Tuesday, December 19, 2006
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.
If I missed anyone, please let me know so I can add you.
This post brought to you by Bonus Code IGGY on Party Poker, damnit!
Monday, December 18, 2006
Tonight's a huge game for my Cincinnati Bengals. After the last 15 years, I'm not the optimistic type. Plus, I'm sick as a dog.
And so I had written out what I expected from this excellent match up tonight. But then I was sent a fine editorial by Paul Daughtery that I'm just gonna repost here.
Head on over to my latest uber post at Poker Works. Lotsa great poker stuff there.
Good stuff here. Go Bungals!
Damn the torpedos!
Hot-handed passing is this team's hallmark
The Bengals' offense can beat you any which way. But the passing game defines the team. It's no coincidence the playoff train began boarding four weeks ago, when Carson and Chad rediscovered what makes them Carson and Chad.
Conventional wisdom suggests December is when defenses and running backs take over. The weather turns iffy, collars tighten in the play-calling booth. September and October were for dancing. To win now, you march.
So you'd think Cincinnati's stretch drive to the playoffs would be a Rudi-fest: Monday night against Indy's woeful run defense; Dec. 24 in Denver, where the weather outside could be frightful; then the Dec. 31 regular-season finale against the Steelers, who force you to prove your manhood every time you play them.
Rudi Johnson is the perfect security blanket. He has lost one fumble all season, last week against Oakland. He doesn't get tackled for a loss very often. Need to stabilize things, chew some clock, play football the way Ronald Reagan ran the country?
Give the ball to Rudi.
That's the thinking.
But it's wrong.
Winning teams develop singular personalities. You know who they are. They know who they are. Is anyone unsure what "Steelers football" means? Jim Fassel tried to make the Ravens' offense something it wasn't. Brian Billick fired him, started handing the ball to Jamal Lewis 30 times a game, and Baltimore won five in a row.
The Bengals are different. They take the stereotype and throw over top of it. Carson Palmer-to-Chad Johnson is what matters most here, followed very closely by Palmer-to-T.J. Houshmandzadeh, across the middle on third-and-8. The only other NFL team whose swagger comes from its passing game is the one Cincinnati is playing Monday night.
As Houshmandzadeh put it: "To win games, you need explosive plays. Rudi's not a back that's going to take you 90 yards. To get explosive plays, we've got to throw the ball."
Ironically, the swagger re-emerged in a 49-41 loss to San Diego Nov. 12. Palmer threw three touchdown passes that day; Chad Johnson and Houshmandzadeh combined for a ridiculous 348 yards and 18 catches. Only a defensive meltdown prevented a win over the best team in the league.
(Praise also goes to the offensive line, which has been giving Palmer just enough time to allow receivers to break free of coverage.)
The Bengals haven't lost since. They beat New Orleans when Chad caught six passes for 190 yards and three scores. They won at Cleveland when Palmer completed 25 of 32 passes, including 14 to Johnson or Houshmandzadeh. In a home win over the Ravens, the duo combined for 18 catches and 197 yards.
Conversely, the Bengals had no chance in a 26-20 loss to Baltimore Nov. 5 because Palmer had the worst game of his career: 12-of-26 passing with two interceptions.
If the deep sideline miss to a wide-open Chad Johnson in the loss to Atlanta Oct. 29 defined the mediocre first half of the Bengals' season, the flea-flicker bomb to Houshmandzadeh against Baltimore in a 13-7 win over Baltimore Nov. 30 has illuminated the promising second half. Rudi Johnson might be a considerable part of the Bengals' soul; their beating heart looks like a go-route to Chad Johnson.
Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski goes as far as to say his offense uses the pass to set up the run. Once Palmer has shown he can get the ball to his wideouts, safeties play deep and, occasionally, linemen are replaced with pass defenders. "That's when we generate big numbers in the running game," Bratkowski said.
Chad Johnson's mercurial personality also sets a mood. "His energy level rubs off on other players," Bratkowski said. "When he's making those plays, it just energizes everybody. When it's not going (well) for him, we don't seem to have the same energy."
Said Houshmandzadeh: "Teams that are built on defense and running the ball, every game is going to be close if you don't get turnovers. You're not going to run for 30 yards every time. It's a grind-it-out game if you don't have explosive plays."
The Bengals can grind it out, but they'd rather not. It isn't who they are.
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