AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals

CINCINNATI -- The day Jay Gruden foresaw more than three years ago has finally arrived.

Quarterbacks want to be like Andy Dalton.

Cue the soundtrack to an early 1990s commercial anthem: "Sometimes I dream... that he is me..."

In this story by ESPN colleague John Keim on Wednesday, we found out that Kirk Cousins is doing something some other quarterbacks might soon admit to doing. He's trying to play like the Cincinnati Bengals' fourth-year quarterback, who has his team off to a 2-0 start and has started to prove that he might be worth every penny of the six-year, $115 million contract extension he signed back in August.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsBengals quarterback Andy Dalton is playing well enough to be emulated by other NFL quarterbacks.
Built similarly to Dalton and blessed with athleticism and mobility a lot like Dalton's, Cousins is hoping that Gruden, the Bengals' former offensive coordinator who now is Washington's head coach, can get him to taste some of the same success that Dalton has experienced at the start of his career.

"I'm not 6-5; I don't run a 4.3," Cousins said. "I don't have an arm that can throw it 90 yards. If I don't have good command and if I'm not making good decisions and if I'm not doing a great job of managing the game, then I'm not going to be playing very long."

Check, check and check. The same things could be said for the 6-foot-2 Dalton, who ran a 4.87-second 40-yard sprint at the 2011 combine. When he doesn't make good decisions, Dalton struggles. And for whatever reason, those struggles seem to get magnified more for him than when it happens with other quarterbacks.

That was regularly the case under Gruden's guidance, but so far, Dalton hasn't shown any signs of poor decision-making under current Bengals coordinator Hue Jackson. In two games under Jackson's direction, Dalton hasn't thrown an interception and he hasn't been sacked. He also has performed as well as he has without his top two receivers and one of his top pass-catching tight ends.

None of this, however, is to insinuate that Dalton was pitiful under Gruden. Last season, Dalton had five 300-yard passing games, including one four-game stretch of such contests. He also completed a franchise-record 33 touchdown passes.

"We don't expect Kirk to go out and win the MVP next week or win a Super Bowl to prove he's an upper-echelon quarterback right away," said Gruden, who is starting Cousins this week after the quarterback rallied Washington to a victory over Jacksonville after Robert Griffin III's ankle dislocation last week. "We do expect him to produce and play within the offense and not make mistakes and do what he's supposed to do. We expect him to be effective."

Like Dalton.

"They're drop-back quarterbacks and they're both very good, competitive, smart players," Gruden added. "But Andy's done it. Andy's proven it. He's won."

Dalton still hasn't won a playoff game, but he's anxious to scratch that task off his to-do list.

For now, Cousins' objective is to simply be like Dalton.

"If I just do what [Gruden] tells me to do and stay patient, trust the process, keep working, good things are going to happen," Cousins said. "He has a proven track record. ... I watched him have a lot of success with Andy Dalton."

"... Like [Andy], if I could be like [Andy]."
CINCINNATI -- They might be the most overused nicknames in the NFL, but for the first three seasons of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's career, they were were apropos.

"Good Andy" and "Bad Andy."

If you were a Bengals fan, you rued the day "Bad Andy" showed up to steal "Good Andy's" thunder.

Dalton
Dalton
Before too long, though, Bengals fans might soon have no need for either nickname. They will only need to know one name -- Dalton's.

That is because so far this season, there hasn't been anything bad about Dalton's play. But there has been a lot of good. So much so that the flashes of success Dalton once showed earlier in his career are appearing commonplace this season.

He has yet to commit a turnover or be sacked through 133 over two games.

Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and head coach Marvin Lewis are quick to credit Dalton for simply playing well early this season, and they acknowledge how well the players around him have been performing. Dalton's offensive line has had mostly sturdy pockets. His running backs have run aggressively and with purpose, and have also blocked well and been in good spots in the passing game. His receivers have been precise on the majority of their routes and have made him look good by beating blitzes for big gains and long scores.

But there appears to be something else that has helped get Dalton off to this strong early start. It's the fact that we're seeing a lot less of his arm. The Bengals have been more patient with his passing than before. Gone, it appears, are the days when the game plan was to place an entire offensive scheme on Dalton's shoulders, and have him go out for 60 minutes and execute it all himself.

An examination of Dalton's numbers through two games shows that Jackson's offseason push for more balance is coming to fruition. The Bengals have lowered Dalton's passing attempts and drop backs, and in turn, he has rewarded them with drives that have moved and timely touchdowns. He could have more. But that patience has still led to efficient passing numbers and a clean uniform.

"He's more comfortable," Jackson said. "He's playing at a high level. He's playing as well as anybody, and I take pride in that. Our coaching staff takes pride in that."

For the purposes of this post, we're looking specifically as how Dalton's drop back figures have fallen. Compared to those numbers from his first three seasons, they are dramatically lower. Drop backs include passing attempts, scrambles, sacks and spikes.

During his rookie season, Dalton averaged 35.3 drop backs per game. His second season, 36.8. Last season, he averaged a career-high 39.9.

So far this season, he has dropped back on average 31.5 times.

Sure, he had 39 drop backs in the Bengals' Week 1 win at Baltimore, but as Jackson said, there will be times when the Bengals might have to use the pass a little more often in order to win. In that particular game, the Bengals had difficulty running the ball early and had no choice but to launch the passing attack. It doesn't seem that will be the case as running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill continue to emerge. Against the Falcons last Sunday, the tandem combined for 164 yards rushing.

Since the ground game worked so effectively, Dalton only dropped back 24 times last week. It was the third-lowest number of his career, and marked just the seventh time he has had fewer than 30 drop backs in a game.

Dalton is 5-2 when he has fewer than 30 drop backs in a game. His two losses came to the Steelers; once his rookie year and once more the next. On the other end of the spectrum, he had back-to-back losses last season when he had a career-high 60 drop backs against the Dolphins, and 57 at Baltimore a week later.

These aren't the only clues into his early success, but they play a part in it.

Titans vs. Bengals preview

September, 18, 2014
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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.

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CINCINNATI -- At the grand old age of 22, Giovani Bernard is the old man of the Cincinnati Bengals' two-man running back tandem.

He's the more patient, more reserved and more reflective of the two. He likes to leap tall linebackers in a single bound and is quick to celebrate one of his many circus-like touchdown finishes by doling out high fives to his blockers.

Jeremy Hill is the bigger, more noticeable, slightly more flashy of the two. He likes shimmy past defensive linemen and enjoys celebrating his touchdowns with a popular dance or a pose for his fans.

While Bernard is simply fun to watch, Hill just likes to have fun.

Hill's fun-loving nature pushed him to Twitter less than two hours after he and Bernard rushed for a combined 164 yards in the Bengals' 24-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, prompting him to ask Bengals fans the following: "What's a good nickname for the duo?"

Within the tweet, he had a picture of himself and Bernard.
 
In the last four days, the suggestions have poured in.

"I just need something I can run with and that the fans will like and that we can just get going," Hill said Wednesday. "And just having fun -- that’s the biggest thing with it. To have something the fans can connect with, maybe make a few T-shirts and things of that nature and just get it going."

The 21-year-old rookie rushed for 74 yards on 15 carries against Atlanta. Hill also caught a screen pass on the Bengals' first drive that he converted into an 18-yard first down reception. On 27 carries, Bernard rushed for 90 yards and added his own 46-yard first-down reception off an improvised screen pass. About to get sacked, quarterback Andy Dalton shouted out Bernard's name -- "Gio!" -- before dumping an impromptu screen to Bernard, who wiggled around defenders for the big pickup.

As of Wednesday morning, there are at least two nickname suggestions that have passed the first round of Hill's cuts: the "Hue Live Crew" and "Hue Jack City."

The first suggestion came from a certain ESPN Bengals reporter who happened to suggest it on a whim to a fan who asked for his input on Twitter. Both suggestions are nods to offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, whose scheme promised long ago to make the two backs key figures. It could be argued that last Sunday's game was exactly what the Bengals had in mind for Hill and Bernard when they drafted Hill in May.

However, Jackson already shot down the "Hue Jack City" nickname suggestion. When he was the head coach in Oakland in 2011, fans nicknamed the East Bay Area city "Hue Jack City" as an homage to the 1991 movie "New Jack City." There was even a song and a music video that went with the nickname.

"No, that won’t happen. That’s an old name," said Jackson, who was fired after leading the Raiders to an 8-8 season, one of their best since 2002. "That name’s over with. That name has to RIP. May that name rest in peace. That name is gone."

Hill didn't rule out either of the aforementioned nickname possibilities, and said he has no deadline for when they must be decided.

"We’re not settling finalists yet, but they’re definitely nominees," Hill said, laughing. "We have to keep them going and hopefully we have some performances like we did Sunday so we can get more suggestions out there."

On deck for Bengals: Week 3 vs. Titans

September, 17, 2014
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CINCINNATI -- It's about that time of week when we start turning the corner from the Cincinnati Bengals game just played and toward the one that is on the horizon.

The Falcons are now in the rearview.

On deck: The Tennessee Titans.

Record
1-1

How they got there
Two 26-10 results. The first was a win at Kansas City to start the season, and the second was a loss at home against the Cowboys last weekend. Tennessee's defense couldn't stop the Cowboys from moving the ball. Dallas racked up 26 first downs, mostly on the ground. Paced by DeMarco Murray's 167 yards rushing, the Cowboys ran for 220 yards.

Key players
QB Jake Locker. The eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft, Locker was claimed 27 spots ahead of the Bengals' Andy Dalton. So far this season, Locker has thrown two interceptions and been sacked six times. He also has 500 yards passing through the two games.
TE Delaine Walker. One of the many good tight ends the Bengals will face this season, Walker could give outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur a good test. Walker was targeted a team-high 14 times for a team-high 10 catches and 142 yards last week. He had 50 yards after one catch in that game that resulted in a 61-yard total pickup.
S Bernard Pollard. A former Baltimore Raven, Pollard is quite familiar playing in Cincinnati. In three career games at Paul Brown Stadium he has 17 tackles, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. So far this season, he has 16 tackles and a sack.

Titans' base defensive scheme
3-4

Series history
Titans lead 39-32-1 overall, counting the franchise's days as the Houston Oilers. Since moving to Tennessee in 1997, they have an 11-5 record over the Bengals. Cincinnati has won three of the past four meetings, though, dating back to 2005.

Bengals' regular-season home streak
Cincinnati is hoping to set a new regular-season home winning streak record. Dating back to 2012, the Bengals have won 10 consecutive games at Paul Brown Stadium, including last week's over the Falcons. They would surpass a mark set in 1988-89 if they beat the Titans to get their 11th straight.

Uni watch
The Bengals will return to their dark-colored home uniforms this week as they are scheduled to wear black jerseys and white pants. It will be the second time they have worn that combination this season. They beat Baltimore in it on the road two weeks ago. Since the last major uniform renovation in 2004, the Bengals are 25-25 in that combination.

Week 3 stat to consider
Be on the lookout for the matchup between the Bengals' passing game and the Titans' passing defense. Dalton -- and receiver Mohamed Sanu, with his 50-yard pass last week -- has paced the Bengals to the third-ranked passing offense in the league. They average 301.5 yards per game in the air. Tennessee, meanwhile, has the league's best current pass defense, holding opposing quarterbacks to an average 163.0 yards in the first two games. Dallas' Tony Romo had just 148 yards passing last week.

Who to follow
You'll want to be sure to follow my ESPN.com colleague Paul Kuharsky on the Titans blog and also on Twitter @PaulKuharskyNFL for all things Titans this week. You'll learn much more from Paul later this week in our doubly covered game preview. Another good follow includes The Tennessean's Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports).

Bengals make offensive roster moves

September, 16, 2014
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CINCINNATI -- With their passing offense -- specifically their tight ends -- depleted after the first two games of the season, the Cincinnati Bengals on Tuesday made a series of roster moves.

First, they placed 10-year veteran tight end Alex Smith on the injured reserve list after he suffered a left biceps injury against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Smith was one of three Bengals lost in the first quarter of a physical game. Overall, five Bengals were sidelined before the game ended, causing the Bengals to get a little creative with their personnel decisions entering this Sunday's contest against the Tennessee Titans.

Since fellow tight end Tyler Eifert is already on the short-term IR, and since teams are only permitted to put one player per season on that designated-to-return IR, Tuesday's news means Smith's season is officially over. He's placed onto the season-ending injured reserve. He appeared in the first two games, helping the Bengals address their depth behind Eifert, who got hurt in the first quarter of the season opener at Baltimore.

Eifert is expected to return Week 10 when the Bengals host the Cleveland Browns on a Thursday night.

In addition to removing Smith from the 53-man roster, the Bengals signed free-agent tight end Kevin Brock and slid him into Smith's old spot. Brock is a second-year player who opened this season's training camp with the Bengals before getting waived two days before the team's preseason finale. He originally was signed by the Bengals last postseason after Smith dislocated a wrist in the regular-season finale. This is the second straight season Smith has ended a year on IR.

Along with adding Brock, the Bengals also released tight end Ryan Otten off the practice squad to make room for offensive lineman Emmett Cleary. The versatile guard/tackle is a first-year player from Boston College. He spent time last season on Tampa Bay's practice squad before getting acquired by Oakland on waivers this summer. He was waived by the Raiders the same day the Bengals cut Brock.

Even with all these moves, the Bengals have the same number of players they did when the day began -- 52. They're still one shy of the 53-man limit, and could hit it Wednesday when they have to make a decision on cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris, whose two-game suspension ended Monday. The NFL granted the Bengals a two-day exemption period starting Monday to determine what they're going to do with him. At this point, it seems they'll either sign him or release him.

In Case You Missed It: The Devon Still story

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
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Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still, who will appear on NFL Nation TV today at 1 p.m. ET, learned on June 2 that his 4-year-old daughter, Leah, was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare pediatric cancer. When he learned of the diagnosis, Still was granted permission by the Bengals to leave organized team activities and minicamp in June to attend to his daughter.

The Bengals had no choice but to cut him in September. However, the team re-signed him to the practice squad so Still would continue to get a paycheck and health insurance.

Still talked about his daughter's condition on his Instagram account:

In an effort to help raise money and awareness about pediatric cancer, Still coordinated a fundraising drive in which donations will be made based on the number of sacks the Bengals record this season.

The team announced Sept. 8 that it was donating all proceeds from sales of Still's jersey to pediatric cancer research. Less than 24 hours later, more of the defensive tackle's black No. 75 jerseys had been sold in that time span than any jersey featuring any other Bengals player -- ever.

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton purchased 100 jerseys.


After just four days of sales, he and the Bengals have raised about $400,000. Still said more than 5,000 of his jerseys have been purchased in the week since the team launched the jersey-sale campaign.

The Bengals on Sept. 11 signed Still off the practice squad and added him to the 53-man roster, where they had a spot available. "I rolled right out of bed," Still told reporters. "I made it here about five minutes later before they could change their mind."


"NFL Countdown" talks to Still about his daughter's treatments:
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Still on Sept. 15 posted this on Instagram:
"There's not too many things that can take that smile off her face #WomanOfSTILL"

Still answers questions from viewers:
CINCINNATI -- Like most coaches, Marvin Lewis tries to avoid giving injury updates as much as he's permitted to do.

Traditionally, he remains mostly silent when discussing injuries, especially on Mondays after Sunday games, and especially when they aren't ones that will require major roster moves to be made.

Green
Burfict
So this Monday, when he met with local reporters for his weekly news conference, it wasn't much of a surprise when Lewis provided very little in the way of updates on the five players who were hurt in Sunday's 24-10 win over the Falcons. Lewis was asked about the status of linebacker Vontaze Burfict receiver A.J. Green, the Pro Bowl wideout who was lost just six offensive plays into the contest to a toe injury.

Asked how concerned he was about the injury and whether it might keep Green out for any extended period of time, Lewis responded by saying, "You use that word 'concern' and I never agree to that, so he'll be out there when he's out there."

Then Lewis added, "but I don't think it's anything long term."

Green told ESPN's Bob Holtzman after the game that the toe isn't broken and that he hopes to play this weekend when the Bengals host the Titans. Bengals.com reported that an MRI on Green's foot came back negative.

It wouldn't be too surprising if Green and a few of the others get held out this week. After playing the Titans on Sunday, Cincinnati has a bye week before traveling to New England for a Sunday night game in Week 5. The Bengals have already targeted that as the week receiver Marvin Jones will return from a foot injury. It appears he's getting close to practicing again ahead of that game, although it's unclear exactly when he'll be back out with his teammates.

As for the other injuries, the Bengals are still in wait-and-see mode with Burfict. One week after suffering a concussion in the opener, Burfict left Sunday's contest with a stinger. Asked about Burfict, Lewis invoked that word he doesn't like using.

"I can't be concerned," Lewis said. "We have to play with what we've got. Vontaze will have to overcome whatever he has, and we'll keep moving on. It's football."

As for the other injuries, Bengals.com reported Monday that the training staff believes defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (left knee) and offensive guard Kevin Zeitler (right calf) did not suffer season-ending injuries when they left Sunday's game. The website added that the "news doesn't sound good" on tight end Alex Smith (left biceps).

Zeitler and Thompson were seen on crutches Monday. Zeitler's right leg was in a boot and he wasn't putting any pressure on it as he hobbled through the locker room. While he didn't want to discuss the prognosis of his injury, Zeitler did tell me the injury occurred when he ended up taking on two defenders during Giovani Bernard's 4-yard touchdown run. It didn't appear Zeitler was hit any particular way during the block, the calf just kind of gave out, he said.

After trying to hop off the field following the second-quarter score, he immediately sat down on the field and got evaluated by training staff before limping into the locker room.
CINCINNATI -- The two-week suspension Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris served for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy was lifted Monday.

He was granted full reinstatement to all team activities, but his status with the team as of now remains in limbo.

For now, he is neither formally on the 53-man roster nor on the practice squad. The NFL granted Lewis-Harris and the Bengals a two-day exemption Monday that will give the team two days to figure out what exactly it will do with him. The Bengals have until 4 p.m. Wednesday to inform the league.

With only 52 players on the current 53-man roster, there technically is a spot for him. But after a wave of serious injuries swept over the team in Sunday's 24-10 win over the Falcons, the Bengals may be active on the free-agent market this week as they try to maintain depth following the injuries. Receiver A.J. Green, linebacker Vontaze Burfict, offensive guard Kevin Zeitler, tight end Alex Smith and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson were the five players lost in Sunday's game.

Zeitler's, Thompson's and Smith's injuries appear to be the most serious; it appears for now that it could be weeks before they return to action. The other two have better chances of playing this week against Tennessee but are more likely to be rested this week ahead of the Bengals' Week 4 bye.

Lewis-Harris' partial reinstatement means he is cleared to participate in workouts and personnel meetings. If he gets signed to the 53-man roster officially on Wednesday, he will join a deep defensive backs group.

The third-year player spent the preseason with the Bengals after appearing in regular-season games the last two years. He has eight career defensive tackles.

The Film Don't Lie: Bengals

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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A weekly look at what the Cincinnati Bengals must fix.

This is going to sound like nitpicking, but heading into the Bengals' Week 3 game against the Titans on Sunday, Cincinnati will need to tweak its interior run protection. The reason this might sound nitpicky is because in actuality, there's very little the Bengals have to address coming out of their Week 2 win over the Falcons. Overall, the run game was sound. The passing game worked smoothly. They were good on third down on both sides of the ball. The defense put intense pressure on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and did a good job snagging three interceptions in the secondary. The Bengals had obvious issues with kicking this week, but we've addressed those already.

The film doesn't lie about the Bengals' comparative difficulty running between the tackles. They averaged 3.6 yards per interior rush, and 4.9 yards per rush around the edges against the Falcons. Including the season opener, the Bengals have averaged just 3.5 yards up the middle this season. Rookie center Russell Bodine still is working on his run blocking as an NFL lineman. That was evident in the minus-4.7 run-block grade Pro Football Focus handed him after Sunday's game; the only negative grade a Bengals' offensive player was given.
CINCINNATI -- It was an uncharacteristic day for Cincinnati Bengals kicker Mike Nugent.

Nugent
Seriously.

He had never missed three field goals in a game before Sunday's sudden case of the shanks and hooks. Not in the 109 previous NFL games he played had he been that inaccurate. Not in the four years he spent at Ohio State, either.

Plain and simple, Nugent's misses don't come in the bunches that they came in during the Bengals' 24-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. His coach, Marvin Lewis, knows that and made it known that he still believes in his veteran kicker.

"I know he'll be better next time out," Lewis said. "That's the one good thing about Mike. He's such a pro."

Despite the missed kicks, the Bengals still beat the Falcons convincingly.

Lewis was asked if he knew what contributed to Nugent's poor performance. The coach said he didn't know. Nugent, who normally speaks with reporters after every game, good, bad or otherwise, wasn't in the locker room when the media was allowed in Sunday.

Wind didn't appear to be a factor. For most of the day winds never reached double-digit miles per hour.

Perhaps, it was just simply one of those days that players can sometimes go through; days when it seems like nothing goes the way it's supposed to.

In addition to missing on the three field goals, Nugent also seemed to struggle on kickoffs. The plan, naturally, was to prevent electric Falcons return man Devin Hester from even touching the football. That wasn't the way the day worked out for Nugent and Cincinnati's coverage team.

Hester was able to field each of Nugent's four kickoffs, catching them in the end zone, not far from the goal line. Hester returned each of them, making at least one coverage-teams player miss on every return. Hester, who exchanged words via reporters earlier in the week with Bengals cornerback and punt returner Adam Jones about which of them was the better returner, averaged 29.5 yards on the four returns. His longest was for 36 yards.

With respect to the missed kicks, Nugent missed from 38, 49 and 55 yards. The second miss took a bizarre sharp angle left of the goal posts after first appearing to go straight through off Nugent's right foot. The third field goal try fell just short and to the left of the uprights.

Nugent's only make was a 31-yard attempt; his first of the game.

While the kicker had never missed three in one game in his career, he has missed two kicks in a game six times. He also missed two kicks in two games in college.

Last week, Nugent was remarkably better, nailing five of the six field goal attempts. The one miss was a blocked kick. Blocks aside, Lewis is confident the Week 1 Nugent will emerge when Cincinnati hosts Tennessee next Sunday.

"We lived a bad day," Lewis said, "and next time out I can count on him like we did a week ago."
CINCINNATI -- As Andy Dalton approached the line of scrimmage his eyes panned the field.

Left, right, middle. Short, intermediate, deep. The Cincinnati Bengals quarterback scanned the zones where he wanted to send his receivers, wondering if there was a soft spot for them run into, and if there was a place he could pass to in order to convert a crucial third down.

It was in his pre-snap read of the third-and-6 defense when he saw a safety creep up and the linebackers get even closer. At that moment, it was evident: The Falcons were going to bring an all-out blitz, forsaking the deep portions of the field. If a receiver could get past the safety, he might not only get a first down.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsAndy Dalton ran his record against NFC teams to 10-3.
He could get a touchdown, too.

That was Dalton's hope when he saw the defensive formation called a "Cover Zero." That particular formation is one in which only a safety sits downfield in zone coverage, while the cornerbacks line up in man coverage and the rest of the defense goes in all-out pursuit of the quarterback. Once Dalton recognized what was coming, he made a few tweaks at the line of scrimmage, barking out protection changes and additional blitz pickups.

His adjustments paid off.

Perhaps the most crucial line change was getting running back Giovani Bernard to pick up a blitzing defender. When he did, the block gave Dalton just a split-second long enough to get off his pass without a hand being directly in his face.

"I saw exactly what he saw," receiver Mohamed Sanu said.

When the ball was snapped, Sanu's objective was simple. He needed to run a slant and quickly get enough separation from his cornerback that Dalton could lead him to a spot where only he could get hands on the ball.

That's precisely what happened, and 76 yards and one missed tackle later Sanu was in the end zone with a key touchdown that began the Bengals' separation. The touchdown made it 17-3, and came just before an interception and subsequent score pushed the lead even further barely five minutes later.

"We had a good check on and Mo ran a really good route," Dalton said. "When you're playing Cover Zero and you make one guy miss, there's nobody else in the back end. When [cornerback Robert Alford] fell off on the route, Mo had a pretty good jog into the end zone."

Sanu's touchdown reception showed just how in sync the pair was. With Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Green dealing with a toe injury that could keep him out next week against Tennessee, the Bengals will desperately need this pairing to continue to be on the same page.

"When guys go down like that, that's the mentality that you have to have as a team, regardless of the position," said Dalton, referencing the five Bengals who were lost to injury Sunday, including Green. "Everybody here knows what Mo can do and obviously he had a really good chance to showcase his ability."
CINCINNATI -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cincinnati Bengals' 24-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons:

Still
Posters for Still: Sitting just inside Devon Still's locker late Sunday afternoon after the win was an orange poster that read: "Be Leah Strong." A fan had requested the poster be brought into the locker room for the defensive tackle who began the season on the practice squad due to a hamstring injury and because of his anxiety over 4-year-old daughter Leah's cancer prognosis. To his surprise, Still had been kept earlier in the day on the active game-day roster. In relief of an injured Brandon Thompson, he had three tackles.

'A good night': When reporters streamed into the Bengals' locker room, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was among the most jovial players they encountered. The backup defender was shouting at the top of his lungs: "Tonight's gonna be a good night." Those are lyrics from the Black Eyed Peas song "I Gotta Feeling." On special teams, Kirkpatrick played a key role in securing two fourth-quarter punts that were downed inside the Falcons' 4.

Shouting 'Gio!' On one second-quarter play, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was stuck behind some intense Falcons pressure and needed to get rid of the ball. So he shouted out "Gio!" to running back Giovani Bernard, who had just pulled away from a linebacker he was blocking in pass protection. Bernard said when he heard his name, he instinctively caught Dalton's improvisational screen pass. Bernard ended the broken play with a 46-yard reception.

Football trophy: Bengals rookie Jeremy Hill scored his first career touchdown in the third quarter when he plowed right behind defensive tackle Domata Peko (who was playing fullback) for a 1-yard score. Hill said he has the perfect place for the ball which he held on to -- his mom's mantel in New Orleans. She was in attendance Sunday. "I'll probably lose it or my dog will probably chew it up," Hill said, laughing.
CINCINNATI -- After all the injury intrigue this week, it appears the Cincinnati Bengals are going to go into Sunday's game quite close to full health.

 Pro Bowlers Vontaze Burfict, A.J. Green and Geno Atkins were the team's big question marks all this week, as each spent their first two practice days either not practicing at all or being held in a limited capacity.

On Friday, all three practiced, and all three did so fully.

It's a sign that bodes well for the Bengals entering Sunday afternoon's home opener against the Falcons. The news from Atlanta that rookie offensive tackle Jake Matthews will miss the ballgame with an ankle injury also bodes well for Cincinnati.

Earlier this week, the prognosis wasn't very strong on Burfict and Atkins. A concussion picked up last Sunday sidelined Burfict every other day this week. He still is under concussion protocol, coach Marvin Lewis said Friday, but Burfict cleared enough of it to practice. He'll be evaluated Saturday. If he doesn't pass the concussion tests, he won't play.

Atkins also appears in line to play after a "feet" injury put him on the injury report all week. After spending Wednesday in street clothes, he went through Thursday and Friday's practices. Green ought to play this weekend, too, after nursing a foot injury the last few days. He took the day off Thursday but was working out Friday.

Veteran cornerback Terence Newman didn't practice after being limited Thursday. Lewis said he would be "fine." Newman was listed with a groin injury Thursday that must have come out of Wednesday's practice since he didn't make Wednesday's injury report.

It seems apparent that the 36-year-old Newman ends up playing.

Here's the full Friday injury report:

OUT
TE Tyler Eifert (elbow)
WR Marvin Jones (foot)

DOUBTFUL
RB Rex Burkhead (knee)
LB Sean Porter (knee)

QUESTIONABLE
LB Vontaze Burfict (concussion)

PROBABLE
WR A.J. Green (foot)
DE Carlos Dunlap (hamstring)
DT Geno Atkins (feet)
CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
DE Margus Hunt (ribs)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
OT Andre Smith (shoulder)
WR James Wright (concussion)
CB Terence Newman (groin)

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