NFL Nation: Adam Jones

Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati Bengals

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
3:58
PM ET
video

CINCINNATI -- A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 33-7 win over the Tennessee Titans at Paul Brown Stadium:

What it means: This one's easy. Sunday's 26-point win means that the Bengals are the best team in the NFL on this side of the Mississippi River. The only reason I give that geographic identifier is because there are two teams out West -- the Broncos and Seahawks -- getting set to kick off who are very much in the conversation for best team in the league. But so are the Bengals, and this third straight win -- the most impressive in a string of early-season dominating victories -- proves that. At home these last two weeks, the Bengals have showed relatively few weaknesses. Their offense has been dynamic and explosive, their defense remains suffocating, and their special teams have been adequate enough, spearheaded by punter Kevin Huber. Sunday's win was also the Bengals' 11th straight at home in the regular season, setting a franchise record. It's the longest home winning streak in the league.

Stock watch: Missed tackles were arguably the most problematic issue for the Bengals. One week after they were credited by Pro Football Focus with missing just four tackles, the Bengals easily had four before halftime Sunday. It's possible they may have had four in the first quarter alone. Official numbers won't get tabulated until Monday. But unofficially, veterans like defensive end Wallace Gilberry, safety Reggie Nelson and cornerback Adam Jones were among those who struggled to bring down Titans offensive players throughout the ballgame. Many of the misses occurred early on drives when the Titans were showing signs of moving the ball. As much as the Bengals' tackling stock may have dipped Sunday, it wasn't enough to hurt a unit that allowed just seven points and has given up an average of 11 through three games.

Going over 100: When rookie running back Jeremy Hill spoke to reporters earlier this week in Cincinnati, he said the goal for the running backs was to hit 100 yards rushing each game. It would be ideal to get to 150, he said. This week, they at least hit the minimum threshold when they gained 116 yards on the ground. It's the second straight week they've gone beyond 100.

Game ball: Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson gets this week's game ball for the way he called another creative game. Each week it seems he has some new trick up his sleeve that he's willing to show in order to confound defenses that have to face him later this year. In Week 1, he trotted out various formations, including a set that put offensive tackles Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith out in the slot as receivers. Last week, he called a successful receiver pass from Mohamed Sanu to fellow receiver Brandon Tate. This week, it was Sanu's 18-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Andy Dalton that caught attention. Jackson has two weeks to come up with a new wrinkle.

What's next? On deck for the injury-weary Bengals is a perfectly timed early bye week. While they were quick to curse the Week 4 bye when the schedule was released, the Bengals are thankful to have it now. It will give them an opportunity to rest a few of their banged-up stars like Vontaze Burfict and Margus Hunt, and a chance to get ready for arguably the biggest game of the first half of the season the following Sunday at the New England Patriots.

Titans vs. Bengals preview

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
8:00
AM ET

The Tennessee Titans had trouble stopping the run last week when Dallas running back DeMarco Murray rushed for 167 yards in the Cowboys' 26-10 win over the Titans at LP Field.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CINCINNATI -- The war of words between the Cincinnati Bengals and Atlanta Falcons has already started, and it doesn't look like it's going to end anytime soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The players might be friendly at the end of Sunday's game, but this early war of words gives them reasons to be anything but during it.
CINCINNATI -- A wry smile formed in the corner of Vontaze Burfict's mouth when he was asked Wednesday about the conditions he'll be expecting this weekend at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

He's bracing for hostility.

Burfict
"It's awesome," the Cincinnati Bengals linebacker said, still smiling. "They hate us there when we walk into the building. It just feels like us against the world."

For an outside linebacker who likes to play the role of road-stadium villain, the hatred is something Burfict doesn't fear. He doesn't try to run from it, either.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, a former Baltimore Ravens assistant who coached in Baltimore when the organization first formed in 1996, understood what Burfict was alluding to. It seems to him that Ravens fans in recent seasons have had a feeling of invincibility, regardless of who their team is playing and regardless how well their season is going.

When you win two Super Bowls in less than 20 years of existence, you probably can feel good talking whatever talk there is. In the last 15 seasons, it's safe to say the Ravens have certainly walked a successful walk.

"Obviously I've been there from the ashes," Lewis said, referencing his six seasons as an assistant during Baltimore's establishment. "They've forgotten the ashes. They've let it go. The people that come to that game on Sunday think their team is invincible, and that's a great attitude to have and carry into that stadium."

Those attitudes can sometimes make the 71,008-seat stadium appear to house even more. That's especially the case on an opening weekend against a foe that has struggled recently in Week 1, and who hasn't played well historically when it has visited the Ravens' home.

All-time, the Bengals are 5-13 at Baltimore with losses in the last four games. They haven't won at the venue since 2009 and have only one opening-weekend win in the last six seasons. To begin the year 1-0 Sunday won't be easy.

"It's a tough task," Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said, "especially when they've got a good atmosphere there, and it's tough when you're playing a good team, as well. So you've got to be sharp."

So sharp that you keep the mistakes to a minimum.

"Turnovers have been key in those games," he said. "We've played a lot of close games there. We just haven't been able to come out on top. So it's all the little things that get you to win on the road. That's our focus."

In three career games at M&T Bank Stadium, Dalton has thrown seven interceptions and three touchdowns. He's also been sacked 11 times, including five times in last November's 20-17 overtime loss.

Against those same Ravens teams in three games at Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium, he has completed three touchdown passes and thrown four interceptions. He's also been sacked three times in those contests and has a QBR of 42.2. His career QBR at Baltimore is 26.5.

Does the crowd there have anything to do with that?

You won't find the Bengals answering that question in the affirmative, but they do know that the stadium's atmosphere will make the challenge that much greater. That's why the goal this weekend is to get out to such a big late-game lead that the stadium, with time still on the clock, will be filled with Adam Jones' favorite road sound: silence.

"I like it when it's quiet during the fourth quarter when everybody's leaving," Jones said. "It means they're losing."

Bengals Camp Report: Day 3

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
6:15
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Cincinnati Bengals' training camp:
  • Offense was the big story for the Bengals through the first two days of training camp, but on Saturday, defense stole the headlines. Cornerbacks Adam Jones and Darqueze Dennard had a few key pass breakups and interceptions in a practice that hinged largely on third-down play. Jones rebounded after giving up a few receptions in one-on-one drills with receivers. By the end of the 11-on-11 portion of practice, he was stopping most everything that came his direction. Arguably his most noteworthy pass breakup occurred off a play-action fake from quarterback Andy Dalton. As Dalton threw off his back leg and hung a deep pass to A.J. Green, Jones turned and jumped in the path of the ball, knocking it down. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said Jones has played with good technique through the first three days. He added that veteran Terence Newman has as well. "It's good for our younger guys to see how they play and how they're out here competing every snap."
  • One of those younger players, the rookie Dennard, had the play of the day when he dove full length for a Dalton pass that flew wide of its mark. It was hard to tell whether Dalton threw the pass to the wrong spot or if the receiver ran the wrong route, but Dennard, playing in the familiar lockdown style that was his hallmark at Michigan State, saw the ball heading toward the sideline even as the receiver didn't. Players and fans both reacted favorably to the pickoff. "Saturday] was the first day we could play press-man on the receiver, and that's what he did at Michigan State, so he's back in his comfort zone doing what he does. He's just got to continue to get better and work on his technique, and going against good receivers every day will help him."
  • One of the cornerbacks who did not take part in the live offense vs. defense portions of the workout was Leon Hall. The veteran is still rebounding from an Achilles tear that ended his 2013 season in Week 7. It was out of an abundance of caution that the Bengals held him out of most of the practice, even though he still participated in position-specific drills early in the session. Although he's fully recovered from the serious injury, the staff still wants to ease him back into action.
  • Along with Hall, the Bengals are taking a similar slow approach with offensive linemen Clint Boling and Mike Pollak. The left guards are rotating days on and off for the foreseeable future. After Boling started at the position Thursday, Pollak took his share of snaps Friday. Keeping with the rotation, Boling claimed the starting reps at the spot Saturday. Both still dressed in the shoulder pads-and-shorts attire the rest of the team sported as the full-gear acclimation period begins to slow down. The team will be in full pads Sunday.
  • The Bengals had two injuries during Saturday's practice. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick pulled up, holding his right hamstring, after using good coverage to prevent Green from catching a pass from Dalton off a deep go route. Kirkpatrick was stretched out but didn't return to practice. Defensive tackle LaKendrick Ross had a minor injury as well, jogging off the field at one point for treatment. He ended up returning and finishing the practice.
CINCINNATI -- As the Cincinnati Bengals get going with Day 2 of training camp Friday, here are three items we're going to be keeping an eye out for:

Marvin Lewis addresses media. At noon ET, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis sits down for his first news conference of training camp. He'll be asked about his impressions of Day 1 and likely will share his thoughts on where his offense and defense need to progress for the next five or so weeks. One thing he won't address? Quarterback Andy Dalton's contract. He said as much Tuesday at the team's preseason kickoff luncheon. He's done discussing that matter until the extension gets done. It's worth adding that just before Lewis' news conference, players will speak with media in the locker room beginning at 11:15 a.m. ET.

Cornerbacks and coverage. It was clear Thursday was all about the receivers and tight ends. Dalton's throwing mechanics and his well-placed passes both deep and short were a hot topic of conversation during the practice. I'll be paying a lot of attention to the defense on Day 2. It will be interesting to see how the cornerbacks respond to the strong showing A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Mohamed Sanu, among others, had Thursday.

Return watch. One player who may very well be battling for a roster spot these next few weeks is return man Brandon Tate. The receiver who has just 14 catches in the 48 games he's played the past three seasons has primarily been used in return situations. The big question is, are there enough spots on a very deep team for a player who will be used almost exclusively as a kick returner? He spent the 2013 season working as the lead punt returner also, but only after cornerback Adam Jones was kept off special teams because of a bevy of injuries to the secondary. This year, with a deep -- and for now, healthier -- defensive backfield, Jones will be back in his old No. 1 punt returner role. Where will that leave Tate? For now, he'll have to impress on both special teams and offense.
CINCINNATI -- When the Bengals made cornerback Darqueze Dennard their first-round pick earlier this month, they did so with their immediate future in mind.

Terence Newman is 35 and is scheduled to hit free agency next spring. Adam Jones isn't too far behind him. Leon Hall is turning 30 at the end of year and is coming off his second major injury in three seasons. As much as the Bengals respect and appreciate what the trio has accomplished in recent years, they know it's time to start preparing for life after them.

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
AP Photo/Al BehrmanDarqueze Dennard (left) knows that a he can learn a lot from veteran players like Terence Newman.
So Dennard, a 22-year-old who was named college football's top defensive back last year, was added to the mix when the Bengals' pick rolled around at No. 24.

The rookie understands his place in the team's cornerback hierarchy and knows he may not see much playing time defensively this fall. He's OK with that, though, because he believes his time will come soon enough.

"I'm just waiting on my moment," Dennard said earlier this week following the Bengals' first organized team activity practice.

He's also waiting on something else: a contract. The Bengals have already signed their other seven draft picks, but they haven't yet inked Dennard to his deal. Despite the delay in getting him paid, Dennard has been participating as the Bengals go through their first series of full-team offseason practices. He said Tuesday that he wasn't worried about not having a contract, but remains hopeful that an agreement will be made soon.

As far as his place in the Bengals' cornerback rotation, for now, Dennard is trying to learn from the likes of Newman, Jones, Hall and third-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.

"Those guys have been playing a long time in the NFL and have a lot of games under their belt," Dennard said. "I'm here to play. That's my mindset -- to get on the field -- but being under the tutelage of them is going to help me, as well. A lot of guys don't have the same chance I have. Those veteran guys have played a lot of games and have done great things on the football field. I have them and I'm going to use them."

Dennard added that he is already peppering the vets with questions about playing the position and being a professional player, in general. He wants to be a pest to them and anyone else who's willing to help him navigate this next stage of his development.

"I'm probably going to get on their nerves by asking them so many questions, but I'm going to use that to better me as a player and a person," Dennard said. "Hopefully I'll have the same kind of career as them."

His career could begin this season by getting the majority of his playing time on special teams. Possible injuries aside, for now, the depth ahead of him at corner will make it difficult for him to get on the field. Newman and Jones opened this week's OTAs as the starting boundary cornerbacks. Kirkpatrick got time with the second-team corners alongside Chris Lewis-Harris, a third-year corner who was active for six games last season. In time, the expectation is that Dennard and Kirkpatrick will be the top options at the two boundary spots.

Kirkpatrick still has to prove he's starting material. As well as he played at times filling in for an injured Newman last season, Kirkpatrick still gave up his share of touchdown passes and got burned on occasion in coverage.

Dennard seldom got burned at Michigan State. He held opposing receivers to just 5.78 yards per catch, the lowest figure for a defensive back during the entire BCS era. He and the rest of the Spartans' defensive backfield considered themselves so effective against the pass that he nicknamed the group "No Fly Zone" last summer.

Part of what made Michigan State's "No Fly Zone" live up to Dennard's nickname was the intense nature of his single-coverage play on opposing receivers. He blanketed pass-catchers so well in college the Bengals believed he needed to be in their defense.

Dennard's former college teammate, current Spartan safety Kurtis Drummond, said Dennard's coverage was a credit to his preparation.

"He works on it. That's not something he just throws himself in," Drummond said. "That's something that he's very prepared to do. Something he takes pride in. He's a competitor and he wants to be the best at whatever he does."
Johnny ManzielRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesIs Tony Romo's back enough of a concern for the Dallas Cowboys that they'd take a flier on the media circus that would come with drafting quarterback Johnny Manziel?

IRVING, Texas -- Johnny Manziel is the most polarizing player in this draft, so naturally people believe he will end up with the Dallas Cowboys, the most polarizing team in the NFL.

With the first round coming fast, ESPNDallas writers take a roundtable look at what a union of the Cowboys and Manziel would mean.

SportsNation

Should the Cowboys take Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with the 16th pick if he falls to them?

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    56%
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    44%

Discuss (Total votes: 16,137)

Todd Archer: Let's make an huge assumption here that Manziel will be available at No. 16 when the Cowboys pick in the first round. I ask this question first: Should the Cowboys pick the Texas A&M quarterback? We'll get to "Would the Cowboys pick him?" in a second.

My take is, yes, the Cowboys should take him, and I'm not even thinking about the marketing opportunities and off-field stuff that Jerry Jones thinks about. From a football standpoint, I'd argue it would be a great value pick. There is no way the Green Bay Packers thought they would get Aaron Rodgers in 2005 late in the first round, but they took him even when Brett Favre was playing well. Tony Romo is 34 and coming off two back surgeries. I think he'll be fine and return to form, but what happens if he doesn't or he takes a big hit in Week 8 and is down for the year?

Jerry always tried to find a quarterback on the cheap after Troy Aikman retired and he never found a guy until Romo. And that was lucky. I think he'd be lucky again if Manziel were there at No. 16.

Calvin Watkins: I don't believe the Cowboys should take him. No. 1, I don't believe he'll fall to No. 16 or even out of the top 10. If he does fall to No. 16, the Cowboys should either bypass him or trade down. This team has bigger holes to address such as secondary and defensive line before quarterback. There are quarterbacks later, such as Aaron Murray from Georgia, who can be taken in the second or third round. Yeah, I know Romo is coming off back surgery and he's 34 and all of that. It's a back injury and you never know about backs. However, getting Manziel at No. 16 isn't worth it to me. You can find a good quarterback to groom in the later rounds.

Tim MacMahon: Heck, yes. If you can get a guy you feel is a franchise quarterback in the middle of the first round, you do it, especially when the fate of your franchise rests on a 34-year-old back that has been operated on twice in the past year. This isn't about trying to run Romo out of town. It would be a chance to extend the window of having a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback another decade or so, an opportunity the Cowboys shouldn't pass up after navigating that rickety bridge from Aikman to Romo. It would be complicated for a couple of years because of Romo's massive contract and the potential chemistry issues that Roger Staubach mentioned, but it would be well worth it if Manziel can make plays in the NFL like he did in the SEC.

Jean-Jacques Taylor: No. No. No. A thousand times no. This team has way too many holes to draft a quarterback in the first round to sit behind Romo for at least three years. That makes absolutely no sense. When Green Bay drafted Aaron Rodgers and let him sit, they were a contender. They could afford to do it. There's a good chance Jason Garrett gets fired at the end of next season if he's not in the playoffs. Do you think he wants to take a first-round pick and stash him for the next coach? Heck, no. This was the worst defense in the universe last year. Are they really going to miss out on a chance to help it to draft a quarterback who may or may not be a star?

Archer: OK, let’s move on to the second part of the question: Would the Cowboys take Manziel if he is there at No. 16?

I believe they would. We always talk about how the Cowboys should draft a quarterback every year, so now when they could do it, we’re going to say, "No, not that guy?" I don’t think the next Cowboys quarterback will be developed by this team. In other words, a middle-round pick who sits for a few years and takes over. Almost all of the top quarterbacks come from the first or second round. The Cowboys would have Manziel ready to go without the burden of having to carry the franchise early on. He is skilled. He has ability. And he is a draw. I do think it would be incumbent on the coaches to manage this thing the right way because the second Romo throws a poor pass, fans will be calling for Manziel. You can't operate that way.

Watkins: Say the Cowboys do take him, which I doubt, can you imagine if Romo has a bad game? He has been known to have them from time to time. Garrett would be under pressure to send Manziel into the game when he's not ready. Then if he does use Manziel, you've got a media and fan circus. The Cowboys have endured their own type of drama from Terrell Owens, Pacman Jones, Romo's own issues, Jerry Jones and how he runs the franchise among other things, but a quarterback drama isn't fun for anybody. Having Manziel around isn't fun. But if Jerry drafted him he wouldn't care, it would be about the business of marketing and not the business of football.

MacMahon: Well, that might depend on who gets the last word in with GM Jerry. I can’t imagine Garrett, a head coach fighting to keep his job as he enters the last season of his contract, would be thrilled with the idea of using a first-round pick on a guy who might be holding a clipboard and still drawing a media horde as a rookie. But Stephen Jones seems just as enamored with Johnny Football as his father is. I don't think Jerry could help himself if Manziel were available when the Cowboys are on the clock. A strong football argument can be made for Manziel as a fit, and it’d be a home run for the marketing department. And we all know the Cowboys' GM cares about marketing almost as much as he does about football.

Taylor: Jerry loves collecting baubles. We know this. Dez Bryant was a bauble. So was Terrell Owens. And Rocket Ismail. He loves any marketing aspect that added more cash to the family treasure trove. I can absolutely see Jerry using the force of his personality to persuade Garrett and vice president Stephen Jones the right move to make is adding Johnny Football to the roster, even though he's going to sit for multiple seasons and wouldn't make an impact on the team unless Romo was hurt. Hey, at least the preseason games would be sold out.

Archer: Let's be honest, he won't be there at No. 16 and I think we all believe it would cost too much to trade up to get him, so who takes Manziel and why is he a better fit there than with the Cowboys?

I’m going with Jacksonville. They need a quarterback and they need a draw. It’s probably not the most sound football decision to think of it like that, but the Jaguars have no juice. Manziel would give them some juice. And the Cowboys will see him at Wembley in November. Perfect.

Watkins: It's interesting, but when I read Ourlads' mock draft, it didn't have Manziel going until No. 26 to Cleveland. But when I look at the top 10, I can see six teams taking him. I think Cleveland takes him at No. 4, but you have to wonder about the weather in the AFC North. Manziel hasn't played in that on a regular basis in college. Can he produce in cold weather in Pittsburgh and Baltimore in November and December? Oakland seems logical as well at No. 5. Matt Schaub should start in 2014 and Manziel would get his chance the following year. It's just no easy place for him to go. Houston, I don't believe, thinks Manziel is better than the two defensive players. So, I guess to answer this question, I think Cleveland takes him at No. 4.

MacMahon: I think the Browns take him at No. 4. The Browns have been searching for a franchise quarterback since cutting Bernie Kosar, and drafting Manziel would fire up a rabid fan base desperately searching for a reason to be optimistic. Strange as it sounds, I also see Cleveland as a team that would give Manziel a chance to succeed early in his NFL career. Josh Gordon just led the NFL in receiving yards as a 22-year-old despite dealing with a QB rotation. Tight end Jordan Cameron is coming off a Pro Bowl season as a 25-year-old. The Browns have two Pro Bowl offensive linemen -- left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack -- who are in their prime. And Cleveland addressed its need for a running back by signing Ben Tate. Add an electrifying quarterback, and the Browns might actually have one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses.

Taylor: On the surface, Jacksonville should be really intrigued by Johnny Football because they need a quarterback and they need someone to put butts in seats. They're going to be bad again, so they need a playmaker on offense. That said, coach Gus Bradley is a defense-minded dude, so he'll probably go defense and take Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. That leaves Johnny Football to Cleveland. The Browns have a really good, young defense. They have a young star in receiver Josh Gordon. What they need is a triggerman. Since 2002, the Browns have had 10 different players lead them in passing, which is not a positive. If he's the star some project, Johnny Football will turn that franchise around and he'll own the city.

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Bengals

March, 13, 2014
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It has been said a lot this offseason, but bears repeating. Compared to most teams, the Cincinnati Bengals have relatively minor draft needs.

As it currently stands, due to Michael Johnson's signing with Tampa Bay and Kyle Cook getting cut, the Bengals will only be without two starters off last year's team. The rest of Cincinnati's starting lineup will return, meaning the Bengals won't be in the market in May to draft too many immediate impact players.

Cornerback remains an area of concern with veterans Terence Newman, Leon Hall and Adam Jones all now in their 30s. With each of their contracts set to expire in the next two years, and with injuries and age beginning to catch up to them, it would be in the Bengals' best interest to start looking into replacing them. The good news is that this draft is chock-full of secondary talent.

Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert, Ohio State's Bradley Roby, Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner, TCU's Jason Verrett and Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller are among the group of elite corners who could be available when the Bengals make their first-round pick at No. 24. Since so many teams have already made moves in free agency to bring in cornerbacks, it's possible that those with defensive back needs who pick before the Bengals will end up bypassing some of these players. If that happens, the odds of Gilbert or Dennard falling to 24th might increase.

Cincinnati's draft mantra in recent years has been to take the best available player. Coaches contend that will continue this year, and that's not a certainty that they will be using their first pick on a cornerback. As they look to start creating depth at multiple spots, the Bengals also have needs at outside linebacker, defensive end, center and safety. They also could draft a quarterback to help back up Andy Dalton, and a running back to aid in their efforts of employing a more physical offense this season.

Mel Kiper's latest mock draft .

Countdown to combine: Bengals CBs

February, 21, 2014
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With the NFL combine this week, we've been taking a look at positions of need and who the Cincinnati Bengals might be looking at during the combine at those positions. We've reached the end and are evaluating the Bengals' most immediate draft concern.

Position of need: Cornerback

Now that players have started arriving at the combine and talking with teams and media, we're wrapping up our combine countdown with the position that ought to garner the most eyeballs from Bengals' decision-makers leading up to the May draft. Much like we've said about the other positions (here's a look at our pre-combine reads on the situations at running back, on the offensive line, defensive line and at quarterback), this draft for Cincinnati is all about backups and reserves. Though there might be some exceptions for prospects who can contribute right away on special teams, the Bengals are in Indianapolis this weekend mostly looking for help behind their starting lineups. The only real casualty to the Bengals' starting rotations on offense and defense could be defensive end Michael Johnson, who will enter free agency March 11.

As for cornerback specifically, the Bengals have a veteran returning group paced by Leon Hall, Adam Jones and Terence Newman. Brandon Ghee also could return in a reserve capacity if he gets re-signed starting next month, allowing him to get paired again with third-year player Dre Kirkpatrick in the back end of the rotation. But with Hall coming off his second major injury in three seasons and having just turned 29, and Jones and Newman both now in their 30s and entering the final years of their contracts, the Bengals have to start preparing for life without them. Kirkpatrick factors into those plans after being drafted in the first round in 2012. With this year's draft class so ripe with good cornerback talent, the Bengals will look at bringing at least one along. For now, it stands to reason that they will use their first-round pick, No. 24 overall, on a corner.

Three players the Bengals might be targeting (all three are expected to attend the combine)

Darqueze Dennard (CB), Michigan State: Dennard has appeared on Bengals mock drafts since early January, most specifically making it on ESPN draft insider Mel Kiper Jr.'s 1.0 and 2.0 mocks. In the days entering the combine, though, Dennard has started climbing in the eyes of most draft experts, including ESPN's Todd McShay. Many seem to believe he won't be available when the Bengals make their pick at 24. Durability could be an issue for Dennard, who had his share of injuries in college. One of the more positive aspects to his play, though, are his instincts and knack for finding the ball. He had 59 tackles and four sacks his senior season.

Lamarcus Joyner (CB), Florida State: At 5-foot-8, Joyner stands a shade shorter than the types of longer and leaner corners the Bengals have brought in over the years, but his versatility in the defensive backfield will make him an attractive target for some team. At FSU, he played the boundary cornerback positions, lined up some in the slot at nickel, and was featured for most of his career at safety. He also appeared on special teams both as a return specialist and tackler on kick coverage. Cut from the same cloth as a player like Jones, Joyner plays with a chip on his shoulder. It's that combination of fearless play and versatility that should make him a serious late-first-round target.

Stan Jean-Baptiste (CB), Nebraska: Likely a second- or third-round talent, Jean-Baptiste ultimately may not end up in the Bengals' draft plans. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, he's also a little bigger than the cornerbacks the Bengals have brought in lately, but more important than that, he seems to still have playmaking ability with respect to intercepting passes and creating turnovers. He had four interceptions in 2013. His comparative height and weight advantage can help him when jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. It also might make some teams think about moving him to safety.

How costly was Geno Atkins' injury?

January, 29, 2014
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CINCINNATI -- Yes, it's the offseason, meaning the time of year has arrived when media entities compile their sundry end-of-season lists.

As you might have been able to tell, the list frenzy hit ESPN.com's Cincinnati Bengals blog about two weeks ago when we started counting down the top 10 plays from the 2013 season. We've also devoted lists to breaking down the team's position groups, and will have even more list-form analysis regarding other items in the coming months.

Such blogs are good complements to other coverage. They can further and firm what has already been reported, or be good jumping off points for generating discussion as seasons get reviewed and the results of others predicted.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsGeno Atkins' participation in practice had the Bengals pumped on Wednesday.
Over the weekend, Pro Football Focus trotted out one particular list-based blog that evaluated the "costliest" injuries around the league this season. The countdown looked at 10 players across the NFL whose statistics and grade of play made them difficult to replace. The list also included a group of three players who were considered honorable mentions for costliest injury. Of the 13 total players, two were Bengals.

Most notably, PFF said it felt defensive tackle Geno Atkins had the NFL's costliest injury in 2013. Cornerback Leon Hall made the additional three-man cut.

Both are, in fact, among the top players on a defense that entered the season regarded universally as one of the best. That alone made it more difficult to replace them, driving up the metaphoric cost of their mid-season injuries.

But, really, how costly did those injuries -- specifically Atkins' -- turn out to be? After all, without the Pro Bowl lineman and the cornerback who was having a Pro Bowl type of start to his eighth season, the Bengals still finished near the top of the league's defensive rankings. In holding opponents to an average of 305.0 yards per game, Cincinnati ranked third in total defense.

A large part of the reason why the Bengals were able to garner such a high ranking was because they got contributions from other parts of their defense to absorb the injuries to Atkins and Hall. Atkins went down at Miami in Week 9 when he tore an ACL trying to make a tackle. Hall tore an Achilles two weeks prior when he was trying to out-jump Detroit's Calvin Johnson on a fade route into the back of the end zone.

According to PFF, Atkins' replacement, Brandon Thompson, and fellow interior line starter Domata Peko, had issues getting pressure and stopping the run. Thompson had two sacks and no quarterback hits, while Peko "struggled mightily alongside him," the blurb said.

It's tough to really say Atkins' fellow defensive tackles played poorly, because while they may not have been getting pressure or stopping the run with regularity, they were getting help from others. Defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry each had 7.5 sacks, and fellow end Michael Johnson tied for a league-high eight pass deflections at the line. The Bengals' third-down conversion rating was the second highest in the league this season and the highest at home. Even if the Bengals' interior linemen had issues stopping the run overall, they were still doing something right on third down.

It's also unfair to fully pin replacing Atkins' production on Thompson and Peko. They weren't the only ones playing defensive tackle in the wake of Atkins' injury. Fellow tackle Devon Still mixed in a bit at Atkins' old spot, as did ends Gilberry and Margus Hunt. Linebacker James Harrison also played at tackle in certain nickel situations to provide an additional athletic pass-rusher on the interior during passing downs.

Part of PFF's decision to deem Atkins' injury the costliest in the league hinged on the fact that he was the site's Defensive Player of the Year runner-up the year before, and the fact he amassed a dizzying plus-80.0 grade in 2012 from it. That grade was more than double what any other defensive tackle received from the site that season.

Indeed, replacing the best player in the league at his position is a tall, unenviable task. But upon further review, it was one the Bengals actually passed quite easily.

With respect to Hall, though, the challenges for continuity were even greater. The domino effect of his injury and others meant still-learning second-year player Dre Kirkpatrick was thrust into more playing time, as was veteran Chris Crocker, who came out of retirement four weeks into the season. Challenges aside, though, like Atkins' replacement, Hall's held firm without him. Kirkpatrick had his problems combating double moves and deep, wide-open receivers, but he still finished with three interceptions, including two that effectively iced a key win.

Should the injuries to Atkins and Hall have been costly? Most definitely. But the Bengals' talent was just deep enough to prove the pair wasn't completely irreplaceable.
Now that the Cincinnati Bengals' season has ended, and coaching changes have kicked off the unofficial start to the offseason, we're counting down the 10 plays that helped shape the Bengals' 11-5, AFC North championship season.

When we reach the No. 1 play, we'll add in links to each play on the countdown.

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

So far, the key plays have ranged the gamut. From James Harrison's interception against the Browns, to A.J. Green's Hail Mary haul in Baltimore, to Reggie Nelson's big blitz that set up Mike Nugent's game-winning field goal at Detroit, the plays have covered significant moments in the season.

As is the case with most top 10 lists, determining these plays was completely subjective. They could be placed in virtually any slot among these 10, or not among them at all. Some certainly won't make the cut that many believe should. It's the nature of lists. Somewhere a cut off has to come. Anyway, let's get back to it, with No. 3:

PACMAN'S PICK IN THE MONSOON

[+] EnlargeAdam Jones
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportAdam Jones' interception sealed Cincinnati's Week 5 win over the Patriots.
When: Oct. 6, 2013

Where: Paul Brown Stadium, where the Bengals beat the New England Patriots, 13-6.

What happened: In the days leading up to the Bengals' and Patriots' Week 5 meeting, Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis kept close tabs on the weather forecast. Most weathermen believed steady to heavy rains would pelt the Ohio Valley Region throughout the day of the game, causing reporters to question what the teams' game plans would end up being. If it rained as much as the weather reports were indicating, passing would be difficult. Running would be about the only thing both offenses could do.

As concerning as the forecast may have been for those preparing to cover the game, it wasn't a problem for Lewis, who foresaw something different. During pregame warmups, he told his players not to worry about the overcast skies that hovered above the stadium all that morning. It'll be dry most of the day, he said. But don't be caught off guard near the end of the fourth quarter when the skies would open, he also warned. The rains would come, but it wouldn't be until very late in the game, the coach-turned-meteorologist said.

He was right. After a slow and steady rainfall began in the fourth quarter, conditions got dramatically worse on the Bengals' second-to-last drive of the game. Up 13-6 and approaching the two-minute warning, their only option was to run the ball. So they did. Three times Cincinnati tried to pick up yards on the ground, but ultimately, that wasn't enough to advance that drive. At the end of a three-and-out and fresh out of the two-minute break, they punted. Kevin Huber's 57-yard boot somehow navigated the raindrops that started coming harder and more frequent. The punt put Tom Brady and the rest of his offense 65 yards away from a game-tying touchdown.

With time running out, the only way the Patriots could march downfield so quickly was to pass. But with the rain coming down in sudden monsoon-like sheets, it was difficult for his receivers to see, tough for Brady to get a good grip on the football, and even more challenging for them to keep a grip when the ball hit their hands. Six times on that final drive Brady passed and only once was the ball caught. Twice it was dropped. Twice more the ball and receiver went different directions. Once, it was intercepted.

As the game clock ticked all the way down to 16 seconds, it was Bengals cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones who leaped high deep in Bengals territory on a long first-down heave, tipping the ball into the air as he fell to the turf. While on the ground, Jones caught his deflection, signaling an interception and icing a big early-season win.

What they said about it: Jones, on the deluge: "Man, I was happy about that. I was like, ‘When is it coming?’ It came right on time.’"

Brady, on his snapped touchdown pass streak: "I'm bummed that we lost. I think that's all that really matters."

Lewis, on stopping Brady's streak: "That's a great accomplishment. I don't normally give out game balls, but I gave that one to Zimmer. They played well today. They were tight in coverage most of the day. Upfront, they got after it."

Bengals defensive back Chris Crocker: "All week long, all you guys were talking about was Tom Brady. We wanted them to be talking about us."

How the Bengals' season was impacted: Jones' interception not only gave the Bengals a third straight home win, it also propelled Cincinnati toward another win over a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. After beating Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers and Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the first three weeks of the season, the Bengals added Brady to the list of elite quarterbacks they toppled. The future Hall of Famer entered the game having completed a touchdown pass in his 52 previous games. The streak was the second-longest in NFL history, bested only by New Orleans' Drew Brees who had his streak snapped at 54 in 2012. Prior to this game, Brady had completed a touchdown pass in every game since Sept. 2009. By stopping that streak, the Bengals defense started convincing many around the league that it had the ability to be a true force in 2013. Cincinnati ended the year ranked third in overall defense.

Kiper mock 1.0 reaction: Bengals

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
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CINCINNATI -- Most of the Cincinnati Bengals' more pressing needs in this year's draft will come on defense, as they try to maintain the measure of depth they have enjoyed the past three seasons.

In his first mock draft Insider of the new year, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. went in precisely that direction as he declared Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard the Bengals' selection with the No. 24 pick of the first round.

Dennard was the second cornerback to go in Kiper's mock draft. Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State, the top-rated corner on Kiper's Big Board, went 10th to the Detroit Lions.

Cornerback is just one of the more glaring weaknesses the Bengals will have entering this year's draft. They also will be looking to shore up their depth at linebacker, safety, defensive end, guard and offensive tackle. At linebacker, a cover player who can slip into one of the outside linebacker positions during nickel situations will be sought. When Emmanuel Lamur was lost for the year after an injury in the last preseason game, the Bengals spent the next month scrambling to find an adequate nickel linebacker. Part of their plans included shifting defensive back Taylor Mays into the spot.

To avoid such scrambling this year, the Bengals would like a true cover linebacker on the roster in case something happens to Lamur or any of the other outside linebackers next season.

While Terence Newman, Leon Hall, Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick will be back next season, the Bengals still need an extra cornerback in the event injuries hit that position like they did in the first part of the 2013 season. They were fortunate Chris Crocker was still in shape and able to come out of retirement and fill necessary gaps due to early-season injuries to Hall, Jones and Kirkpatrick. When Hall was lost to injury near the middle of the season, Crocker's presence became even more necessary.

Two drafts ago, the Bengals spent their first-round pick on Kirkpatrick. While he started showing signs late this past season that he was beginning to make the transition to the NFL, he still had noticeable struggles. He was out of position at times and completely burned at others. By having another young cornerback come in, particularly if Brandon Ghee doesn't get re-signed this offseason, the Bengals could be sending a message to Kirkpatrick to play well more consistently or risk losing his job.

Dennard has played well for all four of his seasons at Michigan State. Football fans in Cincinnati ought to be somewhat familiar with him, too. This past fall, while helping the Spartans go 11-1 and leading them to a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl victory, he had 59 tackles and four interceptions. He deflected a pair of passes in MSU's Big Ten title game win over Ohio State.

He also has an NFL connection. The Dry Branch, Ga., native is distantly related to Patriots defensive back and former Nebraska standout Alfonzo Dennard. Like many of the Bengals' cornerbacks, Darqueze Dennard played other positions in high school, including receiver. ESPN's draft insiders laud his cover skills and ability to come away with interceptions.

In addition to linebacker and cornerback, another position the Bengals could attempt to draft in the first round is defensive end. With Michael Johnson likely gone because of the high price tag he likely will fetch following a year spent as the team's franchise player, Cincinnati will be looking to replace him. Although Margus Hunt began to impress coaches by the end of 2013, and veterans Wallace Gilberry and Robert Geathers will be back to rotate into Johnson's spot, the Bengals would like to add another body to help with the depth there.

Possible first-round targets include Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt and Oregon State's Scott Crichton. Kiper had the Chiefs taking Tuitt one spot ahead of the Bengals at No. 23, and Crichton going to the Broncos at No. 31.
CINCINNATI -- Now that the Cincinnati Bengals have clinched a playoff berth and the AFC North title, they have accomplished all that they can this regular season, right?

Wrong.

"There's still stuff we could possibly achieve if we could win and things can still happen our way," offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth said.

[+] EnlargeMarvin Lewis
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastMarvin Lewis and the Bengals are aiming to take momentum into the AFC playoffs.
With one game left on the schedule, he's right. A win this weekend over the Baltimore Ravens could still give the current No. 3-seeded Bengals a shot at the AFC's No. 2 playoff slot. It also could help them them play a psychological game of sorts with the Ravens. In the event the playoff picture comes together in a way that would allow Baltimore entry into the postseason and forces it to return to Cincinnati next week for the first round of the playoffs, one of the Bengals' typically physical home performances this weekend could prove quite timely.

"If it was my choice, I don't want Baltimore to make it [to the playoffs]," Bengals cornerback Adam Jones said.

One way to keep that from happening? Win Sunday. (Even though a Baltimore loss, coupled with losses from San Diego, Miami and Pittsburgh on Sunday still would end up giving the Ravens a postseason berth. The odds of that happening, though, are quite low.)

It is for the various reasons outlined above that the Bengals believe they have to take this weekend's finale seriously. That's why you shouldn't expect to see Jones, Whitworth or any other starters substituted for unless the game has turned into a blowout by the end of the fourth quarter. (The odds of that happening are actually quite high. Across their past four home games, the Bengals have averaged 43.5 points while holding opponents to an average of 17.8.)

"We're going to do everything we can to win the football game with our guys and go at it that way," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "We've got to continue to push forward on offense, defense and special teams -- in all three phases -- and play better. We know we're going to play a good football team that has a lot to play for, as we do, as well."

Pressed on whether that was an indication the Bengals' plan was to play 60 minutes with their starting group, Lewis nodded and said "full-go."

That stands in stark contrast to last season's finale when, with both the Bengals and Ravens having already locked up playoff berths, Lewis and Ravens coach John Harbaugh pulled their starters fairly early. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw for just 78 yards and a touchdown on only 19 dropbacks.

As for this season, a Ravens tie or win coupled with a combination of losses or ties by the Dolphins or Chargers also would put Baltimore in the playoffs as the AFC's No. 6 seed. If the New England Patriots win Sunday, thereby retaining their current No. 2 seeding, the Bengals, as the No. 3 seed, would host Baltimore in next weekend's wild-card round.

Dizzy yet? Don't worry, you're not the only one. Suggested playoff scenarios can do that this time of year. That's why the Bengals continue to contend they "control what [they] can control." Once they start worrying about those what-if scenarios, they feel like they play mind games on themselves and stop focusing on the task at hand: just winning.

"If we win the football game, that's all we can control and we keep moving on," Lewis said. "We've been in that mode for a while now and that's all we can keep doing. I keep trying to say it, and I know that it sounds simplistic, but it literally is that."

Whether they end up getting a first-round bye with a Patriots loss or not, the Bengals believe that a strong effort Sunday can not only help them close out the regular season with an 8-0 home record, but it would help get them into the playoffs with momentum and confidence on their side.

"You always want to go into the playoffs hot," defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "You never want to be a team that's on the downfall going into the playoffs. You want to be on the rise. If we handle business this week, we'll be one of those tough teams on the rise.

"We're starting to click on all cylinders, man, and that's what we want to see here in January, February, this time of year."
CINCINNATI -- With the regular season in its final stages, we'll be examining each Friday through Week 17 what we'd like to see particular Cincinnati Bengals players or position groups do with the remainder of the season.

We started two weeks ago by offering four things we'd like to see receiver A.J. Green do over the season's final four games. Last Friday, we looked at the three things we wanted to see quarterback Andy Dalton do across the final three games. This week, it's all about the defense.

Here are the two things I'd like to see Cincinnati's defense do the rest of the way:

[+] EnlargeJones/Sanders
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarAdam Jones has helped spark Cincinnati's defense with three interceptions this season.
1. Hold two more teams to under 300 yards of total offense. One of the hallmarks of a good defense is its ability to prevent opposing offenses from passing for more than 300 yards in a single game. At one point this season, the Bengals had held opposing quarterbacks under the 300-yard mark in six straight games. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger were among those who weren't able to hit that level against Cincinnati's defense earlier this season. Since then, only Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck have.

But for this particular bullet point, though, passing offense is only one piece of the puzzle. This request is for the Bengals to hold an offense to 300 yards of total offense. And not just one, two. That's a pretty tall order. But not for the Bengals. After all, they have been that stout defensively before this season. They kept the Steelers (twice), the Jets, the Patriots and Ravens all under 300 yards of passing offense. Three of those games had something in common: they came in awful weather conditions. This weekend against the Vikings, the Bengals expect to play in even more harrowing elements. The odds are favorable that they could be dealing with a mess next weekend when they host the Ravens in the season finale, too. Let's just say, when it comes to this time of year in Cincinnati, don't expect sunshine and 70 degrees every day.

Sunday's conditions could be a lot like those that hit Cincinnati on Oct. 6 when New England had trouble moving the ball. Hard rains, especially in the third quarter, made seeing difficult for the Patriots' offense and made it tougher for their receivers to catch the wet passes that Brady was throwing them. His last pass of the game came in a driving rainstorm and was tipped up and then picked off by cornerback Adam Jones. So, can the Bengals hold the Vikings and Ravens to under 300 yards? Maybe. Minnesota enters this weekend's game ranking 13th in the league, averaging 353.9 yards of total offense per game. Baltimore currently ranks 29th with a 309.9 average.

2. Intercept three more passes. Jones' game-icing interception against Brady was the first of three interceptions he's had this season. In arguably his best year as a Bengal, the veteran corner has routinely found himself in position deep downfield to pick off sputtering passes. Last week at Pittsburgh, in a game that featured blistering and heavy winds, Jones got in position to pick off a wobbly pass from Roethlisberger near the goal line. At the time, the interception kept the Bengals in the game and still had them believing a comeback could occur.

While Jones has tried to do his part, the Bengals have been rather mediocre in the interception department this season. They have 14 as a team, good enough to tie them with three other teams for 12th in the league. Seattle paces the NFL with 22 picks this season.

It might be a bold desire, but we would like to see the Bengals intercept three more passes. As they start preparing for a possible run into the playoffs, now might be a good time for the Bengals to start greasing the wheels of their turnover skills and putting their interception tactics to good use. They certainly could use them in January. One reason why you have to think a three-interception performance could come the next two weeks has to do with the site of those games: Paul Brown Stadium. Of the Bengals' 14 interceptions, nine have come at home. They have been just another byproduct of the intimidating environment Cincinnati has built inside its stadium this year.

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