the Browns, a team that entered that game desperate to shake up the division, the loss sends Cleveland in a slightly different direction. This weekend's game against Pittsburgh could be make or break for the Browns.
  • The Associated Press, inspired by A.J. Green's Hail Mary snag at Baltimore last week, published this story Tuesday on the art of the Hail Mary, and how rare the completion of the play is. When he saw the 51-yard touchdown reception, Roger Staubach apparently told his wife that the play wasn't only a Hail Mary. "That was an Our Father," he said.
  • Finally, we'll have a little more on this on the Bengals blog later in the morning, but some players had a chance to speak Tuesday about the news that their former teammate, Thomas Howard, had died in a car accident in Northern California early Monday morning. According to this from Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, linebacker Rey Maualuga, a close friend of Howard's, is working with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to get Howard's No. 53 jersey hung in the defensive meeting room when the team returns from the bye.
Usually when an offense turns the ball over in its own territory, it sets up a subsequent chain of bad events for that same team's defense.

Given a short field on which to stop the opposing offense on the sudden possession change, the aforementioned defense doesn't always stand firm. Touchdowns are often the product of the quick field flip and can push a team further and further out of contention in a game.

That hasn't really been the case, though, for the Cincinnati Bengals in recent weeks. For the most part when Cincinnati's offense turns the ball over at any point on the field -- but particularly in its own territory -- its defense has been able to answer with a hold. We'll get into it more with the first link of this Tuesday edition of the Morning Stripes, but the Dayton Daily News' Jay Morrison provided the figures that show whether its on a short field or long field, the Bengals' post-turnover defense has been really strong of late.

In the last three games, the Bengals' offense has turned the ball over 19 times. Three of those turnovers, like Joe Haden's interception that was returned for a score in Sunday's 41-20 win over the Browns, came when the opposing defense returned the turnover for a touchdown. So that leaves 16 other drives when the Bengals' defense has been asked to stand firm and not allow a touchdown.

According to Morrison's research, on 15 of those drives, it has done just that. Only once in the past three games has a Bengals offensive turnover led to a turnover given up by their defense. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is one reason why Cincinnati's offense has its defense to thank for keeping it in arguably all but one game this season.

Let's get to the rest of the Morning Stripes:
  • Again, we'll start off with the link to Morrison's story for the Dayton Daily News. It's one glimpse into how the Bengals have been able to stay competitive. On Sunday, after giving up two first-quarter turnovers, including the one that was returned for a touchdown, the Bengals could have been down 18-0 or as much as 21-0 after the game's first 15 minutes. Instead, because of a stop in their own territory -- 12 of the 16 opposing offense drives that have started following a Bengals turnover in the last three weeks began on the Bengals side of the 50 -- they were able to force a field goal that followed up another. Instead of what should have been a three-score lead, the Browns only led 13-0 when James Harrison intercepted a Jason Campbell pass late in the first quarter. Minutes later, at the start of the second, the Bengals began a 31-0 rally that earned them the win.
  • Moving over to offense, the Associated Press' Joe Kay has this story on the Bengals' special teams in Sunday's win. The group, mostly paced by young punt return-team players like Jayson DiManche, Shawn Williams and Tony Dye, contributed greatly to the win. DiManche got his first career blocked punt, Williams tipped another and Dye scored his first touchdown. Dye's scoop and score came on DiManche's block. Williams' tip set up good Bengals field position and led to an offensive touchdown. There were other plays that had special-teams coordinator Darrin Simmons excited after the game, but those three events had him most encouraged.
  • Moving up to Cleveland, several Browns players said Monday they felt lucky to be alive following a "scary" landing just outside Cleveland on Sunday night. Because of high winds and rains brought on by the same story system that hit Cincinnati following the game, the Browns had at one point considered busing back. But the airport and United Airlines gave them the OK to fly home. Had it not been for their pilot, some players contend, the Browns may not have had a good landing. Here's Pat McManamon's report for ESPN.com, and Mary Kay Cabot's for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
  • The past few days have been difficult for many affiliated with the Bengals. Since Saturday, four people with past ties to the franchise have died. Former offensive lineman Mike McCormack, one of the original Bengals' coaching assistants, Jack Donaldson, and former linebackers Frank Chamberlain and Thomas Howard all passed away. Chamberlin, 35, lost his yearlong battle with brain cancer Sunday. Howard, 30, died in Northern California early Monday when a car he was reportedly driving at speeds upward of 100 mph, clipped a truck and veered into oncoming traffic. Howard's car hit another driver head-on, killing them both instantly. He was in Cincinnati earlier this season for a tryout, and recently was waived by the Falcons. Here's the Associated Press on Howard's death, and one from Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson, who spoke with current linebacker and Howard mentee Rey Maualuga.
Here are some headlines from the Cincinnati Bengals beat:
  • The Bengals are bringing in linebacker Thomas Howard this week to check on the ACL he tore a year ago, according to Geoff Hobson of the team's official website. Howard was the Bengals' leading tackler in 2011 and plays the same outside linebacker spot as Emmanuel Lamur, who went on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. "If they think Howard can help, they won't do anything until next week." Hobson wrote.
  • Quarterback Greg McElroy, who was cut by the Jets, is going to sign with the Bengals' practice squad, the NFL Network reports. Josh Johnson is currently the backup to Andy Dalton.
  • Some expected the Bengals to sign defensive end Dontay Moch to the practice squad. Moch led the team with three sacks in the preseason, but he has been a disappointment as a former third-round pick. The Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy wrote: "Originally drafted as a linebacker, Moch was moved to the defensive line but was caught up in a numbers game. One might also wonder where Moch is a better fit – as a defensive end in a 4-3 alignment or as an outside linebacker in a 3-4."

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