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Monday quick hits: Benson starts; Sellout in jeopardy; Zim holiday; Mickens signs; Bye watch

Posted Nov 30, 2009

Updated: 6:15 p.m.

Head coach Marvin Lewis left no doubt Monday that Cedric Benson is going to be his starting running back against the Lions. But he admitted that he is trying to decide if he’s going to keep all four running backs active.

“There’s a chance of it,” Lewis said. “I’ll make that decision later in the week, if not Sunday. I just met with the coaches and let them know my plans and my thoughts for this week right now and then we’ll go through the week, reevaluate it tomorrow and then tweak it possibly on Friday morning again and go forward.”

As Benson has sat down with a sore hip muscle the last two games, rookie running back Bernard Scott rushed for 119 yards in the loss in Oakland and Larry Johnson went for 107 yards in Sunday’s 16-7 win over the Browns at Paul Brown Stadium while Scott added 87 more on 18 carries. Also in the mix is third-down back Brian Leonard’s ability to pass protect as well as his presence on three special teams and Scott’s status as the No. 1 kick returner.

But Lewis’ decision could, for at least this week, come down to health again. After Scott limped off the field with a turf toe during the first series of Sunday’s second half, he came back to only return one kick and carry twice more. Lewis indicated there is some uncertainty if Scott is going to be available when the team gets back on the practice field Wednesday.

It worked out pretty well for the last team that had three different 100-yard rushers in a four-game stretch. Try the 2007 Super Bowl champ Giants. They got 154 yards from Derrick Ward on Dec. 2, 130 and 143 yards from Brandon Jacobs on Dec. 16 and 23, respectively, and 151 yards from Ahmad Bradshaw on Dec. 23.

Lewis also said that WILL linebacker Keith Rivers (calf), out the last three games, is available for the Lions.

SELLOUT STATUS: The Bengals say more than 6,000 tickets remain for Sunday's 1 p.m. game against the Lions at Paul Brown Stadium and based on Monday morning's response to the division sweep completed against the Browns they aren't optimistic about extending the sellout streak to 51 and having the game televised on Fox 19 in Cincinnati.

But ticket manager Andrew Brown remains "hopeful" because the Bengals had the same amount of tickets left on Monday before the Oct. 18 sellout against the Texans. But Brown said the Bengals' win in Baltimore the Sunday before seemed to give the Bengals a bigger lift at the box office than Sunday's win over Cleveland.

ZIM HOLIDAY: At what point do you start to hear Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s name in conjunction with what could be as many 10 head coaching vacancies in the NFL? In his second year on the job and 10th in the league as a coordinator, Zimmer has molded a tough, versatile defense that has ignited a run on the brink of winning what many believe to be the NFL’s best division.

After holding the Browns to a touchdown on just 169 yards (the fewest allowed by the Bengals in nearly 26 years), Cincinnati now leads the NFL in scoring defense at 15.8 points per game. New England, second at 16.4, could take the lead Monday night but the Pats have a tough task against the No. 1 scoring Saints.

“No one has called me,” Zimmer said Monday. “I hear all the little things. I don’t need to be paying attention to that right now. I’ve often said you know what you are by Thanksgiving. But my last year in Dallas (’06) we were fifth in the league with four games left and ended up something like 13th. It can get away from you in a hurry if you don’t watch it.”

On this Thanksgiving, just six weeks after the sudden death of wife Vikki, he knew exactly who he is. He’s a father trying to be both a mom and a dad. His daughters, 22 and 19, flew in from Dallas for Thanksgiving on Thursday and they had dinner at the home of Rebecca and Bob Bratkowski, the Bengals offensive coordinator that Zimmer first worked with at the University of Missouri 30 years ago.

Son Adam couldn’t make it. The assistant linebackers coach for the Saints was busy preparing for that Monday night game. So if the Saints score on New England, it will be a double win for Zimmer.

Then on Friday, the man who is trying to quit chewing tobacco and who has got in the face of Hall of Fame receivers on the sidelines and who was wrestling his dad in bare-knuckled drag downs even in college and is in charge of the NFL’s best scoring defense and who still caught for the Illinois State baseball team after a neck injury ended his football career, got his nails done.

His daughters told Zimmer they were going to get their nails done; something their mother always did with them. So he went along this time and got his done, too.

“Then,” he said, “we went makeup shopping.”

No, he didn’t put on any makeup. But he enjoyed the weekend immensely.

“I really needed to see them,” he said. “Probably more than they needed to see me.”

What the future holds for the Zimmers remains to be seen. He may end up being the club’s most coveted free agent. He said the team approached him about a contract extension, but “nothing came to fruition … . We’ll see.”

UPON FURTHER REVIEW: Lewis and Bratkowski are on the war path about all the pre-snap penalties and holding on offense. There were three pre-snap penalties and four holding calls Sunday. But there was one the Bengals shouldn't have received when wide receiver Chad Ochocinco was called for an illegal formation on their first drive on first-and-10 from the Cleveland 24. The call actually was on fullback Jeremi Johnson, but the officials didn't realize the Bengals were in an unbalanced set and later told the Bengals coaches they were wrong after being shown pictures. The Bengals ended up picking up a field goal when they couldn't overcome the first and 15.

» The ups and downs of a first-year player and how the loss of a Chris Henry shows up: Wide receiver Maurice Purify, in his third NFL game, did exactly what he was supposed to do on special teams and matched up his size and physicality with Cleveland's Josh Cribbs and dumped him deep on kickoffs twice, once at the 21 and once at the 14.

But Purify had a chance to score his first NFL touchdown on third-and-6 from the 10 when quarterback Carson Palmer had him running across the back of the end zone late in the third quarter. Instead of crossing in front of safety Mike Furrey, he stopped and let Furrey reach his hand in to knock it away. The Bengals settled for Shayne Graham's third field goal and the 16-7 final...

» Yes, Bratkowski almost had a mini stroke when Palmer dove head first at the end of a 12-yard scramble that set up Graham’s 37-yard field goal on that first drive. He and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese got on Palmer when he wobbled back to the sidelines. They prefer the feet-first slide for obvious safety reasons.

“We didn’t wait until today (to talk to him),” Bratkowski said. “He was trying to make a play. When you slide head first instead of the other way, there’s a four-yard (more) difference on where they spot the ball.”

» Bratkowski wants his guys to score at least a field goal more a game after this stretch of seven games in which they’ve scored 18 points or less in six of them. He says over the past three years AFC playoff teams have averaged 24 points per game and the Bengals are three points shy at 21. Although, 21 isn’t a bad number. They’ve scored at least 21 points four times and are 4-0.

» Why did the Bengals run it 45 times and throw it 24? “They were begging us to run it,” Bratkowski said. “Most of the time they kept two safeties back in the shell and they weren’t bringing up safeties into the box. It was a nice clean box to run in. We started off and got a little rhythm in the run game and continued on."

HUBER ROLLS: It was exactly what rookie Bengals punter Kevin Huber wanted to do Sunday. Out of his six punts, he dropped four inside the 20, had one touchback and the feared Josh Cribbs had no return yards with one fair catch.

But on Monday, Huber reiterated it was more luck than skill with his shanks getting a big-time roll.

“I didn’t have very good contact all day long; the pregame warmup was not very desirable,” Huber said. “I kind of had an off week. It was unfortunate it was a week against one of the best returners in the league. We got through it. It was by more luck than skill.”

Huber, who is having a better year than his numbers (18th in NFL punting with a 43.8-yard average, 21st in net with 37.7) did get the direction right. He kept it out of the middle of the field, which was where Cribbs set sail on a 50-yarder back on Oct. 4 in Cleveland.  

“The positive from yesterday is I had some poor hits, but at least good directionally to keep it out of his hands,” he said, referring to that punt. “That’s kind of the worst of both things. A bad hit in the middle of the field.”

The Bengals drafted Huber in the fifth round for his maturity as much as anything, and he was already letting this one roll off his back. There will no change in mechanics or panic moves. 

“I just have to get back to my normal self,” he said. “I’m not worried about it.”

MICKENS SIGNS: The Bengals signed Huber's University of Cincinnati teammate, rookie cornerback Mike Mickens, to the practice squad Monday. The 6-1, 190-pound Mickens is a local prodcuct out of Wayne High School in Dayton, Ohio. He was a seventh-round selection by Dallas back in April and was with the Cowboys in preseason before being waived Sept. 6. He was on the Dallas practice squad until Nov. 3, when he was signed to Tampa Bay’s 53-player roster. He was inactive for the Bucs for three games and was waived on Nov. 25.

In order to make room on the practice squad for Mickens, the Bengals released cornerback Antonio Smith a week after signing him.

BYE WATCH: With the 8-3 Bengals staring at a possible second seed and bye in the AFC playoffs behind Indianapolis, the Dec. 20 game in San Diego against the 8-3 Chargers is shaping up to be huge. According to Bengals PR maven Jack Brennan, if the season ended today, or if the Bengals tie San Diego in their game, the Bengals would get the bye based on the better record against common opponents, which is currently 6-2 compared to 5-3 and could change.

If the Patriots are in the mix (and they could go to 8-3 Monday night with a win against New Orleans), New England would be eliminated in a three-way tie based on conference records. Any two-way tie would be broken in a head-to-head matchup.

 

 

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