NFL Nation: Kevin Huber

All-AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A trio of defensive stars, two Pro Bowl offensive players and an injured specialist comprised the Cincinnati Bengals' six selections to the All-AFC North team that was released Thursday. The four reporters who cover the teams in the division made the picks.

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the NFL's leading regular-season tackler, was joined by defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson on the defensive side of the all-division team. They were all part of a unit that finished the year ranked third in total defense, and one that was second in the league in limiting third-down conversions. Last Friday, Burfict was named to his first Pro Bowl as an inside linebacker. The second-year player, who was originally signed as an undrafted rookie, finished the regular season with 171 tackles, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and an interception. Dunlap recorded a career-high 58 tackles and had 7.5 sacks. Johnson, who could be heading toward free agency in the coming weeks, had a career-high 56 tackles and led the league with eight batted balls at the line of scrimmage.

Cincinnati's offensive selections were led by receiver A.J. Green. He was selected to the team after catching a career-high 98 passes for another career-high 1,426 yards. He finished just 15 yards shy of a franchise record. He was joined on the all-division team by offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth, who made it as a left tackle. Across the last five games, Whitworth shuffled between left tackle and left guard as injuries depleted the Bengals' offensive line. Particularly, it was left guard Clint Boling's ACL injury against the Chargers in Week 13 that caused the shifting to occur.

Another injured Bengal was included on the All-AFC North team. Punter Kevin Huber, who had an average net of 40.5 yards before a season-ending jaw injury in Week 15, made it as the division's top punter. He had punts of 75 and 70 yards this season ahead of the blindside hit against the Steelers that broke his jaw. The NFL later said a flag should have been thrown for the hit, but since one wasn't, Huber and his coverage team allowed their only punt return touchdown of the season.

Despite winning the AFC North, the Bengals were outpaced on the all-division team by the Browns and Ravens. Both teams had seven players selected. Like the Bengals, the Steelers also had six. One of Pittsburgh's selections, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, made it when the Bengals' Andy Dalton didn't. Dalton had more wins, yards, touchdowns and a higher QBR than any other quarterback in the division. He also finished the season setting a pair of Bengals records. In addition to Dalton, a case for inclusion could have been made for rookie running back Giovani Bernard, receiver Marvin Jones, defensive tackle Domata Peko and cornerback Adam Jones.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 16

December, 23, 2013
CINCINNATI -- An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 42-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings:

Mind-boggling Bernard: Bengals running back Giovani Bernard did it again. He wowed all those watching with yet another dazzling, tackle-breaking, defender-avoiding run. On one third-quarter run after the catch, he completely confounded the Vikings as he cut, spun, shook, stiff-armed and danced his way to a 41-yard gain off a short screen that began near midfield. On the next play, Mohamed Sanu's touchdown catch gave Cincinnati a 28-point second-half lead. In all, five Vikings missed tackles on Bernard's run that included a spin move, two jump-cuts and a stiff-arm. The play was reminiscent of a fourth-quarter 35-yard touchdown run Bernard had against the Dolphins on Halloween. That play was completed with a flip into the end zone. Asked Sunday what he said to Bernard after the latest run, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden smiled and said: "He should have scored." Bernard was wrestled down at the Minnesota 7.

Playmakers: Bernard wasn't the only Bengal with a head-turning play. Cincinnati's receivers got in on the act as well. It started with Marvin Jones' diving catch out of bounds and continued with Andrew Hawkins' leaping grab deep in Vikings territory to set up another score. At one point, the Bengals appeared in such a quarterback-receiver rhythm that anything thrown within a 15-yard radius of a particular pass-catcher was going to get caught. Quarterback Andy Dalton's completion percentage reflected that fact, too. He completed more than 70 percent of his passes for the fifth time this season. Along with those receptions, the Bengals had a quirky interception. As cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick went up to defend one pass -- he appeared to make contact with the receiver worthy of pass interference -- the ball hit his helmet and bounced in the sky. Safety George Iloka, who fell and was on his back, reached his hands out as the ball was falling. It fell right into his lap for his first career interception. It was one of three picks for the Bengals on Sunday.

Forty times four club: Thanks in large part to Dalton's four-touchdown, 366-yard passing effort, the Bengals hit the 40-point mark for a fourth consecutive home game. They also scored 42 points in the previous home game against the Indianapolis Colts. They scored 41 against the Cleveland Browns the home game before that, and hit 49 against the Jets a game before that. In most of those other games, Cincinnati had a better run-pass average than it had Sunday. On 37 total carries, the Bengals picked up only 81 yards for a 2.19 average. They didn't need to stay on the ground, though. An injury-depleted Vikings secondary had enough soft zones for Dalton to routinely find open receivers.

Powell does enough: When Kevin Huber was placed on injured reserve Tuesday following a hit that broke his jaw and cracked vertebrae in his neck, the Bengals were simply looking for a replacement who could do a good enough job. Shawn Powell may not have been exceptional Sunday, but he was strong. Of his four punts, only one was returned. That return only happened because the ball drifted into the middle of the field. With the rest of the punts booted toward the sideline, returner Marcus Sherels couldn't break away. Overall, the Bengals' special-teams units didn't play their best Sunday, but Powell kept field position mostly in Cincinnati's favor.
Jennings/DaltonGetty ImagesCan Greg Jennings and the Vikings help spoil the playoff hopes of Andy Dalton and the Bengals?
The Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals are two teams headed in completely opposite directions.

For the Vikings, the 2013 season has been a difficult one, defined mostly by a quarterbacking carousel and the lack of wins because of it. As for the Bengals, the year has been a mostly good one. With home wins over the Packers and Patriots, and road victories against the Lions and Chargers, the Bengals have looked for much of the year like a team poised for a longer postseason run than the past two years. Cincinnati's 2011 and 2012 seasons ended with first-round playoff losses.

If the 9-5 Bengals are even going to get to this postseason this year, though, they first have to bounce back from a Sunday night loss at Pittsburgh and beat the four-win Vikings. Such a win isn't a guarantee. Minnesota has embraced the role of postseason spoiler, rolling NFC East-leading Philadelphia last weekend.

To break down the contest, Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and Bengals reporter Coley Harvey teamed up for this edition of Double Coverage. As this week's visitor, we'll start with Ben:

Ben Goessling: Andy Dalton was one of the Vikings' options at QB when they drafted Christian Ponder in 2011. The Vikings seem to have given up on Ponder, and while Dalton has been better, it's hard to tell whether he's going to be the answer in Cincinnati long-term. How do the Bengals feel about his progress?

Coley Harvey: It certainly appears that for now the Bengals feel comfortable with Dalton moving forward. Despite calls at times this season from some groups of angry fans, the Bengals have remained firm in their support of him. No matter how poorly Dalton played, they weren't shopping for another quarterback, and they weren't trying to give backup Josh Johnson any shared playing time. In short, they were committed to seeing Dalton through the year. And why not? Although he has had some struggles this season, Dalton has still shown that he can handle the duties of being a starting quarterback. He was the AFC's offensive player of the month for October, and had three consecutive 300-yard passing games during one stretch. If Dalton can't get the Bengals past the first round of the playoffs, it will be interesting to see whether the sides discuss a contract extension, with the 2014 season his last on his current contract.

To your broader point, Ben, that 2011 quarterback class certainly hasn't been all that amazing.

Speaking of progressing quarterbacks, it seems like Matt Cassel has given the Vikings some semblance of offensive success in games he's appeared in this season. Why didn't Minnesota stick with him sooner?

Goessling: That's been the big question all season here, and on Sunday, coach Leslie Frazier finally gave those of us in the media a hint of what we'd expected all along. He said the Vikings always liked Cassel, but had to go through the "process" a little bit, and unfortunately weren't able to win games in the meantime. The "process" I believe he's referring to is the act of evaluating Christian Ponder to a point where the Vikings could be absolutely sure he wasn't the answer at the position. When Josh Freeman got inserted into the mix -- and both Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman said the Vikings planned to play Freeman soon -- that complicated things even more. The biggest thing Cassel had working against him was his age (31), and the Vikings didn't necessarily see him as the long-term guy. The question will be whether the quarterback tryouts wind up costing Frazier his job, but now that Cassel's starting, maybe Frazier will be able to make a case to keep his job by showing he can win when he has a competent quarterback.

The Vikings have struggled all year with small, shifty running backs. How do you expect Giovani Bernard to fare against them Sunday?

Harvey: If the Vikings have struggled with those types of backs, then they could be in serious trouble Sunday, Ben. Bernard has been the five-tool player the Bengals thought they were drafting earlier this year and more. Not only can he hit the edge hard on pitches and outside runs, but he has enough power in his smaller body to hit the middle of a defensive line hard and keep going. His most important trait, though, may be what he's able to do as a receiver. You'll see the Bengals use him fairly regularly in the screen game. If the blocking sets up right on those plays, he won't just go for 5 or 6 additional yards. He typically will break off another 10, 15, 20 or more yards after the catch. Once the rookie gets in space, it's like he hits a fourth and fifth gear.

Having said all of that, I do believe he and the more between-the-tackles running BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be keys to the game. If they get going, the Bengals have a chance to showcase the balanced offense that has been coming on of late.

Minnesota has obviously had one of the NFL's best rushing attacks the past seven seasons because of Adrian Peterson. Matt Asiata did a great job of getting to the end zone last week. What kind of challenge do you think he poses the Bengals if he ends up playing in place of Peterson?

Goessling: Not much of one, based on what we saw last week. Asiata averaged less than 2 yards a carry, and while he runs hard between the tackles, he doesn't offer much else; he doesn't break tackles the way Toby Gerhart can, and Peterson's gifts are obviously on a different level from either of those guys. I think Peterson will play, though; he wanted it known last week that he could have gone, and Frazier said after the game that he expected Peterson would be back. The guy prides himself on his pain tolerance, and as hard as he pushed to play last week, I'd be really surprised if he's not in there Sunday.

Assuming he plays, how tough a matchup is this for Peterson? The Bengals have been one of the NFL's best teams against the run this year. What's made them so effective there?

Harvey: It won't be an easy one for Peterson. This Bengals' defense prides itself on playing physically, emotionally and flowing quickly to the football, particularly when it's on the ground. If this were a normal week, I might contend that as good as Cincinnati's run defense has been that Peterson might still end up surprising them and have a big day. This isn't a normal week, though. The Bengals are coming off a loss that had many questioning their heart and attitude, and they also happen to be playing this game at home. There's something about Paul Brown Stadium this season. Opponents have struggled, and the Bengals have fed off the crowd's energy. Cincinnati is 6-0 at home this season, and the defense is a big reason. If linebacker James Harrison (concussion) doesn't play, that could take away a key piece of the Bengals' run defense.

Cincinnati lost punter Kevin Huber to a season-ending injury last week and is bringing along his replacement, Shawn Powell, this week. He'll be kicking to Minnesota's Marcus Sherels. How dynamic is Sherels, Ben? His numbers seem so-so for most of the season, but he does have a return for touchdown.

Goessling: I think you summed it up nicely there, Coley. Sherels did have the punt return touchdown, but his numbers otherwise have been just OK. The thing the Vikings like about him is that he doesn't make mistakes. He fumbled a punt earlier this year, but he's typically very sure-handed and makes good decisions about when to call for a fair catch. He doesn't get them in trouble by taking unnecessary chances, and special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer is a big fan of his partly because of his decision-making skills. But watch out, though. The Vikings are trying to find ways to get Cordarrelle Patterson the ball now that teams have stopped kicking to him, and Frazier mentioned they could give him a look on punt returns. If that happens, the Vikings will have a completely different kind of threat back there on punts.

One of the hot NFL topics in recent days centers on the blindside hit that Cincinnati Bengals punter Kevin Huber took from the Pittsburgh Steelers' Terence Garvin. Huber suffered a broken jaw and cracked vertebrae, injuries that ended his season. ESPN NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi has studied the play and considered what might be done to avoid similar situations in the future, and he offers his analysis:

"I do believe there was a foul on the play [even though it wasn’t called]. The crown of Garvin’s helmet made contact with the chin/neck area, so yes, I believe a penalty should have been called. If Garvin used his shoulder and lowered his target area, that would have been a legal block.

[+] EnlargeKevin Huber and Terence Garvin
Jason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsTedy Bruschi agrees with the NFL's head of officials that punters are defenseless, and thinks there should be a rule exempting specialists from contact.
"What interested me was the explanation given by NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino on [the] NFL Network, when he said that punters are defenseless throughout the down. When you initially think about that – a player being defenseless throughout the down and not being subject to the same types of hits as others – some might consider it ridiculous. But I believe Blandino is correct. The majority of kickers and punters don’t have the same strength, speed and abilities as the other 21 players on the field. I would even stretch it to say, ‘All specialists are in that category – punters, kickers, holders, long-snappers.’ They provide a special skill that has to be executed for certain special-teams plays to be run. They train differently. They work out differently.

"A part of me believes that if you're on the field you should be subject to the same risks as every other player. However, I recognize how the game is progressing with player safety and how that is so important for the future of the NFL.

"Thus, what I think should happen is this: Specialists should be required to wear a different color jersey – a neutral color – and players will know that certain color jersey can’t be touched. Wearing that jersey, specialists then surrender their right to participate in the down once their act is executed. So, for example, after Huber punts the ball he has no right to make a tackle, he’s eliminated from the play.

"Blandino is right – these players are defenseless throughout the down. I played with kicker Adam Vinatieri and saw him run down Herschel Walker, but it’s rare for a kicker to have that type of toughness. Sure, you see some punters and kickers making tackles. Usually they are the last line of defense. It can be argued that even when they do make the tackle it looks awkward and they are still putting themselves at risk. The best way to protect them is to take them out of the equation completely and introduce the neutral jersey.

"All players know the neutral jersey because it’s used across the NFL in practices. You see it with quarterbacks or players coming back from an injury, they come out wearing a red jersey and there is a different tempo used for that player. On plays where there is potential for a high-impact collision, other players are trained to yield to that jersey. So it’s already in the psyche of players because it’s used around the league in practices. It now needs to be used in game situations, protecting specialists from violent collisions against linebackers, defensive ends, fullbacks and others who are trying to keep their own jobs by making crushing blocks that often injure or end seasons for specialists."
CINCINNATI -- Marvin Lewis thinks there has been more than enough talk this week about the violent play at Pittsburgh last weekend that sidelined his punter for the remainder of the season.

Whether or not the blindside hit was clean is no longer of any consequence to the Cincinnati Bengals' coach. He thinks it's time the world moves on from discussing the play and focuses on other things. Namely, Sunday's game between the Bengals and Minnesota Vikings.

With a postseason berth still on the line and the Bengals needing to win their last two games, his mind has already drifted elsewhere. As it very well should.

[+] EnlargeKevin Huber and Terence Garvin
Jason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsThe Bengals have been mum about the hit that ended punter Kevin Huber's season. Coach Marvin Lewis, for one, wants to move on.
But why should the rest of ours? We still have five days to write about and talk about Cincinnati's next contest. There are still several elements of the shot heard 'round the Ohio Valley that deserve to be debated. Particularly this one: Were the Bengals right to not retaliate after Steelers special-teamer Terence Garvin sent Bengals punter Kevin Huber to the hospital with a devastating hit?

I say they were.

Some of you probably do not share that sentiment. That's OK. I can understand why.

Football, at its foundation, is a violent sport. It's about hitting and colliding and blocking and pushing. For some, it's the ultimate test of machismo. (How hard can I hit you and how quickly will you pick yourself up?) In that vein, it's also a sport that hinges on teamwork. (Will you help me up and have my back if I get knocked down?)

It's the part about helping that some Bengals fans have had a problem with the last couple of days.

In the time since Huber was bloodied and broken by Garvin's helmet-to-face-mask hit in the first quarter of Sunday night's 30-20 loss at Pittsburgh, there have been questions about why the Bengals didn't jump to Huber's defense at any point during the rest of the game. There are those who wanted to see a Steeler get popped high on a tackle or an off-ball block. Others have wondered why Bengals offensive linemen didn't dive low at the knees of Steelers linebackers. Still others are wondering why the Bengals haven't said much about the hit in the days since.

We'll answer those concerns in reverse order.

For starters, the Bengals haven't said much because, aside from social media, they haven't really had the forum to say anything. Even though Lewis spoke with reporters Tuesday, players have been off limits since Sunday. And immediately after the game, none took the bait when asked to discuss any anger they felt when they saw Huber lying on the ground in obvious pain.

The closest reporters could come to getting the Bengals to share those feelings was when kicker Mike Nugent was asked about being angry after the play.

"Honestly, I didn't see the hit," said Nugent, who ended up punting in place of Huber for the rest of the game. "I was watching the ball the whole time. I wish I could comment more on it, but I have to see it on film. It makes you wonder, though, how someone breaks their jaw. It had to be a pretty high hit."

The Bengals' locker room will be open for the first time this week late Wednesday morning, and presumably after film study.

As for reasons the Bengals didn't retaliate, how's this -- they were trailing 21-0 at the time, and as much as their thoughts might have been with Huber, they also needed to focus on overcoming the massive deficit.

Eventually, their defense started holding and the offense got rolling. The comeback bid wasn't enough in the end, though.

Yes, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati will meet again. It won't happen until next season, the same time Huber makes his return. Even if Garvin isn't playing for the Steelers then, the Bengals probably will see him at some point. Even if there are years that separate them from facing him again, you can be sure that some current Bengals will remember his hit.

In different days, those Bengals may have actively sought ways to get back at him. But in this NFL, one that preaches the value of player safety and player integrity, don't expect the old-school retaliation you may want. Fines are too steep.

The only retaliatory option the Bengals have is to just do what they set out to do before the season began: win the division and win the Super Bowl. In this league, the sweetest revenge is playing when everyone else is at home watching.

Terence Garvin likely to be fined by NFL

December, 16, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- After watching countless replays of Terence Garvin's crushing block on Bengals punter Kevin Huber, I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Steelers linebacker will be fined by the NFL.

That is not to say there isn’t some gray on the play in which Antonio Brown scored on a 67-yard punt return.

Garvin lined up Huber in the chest before hitting him and appeared to make a good, if ferocious, block. But when Garvin finished his block the crown of his helmet hit Huber’s chin, leaving the latter with a broken jaw and a serious neck injury, according to ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen.

Punters are not protected from hits if they try to make a tackle as Huber clearly did. But they are afforded the same protection as other players who are deemed defenseless and cannot be hit above the shoulders.

It is close as to whether Garvin violated that rule or simply made a textbook block on a player who probably should have been more aware of where he was on the field -- or what position he put himself in when he gave chase to Brown.

But a league that has made improving player safety a top priority is going to err on the side of caution, which is why Garvin should expect some mail from the NFL this week.

Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 15

December, 16, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 30-20 win against the Cincinnati Bengals:

[+] EnlargeAntonio Brown
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarThrough 14 games this season, Antonio Brown is averaging 13.8 yards per reception for the Steelers.
Roethlisberger, Brown shine again: And then there were two. The Steelers' MVP award, which the players will vote on shortly, is down to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger continues to have the finest statistical season of his career, already establishing a new Steelers record for completions in a season (340). Roethlisberger, who completed 80 percent of his passes against the Bengals, needs 414 passing yards in the final two games to break the Steelers' single-season record, which he holds. Brown, meanwhile, became the first player in the NFL since 2001 with at least five catches and 50 receiving yards in each of his team's first 14 games, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The fourth-year veteran also joined Hines Ward as the only players in Steelers history to catch at least 95 passes in a season. Flip a coin between Roethlisberger and Brown, who won the Steelers' MVP award in 2011. It is that close between the two players.

Was it legal? Brown gave the Steelers a commanding three-touchdown lead with his 67-yard punt return near the end of the first quarter, and a devastating block by rookie linebacker Terence Garvin helped spring him. Garvin demolished Kevin Huber with a block that left the Bengals punter with a fractured jaw, and the NFL will determine whether the blindside hit violated the rule on crack-back blocks that it instituted in 2009, a season after Ward broke Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers' jaw with a block that happened behind the play. Garvin did not get flagged on the play, and he said the block was a legal one. "I thought I hit him pretty square, right in his chest. Nobody said anything to me about it," Garvin said. "I saw AB about to break and I really just wanted to finish up and help him get all the way out."

A different look: Garvin, who made the Steelers as an undrafted free agent, has worked his way into the Steelers' nickel defense. Garvin, who played safety at West Virginia, replaced Vince Williams when the Steelers went to their nickel package against the Bengals. The Steelers used the nickel extensively against Cincinnati, allowing Troy Polamalu to play safety more than he has in recent games. "My shoulders are pretty fresh," Polamalu said after he recorded five tackles and forced a fumble. The Steelers sustained a couple of injuries on defense, most notable a calf injury that sidelined outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley early in the game. Woodley missed three games earlier this season with a calf injury. The seventh-year veteran hurt his other calf against the Bengals. Cornerback Ike Taylor sustained a rib injury, but he said after the game that he is fine.

Big Ben blitzes Bengals: The offensive line allowed just one sack, and gave Roethlisberger enough time to pick apart the Bengals when they didn't blitz him. Roethlisberger completed 17 of 20 passes when the Bengals rushed four or fewer players, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Andy Dalton, by comparison, completed just 14 of 28 passes when the Steelers didn't blitz the Bengals quarterback. The one thing that didn't sit well with Roethlisberger after he improved to 14-6 lifetime against the Bengals: The Steelers had to settle for three Shaun Suisham field goals, including twice after they had driven inside Cincinnati's 10-yard line. "I'm disappointed because I thought we could have been better in the red zone," Roethlisberger said. "We could have put seven points on the board a couple of times."

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 15

December, 16, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 30-20 loss to the Steelers:

Huber's hit: On Cincinnati's final punt of the opening period, Bengals punter Kevin Huber was blindsided by Pittsburgh's Terence Garvin on a hit that left the kicker motionless on the ground a few moments, and that ultimately led him to have his jaw wired shut before he left Pittsburgh. On the play the NFL is expected to review this week, Huber broke his jaw, and likely ended his season. After the game, Bengals kicker Mike Nugent, who relieved Huber and punted for the first time since high school, said he was saddened by the sight of the hit.

Slow start hurts run: That tackle wasn't the only thing that went wrong for Huber on Sunday night. During his first punt attempt of the game, he fumbled a wide snap near his own end zone and had nowhere to run as the Steelers gave chase. He didn't even have time to recover and get off an emergency rugby kick or sprint to the back of the end zone for a safety. Instead, he was tackled into the end zone and downed at the 1-yard line. A play later, the Steelers scored their first touchdown of the game. It was the first of three hiccups on special teams that had a hand in a 21-0 deficit the Bengals had a tough time climbing out from. The hole was so deep that Cincinnati really couldn't run the ball like it had hoped, and was forced to go to the air to try to quickly make up yards and scores. After going beyond the 150-yard rushing mark the previous two games, the Bengals were held to just 57 yards on the ground against Pittsburgh. Had they been able to run a little more regularly, they may have had a more balanced offensive attack, similar to the one they showed against San Diego and Indianapolis.

Dink, dunk, win: Eventually, the Bengals were able to get their passing game going, and they did so by throwing a lot of short underneath routes to receivers. Slants and screens were key components in their comeback bid that brought the wide early deficit to within a two-point conversion of being a one-score game with nearly six minutes remaining in the game. The dink-and-dunk style of passing was ripped from the Steelers' playbook. That's precisely the way they moved the ball on a Bengals defense that simply wasn't getting pressure on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and was back on its heels often in the play-action and short-route game. Roethlisberger was 20-for-25 for 191 yards overall. Half of his passes came on balls that traveled 10 yards or fewer in the air. He was 10-for-14 on such passes.

Miscues abound for defense: The Bengals believe one of the reasons Roethlisberger had that type of success was because they dealt with occasional bouts of miscommunication. Defensive end Michael Johnson said that was the case on a few plays, including the 12-yard touchdown pass Roethlisberger completed to Antonio Brown in the first quarter. On that play, only two Bengals rushed the passer and nine dropped in coverage. Johnson intimated that there should have been more rushers. Along with those communication issues, the Bengals also missed several tackles. They weren't happy with those, particularly after spending the week trying to correct more tackling issues that cropped up against the Colts last week.

Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati Bengals

December, 15, 2013

PITTSBURGH -- A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 30-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

What it means: Much of the Bengals' focus this season had to do with proving themselves to the rest of the football universe. As a team that has spent much of its history in the lower tier of the AFC, the Bengals entered this season with the belief that many others doubt them, and they even carried that thought with them into this week when a third straight postseason berth was on the line. But in actuality, there were few who doubted the Bengals this past week. There was an overwhelming belief by pundits that they might actually be a force once the postseason began. When the New England Patriots lost to the Miami Dolphins earlier in the day, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Cincinnati would win and retain the No. 2 seeding the Patriots' loss was about to give them. All the Bengals had to do was win. But that didn't happen. They didn't even show up at Heinz Field, and now, like before, the Bengals still have to rely on help from others in order to script their postseason story. With a win, they would have fully controlled their fate.

Stock watch: Offensive line -- falling. Cincinnati's offensive line has been rather solid all season, consistently ranking among the best in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. The group didn't look quite as strong Sunday, as the Steelers were getting consistent pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton. Most of the pressure came in the first two quarters. It eased a bit in the second half as Pittsburgh was trying to protect the lead and wasn't rushing Dalton quite as regularly. What also helped Dalton was the fact he and his receivers became more committed to running quick-strike screen and slant routes that didn't give the pass rush much time to develop. The early pressure led to Dalton being sacked in the first half for the first time since Nov. 10 at Baltimore. It was the only sack the Bengals' line allowed.

Injuries pile up: Injuries have ravaged the Bengals all year, and they hit them even harder in this game. With Dre Kirkpatrick starting at cornerback in place of veteran Terence Newman, the Bengals already were down one of their top defenders. Late in the first half, though, they also lost linebacker James Harrison. The former Steeler was run from the game with a concussion in the same quarter that Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber left with a fractured jaw.

Green short of 100: Bengals receiver A.J. Green was seven yards short of 100. He hasn't gone beyond the 100-yard mark since that same Nov. 10 game when Dalton was previously sacked. He had a chance to do that on the Bengals' last drive, though, but he didn't catch up to a Dalton deep pass.

What's next? The Bengals will try to get back on track next weekend when they return home and host the Minnesota Vikings in the first of two regular-season games left at Paul Brown Stadium. Minnesota blew past Philadelphia on Sunday, 48-30.

W2W4: Colts at Bengals

December, 7, 2013
CINCINNATI -- If you plan on watching Sunday's game between the Cincinnati Bengals andIndianapolis Colts game, prepare to be glued to your television set.

It should certainly be a riveting and entertaining afternoon.

Both teams are hungry not only for playoff spots but also desire elite playoff seedings. If the season were to end today, the Colts would waltz into the postseason with the No. 3 seed, hosting Baltimore. The Bengals would have the No. 4 seed and would welcome the Kansas City Chiefs to Cincinnati.

Since 3 is considered better than 4 with these types of things, I think you know which seed the teams want the most. A win and Cincinnati can snatch No. 3 from the Colts and retain a tiebreak in the event one is needed later on this season.

The postseason push alone is good enough reason to park yourself in front of this game. But add to the fact these teams are following similar paths with a pair of young quarterbacks and are equally desperate for Super Bowl bids, and you should get a tightly contested battle. Since the cities are so close -- Indianapolis is only about an hour and a half away from Cincinnati -- both teams' fan bases ought to be well represented in sold-out Paul Brown Stadium.

Are you pumped up? Are you ready for the game yet? As you keep psyching yourself up, take a look at these items to watch for Sunday:

Weather factor: Although the drive is a short one, the idea of traveling in a soggy, slushy wintry mix might not appeal to some Colts fans who leave home the morning of the game. All week, meteorologists have predicted harrowing conditions for the weekend that include anything from ice, freezing rain, sleet and snow. Any and all of it is scheduled to hit downtown Cincinnati around noon, one hour before kickoff. Fortunately for players on both teams, the Bengals play on forgiving field turf and shouldn't have the difficulty with footing as if they were playing on grass. Still, with a potentially slick, tough-to-throw ball, the elements won't be favorable and could cause both teams to reject the pass in an effort to move the ball on the ground.

Ground-and-pound? What a segue. Mother Nature may not be the only reason why the Bengals, at least, will be sticking with their running game. After putting up 164 yards rushing against San Diego last week in sunny, 70-degree weather, the Bengals learned that they do indeed have what it takes to run the ball and to execute a more balanced offensive scheme. Veteran rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis headed the attack, picking up 92 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Rookie Giovani Bernard contributed another 57 yards on 14 carries. It marked just the third time all year that Cincinnati had amassed more than 150 yards in a game. Since Andy Dalton became the starting quarterback three seasons ago, the Bengals are 8-1 in games in which they rush for more than 150 yards. As they go against the NFL's 29th-best rushing defense, expect the Bengals to pick up where they left off a week ago.

Fleeing Luck: Another strong segue. In addition to the running the Bengals' backs should be doing, look for Colts quarterback Andrew Luck to do his own share of tucking and going. Much like Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, Luck has a penchant for running for first downs when the pocket around him breaks down or his receivers aren't able to break away from the defenders covering them quickly enough. Among quarterbacks, he ranks seventh in the league with 304 yards rushing on his 48 carries. He's not merely an elusive quarterback trying to avoid getting hit, either. Of quarterbacks with more than 30 rushes this season, Luck ranks second in the league in yards after contact. No, it's not much, but he averages 1.56 yards after contact per run. Only Minnesota's Christian Ponder -- who comes to Cincinnati in two weeks -- has a higher average at 1.88 yards after contact per run. So in addition to respecting Luck's big arm, the Bengals have to acknowledge his feet, too.

Special teams key: Might as well close with one more solid segue. Speaking of feet, Bengals punter Kevin Huber has been among the most valuable players on the team this season. His net punting average of 41.56 yards per kick ranks fifth in the league and only one player has a longer punt than he does this season. Huber's 75-yarder in the first half of last week's game helped set the tone for a game that saw the Bengals enjoy great offensive and defensive field position. This week, Huber, Bengals kicker Mike Nugent and Indianapolis specialists Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee could also be victims of the treacherous weather. Colder temperatures mean harder balls. The harder they are, the tougher it is to get good distance on kicks. Getting good hangtime and proper angles will be of utmost importance to Huber and McAfee.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 13

December, 2, 2013
SAN DIEGO -- An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 17-10 win over the Chargers:

Dalton's second half: Paced by a running game that rediscovered itself in the second half, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had his own resurgence of sorts in the final 30 minutes of Sunday's game. After stumbling to a 5-for-10, 41-yard, 21.2-passer rating performance through the first half, he bounced back in the second, completing nine of his final 13 passes and connecting with receivers for 149 yards. He also threw a key third-quarter touchdown and didn't turn the ball over, helping push his end-of-game passer rating to 83.6 -- his highest in five games. His 44.4 QBR also was his best since his career-high 98.9 that came in Cincinnati's 49-9 win over the New York Jets in Week 9. Part of what helped Dalton amass those final numbers was the Bengals' decision to recommit themselves to the run in the last two quarters. Cincinnati rushed for more than 150 yards (164) for the first time since its Week 7 win at Buffalo.

Huber's (healed) left leg: Wednesday, punter Kevin Huber sent a chill through the Bengals' fan base when he appeared on the injury report for the first time this season. He barely practiced the rest of the week after being limited for part of the week by an injury to his left ankle. He kicks with his left leg. Apparently it wasn't feeling too badly. Huber had four punts in the game and sent them an average of 55.5 yards from the line of scrimmage. The first two, 75- and 56-yard blasts, set the tone early. He routinely flipped field position in the game, even pushing the Chargers up against their own goal line with his first one. That subsequent series resulted in San Diego's own need to punt. With the ball in decent field position, the Bengals drove 67 yards for a touchdown on their following possession.

Quiet secondary: It was easy to praise Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict for his strong 13-tackle, play-through-an-injury performance, but he wasn't the only one on the back end of Cincinnati's defense who had a big day. Linebacker Rey Maualuga, who was returning from his own lengthy knee injury, finished with 10 tackles, including a sack. Although he was beaten a couple of times on passes across the middle, he was a run-stopper much of the day, helping plug his share of holes. Along with their linebacker play, the Bengals also had quietly good performances from defensive backs George Iloka and Reggie Nelson, who each forced fumbles. Iloka's ended up preceding the Bengals' final possession of the game -- a nearly five-minute drive that included four first downs and ended with back-to-back kneel-downs.

Winning without Gresham: For the first time this year, the Bengals won a game in which tight end Jermaine Gresham didn't catch a pass. The only other time they even had a game in which Gresham went reception-less, they lost to the Baltimore Ravens. It wasn't as if Cincinnati was trying to completely avoid Gresham, though. He was targeted twice. Since a clear emphasis was being placed on the running game, Gresham ended up factoring in that department instead, helping open holes along the edges for running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard to run right through.
CINCINNATI -- The NFL's leading tackler could be missing in action this weekend due to an injury he suffered in practice Friday afternoon.

Vontaze Burfict, the Cincinnati Bengals' fiery defensive playmaker, suffered an ankle injury during the team's final walkthrough of the week. As a result of the tweak, he was limited in the workout and was listed as questionable on the subsequent injury report the Bengals provided.

Burfict entered the week leading the league in tackles with 118. In Cincinnati's previous game two weeks ago, he was arguably the defensive MVP, coming away with a game-high 15 tackles and forcing a fumble and recovering it for a touchdown.

The second-year player out of Arizona State has been the Bengals' starting Will linebacker all season. It has been his responsibility much of the year to make most of the defensive line play calls and to help set the rest of the defense on individual plays. His value has been tremendous in what should be a Pro Bowl year.

If the Bengals had to pick a time when they would rather he miss a game, though, now would be it. Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga is returning this week from a knee injury suffered at the end of October, and backup Vincent Rey has been playing some of the best football on the team in the plast three weeks filling in for Maualuga. Rey likely would be moved into Burfict's spot if any changes have to be made to the lineup.

That being said, though, there still is a strong chance that no lineup changes will be necessary. Burfict has played through minor injuries all season, often remaining in ballgames after previously coming off the field due to rather hard shots that have been related to his comparatively reckless play.

Put it this way: it might take an executive order to keep Burfict from playing later this weekend.

Had it not been for the Friday injury, the Bengals would have been true to coach Marvin Lewis' prognostication earlier this week, and come into their important AFC game this weekend operating quite close to full strength. They would have, at worst, been one player shy of it.

Of course, "full strength" is a relative term for a team that has dealt with four key season-ending injuries throughout the year. Among the players the Bengals do currently have, this is the healthiest they have been in several weeks.

Only right offensive guard Kevin Zeitler missed Friday's late-morning walkthrough. He was listed as out with a foot injury on the Friday injury report. It means Mike Pollak will be making his second consecutive start Sunday afternoon. In Cincinnati's 41-20 win over the Cleveland Browns in the Bengals' previous game two weeks ago, Pollak started for the first time since 2011.

In addition to Burfict and Zeitler, six other players were listed as probable on the injury report. Two of them -- Maualuga and defensive tackle Devon Still -- are coming back from injuries that forced them to miss all of November and part of October. Punter Kevin Huber also was among the probables. Despite practicing in a limited capacity Friday, he is expected to play Sunday, as well.

Here is the complete Bengals injury report for Friday:

OG Kevin Zeitler (foot)

LB Vontaze Burfict (ankle)

LB Michael Boley (shoulder)
S Chris Crocker (hamstring)
P Kevin Huber (left ankle)
LB Rey Maualuga (knee)
DT Devon Still (elbow)
WR Brandon Tate (ankle; did not practice)
CINCINNATI -- "Meteorologist" Marvin Lewis returned Wednesday afternoon, proudly reporting that the Cincinnati Bengals were mostly good on the injury front entering Sunday's game at San Diego.

After going through their share of injury-induced storms the last month and a half, the Bengals are about as healthy as they could be this late in the season.

Lewis took a moment during his weekly news conference to relate his team's latest injury concerns to the weather it ended up practicing in later in the day. He often makes weather comparisons in an effort to explain the Bengals' injuries.

"It's a little chilly outside, but it's partly sunny," Lewis said, smiling. "It's cold, but don't let the cold fool you. We are about as good as you would hope to be at this point in the year. We've got to feel blessed that, knock on wood, we're where we are at this point in the season."

Temperatures hovered around 30 degrees much of Wednesday afternoon. About 15 minutes into the Bengals' 1 p.m. practice, snow flurries covered the sun and began floating throughout Paul Brown Stadium. With high wind gusts, the scene was reminiscent of the sudden monsoon-like conditions that descended upon the stadium during the early October game that featured the Bengals and Patriots. As New England went through its crucial final drive of the game, heavy rains kicked up, making it difficult to see and throw.

When it came to the practice, offensive guard Kevin Zeitler, injured three weeks ago in the 20-17 overtime loss at Baltimore, and punter Kevin Huber were missing in action. According to the injury report, Huber has a left ankle injury. He kicks with his left foot.

After spending parts of the last two weeks in a boot, Zeitler appears to be making progress with a foot injury that kept him out of the 41-20 win over the Browns in Cincinnati's previous game two weeks ago. He's no longer sporting the boot.

Asked if Zeitler could be healthy for this weekend's game against the Chargers, Lewis simply replied: "We'll see."

In addition to the absences of Zeitler and Huber, the Bengals did have veteran outside linebacker James Harrison back on the practice fields. Harrison was sidelined during Monday's walkthrough. Fellow linebacker Rey Maualuga and defensive tackle Devon Still also were practicing in full capacity. It was Still's second practice this week, after working out Monday for the first time since dislocating his elbow in mid-October.

Here is the Bengals' full Wednesday injury report:

Did Not Practice
OG Kevin Zeitler (foot)
P Kevin Huber (left ankle)

Limited Practice Participation
LB Michael Boley (shoulder)

Full Practice Participation
CB Chris Crocker (hamstring)
LB Rey Maualuga (knee)
DT Devon Still (elbow)

W2W4: Browns at Bengals

November, 16, 2013
CINCINNATI -- As has been mentioned often this week, for the first time in a generation the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals have a November ballgame that's worthy of attention from the rest of the NFL.

With the Bengals' loss last week at Baltimore, the Browns are suddenly in the thick of the AFC North race and could inch dramatically closer to first place if they beat their in-state foes Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium. A win would move the Browns within a half game of the Bengals' lead ahead of Cincinnati's bye next week. For the first time in a long time, playoff fever has attacked the entire Buckeye State.

A win is possible for Cleveland, too. Despite coming in with a 4-5 record, the Browns are already responsible for one of the 6-4 Bengals' losses this season. Way back in Week 4, Cleveland's defense stood firm in a 17-6 win at home over the Bengals.

When you watch the 81st edition of the Battle of Ohio, you'll definitely want to keep a close eye on both top 5 defenses. You'll also want to keep an eye on the following:

Weather report: One week after their kickers and quarterback struggled in windy Baltimore -- gusts got as high as 28 mph -- the Bengals could be facing worse conditions at home this weekend. According to the National Weather Service, strong storms are expected to move across the Midwest on Sunday, hitting Southwest Ohio while the Bengals and Browns are playing. Lightning delays could occur at multiple games in the path of the severe weather, including Sunday's contest. In addition to intense downpours, winds with gusts up to 21 mph are being predicted. Said punter Kevin Huber about preparing for such harrowing elements: "You have to kind of trust when you're out on the field in pregame. You've got to trust that's what it's going to be like all game." It doesn't sound like that's a guarantee this week, even though coach Marvin Lewis believes the inclement weather will hold off until after the ballgame is over.

Red zone matchup: Keep a close eye on the football when the Bengals possess it inside the Browns' 20. In an otherwise balanced matchup, this is one of the few areas in which there appears to be a mismatch. Cincinnati's offense has been pretty good much of the year in the red zone, ranking sixth in efficiency at 64 percent. As good as it has been overall, Cleveland's defense hasn't been that impressive inside its own 20. The Browns rank last in the league in defensive red zone efficiency, allowing scores on 68 percent of plays inside their 20-yard line. Of course, for this to be an issue for either team, the Bengals' offense has to reach the red zone. Against the Ravens last week, it took the Bengals nine drives before they reached the red zone. They were 1-for-2 on their only red zone drives of the game.

Matchup in the trenches: In addition to seeing how well the teams fare against one another inside the 20s, keep an eye on the Bengals' offensive line and the Browns' defensive line. Cincinnati enters this game without offensive guard Kevin Zeitler, who was ruled out Friday with a foot injury. It'll be the first game in his two years that Zeitler will miss, prompting the Bengals to likely bring Mike Pollak off the bench to play his spot. The sixth-year veteran hasn't started a game since 2011 and has missed most of this season with a knee injury, but coaches are confident that he'll play well if called upon. Pollak, center Kyle Cook and left guard Clint Boling, in particular, will be facing a Browns defensive line that boasts one of the biggest and strongest interior players in the league in Phil Taylor. Defensive ends Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant have been headaches for offensive linemen, as well. Outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo will play close to the line too, providing an added element to the Bengals' blocking schemes.

Outside battle: While the threat of inclement weather could force both teams into running the ball, still pay close attention to the battle on the outside between Bengals receiver A.J. Green and cornerback Joe Haden. In their earlier meeting, Haden got the better of the competition, holding Green to just seven catches for 51 yards. It seemed like every step Green took, Haden was right there with him. Even Green's yard-after-catch numbers were abysmal in that game -- he had only four. While Haden will be trying to lock him down, the Bengals are going to use a combination of corners Adam Jones, Terence Newman and Dre Kirkpatrick to slow receivers Josh Gordon and Davone Bess. Since Chris Crocker is doubtful with a hamstring injury, when Bess lines up in the slot, he likely will see Kirkpatrick opposite him.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 10

November, 11, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 20-17 overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens:

[+] EnlargeVincent Rey
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsBengals LB Vincent Rey, No. 57, had a career performance against the Ravens on Sunday.
Defense stands tall: Lost in much of the chatter about Cincinnati's defeat Sunday was the fact that its defense, all things considered, had a rather impressive game. Penalties were a problem all afternoon for the Bengals, who were charged with seven infractions on defense alone. The first one, a pass interference charged to safety Reggie Nelson on a flea-flicker that came on the Ravens' fifth play of the game, set an ugly tone for the Bengals' defensive unit. When they weren't whistled for fouls, the Bengals made life difficult for Baltimore's offense. They allowed the Ravens to gain only 189 yards of total offense, and limited them to a 3-for-19 showing on third down. Interceptions from Terence Newman and Vincent Rey and a fumble recovery from James Harrison were key turnovers for the at-times-beleaguered unit.

Green goes off: Receiver A.J. Green didn't really want to discuss his 51-yard touchdown reception off a Hail Mary as time expired in regulation. "It would have been a greater play if we had won," he said. Still, as great as that play itself was -- win, lose or tie -- it was only one piece in what ended up being a historic day for the wideout. Targeted 15 times, Green caught eight passes for 151 yards and that lone touchdown. It marked the fifth straight time he had more than 100 yards in a single game. No other Bengals receiver has accomplished that feat in franchise history. After struggling with getting his yards early in the season, Green has suddenly hit his stride and has a strong connection with quarterback Andy Dalton, even as Dalton has struggled in recent weeks.

King Rey: With Rey Maualuga still out with a knee injury, the Bengals have been relying the past two weeks on backup Vincent Rey to keep things stable until Maualuga can make his return. The starting middle linebacker is expected to miss possibly one more game as he recovers from an MCL sprain. In relief, Rey hasn't only kept the defense stabilized. He's taken over. Along with his five tackles in last week's loss at Miami, Rey had 15 against the Ravens on a day that was full of personal milestones. Not only were the 15 tackles a career high, but so were his three sacks. His second-quarter interception also was the first of his career.

Wind a factor? If you ask Dalton or Green if the winds affected their play, they will quickly shake their heads no. Of course, few players would admit that. That's just a case of someone not making excuses. But if we're to be honest, it did appear the wind, which had gusts upward of 20 mph, was a factor for both quarterbacks, and at least the Bengals' kickers. Mike Nugent missed his fourth field goal of the year when he kicked into a tough crosswind that yanked the ball wide left, and Kevin Huber had two punts that barely traveled any distance. He averaged 34.3 net yards on his six punts. Dalton, who often missed throws high, was 24-for-51 passing.