Tuesday, December 19, 2006

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Howdy all, I figgered I'd do another Bungals update from Daughtery's column. Good God, they barely even showed up.

And because poker bloggers are still sticking up Vegas Trip Reports, I'm gonna list em underneath this editorial. I can't bear to post over my last uber on Poker Works. Took too long to write up so if you want kickass poker goodness, head over there now.


Passing foils passive Bengals

INDIANAPOLIS - It was a pre-playoff playoff, with the sort of atmosphere and urgency usually reserved for January. The good teams emerge from games like this. Which makes you wonder this morning about the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Bengals might rebound from the 34-16 thumping they took from the Indianapolis Colts Monday night. They're still in good postseason position. They have two tough, winnable games to play. But after Monday night, their defense is going to keep them up nights.

You don't expect to shut down Peyton Manning, even though during the Colts' recent three losses, Manning threw five interceptions and three touchdowns and looked to be channeling David Klingler. Great quarterbacks get past that sort of blip. Manning qualifies.

But if you are a team with playoff beliefs, you better find a way to slow him a little. The show Cincy's defensive backs and linebackers offered Monday night looked like open-matador night at the local bullring.

Dr. Manning performed surgery from the top of the show. He should have been wearing scrubs. Manning didn't go deep on Cincinnati's secondary, at least not right away. He didn't have to. He opted instead for solid singles to all fields. On Indy's first TD drive, Manning consistently scalpel-ed the Bengals' soft middle. Manning completed 6 of 7 on the drive, finishing with a 4-yard TD strike down the middle to Marvin Harrison.

We get the strategy: Take your burners, Harrison and Reggie Wayne, send them deep and outside, make the Cincinnati safeties help in coverage. But couldn't a linebacker be somewhere in the local area code when the call comes across the middle?

Manning was 18-for-20 in the first half. One of misses was deliberately thrown away. By the time Manning hit Wayne on a beautiful 19-yard fade that made it 31-13, Harrison had three TD catches and the Bengals had to be thinking: Do we have anyone who can cover anyone?

The Bengals' issues didn't end on defense. We won't say the offense lost its nerve. That would imply it had nerve to begin with. It really didn't, unless you consider running Rudi Johnson off left tackle over and over an act of supreme aggression.

Everyone knew the Colts run defense was as stout as a jelly doughnut. They allowed Jacksonville an egregious 375 yards last week. That was last week.

The scariest opponent in sports is a good team playing poorly. Having lost two in a row and three of four, their defense a rumor, the Colts heard for eight days how bad they were. Plus, desperation is a great motivator. You allow 375 yards running in one game things start getting itchy.

Rudi Johnson had 64 yards and a TD run in the first half, in 13 carries. That's fine. This wasn't: Zero catches for T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Colts missing their three best safeties. T.J., money over the middle, in safety-land. No throws there.

Chad Johnson, two catches in the half, for 27 yards.

Chris Henry distinguished himself by short-arming two deep balls in the first 35 minutes, and failing to handle a catchable ball in the Indy end zone. Why Henry gets more chances than Houshmandzadeh in a game like this is a question for higher minds than ours.

We'll say it again: The Bengals are best when they take what they want, not what they believe the defense will give them. That means Palmer to Houshmandzadeh and Johnson. And we don't mean Rudi.

At 8-6, the Bengals have lost the momentum of a four-game winning streak, and the notion their defense was a positive. Offense occasionally will get a team to the Super Bowl. See: St. Louis in '99. But defense wins more often than not. See: Pittsburgh last year, New England three times in four years, Tampa Bay, the Ravens in 2000.

Which means both of these teams likely are out of luck. The Colts look a little luckier today, though.

The Bengals are wondering. And they still haven't covered anyone over the middle.


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