Cat fight

Posted Sep 25, 2010



SEPTEMBER 26, 2010


For the second straight week the roundtable has perused the rosters and unanimously forecast Cincinnati winning its first road game since the War of 18-12 in Pittsburgh last Nov. 15 against winless Carolina in Sunday’s 1 p.m. game (Cincinnati’s Channel 12) in Charlotte, N.C.

And The Table thinks it could be that ugly if the Bengals offense continues to struggle in the red zone and Panthers rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen plays like a guy in his first NFL start. And it is getting ugly around The Table. With the correct New England prediction in his pocket, Big Bird, a former NFL player with more than a decade in the league, has called out The Eye, an NFL scout familiar with the AFC North.

“I could do his job,” Bird says, but he lays off The Sage, a fellow former NFL player with double-digit years of service. “Carolina doesn’t look very good on tape. Their defense is undisciplined and their secondary doesn’t communicate. I think this is a breakout game for the Bengals by about two touchdowns.”

The Eye and The Sage go more cautiously.

“Carolina is just the kind of team that can scare you on the road," The Eye says. “They can run the ball, play good defense and they can pop a big play that beats you. I don’t think that happens because I think if the Ravens could score just 10 points on the Bengals, the Panthers won’t be able to do that and Cincinnati is going to get a lot more chances to score. Call it something like 20-9 Bengals.”

The Sage is on the same wavelength. "The Bengals should win just because of talent,” he says. "But until the offense can break out, I’m only making it by about 17-13. They need to get more from Carson Palmer. It can’t always be perfect. If he gets pressure, he’s got to be able to move away and do something on his own. And his receivers have to give more help by going up and getting the ball.’’




Call this the Bob Hope Bowl. The good friends joined Brad Childress of the Vikings and Andy Reid of the Eagles on a USO tour of Afghanistan to visit the troops at the end of June and now the battlefield is a little more secure.

Both bring the same defensive-minded, ball-control approach that has let them survive for the better part of a decade as two of the longer-tenured coaches in the NFL. Neither has a contract for 2011 and while it is widely believed Fox is done in Charlotte after this season, Lewis and Bengals president Mike Brown are offering no clues.

And Lewis interviewed for the Panthers job on that Wednesday in 2002 even though he knew Fox was going to get the job in 48 hours.

Fox’s challenge is that he’s a guy who loves veterans and thrived with a solid nucleus for several years that revolved around Jake Delhomme on offense and Julius Peppers rushing the passer while crafting a perennial top 10 defense. But now he’s starting a rookie quarterback, has no dominant defensive players, and is working with the youngest roster in the league. Not exactly his style.

On the other hand, Lewis seems to have found his style of team in the last 25 games or so. His challenge is what it’s always been since the last three games of the fold in ‘06: Trying to coax more out of an underachieving offense that has trouble scoring touchdowns for the past four seasons despite the presence of an elite quarterback in Palmer.

The given now is that the Bengals are going to play winning defense with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer getting his third season off the ground last week in an impressive performance that drove Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco off the field with no place to throw on 11 of 15 third downs.

Shouldn’t the Bengals defense be able to make a rookie QB hold the ball like that, too?

But Lewis has to get offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, a disciple of balance, to come up with some kind of identity. At the moment, the Bengals can’t seem to pass or run consistently and their only staples are pre-snap penalties. Both Lewis and Bratkowski indicated that the way to go is to make it simpler and maybe not have as many personnel packages that shift and jump.

A game on the road against an 0-2 team with a rookie quarterback and rebuilding mindset? That’s one that favors the Bengals.

“I hear that Fox took them out of pads for this week of practice. It’s too early for that. He says it’s all mental, but it’s not,” Big Bird says. “Marvin will have them ready.”

The Sage agrees: “Marvin will go down there and grind it out.”


The Eye says Beason is Carolina's best defensive player, a guy the Bengals offense has to get a body on in the running game. The fast and athletic Beason provides a challenge for a rookie that has been inconsistent blocking and The Eye says he’s interested to see how Gresham handles him running pass routes.

Although former Colts defensive coordinator Ron Meeks is running the show, the Panthers don’t look like a turn-of-the-century Tampa 2. It’s more of traditional look where the safeties get involved on the running game and the defensive line doesn’t have to be small and penetrate. The Eye says it is an easy assignment from an identification standpoint because the Panthers pretty much stay in a fundamentally sound 4-3.

“It won’t be like playing the Patriots or the Ravens,” The Eye says. “They will move some guys around and disguise some things and blitz, but they rely on their strength and reading keys and not as much on deception.”

Gresham continues to be an inviting target with nine catches already even though his longest grab is eight yards. But as one NFL scout said this week, “He looks better than Vernon Davis did out of the gate.”


Cook is coming off a tough game with snap counts and he knows playing on the road means he can’t make the same mistakes in a hostile environment. The Panthers like to blitz Connor (he has their only individual sack), but he won’t be on the field when the Bengals go three wides. The good thing is that Cook won’t be bogged down by a dizzying array of defensive looks and if the Bengals pare down the game plan, he’ll be able to concentrate on getting the team off the line.

But the Panthers are still a stingy group even though they’re 0-2. They’re allowing just three yards per carry.

The Bengals are very happy with Cook because he’s smart and a fighter. Take a look at Carolina center Ryan Kalil. There were players lobbying that the Bengals take him in the second round in 2007 with a pick that ended up being spent on running back Kenny Irons and his four-snap career, and Kalil has become the solid player everyone thought he would become. But Cook came out of that same class undrafted.


The Eye likes this matchup in the slot for the Bengals because the thinking is Marshall looks more comfortable outside than he does in the slot and that Shipley has a quickness edge. The numbers say the Panthers can be thrown on with no pass rush to speak of now that Peppers is a Bear. If the Bengals are looking to juice up the pass game, this may be it. Opposing QBs (and one of them is Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman), are averaging more than eight yards per throw with a 91.6 rating.

“They made Josh Freeman look like a 10-year vet. I think they have trouble with Carson,” Big Bird says.

The Sage says the Bengals would be advised to come out in no-huddle. “What better way to put pressure on a rookie QB and come out putting up points?” he says. “Carson has a better completion percentage out of it and Cedric Benson has had some big runs out of it.”


This comes out of left field but even though the longest return the Panthers have allowed is 22 yards and they’re giving up just 14 yards per return, Big Bird says the Bengals are going to pop a return for a score. He says he sees it on tape. But it looks like the Bengals won’t have cornerback Adam Jones (shoulder).


If the Bengals don’t blitz the living daylights out of Clausen, they’ll at least give him different looks and try to bait him into some throws. The guy he’s replacing, Matt Moore, turned the ball over six times in two games. So the thinking is the Panthers will max protect Clausen, roll him out, give him some bootlegs, as well as a whole lot of checkdowns and make him efficient as possible.

“He’s got an above average arm and average accuracy,” The Eye says. “One problem for him will be if the receivers aren’t where they’re supposed to be and most of the receivers are quite young.”

He thinks Clausen is eventually going to master touch, but he doesn’t think he has it at the moment. He’s drilling everything right now. His one interception came when he rifled a short checkdown pass and it bounced off the receiver’s hands.


The idea every week is to make the offense one-dimensional, but it is even more important this Sunday because the Panthers have the best duo in the league and they have such a young quarterback. If the Panthers are able to pound it, Clausen gets a free pass. The Bengals are coming off a decent effort vs. the Ravens’ Ray Rice and they get a Rice-like guy in the 5-9, 217-pound Williams.

“Only he’s more dangerous than Rice,” Big Bird says. “He’s got more top-end speed and if you let him hit the crease, he’s gone.”

The Panthers run the inside and outside zones, much like the Bengals do with Benson, and Maualuga thinks that will help since the Bengals defense sees it every day and he knows he has to stay at home to prevent the cutbacks from Williams and the 5-10, 235-pound Stewart. Carolina is using more lead plays than normal in the person of fullback Tony Fiammetta, but the bread-and-butter is still the zone. The Bengals gave Rice 30 of his 87 yards on one run last week and while Jones missed that tackle he ratcheted up his overall play from the week before in helping keep the Ravens in third-and-longs.

“This isn’t your typical two-back system where one guy is a power back and the other guy is a scat back,” The Eye says. “They’re pretty much the same guy. Both guys are quick enough to make you miss, but they both have strong lower bodies that that allows them to run through arm tackles.”

The Bengals allowed only two 100-yard rushers in the regular season last year and it’s an intriguing showdown between a top 10 rush defense and top 10 rush offense from last season.

Word is that Carolina's best players on the line, Kalil and left tackle Jordan Gross, have underachieved so far this season but are expected to assert themselves at some point after a year the Panthers running backs became the first tandem in history to each reach 1,100 yards. Right tackle Jeff Otah is out and is replaced by a Dennis Roland-type, the large 6-6, 331-pound Geoff Schwartz, who takes up a lot of space and knows what to do even if he’s not all that quick.

But Big Bird thinks the left side of the Bengals defensive line should have a productive day.


The good news for the Panthers is Smith is still rolling along at age 31 with 579 career catches. He’s already got two touchdowns this season. The bad news is that’s amazing since he’s Carolina's only receiver with more than 35 NFL catches.

There are three rookies and the disappointing second-round pick from 2007, Dwayne Jarrett. Jarrett is an imposing target at 6-4, 219 pounds, but he didn’t score his only NFL touchdown until the last game of last season, his 35 catches have averaged less than 12 yards, and he’s listed as a backup to third-rounder Brandon LaFell.

Smith still makes big plays. He’s coming off a 15-yard per catch season and he’s got a 37-yard touchdown catch this year in a passing game that is averaging less than six yards per throw.

“He’s still quick. I don’t know if you’d say he’s still a vertical guy, but he’s still quick,” The Eye says. “He’s tremendous catching slants, and quick-hitters, and balls right off the line of scrimmage. They move him all around so not only would Hall get him in the slot, but most of the time he’ll be on his side when he’s outside.”

The Sage: “That’s a good matchup for the Bengals. Leon is really good in a short space and can take on those underneath routes and tackle him, but he’ll get beat on some deep balls. The problem for Carolina is Smith is the only legit threat they have.”


When was the last time a Bengals kicker was tied for fifth in the NFL in touchbacks?

The 6-0, 212-pound Goodson is an interesting guy. He popped a touchdown in the preseason and has a 45-yard return in the regular season and he’s working against a coverage unit ranked last in the NFL. He runs strong and straight ahead and the Panthers don’t shy away from using him from scrimmage, particularly on screens and throwing the ball out of the backfield. He’s tied for second on the team with five catches and at one point this season they gave it to him on a fourth-and-one even with Williams and Stewart as options.


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