NFL Nation: Bobbie Williams

The Ravens released veteran guard Bobbie Williams on Friday, which could end the career of the 36-year-old lineman.

This move saves the Ravens a modest $800,000 off their salary cap. The Ravens talked this offseason about wanting to play their young offensive linemen, and paying Williams $1.2 million this season obviously didn't fit into that plan.

The Ravens were extremely complimentary of Williams for his one season with the team. Williams has always been a popular player in the locker room, whether it was in Cincinnati or Baltimore.

“We were fortunate to have a man like Bobbie Williams on the Ravens last season,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement. “His contributions and significance to the team went far beyond his play on the field -- and he responded on the field every time we called him. Bobbie is first-class in every way. You could not find anyone from the Ravens who got to know him this year who would say anything but good things about Bobbie. We thank him for helping us win the championship.”

Williams made six starts for the Ravens last season. He replaced Ramon Harewood at left guard a month into the season before being replaced by Jah Reid in the middle of the year.

After winning his first Super Bowl, Williams said he didn't plan to retire. He played eight seasons for the Bengals before joining Baltimore in 2012.

“Bobbie was a bigger part of the puzzle to win the Super Bowl than most people know,” coach John Harbaugh said. “This is an outstanding person, and we loved having him on the Ravens. His maturity, leadership, practice habits and the way he played were all impressive for us. To come in here for one season and fit the way he did says a lot about him. We are all better for having Bobbie on the Ravens for a season.”

Ngata, Yanda playing for Ravens

November, 11, 2012
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BALTIMORE -- The Ravens announced their inactive list for today's game against the Oakland Raiders, and the only starter out is defensive end Pernell McPhee.

Three starters -- defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (shoulder, knee) and guards Marshal Yanda (ankle) and Bobbie Williams (ankle) -- all missed practice Wednesday and Thursday before returning Friday with limited participation. All three were considered questionable.

Here is the Ravens' inactive list: DE Pernell McPhee, G-T Ramon Harewood, WR Deonte Thompson, S Christian Thompson, CB Asa Jackson, RB Bobby Rainey and TE Billy Bajema.
BALTIMORE -- Former Cincinnati Bengals lineman Bobbie Williams will make his first start for the Baltimore Ravens, replacing benched Ramon Harewood at left guard. Harewood, who had started the first five games, is on the inactive list Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.

The Ravens are also making a change on kickoff returns. Undrafted rookie Deonte Thompson, who had been the primary kickoff returner, fumbled in Kansas City last Sunday. Jacoby Jones is expected to replace him. LaQuan Williams is another option.

Here's the Ravens' inactive list: G Ramon Harewood, OT Jah Reid, WR Deonte Thompson, LB Sergio Kindle, DE DeAngelo Tyson, CB Asa Jackson and DT Bryan Hall.
Michael Oher is staying at left tackle for the Ravens, the NFL Network is reporting. This was an unexpected lineup change in the season opener because the Ravens were presumably going with Bryant McKinnie at that spot.

The switches on the left side of the Ravens' offensive line in Week 1 -- Oher over McKinnie at tackle and Ramon Harewood instead of Bobbie Williams at guard -- make sense in light of the team's no-huddle offense. The Ravens can move at a quicker tempo with Oher (26 years old) and Harewood (25). It would have been more difficult with McKinnie, 32, who is battling weight issues, and Williams, 35, who is dealing with ankle problems.

While Oher is still better on the right side than the left, it makes sense to go younger and more athletic. The other benefit of moving Oher to the left side is getting Kelechi Osemele on the field at right tackle. Osemele, a second-round pick, has been the team's most impressive rookie.

The reshuffling of the Ravens' offensive line makes sense why the team wanted McKinnie to take a $1 million pay cut. He is scheduled to make $2.2 million and could make the rest back with incentives. The way the Ravens are proceeding with the offensive line, McKinnie likely won't see that money anytime soon.
Joe Flacco and A.J. Green Getty ImagesBaltimore's Joe Flacco, left, and Cincinnati's A.J. Green could hold the keys to victory Monday.
Thanks to Marvin Lewis, the Cincinnati Bengals match up pretty well against the Baltimore Ravens.

Even though the Ravens have been a perennial playoff team, Lewis, the Ravens’ defensive coordinator from 1996-2001, builds his Bengals roster to counter his division rival. Because he helped hand-pick several of the top defensive players who have helped make the Ravens one of the best defenses in the league, the Bengals usually know they can give the Ravens a game.

Since 2006, this competitive series has had only two games in which the margin of difference was bigger than 10 points. In fact, Lewis has a 10-8 lifetime record against the Ravens. Since John Harbaugh arrived in Baltimore in 2008, he’s won five out of eight against the Bengals.

Here’s what to watch for in this competitive Monday night game:

Baltimore Ravens

1. Will the Ravens have a pass-rush? The loss of linebacker Terrell Suggs was huge for the Ravens. His Achilles tendon injury has created an Achilles’ heel for their defense. They need a pass-rush. This goes beyond replacing Suggs’ 14 sacks. During the preseason, the Ravens didn’t show they were consistently getting to the quarterback. Second-round linebacker Courtney Upshaw is still getting his feel for the NFL and might offer some hope. The pressure will fall on Paul Kruger, who takes over Suggs’ spot. The Ravens are blessed with good coverage cornerbacks, which might allow them to try some blitzes.

2. More will fall on the arm of Joe Flacco: Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron plans to let Flacco take more leadership on the field and let him use more no-huddle. Though the Ravens don’t plan to abandon the run, they will be running an offense with a quicker tempo. Normally, the Bengals play the Ravens to low-scoring games in which both teams often end up scoring in the teens. Last season, offense became more of a factor. The Ravens won, 31-24, and 24-16. Flacco would love to get three or four touchdown drives against the Bengals.

3. More speed at wide receiver: One of the reasons the Bengals and Lewis keep the scores low against the Ravens is because the Bengals use plenty of man-to-man schemes. In the past, the Ravens didn’t have a lot of speed at wide receiver. This year they have speed. Torrey Smith, in his second season, is now a complete receiver with speed instead of only being a deep threat in his rookie year. Jacoby Jones adds a sub-4.4 threat. LaQuan Williams is fast. Watch to see if the Ravens receivers can win the battle against the Bengals cornerbacks.

4. Are the Ravens solid up front? The Ravens are fielding one of the oldest offensive lines in football. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie is 32. Guard Bobbie Williams is 35. Center Matt Birk is 36. One of the keys to the running game is how Williams and Birk do against defensive tackle Geno Atkins. If Atkins’ quickness beats the aging legs of Birk and Williams, the Ravens might have trouble running the football up the middle. They might also be vulnerable to inside blitzes.

5. Will Ray Rice’s role change? Rice has carried the Ravens offense for years, but the subtle changes in this year’s offense could adjust his role. First, will the no-huddle limit some of the runs Rice could make? Second, if the Ravens have problems in the middle of the line, will he have to bounce more plays to the outside? Rice is a threat running and receiving, but the new emphasis on throwing the ball could make him more of a threat through the air.

Cincinnati Bengals:

1. Problems in the middle of the Bengals offensive line: The Bengals lost guard Travelle Wharton and center Kyle Cook for the season, and they have to make do with Clint Boling at left guard and Jeff Faine at center. Faine is an established NFL veteran, but he sometimes has trouble against big 3-4 defensive tackles. How he handles Terrence Cody, Haloti Ngata and Ma'ake Kemoeatu could be the key to the game for the Bengals. If the pocket collapses in the middle of the field, it could be a tough day for quarterback Andy Dalton.

2. Establishing the man-to-man matchups: Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is a master of matching up his cornerbacks against receivers. He has plenty of options. Nate Clements and Leon Hall are the starters, but at his disposal is longtime Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman, Adam “PacMan” Jones, and Jason Allen.

3. Making sure Taylor Mays has a good game: Taylor Mays won the strong safety job, so this will be his most extensive playing time as he enters his third year in the league. Mays has cornerback speed and is a big hitter, but he is still raw at the position. The Ravens will try to challenge him by sending tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta in his direction. Flacco will also try to get him out of position with play-action fakes that could free up Torrey Smith for some deep completions.

4. Establishing a running game: The Bengals had a solid running back with Cedric Benson. Now, the BenJarvus Green-Ellis era begins. Green-Ellis is a smart player who doesn’t fumble, but he has yet to prove he can be an every-down back week in, week out. The Bengals still have a young quarterback in Dalton, so it would be nice if he could count on Green-Ellis getting 16 to 18 carries a week.

5. Sorting out the receiving corps: Everyone knows A.J. Green has established himself as one of the best young receivers in football. Tight end Jermaine Gresham is a big-play tight end. But the Bengals have revamped everything behind him. Andrew Hawkins takes over as the slot receiver. Brandon Tate is the starter at wide receiver for now, but third-round pick Mohamed Sanu is an intriguing prospect. With defenses figuring to double Green, Dalton has to see who can establish themselves as dependable pass-catching options.
Don't worry, I'm not going to quote a former NFL defensive lineman and say the Ravens and Steelers are "old, slow and it's over." But the Ravens and Steelers are old. This isn't a matter of opinion. There's statistical evidence that backs it up.

In a recent post by NFC West blogger Mike Sando, Baltimore and Pittsburgh rank in the top five in terms of oldest starters in 2012. The Ravens are third and the Steelers are fifth, but the breakdown of the numbers might surprise you.

Most assume the Ravens are old on defense because of linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed. That's not the case, however. Baltimore is actually in the middle of the pack with the 15th-oldest defensive starters.

Where the Ravens have aged is on offense. In fact, they have the oldest starters on offense in the NFL. The average age is 28.7 years old. Baltimore starts five players on offense who are 30 years or older: fullback Vonta Leach (30), left tackle Bryant McKinnie (32), center Matt Birk (36), left guard Bobbie Williams (35) and wide receiver Anquan Boldin (31).

It will come as no shock that the Steelers rank first in regards to oldest starters on defense. Their average age is 30.1 years. Pittsburgh has seven projected starters over 30 years old: defensive end Brett Keisel (33), nose tackle Casey Hampton (34), linebackers James Harrison (34) and Larry Foote (32), cornerback Ike Taylor (32) and safeties Ryan Clark (32) and Troy Polamalu (31). The age would go down if Steve McLendon (26) starts for Hampton this season.

The number that matters more than age (but less than wins) is the ranking at the end of the season, which shows how these old players perform on the field. The Steelers are trying to repeat as the NFL's top-ranked defense, and the Ravens are looking to crack the top 10 in offense for the first time since 1997.

While the Ravens and Steelers are among the oldest, the Bengals and Browns are among the youngest. Cleveland ranks 29th in oldest starters in the NFL and Cincinnati is 30th. The Bengals have the youngest offensive starters in the league, and the Browns have the second-youngest.

There's no middle ground when it comes to age in the AFC North.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Here are some observations from Ravens truing camp Monday:
  • The Ravens gave offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie some reps with the first team for the first time this camp. He's under 360 pounds, and the team still wants him to lose 10 more pounds.

  • Billy Cundiff missed two field goals, from 24 and 34 yards. Head coach John Harbaugh explained that the miss from 24 yards was the result of a high snap.
  • Wide receiver Torrey Smith continued to practice hard despite favoring his sprained ankle, which he injured in the preseason opener. Harbaugh had to pull a determined Smith from practice, saying, "He'll go until his heart explodes."
  • The Ravens have moved nose Terrence Cody to second team, but it's only a temporary demotion. He has a hip problem that has slowed him recently. The coaches were pleasantly surprised with Cody reporting to camp with less than 22 percent body fat.
  • Left guard Bobbie Williams has been given two days off to rest his ankle, which has swollen up on him. The Ravens put second-round pick Kelechi Osemele at left guard. Osemele, who has been working at right tackle, has impressed the coaching staff as well as his teammates.
  • Before that Boldin catch, the Ravens' offense struggled in the team drills. During a four-play stretch, Boldin, tight end Matt Balasavage and running back Ray Rice all dropped passes. The only play that didn't result in a drop ended with Flacco getting sacked.
  • Some coaches make their players run gassers. Harbaugh has a new tradition at camp, one where he's the one running wind sprints after practice. On Monday, he ran sideline to sideline with some kids. "I told them that they had to work for their autographs," Harbaugh said with a smile.
Ravens/SteelersGetty ImagesThe Ravens are counting on experience, while Pittsburgh is banking on youth and pedigree.
The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers share similar belief systems from building a team through the draft to maintaining cohesion in the front office to relying on a quarterback-attacking 3-4 defense. The NFL's version of the Hatfields & McCoys have been philosophical twins throughout most of the past decade.

Where the Ravens and Steelers differ this year, and differ drastically, is on the offensive line. The Ravens are banking on experience, and the Steelers are going with youth.

Which team is making the right decision for this year? The final standings will let everyone know. While the Bengals will have a say in the division race, the offensive line will go a long way in determining whether the Ravens are better than the Steelers, or vice versa.

There are risks and rewards with both strategies because Baltimore and Pittsburgh are going to the extremes. The Ravens have the oldest offensive line in the NFL, and the Steelers have one of the youngest.

If you want a line with cohesion, you'll take the Ravens. If you want a line with fresh legs and a strong pedigree, you'll take the Steelers. If you worry about a line breaking down, you'll want to stay away from Baltimore. And if you are concerned about rookie mistakes, you'll distance yourself from Pittsburgh.

The Ravens are in the most trouble, if you believe the "Theory of 150" from ESPN's John Clayton. This is how Clayton explains it: "If a team lets its starting offensive line exceed the total age of 150 years for five starters, the clock is ticking on its remaining success." A cumulative age of 150 means an average age of 30 for five starters.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
Charles LeClaire/US PresswirePittsburgh's offensive line allowed 42 sacks last season -- tied for ninth-worst in the NFL.
Baltimore's projected starting lineup is: left tackle Bryant McKinnie (turns 33 in September), left guard Bobbie Williams (turns 36 in September), center Matt Birk (turns 36 this month), right guard Marshal Yanda (turns 28 in September) and right tackle Michael Oher (26). That's a grand total of 159. In other words, the Ravens are the Rolling Stones of offensive lines.

As Clayton points out, three of the six lowest-rated lines last year were affected by the Theory of 150: the Bears (32nd), Giants (31st) and Redskins (27th). The Ravens linemen, however, aren't paying much attention to the criticism.

"Trust me, people don’t have anything to worry about,” said Oher, who is entering his fifth season with the Ravens. “This is the most confident I’ve been in our group. I really like the pieces in our room. I think we’re going to be great."

The Steelers will be equally as great if they live up to draft expectations. Pittsburgh's commitment to building an offensive line shows in that the Steelers have used two first-round picks (center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro) and two second-round ones (offensive tackles Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams) on blockers over the past three drafts.

The only projected starter not drafted since 2010 is left guard Willie Colon, who hasn't even turned 30. The average age of Pittsburgh's projected line is 24, or nearly eight years younger than the Ravens' offensive line.

"I love what the Steelers have done in that they have built an incredibly talented foundation for years to come without sacrificing too much for 2012," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "If I were to pick one NFL offensive line for the long term, it would be Pittsburgh's. But doing so came at a price in terms of high draft picks. Still, this is the best way to build a great offensive line."

Pittsburgh needed to create a foundation after last year's offensive line continued to crack. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Steelers used a league-high 25 different offensive line combinations in 2011.

The challenge for Pittsburgh is getting DeCastro and Adams ready to start as rookies. This isn't typical for a Steelers organization that has started only one rookie offensive lineman in a season opener over the past decade (it was Pouncey).

What has hurt the development of DeCastro and Adams is the fact that they were limited to one full-team minicamp this spring because of a rule that prohibits rookies from practicing with their pro teams until the academic calendar year of the school they attended is over.

"I think in the big scheme of things, when we push toward the fall and winter, hopefully it will be insignificant if they do what they're supposed to do and we do what we're supposed to do," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "Obviously, it creates some short-term misery. But, as professionals, we all should be able to overcome that."

While the Ravens offensive line is much older than the Steelers right now, Baltimore can get young very quickly. The Ravens have used draft picks on their offensive line, too.

Over the past two drafts, Baltimore has selected guard Kelechi Osemele in the second round, tackle Jah Reid in the third and center Gino Gradkowski in the fourth. But, unlike the Steelers, the Ravens have decided to wait on putting them in the starting lineup. One could assume all three will be starters by next season along with Oher and Yanda.

"What is nice about how Baltimore is doing things is that they not only now have good overall offensive line depth, and some young guys that can play several positions, but they also don't have to thrust youthful players to the field before they are ready," Williamson said.

The similarities for both lines is that their success rests on the play of their left tackles. There are questions whether McKinnie, who didn't practice during the Ravens mandatory minicamp last month because he was nine pounds over his targeted weight, can maintain his level of play throughout a full season. And there are questions whether Adams, who managed 19 reps in the 225-pound bench press at the NFL combine (a low number for an offensive lineman), is strong enough to protect Ben Roethlisberger's blind side right away.

"To start right away is definitely a goal, but I'm trying to just learn and be ready to contribute, help this team any way I can," Adams told FoxSports Ohio. "We have one goal in Pittsburgh and that's to win a Super Bowl, so it's my job to just do whatever I have to do to help that."

For the past two seasons, a fine line has separated the Ravens and Steelers, who've had identical records in 2010 and 2011. This year, another line could be what separates the two heated rivals.
The Cincinnati Bengals are looking to end the NFL's longest playoff win drought (21 seasons) this year. But there's another rough streak that got extended this week for Cincinnati.

The NFL officially announced that linebacker Dontay Moch has been suspended for the first four games of the season because he violated the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

This marks the third straight year that a Bengals player has been suspended by the NFL for taking performance-enhancing substances. Guard Bobbie Williams was disciplined last season, and defensive end Antwan Odom was punished in 2010.

Moch, a third-round pick in 2011, is looking to rebound from a disappointing rookie season which saw him inactive for every game and avoid the same fate as Williams and Odom, who weren't with the Bengals the year following their suspended one. Odom was out of the league last season but the Ravens and Broncos could potentially show interest in him this year. Williams missed the final three games last season with a broken ankle before signing with Baltimore last week.
The addition of former Bengals guard Bobbie Williams reveals how desperate the Baltimore Ravens are at that position.

This shows a lack of confidence in rookie second-round pick Kelechi Osemele and Jah Reid, who were expected to compete for that starting spot. While Williams adds much-needed experience, I'm not sure if Baltimore really improved itself. The Ravens are still going to go from a Pro Bowl guard (Ben Grubbs) to one who will turn 36 in September and is coming off ankle surgery (Williams).

The best-case scenario is that Williams holds up like another former Bengals lineman did in 2008, when Willie Anderson started at right tackle for a Ravens team that went to the AFC Championship Game. But you have to have doubts because the Bengals, who were in desperate need of a guard this offseason, didn't try to keep Williams. Cincinnati signed Jacob Bell, who has since retired, as a backup over bringing back Williams.

“Bobbie is a guy who has been in the league for a long time,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in a statement. “We’ve played against him, and we like his style of play and his demeanor as a person and as a player. We’re excited to have him as a member of our team.”

In nine games for the Bengals last season, Williams took a step back as a powerful run blocker but he graded out positively as a pass protector. Williams, who played right guard for the Bengals, might not technically be replacing Grubbs, who played on the left side. If the Ravens go with Williams at right guard, they would move Marshal Yanda to the left.

The Ravens potentially have one of the oldest lines in the league now. They might have three starters in their 30s: Williams, left tackle Bryant McKinnie (32) and center Matt Birk (35).

Baltimore tried to fill the void at left guard in free agency. The Ravens fell a few million short of re-signing Grubbs and couldn't lure Evan Mathis away from the Philadelphia Eagles. Baltimore is also limited in what moves it could make because of limited salary-cap room.

I thought the Ravens would look at former Browns guard Eric Steinbach, who missed all of last season with a back injury. The signing of Williams rules out that move.
Some might have been surprised when the Bengals agreed to a one-year deal with guard Jacob Bell. It has been four weeks since he visited Cincinnati.

Bell
But adding Bell makes sense, especially signing him to a short-term contract. The Bengals needed a right guard heading into the draft, and they could do much worse than a lineman who has 100 career starts. This isn't to say Bell was signed to be the starter, because he's a below-average run-blocker.

So, what does the signing of Bell mean? He's a one-year insurance policy. The Bengals will still likely draft Stanford's David DeCastro or Georgia's Cordy Glenn if one is available at one of the team's two first-round picks. The addition of Bell means they don't have to draft one of them.

The Bengals have more flexibility and can take the best player available at the 17th and 21st overall picks. They don't have to draft solely on need. And, even if the Bengals don't draft a guard, Bell will probably have to beat out Clint Boling and Otis Hudson for the job.

Finding someone to fill the spot long manned by Bobbie Williams was one of the last glaring holes in Cincinnati's starting lineup. The Bengals addressed left guard earlier this offseason when they signed Panthers free agent Travelle Wharton.
TJ YatesAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesWith the game on the line, Houston's rookie QB T.J. Yates made the clutch plays, not the Bengals.
CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals aren't a playoff team this year.

That's not to say they're eliminated from the postseason. That's not to say the Bengals will fail to reach the playoffs next season and the next five years after that. But Sunday's 20-19 loss -- make that punch-in-the-gut collapse -- to the Houston Texans illustrates one point: The Bengals aren't ready.

Playoff teams come through in the clutch in December. They don't allow a rookie third-string quarterback to drive 80 yards in the final minutes to score the winning touchdown.

Playoff teams finish off teams on their home turf during a playoff run. They don't squander nine-point leads in the fourth quarter. They don't let a receiver go uncovered across the middle of the field on second-and-goal in the final seconds.

It would be easy to say the Bengals looked like the Bungles. Let's not go there. The Bengals simply looked like a young team that flinched when they needed to punch back.

“It’s a defeated feeling today," safety Chris Crocker said. "I can’t even put it into words how bad this hurts, especially being in it until eight seconds left. We just had so many opportunities. I can’t even put a word on how much this hurts."

Crocker added, "It was just one of those games where there were missed opportunities time after time after time. It was our own fault. We put ourselves in bad positions. Offensively and defensively, we just made critical errors all day long. And that’s why we lost this game.”

Some might argue that this is putting too much into one game. But Marvin Lewis was the one who called this the "biggest" game of his nine-year Bengals coaching career. Instead, he suffered one of the biggest collapses. Lewis talked about a "rebirth." Instead, he watched a loss that might have killed his best coaching season.

Hey, what's that saying ... If a team falls and there is no one there to see it, does it make a sound? Ok, that's a low blow, but it's accurate. The second-smallest crowd in Paul Brown history showed up, leaving 24,333 seats unfilled. Those empty seats matched the Bengals' empty feeling.

"As far as the team goes, they are very disappointed and I’m going to have to pump some air in them," Lewis said. "We have to make some corrections and get back on track. Before this game, we controlled our own destiny, and now I can’t tell you what is going to happen. We have to move forward and see what happens."

The Bengals entered this game with a hold on the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. They left with a 7-6 record, one game back of the New York Jets (8-5), who grabbed the No. 6 seed away from them.

Even if Cincinnati is able to get that playoff spot back in the final three weeks, the Bengals will be a playoff team in name only. The Bengals are a team that will do damage in future seasons. They have the NFL's best rookie quarterback-receiver combination in the past two decades. They have a defense that will come back stronger with a healthy Leon Hall and Carlos Dunlap.

At this point, Cincinnati isn't on the same level as Baltimore and Pittsburgh. And the Bengals proved today that they can't beat a Texans team that is without its top two quarterbacks and star wide receiver Andre Johnson.

The Bengals are now 1-6 against teams that currently have winning records.

"It's not even about the playoffs anymore. It's about winning games," Crocker said. "We can't think about the postseason until we start winning games. It's a remote idea right now."

Everything that the Bengals did right -- a 97-yard touchdown drive, a 49-yard field goal in the final seconds of the first half and a season-high four turnovers forced -- gets lost in what the Bengals did wrong.

Cincinnati had first-and-goal at the Houston 1-yard line in the first quarter until right guard Bobbie Williams' false start (that led to a field goal instead of a touchdown). The Bengals were 1 of 3 in the red zone.

Cincinnati had a 13-point lead to open the second half until quarterback Andy Dalton was stripped from behind on the second play of the third quarter. Rookie tight end Colin Cochart couldn't block Connor Barwin, who caused the fumble inside the Bengals' 20-yard line (leading to a quick Texans touchdown).

And Cincinnati forced a fumble early in the fourth quarter, but defensive end Frostee Rucker coughed it up while trying to score. Then, Bengals safety Reggie Nelson and linebacker Manny Lawson fought over the ball, which allowed the Texans to regain control at their own 2-yard line.

Leading 19-10 at the time, the Bengals could have had the ball in the red zone and with a chance to put the game away. But three Bengals couldn't hold onto the fumble. The Texans marched 83 yards for a field goal to pull within 19-13 and set up the dramatic finish.

"That should have been one of the [turnovers] that would have helped us tremendously," Lawson said.

Their biggest downfall came on the final drive. On third-and-15, the Bengals allowed Yates to scramble for 17 yards. Then, after a 17-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Adam Jones, they allowed the 152nd pick of the draft to throw the winning touchdown when middle linebacker Rey Maualuga followed tight end Owen Daniels and let Walter run free over the middle.

"A rookie quarterback beat us today," Crocker said. "I don't even know what to say. Wow. I don't even know what to say."

The Bengals are a good team. They are a promising one. But the Bengals have made it clear that they're not a playoff team.

"We knew if we came out there and outperformed them, it was a matter of time where we would get our chance to shine," Maualuga said. "But it sucks to look at that scoreboard and see that we lost by one point when we knew we had the whole game in the palm of our hands."
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AFC North union reps

March, 3, 2011
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Here are the player reps for each AFC North team, according to the NFLPA:

Baltimore Ravens: WR Derrick Mason

Alternates: CB Chris Carr, C Matt Birk

Skinny: Mason is one of the most experienced and outspoken players on the Ravens. Therefore he fits great in this role. Carr and Birk are also two great alternatives from Baltimore.

Cincinnati Bengals: LT Andrew Whitworth

Alternates: G Bobbie Williams, TE Reggie Kelly

Skinny: This trio comprises Cincinnati's locker room leaders. Whitworth has taken an increased role and is usually the one who briefs the rest of the Bengals on player issues. Williams and Kelly are both elder statesmen and combine for 25 years of NFL experience.

Cleveland Browns: TE Robert Royal

Alternates: OT Tony Pashos, CB Sheldon Brown, TE Ben Watson

Skinny: Lately the Browns have been a strange team when it comes to union reps. With three regime changes the past few years, it's been a rotating door. Royal was recently released by the Browns, meaning Cleveland will have another player rep next season. All the alternatives spent their first year with the Browns in 2010.

Pittsburgh Steelers: S Ryan Clark

Alternates: WR Antwaan Randle El, LT Max Starks

Skinny: Like Mason, Clark is never afraid to speak his mind. He recently had a lot to say on the pending NFL lockout during Super Bowl week. Randle El and Starks are both intelligent alternatives, as well.

How to rebuild the Bengals

December, 9, 2010
12/09/10
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Carson Palmer/Marvin Lewis/Chad OchocincoUS PresswireWith the Bengals in need of a major makeover, it may be time for Carson Palmer, Marvin Lewis and Chad Ochocinco to find new homes.
Last month the AFC North blog said it was time to blow up the Cincinnati Bengals.

Now we will explain how to rebuild this struggling franchise.

Coming off a division title and playoff appearance in 2009, Cincinnati is having its most disappointing season in recent memory. The Bengals are 2-10 and headed toward one of the top picks in the draft.

It will be a very interesting offseason in Cincinnati. The Bengals have key decisions to make on their coaching staff, as well as positions such as quarterback, running back and receiver.

The AFC North blog put on its general manager hat and spent this week sifting through the Bengals' roster to determine who stays and who goes. We came up with a blueprint that will get this team headed in the right direction.

Keep in mind, this is not a prediction of what the Bengals will do. It's our guide to what we believe the Bengals should do.

Head coach

Analysis: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has four games left on his contract, and to our knowledge there have been no recent negotiations. It's a good time for Lewis to step away. He has fought battles against heavy-handed ownership for eight seasons and done all he could, leading the downtrodden Bengals to two playoff appearances. There is already speculation Lewis may have interest in the head-coaching opening at the University of Pittsburgh, where he has local ties. He dodged that question earlier this week. Don't expect a big-name hire in Cincinnati. The Bengals don't want to pay the kind of money it takes to land someone like Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden, and big-name coaches wouldn't go to a team that doesn't have a GM, ownership makes the football decisions, and there are average facilities and very few scouts. Our best pick is Hue Jackson. He's a former receivers coach in Cincinnati and has done a great job in stops with Baltimore, Atlanta, Washington and Oakland. As offensive coordinator in Oakland this season, he has helped make the Raiders a playoff contender and is very familiar with the AFC North. Jackson is a rising star and would be an excellent choice. Mike Zimmer remains the best in-house candidate. He has the respect of the locker room and helped turn around the defense in recent seasons. Perhaps a Jackson (HC) and Zimmer (DC) tandem would infuse much-needed energy into this team.

Quarterback

Analysis: This is probably the toughest decision the Bengals will make this offseason, but it wasn't difficult for the AFC North blog. We're convinced it's time to part ways with quarterback Carson Palmer. The QB, who is in the middle of a $118.75 million contract, will be one of the NFL's highest-paid players next season with a base salary of $11.5 million. We can't justify paying Palmer that type of money based on his production the past few seasons. The Bengals have a good shot at the No. 1 overall pick, and that's the perfect spot to draft a quarterback. We think Andrew Luck from Stanford is the best of the group. If the Bengals do not have the top pick, maybe Auburn's Cam Newton is another possibility later in the first round. If the Bengals can't land either, our next step would be sticking with Palmer and seeing whether he's willing to take a pay cut. It's a tough business.

Running back

Analysis: We like second-year running back Bernard Scott. But there are still questions about whether he can be a feature tailback. With Cedric Benson's contract expiring, it's time to search for a new running back. The Bengals got solid production out of Benson the past two years at little cost. But he's only averaging 3.5 yards per carry this year, and we need more from that position. We would find a bruising back and pair him with the quicker Scott . Pending free agent Michael Bush, 26, would be a good fit. He's the backup tailback to Darren McFadden and one of Jackson's main weapons in Oakland. The Bengals rarely spend a lot of money in free agency, but this signing would be worth it. Also, we would re-sign backup running back Brian Leonard, who is very good on third down.

Wide receivers

[+] EnlargeTerrell Owens
Mark Zerof/US PresswireWide receiver Terrell Owens is having a great season, but he's 37 and not a player the Bengals can build around for the future.
Analysis: We like Chad Ochocinco -- but not at the price the Bengals would have to pay him. A $6 million team option is a bit much for a 32-year-old receiver who's had two bad seasons in three years. We would let Ochocinco walk, but the Bengals will consider keeping him. Teammate and pending free agent Terrell Owens is an interesting case. He's having a great year, but he's 37 and probably wants the security of a multiyear extension. Another team may give it to Owens, but we're looking to get younger at receiver. This is a position we would attack in the draft, probably in the second or third rounds. This also gives Jordan Shipley, who is solid, a bigger role in the offense next year. You can't be strong everywhere when rebuilding.

Tight end

Analysis: No questions here. The Bengals drafted Jermaine Gresham in the first round this year and he has produced (47 receptions for 409 yards and three touchdowns). He's only going to get better next season and beyond.

Offensive and defensive lines

Analysis: The offensive line needs work. Tackle Andrew Whitworth and guard Bobbie Williams are mainstays, but the other three positions could use depth. We would not extend Andre Smith's contract to six years. We're keeping his deal at four years to see whether we can get anything out of him at right tackle in the final two seasons. Some have suggested moving Smith, who broke his foot for the second straight year, to guard. But we're already paying Smith left tackle money to play right tackle. So we definitely wouldn't pay Smith left tackle money to play guard. We would upgrade center and one guard position via the draft and free agency. The defensive line must be more productive, but there are some good young players there. We like Carlos Dunlap's recent production and would start him at defensive end in 2011. He's earned it with his play down the stretch. Geno Atkins has shown flashes and also would be in competition to start at defensive tackle next to veteran Domata Peko. End Robert Geathers hasn't been the same since micro-fracture surgery, and it's time to find his replacement. If the Bengals don't draft a quarterback in the first round, another pass-rushing defensive end would be the logical choice.

Linebackers

Analysis: Bengals outside linebacker Rey Maualuga has played out of position his entire pro career, and it's time to move him to his natural spot at middle linebacker next season. He will be a better player when he can use his best attribute -- his physicality -- instead of constantly chasing tight ends in coverage. Dhani Jones, 32, will be a free agent, and it's time to cut ties with him. Keith Rivers stays outside, but we need another outside linebacker. Maybe Michael Johnson can step into that role. He's not a natural linebacker, but he's athletic enough to play the position. We're also not sure we can trust his consistency for 16 games. We'd probably add someone else via the draft or free agency to compete with Johnson for the starting job.

Secondary

Analysis: The Bengals' secondary had a down year with a lot of injuries, but we still think it's in pretty good shape. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph is the one free agent we believe the Bengals must re-sign. He's the Bengals best cornerback, and the secondary doesn't look the same when he's not playing. Joseph makes corner Leon Hall and the safeties better. There were some negotiations before the season between Joseph and the Bengals, but nothing came to fruition. Adam Jones will return from a season-ending neck injury and is a solid third cornerback. Starting safety Chris Crocker also had a season-ending knee injury and remains under contract. Chinedum Ndukwe, a pending free agent, plays hard and would be a good safety to keep for depth. Roy Williams is often injured and too one dimensional for our liking. So we would let Williams go and try to add another starting safety.

Specialists

Analysis: Punter Kevin Huber stays, although he hasn't had a great year. But the Bengals must find a dependable kicker. Mike Nugent did fine before he was injured, so maybe he's a candidate for training camp when he gets healthy.

Whew! Now that was a major reconstruction.

It's time for the Bengals to rebuild and turn the franchise over to younger players. It's not going to be a quick fix. But if the Bengals follow these moves, they will be better than they were this season and in solid position for long-term success.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Can the defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals overcome a first-place schedule to duplicate last year's success?

[+] EnlargeMarvin Lewis
Frank Victores/US PresswireCan Marvin Lewis coach the Bengals through a first-place schedule?
Coming off a division title and their first playoff appearance in four years, the Cincinnati Bengals have even higher expectations in 2010. But to repeat a run to the postseason, Cincinnati will have to accomplish the feat against a brutal first-place schedule.

Will the Bengals hold up against the NFL's elite?

Cincinnati has the league's fourth-toughest strength of schedule this season and will play 10 games against opponents that had winning records a year ago. Four will be within the AFC North division against the Baltimore Ravens (9-7) and Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7).

On paper, this is the deepest and most talented team head coach Marvin Lewis has had in eight seasons in Cincinnati. The defense was ranked No. 4 last season, and the offense added weapons to the passing game to balance its already stout rushing attack.

By all accounts, the Bengals appear to have better chemistry than the 2005 playoff team. That group tasted one year of success and unraveled. Cincinnati suffered through three consecutive non-winning seasons from 2006-08, before finally turning it around last year.

"First and foremost, the teams are totally different," Bengals captain and offensive guard Bobbie Williams said recently. "The maturity on this team, even though it's a younger team, is phenomenal. Guys are way more focused, more hungry and way more professional. The hunger never dies. So it's totally different."

It has been well-documented that the Bengals haven't had back-to-back winning seasons in 28 years. The talent is there to end Cincinnati's streak, but a first-place schedule could be the team's biggest hurdle.

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