NFL Nation: AFC North

CINCINNATI -- They might be the most overused nicknames in the NFL, but for the first three seasons of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's career, they were were apropos.

"Good Andy" and "Bad Andy."

If you were a Bengals fan, you rued the day "Bad Andy" showed up to steal "Good Andy's" thunder.

Dalton
Dalton
Before too long, though, Bengals fans might soon have no need for either nickname. They will only need to know one name -- Dalton's.

That is because so far this season, there hasn't been anything bad about Dalton's play. But there has been a lot of good. So much so that the flashes of success Dalton once showed earlier in his career are appearing commonplace this season.

He has yet to commit a turnover or be sacked through 133 over two games.

Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and head coach Marvin Lewis are quick to credit Dalton for simply playing well early this season, and they acknowledge how well the players around him have been performing. Dalton's offensive line has had mostly sturdy pockets. His running backs have run aggressively and with purpose, and have also blocked well and been in good spots in the passing game. His receivers have been precise on the majority of their routes and have made him look good by beating blitzes for big gains and long scores.

But there appears to be something else that has helped get Dalton off to this strong early start. It's the fact that we're seeing a lot less of his arm. The Bengals have been more patient with his passing than before. Gone, it appears, are the days when the game plan was to place an entire offensive scheme on Dalton's shoulders, and have him go out for 60 minutes and execute it all himself.

An examination of Dalton's numbers through two games shows that Jackson's offseason push for more balance is coming to fruition. The Bengals have lowered Dalton's passing attempts and drop backs, and in turn, he has rewarded them with drives that have moved and timely touchdowns. He could have more. But that patience has still led to efficient passing numbers and a clean uniform.

"He's more comfortable," Jackson said. "He's playing at a high level. He's playing as well as anybody, and I take pride in that. Our coaching staff takes pride in that."

For the purposes of this post, we're looking specifically as how Dalton's drop back figures have fallen. Compared to those numbers from his first three seasons, they are dramatically lower. Drop backs include passing attempts, scrambles, sacks and spikes.

During his rookie season, Dalton averaged 35.3 drop backs per game. His second season, 36.8. Last season, he averaged a career-high 39.9.

So far this season, he has dropped back on average 31.5 times.

Sure, he had 39 drop backs in the Bengals' Week 1 win at Baltimore, but as Jackson said, there will be times when the Bengals might have to use the pass a little more often in order to win. In that particular game, the Bengals had difficulty running the ball early and had no choice but to launch the passing attack. It doesn't seem that will be the case as running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill continue to emerge. Against the Falcons last Sunday, the tandem combined for 164 yards rushing.

Since the ground game worked so effectively, Dalton only dropped back 24 times last week. It was the third-lowest number of his career, and marked just the seventh time he has had fewer than 30 drop backs in a game.

Dalton is 5-2 when he has fewer than 30 drop backs in a game. His two losses came to the Steelers; once his rookie year and once more the next. On the other end of the spectrum, he had back-to-back losses last season when he had a career-high 60 drop backs against the Dolphins, and 57 at Baltimore a week later.

These aren't the only clues into his early success, but they play a part in it.

Titans vs. Bengals preview

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
8:00
AM ET
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The Tennessee Titans had trouble stopping the run last week when Dallas running back DeMarco Murray rushed for 167 yards in the Cowboys' 26-10 win over the Titans at LP Field.

The Cincinnati Bengals, paced by the tandem of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, improved to 2-0 last week in part because of the ground game. The running back duo sparked the win over the Falcons when it picked up all but six of the Bengals' 170 rushing yards and contributed in the receiving game.

All that suggests the Bengals have a slight advantage entering Sunday's Week 3 showdown in Cincinnati. Will Bernard and Hill continue feeding off each other and have another strong rushing performance against a poor rushing defense? Or will the Titans buckle up this week and make the necessary changes to prevent the Bengals from pulling a Murray on them?

ESPN Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and ESPN Bengals reporter Coley Harvey are here to discuss that and more:

Kuharsky: We'll start with you, Coley. Andy Dalton has gotten spectacular protection. The Titans have eight sacks and have rushed well, with a lot of blitzes from the secondary last week. What has keyed the Bengals in this department, and are they perhaps susceptible to anything they haven’t seen yet?

Harvey: It starts with solid offensive line play. The players on the Bengals' front have done a great job holding their blocks in the first two games. Then you have to credit the Bengals' play calling. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has called plays that get Dalton to throw quickly, delivering the ball to receivers in the type of short and intermediate routes that he mostly excelled with last year. You also have to credit the receivers for running precise routes and getting quicker separation than they did at times last year. That was their key focus during the preseason. Plus, you have to acknowledge the running backs. Bernard leads the team in targets this season, and on at least three occasions he has bailed Dalton out of possible sacks by remaining close to the line of scrimmage after blocks. On each of those broken plays, Dalton yelled out Bernard's name -- "Gio!" -- before dumping off a quick screen that gained big yards.

Along those lines, Dalton deserves an enormous amount of credit for being savvy to do that and for throwing the ball away when he hasn't had adequate passing lanes this year. He is susceptible to getting sacked this week, but playing all 3-4 defenses in the preseason helped prepare the Bengals for this week's challenge.

Paul, Jake Locker and Dalton hail from the famed 2011 quarterback draft class. Locker was picked eighth overall by Tennessee, Dalton 35th by Cincinnati. And the rest has been history. It certainly appears the Dalton experiment has fared better. So what is it about Locker that continues to convince Titans brass that he’s the man for the job?

Kuharsky: Well, GM Ruston Webster wasn’t the primary decision-maker then, but he was on board with the Locker selection and obviously remains so. As he sold Ken Whisenhunt on the job, Webster also sold him on Locker having a chance to be an answer at quarterback under the tutelage of the new coach. Locker works his butt off, says all the right things and has the respect of his coaches and peers. He is capable of a game like he played in Kansas City, where he was poised even under pressure, threw a couple TD passes, distributed the ball well and led a strong effort. He’s capable, too, of a dud of a first half like he posted against the Cowboys, when he couldn’t do a thing right.

The Titans have invested a ton in the offensive line over the past two seasons, and Locker has perhaps the best stable of targets the franchise has assembled since it relocated.

They back him, but he’s not under contract beyond this year. Locker has to stay healthy and win over Whisenhunt with a good body of work or the Titans can turn toward sixth-rounder Zach Mettenberger and someone else next year.

Count me among those who figured the Bengals would drop off at least a bit defensively with Mike Zimmer moving on to Minnesota. How have they dealt with his loss? And mandatory Pacman Jones question: What’s his role, how is he playing, and is he staying out of trouble?

Harvey: Let's get to the Jones question first. When he arrived in 2010 after his time in Tennessee and Dallas, part of the way he tried to reinvent himself was to drop his nickname in favor of his given name, Adam. Teammates still refer to him as Pacman at times, but people around the team have respected his desire to mostly go by Adam. In turn, he has respected them by mostly staying on the right side of the law. He had one verbal run-in last fall with a police officer that resulted in a citation. Also last fall, a judge found Jones not guilty of assaulting a woman at a Cincinnati nightclub in June 2013. The judge didn't think either party acted appropriately but noted that surveillance video showed where Jones had first been assaulted by the stranger with a beer bottle. Since then, Jones has gotten married and doubled his efforts to put his past behind him and not receive the type of notoriety that defined his days in Nashville.

As far as his role, that relates to the reason there hasn't been much drop-off following Zimmer's departure. The Bengals may have lost the beloved coordinator, but they lost only one regular starter from last year's defense in the offseason -- defensive end Michael Johnson. They remain chock-full of veteran talent with players, such as the 30-year-old Jones, who are playing the best in their careers. Cornerbacks Terence Newman and Leon Hall are playing at high levels in a defense that has the same scheme and foundation as before. It also helps that new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther was already on the staff and was in charge of calling many of the blitzes that made Zimmer's scheme hum.

Although last week’s loss to Dallas was certainly deflating to a Titans defense that stopped the run well in Week 1, what was it that made Tennessee’s pass defense so effective last week against Tony Romo? How will Tennessee try to make Dalton's life as tough as Romo’s was last week?

Kuharsky: Don’t let the numbers fool you. They were "good" in pass defense against Dallas only because they were so busy getting run on that the Cowboys didn’t need to throw the ball. Dez Bryant had his way with them on the crucial drive that re-established who the better team was after the Titans closed to 16-10 in the third quarter. With top cornerback Jason McCourty out in the second half with a groin injury, Romo made the throws he needed to against Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Coty Sensabaugh and the rest of the secondary.

The Titans have rushed well, so Alex Smith and Romo didn’t have a lot of time to pick them apart. But Smith lacked weapons, and Romo lacked necessity. The Titans have limited big plays, which is a huge theme under defensive coordinator Ray Horton. If they can keep that up, the Bengals might have to earn their yards in smaller chunks.

What are the biggest differences between Jay Gruden’s offense and the one Jackson is using in his first year as coordinator with Gruden at the helm in Washington? If the Bengals are without A.J. Green, how dangerous can they still be?

Harvey: All you need to know is this: Dalton averaged 39.9 dropbacks in 2013. Through two games, he has averaged just 31.5 dropbacks. In short, the Bengals are passing less and running more. That was Jackson's charge this offseason when he said he wanted to instill a more physical, aggressive brand of offense from what the team had before. When the Bengals rushed 45 times last week with all but 10 of their carries coming inside the tackles, you could see exactly what Jackson was referring to. He wants to bruise defenses up front to open up the pass downfield.

Being without Green, as it appears they will be, will be a big loss. But considering the fact that Green was lost just six plays into Sunday's game and the Bengals still held up offensively, they should be fine passing to Mohamed Sanu, tight end Jermaine Gresham and the running backs. If it plays like it did last week, the Bengals offense can still be dangerous sans Green.

How fast is Delanie Walker, Paul? Outside of the AFC South we just see a physical, stodgy bowling ball of a tight end. But can he really be as dangerous in space as he seems to think?

Kuharsky: He was a terror last week. On his 61-yard touchdown catch, he bounced off a corner and galloped a long way, outrunning four Cowboys. Walker is a tough, smart player who was a good find. And Whisenhunt, a former NFL tight end, is finding ways to use him just as Mike Munchak and his staff did in 2013. Walker can be a big matchup problem, depending on how a defense chooses to defend receivers Kendall Wright, Nate Washington, Justin Hunter and backs Dexter McCluster and Bishop Sankey. Tennessee has another tight end who can do some damage as a receiver. Taylor Thompson was a defensive end in college, but he finally has caught on to what it takes to be effective on offense in the NFL at the position he started at.

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CINCINNATI -- At the grand old age of 22, Giovani Bernard is the old man of the Cincinnati Bengals' two-man running back tandem.

He's the more patient, more reserved and more reflective of the two. He likes to leap tall linebackers in a single bound and is quick to celebrate one of his many circus-like touchdown finishes by doling out high fives to his blockers.

Jeremy Hill is the bigger, more noticeable, slightly more flashy of the two. He likes shimmy past defensive linemen and enjoys celebrating his touchdowns with a popular dance or a pose for his fans.

While Bernard is simply fun to watch, Hill just likes to have fun.

Hill's fun-loving nature pushed him to Twitter less than two hours after he and Bernard rushed for a combined 164 yards in the Bengals' 24-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, prompting him to ask Bengals fans the following: "What's a good nickname for the duo?"

Within the tweet, he had a picture of himself and Bernard.
 
In the last four days, the suggestions have poured in.

"I just need something I can run with and that the fans will like and that we can just get going," Hill said Wednesday. "And just having fun -- that’s the biggest thing with it. To have something the fans can connect with, maybe make a few T-shirts and things of that nature and just get it going."

The 21-year-old rookie rushed for 74 yards on 15 carries against Atlanta. Hill also caught a screen pass on the Bengals' first drive that he converted into an 18-yard first down reception. On 27 carries, Bernard rushed for 90 yards and added his own 46-yard first-down reception off an improvised screen pass. About to get sacked, quarterback Andy Dalton shouted out Bernard's name -- "Gio!" -- before dumping an impromptu screen to Bernard, who wiggled around defenders for the big pickup.

As of Wednesday morning, there are at least two nickname suggestions that have passed the first round of Hill's cuts: the "Hue Live Crew" and "Hue Jack City."

The first suggestion came from a certain ESPN Bengals reporter who happened to suggest it on a whim to a fan who asked for his input on Twitter. Both suggestions are nods to offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, whose scheme promised long ago to make the two backs key figures. It could be argued that last Sunday's game was exactly what the Bengals had in mind for Hill and Bernard when they drafted Hill in May.

However, Jackson already shot down the "Hue Jack City" nickname suggestion. When he was the head coach in Oakland in 2011, fans nicknamed the East Bay Area city "Hue Jack City" as an homage to the 1991 movie "New Jack City." There was even a song and a music video that went with the nickname.

"No, that won’t happen. That’s an old name," said Jackson, who was fired after leading the Raiders to an 8-8 season, one of their best since 2002. "That name’s over with. That name has to RIP. May that name rest in peace. That name is gone."

Hill didn't rule out either of the aforementioned nickname possibilities, and said he has no deadline for when they must be decided.

"We’re not settling finalists yet, but they’re definitely nominees," Hill said, laughing. "We have to keep them going and hopefully we have some performances like we did Sunday so we can get more suggestions out there."

The Film Don't Lie: Bengals

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
4:00
PM ET
A weekly look at what the Cincinnati Bengals must fix.

This is going to sound like nitpicking, but heading into the Bengals' Week 3 game against the Titans on Sunday, Cincinnati will need to tweak its interior run protection. The reason this might sound nitpicky is because in actuality, there's very little the Bengals have to address coming out of their Week 2 win over the Falcons. Overall, the run game was sound. The passing game worked smoothly. They were good on third down on both sides of the ball. The defense put intense pressure on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and did a good job snagging three interceptions in the secondary. The Bengals had obvious issues with kicking this week, but we've addressed those already.

The film doesn't lie about the Bengals' comparative difficulty running between the tackles. They averaged 3.6 yards per interior rush, and 4.9 yards per rush around the edges against the Falcons. Including the season opener, the Bengals have averaged just 3.5 yards up the middle this season. Rookie center Russell Bodine still is working on his run blocking as an NFL lineman. That was evident in the minus-4.7 run-block grade Pro Football Focus handed him after Sunday's game; the only negative grade a Bengals' offensive player was given.
CINCINNATI -- It was an uncharacteristic day for Cincinnati Bengals kicker Mike Nugent.

Nugent
Seriously.

He had never missed three field goals in a game before Sunday's sudden case of the shanks and hooks. Not in the 109 previous NFL games he played had he been that inaccurate. Not in the four years he spent at Ohio State, either.

Plain and simple, Nugent's misses don't come in the bunches that they came in during the Bengals' 24-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. His coach, Marvin Lewis, knows that and made it known that he still believes in his veteran kicker.

"I know he'll be better next time out," Lewis said. "That's the one good thing about Mike. He's such a pro."

Despite the missed kicks, the Bengals still beat the Falcons convincingly.

Lewis was asked if he knew what contributed to Nugent's poor performance. The coach said he didn't know. Nugent, who normally speaks with reporters after every game, good, bad or otherwise, wasn't in the locker room when the media was allowed in Sunday.

Wind didn't appear to be a factor. For most of the day winds never reached double-digit miles per hour.

Perhaps, it was just simply one of those days that players can sometimes go through; days when it seems like nothing goes the way it's supposed to.

In addition to missing on the three field goals, Nugent also seemed to struggle on kickoffs. The plan, naturally, was to prevent electric Falcons return man Devin Hester from even touching the football. That wasn't the way the day worked out for Nugent and Cincinnati's coverage team.

Hester was able to field each of Nugent's four kickoffs, catching them in the end zone, not far from the goal line. Hester returned each of them, making at least one coverage-teams player miss on every return. Hester, who exchanged words via reporters earlier in the week with Bengals cornerback and punt returner Adam Jones about which of them was the better returner, averaged 29.5 yards on the four returns. His longest was for 36 yards.

With respect to the missed kicks, Nugent missed from 38, 49 and 55 yards. The second miss took a bizarre sharp angle left of the goal posts after first appearing to go straight through off Nugent's right foot. The third field goal try fell just short and to the left of the uprights.

Nugent's only make was a 31-yard attempt; his first of the game.

While the kicker had never missed three in one game in his career, he has missed two kicks in a game six times. He also missed two kicks in two games in college.

Last week, Nugent was remarkably better, nailing five of the six field goal attempts. The one miss was a blocked kick. Blocks aside, Lewis is confident the Week 1 Nugent will emerge when Cincinnati hosts Tennessee next Sunday.

"We lived a bad day," Lewis said, "and next time out I can count on him like we did a week ago."
CINCINNATI -- As Andy Dalton approached the line of scrimmage his eyes panned the field.

Left, right, middle. Short, intermediate, deep. The Cincinnati Bengals quarterback scanned the zones where he wanted to send his receivers, wondering if there was a soft spot for them run into, and if there was a place he could pass to in order to convert a crucial third down.

It was in his pre-snap read of the third-and-6 defense when he saw a safety creep up and the linebackers get even closer. At that moment, it was evident: The Falcons were going to bring an all-out blitz, forsaking the deep portions of the field. If a receiver could get past the safety, he might not only get a first down.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsAndy Dalton ran his record against NFC teams to 10-3.
He could get a touchdown, too.

That was Dalton's hope when he saw the defensive formation called a "Cover Zero." That particular formation is one in which only a safety sits downfield in zone coverage, while the cornerbacks line up in man coverage and the rest of the defense goes in all-out pursuit of the quarterback. Once Dalton recognized what was coming, he made a few tweaks at the line of scrimmage, barking out protection changes and additional blitz pickups.

His adjustments paid off.

Perhaps the most crucial line change was getting running back Giovani Bernard to pick up a blitzing defender. When he did, the block gave Dalton just a split-second long enough to get off his pass without a hand being directly in his face.

"I saw exactly what he saw," receiver Mohamed Sanu said.

When the ball was snapped, Sanu's objective was simple. He needed to run a slant and quickly get enough separation from his cornerback that Dalton could lead him to a spot where only he could get hands on the ball.

That's precisely what happened, and 76 yards and one missed tackle later Sanu was in the end zone with a key touchdown that began the Bengals' separation. The touchdown made it 17-3, and came just before an interception and subsequent score pushed the lead even further barely five minutes later.

"We had a good check on and Mo ran a really good route," Dalton said. "When you're playing Cover Zero and you make one guy miss, there's nobody else in the back end. When [cornerback Robert Alford] fell off on the route, Mo had a pretty good jog into the end zone."

Sanu's touchdown reception showed just how in sync the pair was. With Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Green dealing with a toe injury that could keep him out next week against Tennessee, the Bengals will desperately need this pairing to continue to be on the same page.

"When guys go down like that, that's the mentality that you have to have as a team, regardless of the position," said Dalton, referencing the five Bengals who were lost to injury Sunday, including Green. "Everybody here knows what Mo can do and obviously he had a really good chance to showcase his ability."
CINCINNATI -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cincinnati Bengals' 24-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons:

Still
Posters for Still: Sitting just inside Devon Still's locker late Sunday afternoon after the win was an orange poster that read: "Be Leah Strong." A fan had requested the poster be brought into the locker room for the defensive tackle who began the season on the practice squad due to a hamstring injury and because of his anxiety over 4-year-old daughter Leah's cancer prognosis. To his surprise, Still had been kept earlier in the day on the active game-day roster. In relief of an injured Brandon Thompson, he had three tackles.

'A good night': When reporters streamed into the Bengals' locker room, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was among the most jovial players they encountered. The backup defender was shouting at the top of his lungs: "Tonight's gonna be a good night." Those are lyrics from the Black Eyed Peas song "I Gotta Feeling." On special teams, Kirkpatrick played a key role in securing two fourth-quarter punts that were downed inside the Falcons' 4.

Shouting 'Gio!' On one second-quarter play, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was stuck behind some intense Falcons pressure and needed to get rid of the ball. So he shouted out "Gio!" to running back Giovani Bernard, who had just pulled away from a linebacker he was blocking in pass protection. Bernard said when he heard his name, he instinctively caught Dalton's improvisational screen pass. Bernard ended the broken play with a 46-yard reception.

Football trophy: Bengals rookie Jeremy Hill scored his first career touchdown in the third quarter when he plowed right behind defensive tackle Domata Peko (who was playing fullback) for a 1-yard score. Hill said he has the perfect place for the ball which he held on to -- his mom's mantel in New Orleans. She was in attendance Sunday. "I'll probably lose it or my dog will probably chew it up," Hill said, laughing.

Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati Bengals

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
4:16
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 24-10 win against the Atlanta Falcons at Paul Brown Stadium:

What it means: Sunday's win should have sent a strong message to the rest of the league. That message? That even after having to replace both their coordinators, the Bengals still have a smooth and fluid offense and the same intimidating defense that ended last season ranked third in the NFL. After placing fifth in ESPN's Power Rankings last week, the Bengals certainly proved in this win that they deserve to be considered a top-five team at this early stage of the season. The only problem with Sunday's 14-point victory was that it may have come at a price. The Bengals were attacked by a vicious injury bug during the game as five players, including Pro Bowlers A.J. Green and Vontaze Burfict, were lost with varying ailments. It was the second straight game Burfict left early.

Stock watch: One week after going 5-for-6 on field goals (one was blocked), Bengals kicker Mike Nugent trended in the opposite direction against the Falcons when he made just one of the four field goal attempts he had. Like his first five at Baltimore, all four of Nugent's attempts Sunday came in the first half. The second miss, a 49-yard try, looked the worst. After appearing to be good off Nugent's foot, the ball knuckled at the last second and glided left of the goalposts. His next attempt, a 55-yarder in the final second of the second quarter, fell just short. Nugent's kickoffs weren't any better. All four were just short enough in the end zone that Atlanta's electric return man Devin Hester was able to bring them out. Hester, who had been in a war of words with Bengals punt returner Adam Jones over their return skills earlier in the week, averaged 29.5 yards on the four kick returns he had. His longest was 36 yards.

Run-game revival: After being held to just 79 yards rushing last week, the Bengals performed better on the ground in Week 2. Combined, they rushed for 170 yards, with second-year back Giovani Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill leading the way. The pair combined for 67 yards on 18 carries against the Ravens in the opener. This week, they had all but six of the Bengals' yards. Quarterback Andy Dalton, who didn't run any read-option this week, had those other six.

Game ball: Receiver Mohamed Sanu gets this week's game ball after factoring in both the Bengals' passing and receiving game. He caught three passes for 84 yards, including a touchdown and completed a 50-yard pass to receiver Brandon Tate. The pass came on the first play of the Bengals' second drive and set a tone about how well the offense could operate. The Bengals came up dry on the drive, though, as Nugent missed his first field goal at its conclusion.

What's next? Cincinnati will be back in action next week when it hosts Tennessee in an important pre-bye week contest. One week after the Titans come to Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals are off. This will be the Bengals' first meeting with an AFC South team this season, the division that had the lowest combined winning percentage in the league last year. The timing of the bye might be good for the Bengals considering all the injuries they picked up against the Falcons.

Browns: We won't go all no-huddle

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
1:45
PM ET
BEREA, Ohio -- The no-huddle offense that was so successful for the Cleveland Browns in the second half of the season opener was in the plans all along.

“We kind of planned on going to it in the first half,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said Thursday. “We just didn’t stay on the field long enough, so we opened up the second half with it.”

 Which is interesting, because the way the game unfolded the no-huddle seemed a clear response to the Browns' first half struggles. Coach Mike Pettine even said it was used to start the second half as a change of pace.

“We thought it would be good,” Shanahan said. “It was a little better than anticipated. It was something that got them off-balance, tired them out a little bit. It tired us out too. When you do that that much, you get a little sloppy on both sides of the ball, but it ended up working out well for us -- got some points, got us going.”

To say the least.

Every single Browns offensive number went up in the second half, when they almost exclusively ran no-huddle as compared to the first half when they huddled on every play.

Yardage increased from 101 to 188 in each half, and the yards per play jumped from 4.2 to 7.2. Most important, the Browns scored 24 points with the no-huddle compared to three in the first half.

Despite the success, the Browns have no plans -- they say -- to go exclusively no-huddle.
“It’s a weapon,” Pettine said. “But it’s not our lifestyle.”

Pettine said the Browns can use it as a change of pace or a change in tempo. But he said the team’s focus during the week leading up to the Saints game was on refining its work in the base offense because they are running the same plays in the no-huddle.

“We have to be able to execute our base offense,” Pettine said. “It’s what we worked on all through the spring, all through training camp. We didn’t execute it very well in the first half, but that’s something that ... we’re not an up-tempo all the time team.”

A team like the Eagles built its roster with the hurry-up in, mind and the players are conditioned for it. The Browns, Pettine said, are not.

“That’s not the way we built this roster,” he said. “That’s not the way we worked from the beginning. Just because we had a good half of it doesn’t mean that we need to junk what we’re doing and go to no-huddle and not work on our base stuff.”

Gamesmanship? Perhaps.

Every NFL coach likes to keep the other team guessing, and if the Browns opponents spend a little extra time preparing for something the Browns might do, Pettine would not be at all disappointed.

The one thing that is true is the Browns have shown they can run the hurry-up, which gives an offense that needs any edge it can find one more possible edge.
CINCINNATI -- It started as just another run-of-the-mill catch.

Late in the first quarter of last week's game at Baltimore, Tyler Eifert, the Cincinnati Bengals' second-year tight end was adding a third reception to his season total when he turned toward the end zone, trying to elude defenders.

When he did, he awkwardly contorted his body as he slipped in and out of Ravens tackle attempts. As he stretched for more yards, Eifert subconsciously extended his right arm to brace his fall. That's when he heard the pop.

[+] EnlargeTyler Eifert
AP Photo/Nick WassTyler Eifert's dislocated elbow suffered in the opener against the Ravens will force him out of action until at least Week 10.
Immediately he clutched his elbow in agony, screaming as teammates furiously waved members of the training staff onto the field.

"I could feel that it wasn't right," Eifert said.

Cameras caught exactly what trainers saw when they reached the injured player. He had dislocated his elbow and needed it set back in place. Once it was, Eifert's pain calmed considerably, giving him a measure of relief.

As he made his first comments since last Sunday's injury on Friday, Eifert told reporters that to his knowledge he didn't suffer any other structural damage around his elbow, and that he and doctors continue to believe that he'll be fully healed by Nov. 6, when the Bengals host the Browns in a Thursday night showdown.

"That's what they say. I'm not a doctor," Eifert said. "I know it hurts right now, but I'm sure it'll get better and I'll be ready to go."

Like it has been since the injury happened, Eifert's arm was wrapped in a bandage and placed in a sling Friday. He said the arm has mostly been immobilized this week, and added that he has tried to extend it at times as he begins his rehab.

Placed Wednesday on short-term injured reserve, Eifert won't be allowed to practice until six weeks after the injury -- in other words, Week 7. Per rules of the IR with a designation to return, he also isn't allowed to play until Week 10.

Eifert said the injury occurred when he was trying to brace himself on the turf as he stretched for more yards on his 14-yard reception. He was told that had he landed with his arm straighter, he would have probably come out of the play injury-free. Instead, he landed with his arm open at a particular angle. It appears that's what caused the dislocation.

Cincinnati was expected to make Eifert a bigger part of its offense this season. His three catches for 37 yards through barely a quarter of play last week was a strong indication of that.

"With some of those plays, just the design of them puts the defense in a bind," Eifert said of how open he was getting. "You know how to cover it. It's just defense dictates where the ball's going. I happened to get the ball early. So it was good."

This injury also comes after Eifert battled shoulder issues all offseason and training camp. They became so bad in the preseason that he missed numerous practices and didn't play in the final three preseason games.

"Every time I feel like I'm getting back into it, something happens," Eifert said. "It is what it is. It happened. It's hard to make the most of an injury, but it's the situation I'm in right now. So just be positive and keep going."
CINCINNATI -- The war of words between the Cincinnati Bengals and Atlanta Falcons has already started, and it doesn't look like it's going to end anytime soon.

So don't be surprised if Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium if the two teams play with an edge that's uncommon for an early season, cross-conference matchup like this one.

[+] EnlargeAdam Jones
Patrick Semansky/Associated PressAdam Jones has been engaging in a war of words with Atlanta's Devin Hester this week.
Brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, for a chippy game.

For the past two days, boastful barbs have been lobbed back and forth between the locker rooms as players on both teams have used the media to state their case at positional supremacy. Primarily, it's been two of the four men in Atlanta's talented receiving corps who felt compelled to respond to one of the players who will be charged with stopping them. Bengals cornerback and punt returner Adam Jones levied the first blow in this verbal battle on Wednesday.

"He's a good returner," said Jones about Atlanta's receiver/return specialist Devin Hester, "but he's not better than me. He played more games than me, way more games than me. I don't feel like there's anybody better than me when I'm right there. I've said that a long time before now."

Hester has an NFL-record 18 combined kick-return scores in 124 career games, including an NFL-record 13 punt-return touchdowns. Jones has five career punt-return scores in 85 career games. Last week, Hester had a kick return for 21 yards and gained a yard on a punt return. Jones had one punt return for 45 yards.

In the career sense, Hester was right. So how did he respond?

"Every return man is going to try and compare himself to me," Hester told ESPN's Vaughn McClure in Atlanta on Thursday. "That's just the way it is. If you look at the stats, I'm on the top of the list. So everybody, when it's time to play me, is going to try and want to be the next Devin Hester."

Added Falcons receiver Roddy White: "Oh my God. You're talking about a Hall of Famer and then [Jones]. I don't even know how many Pacman's got. It's like apples to oranges, man. Devin, everybody knows what he can do in the return game."

Even if they tried to laugh them off, the two Falcons clearly weren't happy with Jones' remarks.

Atlanta's cornerbacks might not like what Bengals receiver A.J. Green said Thursday while noting the considerable height difference between he and the cornerbacks who will go up against him. Green said, "those guys are chippy, man. Chippy little guys, like little gnats."

At 6-foot-4, Green is athletic with tremendous leaping ability. His likely matchups, Robert Alford and Robert McClain, are 5-10 and 5-9, respectively. The best way to beat them, Green said? To be physical.

It's much the same kind of physicality he said was necessary to handle Falcons safety William Moore, a "big, physical linebacker [type of] safety." Green said that when Moore is on the field a receiver or tight end must always be aware of where he is.

See? There's respect here despite all the mid-week trash talk. Players on both teams train together in the offseason, and their coaches have crossed paths several times before. Green also makes Atlanta his home in the offseason, and has been revered in the area since starring at Georgia. An East Point, Georgia, native, Jones also has strong ties to the area.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said it best when describing the relationships on both teams.

"I've got a lot of friendships with a lot of people, but this week we're competing," Lewis said. "We can go back to being friends next week again."

The players might be friendly at the end of Sunday's game, but this early war of words gives them reasons to be anything but during it.
CINCINNATI -- You're probably going to hear, read and see a lot the next few days comparing A.J. Green and Julio Jones.

The irony is, you've probably already heard, read and seen much of what will surface.

Green
 
Jones
 The two Pro Bowl receivers have been linked since they were in high school, when they were All-America standouts in their respective native states South Carolina and Alabama. In college, a sort of rivalry formed when they competed in the SEC. Green played at Georgia. Jones was at Alabama.

When the 2011 draft rolled around, the question wasn't if either would be top-10 draft picks. It was who was going to go first.

At No. 4, the Cincinnati Bengals were the first team on the draft board that year with a dire need for a receiver. The Atlanta Falcons, at No. 27, had enough of a need for another pass-catcher that they ended up jumping all the way to No. 6 when they pulled off a draft-night trade with the Browns.

Green was chosen by Cincinnati. Jones was the Falcons' choice with the sixth pick. The rest, as they say, is history.

One look at both their careers, and it's clear the moves worked out well for both teams. Upon examination of last season, it's clear Jones gave his team slightly better overall production than Green. This Thursday factoid delves into this number: 116.0.

That's the number of yards per game since last season that Jones has averaged. That figure is only outpaced by Josh Gordon, who averaged 117.6 yards per game for the Browns in 2013. Unlike Jones, Gordon hasn't played yet this season as he awaits a possible reversal of his yearlong suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

Green isn't trailing Jones by much in the average yards per game since last season's statistic. The Bengals' star receiver has averaged 91.6 yards per game in that span. That includes his six-catch, 131-yard performance in Sunday's 23-16 win over the Ravens. Only Gordon, Jones, Calvin Johnson and Antonio Brown have higher per-game-averages in that time.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis didn't need to see those numbers nor those rankings to know how good both Green and Jones were.

"They were in the top four players we felt that year," Lewis said, referring to the draft. "We knew we were going to get a good player when we stayed at No. 4 and picked."

A case could be made that Green has had the more overall impact in his career. Injuries have been an issue at times for Jones, and they're the reason he's only appeared in 35 games as compared to Green's 48. Green has only missed one Bengals game in his career. He's trying to avoid making it two this week as he tries to recover from a foot injury that has slowed him so far this week. He was limited Wednesday because of it, and didn't practice at all Thursday.

How much more productive has Green been over Jones?

Green has caught 266 passes compared to Jones' 181. Green has 3,964 yards receiving, compared to Jones' 2,853. Green's 30 touchdowns overshadow Jones' 20. It would be interesting to see how much closer that gap would be if both had the same number of games played.

It also will be interesting to see how their stats compare Sunday when they square off in their first regular-season meeting.

Falcons vs. Bengals preview

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
8:00
AM ET

Paul Brown Stadium, or "The Jungle" as it's been nicknamed in Cincinnati, has been a place of horrors for opposing offenses in recent seasons.

Since December 2012, when the Cincinnati Bengals started a nine-game regular-season home winning streak, only once has an opposing offense scored 30 or more points. One, the New England Patriots' offense, couldn't even score a touchdown.

So far this very young season, scoring appears to be exactly what the Atlanta Falcons do best. At home against New Orleans last week they scored 37 points in an overtime thriller that was decided when Matt Bryant drove in a game-winning 52-yard field goal. Quarterback Matt Ryan emerged as one of the top offensive players in the NFL's first week, passing for 448 yards and three touchdowns.

When the Bengals and Falcons meet Sunday in Cincinnati, something will have to give. Will the Bengals finally relent and get outscored at home for the first time in a regular-season game in three seasons? Or will the Falcons' offense fail to take off after last week's explosion?

ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure (Atlanta Falcons reporter) and Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) are here to help you preview the matchup:

Harvey: Let's start with you, Vaughn. Ryan’s right arm was the story for the Falcons against New Orleans last weekend. What kind of message do you think his performance sent the league?

McClure: I think the message here is that Ryan is definitely among the league’s elite quarterbacks, when he has time to throw. Last year, he was the most pressured quarterback in the league and didn’t have time to step up in the pocket and go deep. Against the Saints, I think we saw how beneficial it was for Ryan to have a big, strong right guard protecting him in offseason acquisition Jon Asamoah. Ryan didn’t have pressure in his face like he did last year when the Saints came to the Georgia Dome. And Ryan showed off some surprising mobility, that he says he’s always had inside of him, to extend plays. A large part of that was him, but he also had noticeable space to work with due to better protection. Ryan was sacked just once against the Saints. If he continues to stay upright, and his primary weapons in Julio Jones, Roddy White, Devin Hester and Harry Douglas stay healthy, he should put up astronomical numbers this year.

Speaking of quarterbacks, I've had my doubts about Andy Dalton, and then he gets rewarded with a contract extension. What makes you believe he was a worthwhile investment and where does he need to improve the most this season?

Harvey: Two words: Hue Jackson. Not long after the Bengals promoted Jackson to offensive coordinator, and not long after he began telling reporters here what his offensive approach would be, I became sold on the fact it would be wise for the Bengals to invest in Dalton before this season. Why? Because I believe Jackson's scheme and tough-as-nails coaching is going to put Dalton in more favorable positions than he's been in at any point of his career. I'm serious when I say this. We'll see if Jackson's in Cincinnati this time next year. This offense has the potential to be that good. Already we've seen Dalton play relatively clean football. He didn't have a turnover in the preseason against the Chiefs', Jets' and Cardinals' first-team defenses, and he didn't have one against the Ravens last Sunday. He's starting to showcase some of his old college mobility with the read option, and he's giving defenses looks he hadn't previously shown. He also came into the season passing better, following instructions from quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese and off-team throwing instructor Tom House. Dalton still has to show his decision-making has improved, and he needs to clean up his read-option play. Otherwise, he's in line for a big year.

Atlanta’s offense has gotten most of the headlines the past couple of seasons. Having a combination like Ryan, Jones, White and Tony Gonzalez will do that. What does the Falcons’ defense have to do in this game to prove that last week's 34 points allowed was an aberration, and that it can have an impact, too?

McClure: The Falcons won’t boast a top-10 defense this season, probably not even a top-15 defense. But they don’t have to if the offense continues to put points on the board. What the defense needs to do is come up with timely turnovers, as it did with William Moore's forced fumble in overtime of the opener, which set up Bryant’s game-winning field goal. The defense needs to be much better on third down, and a big part of that will be avoiding penalties in third-down situations. The Falcons also have to surrender fewer explosive plays, which really was a regular occurrence last year. There’s a tremendous concern about the lack of pressure up front, particularly after no sacks were recorded against the Saints. But they were up against Drew Brees, arguably the best in the business with his footwork and getting the ball out quickly. If the Falcons can just generate adequate pressure despite not having an elite pass-rusher, life will be much easier.

I know a couple of key players on defense exited the last game early. Is Geno Atkins ready to go and is Vontaze Burfict going to be cleared off a concussion? How will it change the dynamic of the defense if Burfict's not ready?

Harvey: As I'm typing this, there appears to be a greater deal of uncertainty over Atkins than we originally thought. After reporters saw Atkins get carted into the locker room after Sunday’s game, head coach Marvin Lewis said he believed the defensive tackle was just dehydrated. Lo and behold, Atkins didn’t practice Wednesday and was listed as having a “feet” injury. It’s possible Devon Still’s activation this week had something to do with Atkins possibly being unable to go this week. As for Burfict, it depends in part on whether he's able to practice Friday. But even then, that's not necessarily the best barometer of showing whether he'll play Sunday. Offensive tackle Andre Smith took two weeks at the end of the preseason to pass the concussion protocol and be allowed to practice. He didn't play in a single preseason game, though, per doctor's orders. If Burfict isn't able to play, you'll see a lot of Vincent Rey. The backup can play any linebacker position and became a fan favorite last year after performing well in relief of middle linebacker Rey Maualuga. Without Burfict, the Bengals may have to adjust their pass rush and send pressure from other areas of the secondary. Last week, safety Reggie Nelson blitzed a lot after Burfict's departure.

Steven Jackson had a decent showing last week with his 12 carries for 52 yards. How confident are people around the team in him after last year’s injury struggles and comparative lack of production?

McClure: Some folks are going to lobby for other players such as Jacquizz Rodgers, Antone Smith and rookie Devonta Freeman to take carries away from Jackson. Of course, Jackson is the aging veteran at 31. But what people sometimes underestimate is the value he brings as a punishing tone-setter at the start of games. And if playing a four-back committee works as well as it did in the opener, Jackson will simply be fresher to pick up the tough yards in goal-line and short-yardage situations. He doesn’t need to gain 100 yards per game. That’s the old Jackson. But picking up a handful of first downs, breaking off a long run here and there and helping the Falcons achieve their 75 percent conversion target in short-yardage situations means Jackson’s doing his job. He just needs to stay healthy and hope hamstring issues don’t resurface.

I fully expect the Falcons to give added defensive attention to A.J. Green. If that occurs, which player do you expect to take advantage the most in one-on-one situations?

Harvey: I probably would have said tight end Tyler Eifert. But with Eifert now out with an elbow injury, I'm going to go with a combination of Mohamed Sanu and running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. Sanu is the Bengals' No. 2 receiver right now with Marvin Jones still out with a foot injury, and he has been impressive since training camp. He's a player who can take advantage of mismatches, and one who can be used in a variety of ways. Not only will he catch passes but he'll run the ball some, too. He might even pass the ball if the situation presents itself. He has a pretty spiral when he throws. Along with Sanu, Bernard and Hill could be key in the screen and short-yardage passing game. Last week Bernard had the most targets of any Bengals pass-catcher with 10.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh declined to name a starting running back after the team released Ray Rice on Monday.

Forsett
 Asked who would start Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Harbaugh said, "Bernard Pierce, Justin Forsett -- they’ll both play a lot. Lorenzo Taliaferro will be a big part of it, too."

If you didn't pick up on it, Harbaugh named every tailback on the roster. As I wrote earlier, Forsett earned the right to start against the Steelers after gaining 70 yards on 11 carries in the season opener.

But, since no one in the backfield is an established starter, Harbaugh will likely go with the hot hand each game. The approach is probably a running-back-by-committee, so Harbaugh would be right in naming everyone a starter.

Forsett, though, deserves the first shot after showing more burst and elusiveness than the Ravens' other backs. The question mark with Forsett is how long he can hold up considering he's a small back at 5-foot-8 and 197 pounds.

He's only made seven starts in his seven-year career. The last came four years ago.

"I’m ready to seize the moment," said Forsett, who is comfortable with Gary Kubiak's offense after playing in Houston in 2012. "My job is to go out and perform when my number is called. I’m excited about [the] opportunity. Hopefully [there will] be some great things to come on Thursday night.”

Pierce
 Pierce deserves another chance as well. He was benched in the second quarter Sunday after fumbling, but it was his first career fumble.

The Ravens don't have enough depth at running back to keep Pierce standing on the sideline. A third-round pick in 2012, Pierce showed flashes in his rookie season (averaged 4.9 yards per carry) before struggling last season (2.9-yard average).

On the depth chart in the team's weekly press release (which is unofficial), Pierce is listed as the starting running back.

Pierce said he doesn't know whether he'll play against the Steelers because he doesn't control that. But he does think he can turn his season around if he gets on the field.

"I’ve just got to make sure first things first, protect the ball," he said.

The Ravens' ground game is among the biggest keys of the game after the Steelers couldn't slow down the Cleveland Browns' running backs. The Steelers allowed 183 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 30 attempts (a 6.1-yard average).
CINCINNATI -- On the surface, it would appear that Monday afternoon's announcement from the Cincinnati Bengals that cornerback Onterio McCalebb had been dropped from the 53-man roster was a sign that rookie corner Darqueze Dennard was getting closer to finally playing.

Dennard was declared inactive before Sunday's game after it was surmised that he wasn't healthy enough to compete for a third consecutive week. He's now going on a month straight in which he hasn't played because of a hip injury that popped up on his first play in Week 2 of the preseason against the Jets.

Dennard
"This is new. This is my first time experiencing this injury," Dennard said Monday. "It's definitely different. It's something that I never experienced before and it's pretty tough. But I'm recovering well. The training staff is doing a great job and setting me up and doing schedules and getting me ready. We'll see how this week goes."

Before designating Dennard as inactive, the Bengals had waived defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi and moved McCalebb off the practice squad to take Dennard's spot. McCalebb was meant to only be a special teams addition to the roster, called upon to play on the coverage units Dennard couldn't participate on.

On Monday, the same day Bilukidi reportedly signed with the Ravens, McCalebb was waived. With a 10th and final practice-squad spot still available, the young defensive back is likely to be added back onto the team as part of that group later this week. In addition to waiving McCalebb, the Bengals also officially terminated receiver Cobi Hamilton's contract. A team official said the Bengals had been granted an extension on Hamilton's status while they figured out what to do with him.

Hamilton originally was cut Aug. 30 when the Bengals got down to their 53-man roster, but he also never formally was announced as a practice squad addition.

With McCalebb now off the 53-man roster, the Bengals have a spot available. After last week's apparent near-signing of defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, it now seems Cincinnati will be adding the lineman to the mix. He posted a picture last Tuesday on Instagram to announce that he had signed with the team. The Bengals never made a signing formal, and a signing didn't seem promising last week.

The dominoes have now lined up for that signing to come.

They also have lined up for Dennard to get back on the field.

"I've just got to continue to get better in practice and show throughout this week when we have practices that I'm ready to go," Dennard said.

The Georgia native is hoping to make his debut against the Falcons on Sunday after a rough football weekend. In addition to missing the season opener this past Sunday, Dennard's Michigan State Spartans lost at Oregon on Saturday.

"Tough weekend for us," he said. "We'll rebound. The Spartans are going to rebound, and I'm going to rebound, as well. It's just positive thoughts in the future."

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