11-8-03, 7:20 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Marvin Lewis studied defense at the knee of Texans head coach Dom Capers, but he's looking for something more intangible than Xs and Os from his enigmatic defenders that have allowed nearly more than 400 yards per game the past month.
Lewis and some of his players think a little more fire than ice is needed to control the elements at Paul Brown Stadium Sunday that feature Houston quarterback David Carr and his dangerous stash of wide receivers.
"At some point, you have to get mad on defense, and in general," says Lewis, the Bengals head coach who coached Capers' linebackers in Pittsburgh a decade ago. "At some point, you have to stand up and say, 'I'm going to get after this, we're going to do this,' and get tired of being pushed around."
What bothered some players last Sunday in the 17-14 loss in Arizona is the ease with which the Cardinals controlled the clock for nearly 35 minutes with a running game that rolled up 161 yards.
"We need a savage out there to show some emotion while making plays," says left outside linebacker Adrian Ross. "We just let them go up and down the field and nobody did anything about it. We were too passive."
The defense's penchant for giving up touchdowns on the first drive in four of the last five games and in the last three have people wondering where the gut check is early.
"That's just been killing us," says free safety Kevin Kaesviharn. "I can't put my finger on it. Maybe it's more of an attitude. We need to get kicked in the face to get ticked off."
This defense Lewis has re-crafted along with defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has been a little bit of everything during the first half of the season. But while Capers brings in the 3-4 scheme Sunday that also rules in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, Lewis plans to stick with his 4-3 and make it better in the next few seasons.
"I like the matchups in a 4-3," Lewis says.
And the numbers haven't been bad. They have allowed 41 fewer points, forced five more turnovers, have five more sacks, and allowed four fewer touchdown passes than at this time last year.
But a week after forcing three turnovers against Seattle's No. 11 offense in the fourth quarter, they could only get one all day against an Arizona team last in turnover-differential. In the two weeks after shutting down the Ravens on nine of 11 third-down tries, they've watched foes convert 16 of the next 30. After an offseason of bulking up against the run, they have allowed nearly 4.5 yards per carry the last three games. After allowing four touchdown passes in the first five games, they have allowed seven in the last three.
"The bottom line is that we've won two more games. I'm not concerned about the stats, but we haven't found our identity yet," Kaesviharn says. "We've shown some things what we're going to be like, but we haven't done it on a consistent basis. We will. We've got eight more games to develop that."
The emotion and identity may be the last things a defense puts into place with a new scheme and what amounts to seven new starters. Before signing as a free agent this past offseason, tackle John Thornton played on a perennial top five defense in Tennessee.
"We're not playing well. We've played well at times, but not what we want," Thornton says. "It was great that we got the turnovers against Seattle, but we can't give up (459) yards. We've got good players. It's just going to take some time before the players get comfortable with each other and the scheme."
Thornton sees no problem in preparation when the Bengals huddle up on that first drive. But he admits something gets lost in translation because they always seem to regroup quickly. In the four games they've given up a first-drive score in the past six weeks, they've either been tied or ahead at the half.
"It's matter of taking what's on the chalkboard and taking it on to the field," Thornton says. "That first drive is huge. You don't want teams to get comfortable running some plays because you'll see them later in the game. We just have to believe in the scheme and what we see on film. Believe in what you see. If you see a screen on film, then play it because that's what it's going to be. Seeing it fast and playing it fast."
That, thanks to Thornton's nice nutshell, is the essence of what Lewis has always tried to do. Less is more.
"It's simple because he wants guys to take advantage of their athletic ability and play pretty much on instincts," Kaesviharn says.
Lewis cut his teeth on the Steelers' 3-4, and Capers has given Lewis much credit this week for the work he did converting such linebackers as Chad Brown and Jason Gildon into devastating 3-4 pass rushers from the outside in their linebacking spots. But Lewis got hooked on the 4-3 in Baltimore because he watched the Steelers' great speed rushers like Greg Lloyd get pounded weekly in matchups with 330-pound offensive tackles.
"I like the 4-3," Lewis says. "At the end of the game, you've got a bigger guy rushing over there against an offensive tackle. I like that match up. You like having the flexibility of linebackers (in a 3-4) because you can be more creative on third down. But I do like having a (defensive end) Michael McCrary rusher, Duane Clemons, Justin Smith. I like those guys rushing. It's fun. What we're doing with a 4-3 is we're going to have one outside linebacker that's a rush type guy and that will be his niche."
Lewis still appears to be looking for that guy, and it's easier to find one than two. He sees two advantages in the 3-4. You can disguise coverages a little bit longer, and your special teams benefit because you have more linebackers than linemen on the roster.
But Lewis doesn't see as many of those 3-4 outside linebackers in college nowadays because the guys you're looking for, "are werewolves. That's what Baltimore is going to have when they get Peter (Boulware) and (Terrell) Suggs up and running."
The key for playing against a 3-4, Lewis says, is recognition. Center Rich Braham has to be alert because they show anywhere from one- to three-man fronts, but Lewis says a lot of it falls on quarterback Jon Kitna. Lewis thinks the Texans have some pretty good young and athletic rushers at outside backer in Kailee Wong on the left and Antwan Peek on the right.
"It's how to identify certain guys and everybody being on the same page and seeing it the same way," Lewis said. "You'll see them. You'll see them coming off (the sidelines)."
What Lewis wants to see from his 4-3 starting Sunday is making the stops when they count. Yes, they gave up only one long run Sunday, but that particular run allowed the Cards to wriggle out of bad field position . Yes, they only gave Jeff Blake about 140 yards passing, but about half came on third down.
"Yards don't matter," Lewis says. "Yet the yards we're giving up are substantial in the game because they change field position."
MATCHUPS:** Fitting really that this game between teams with head coaches who pay more attention to detail than Houston's Mission Control is going to come down to which club keeps the most order. The Texas have committed 11 false starts in their last three games and have committed 13 special teams penalties during the season. The Bengals have come out shaky early most of the year, giving up touchdowns on the opening drive in four of the last five games and committing five penalties and two fumbles in last week's first eight minutes.
All eyes, of course, are going to be on Bengals FS Kevin Kaesviharn to see if his eyes meet up with Texans QB David Carr on passing downs. Carr, who is doing it the anti-Bengal way, is pleased he became the starter right away. The Texans are giving up 31 fewer sacks than they did last year at this point in the season, making Carr more dangerous and putting heat on Bengals DE Justin Smith to get heat on Texans LT Chester Pitts.
Carr has a potent band of wide receivers and Bengals CB Tory James has to school rookie Texans WR Andre Johnson. With the Bengals nicked up at corner, Bengals nickel back Artrell Hawkins (or whichever young guy takes his spot), is going to be dealing with speedy third receivers in Texans WRs Jabar Gaffney or Corey Bradford. But the biggest challenges for Cincinnati in the passing game could very well be, from left to right, Bengals LBs Adrian Ross, Kevin Hardy, Brian Simmons against Texans TE Billy Miller and Texans RB Domanick Davis.
Bengals WR Chad Johnson finds himself in a marquee matchup with wilyTexans CB Aaron Glenn.With the Texans' penchant for flooding the secondary with seven and eight defenders,Bengals TEs Matt Schobel and Tony Stewarttry to find spaces against a Marvin Lewis refugee inTexans MLB Jamie Sharper.**
Here's a good one. Cincinnati's best pass protector, Bengals RT Willie Anderson vs. Houston's best pass rusher, Texans LOLB Kailee Wong.
CARR VS. KAESVIHARN: Carr's biggest problem last year was locking on to receivers and telegraphing his passes, and last year he Western Unioned Hawkins into the Bengals' record book on the 102-yard interception return that sparked the Bengals' 38-3 victory.
This year, Carr says he and his offense are more confident and that he is no longer looking at just one receiver who can make a play. He says, "I'm letting the defense take me to the open receiver," but he has still thrown more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (six). Kaseviharn, the free safety in the nickel package, has noticed.
"He's done a better job with that this year. Especially on the check-down routes," Kaesviharn said. "He already knows where he wants to go, but he's going to look you off knowing where he's going as opposed to staring at the guy. If it's not there, he'll improvise from there."
Carr has been all over the board in games which his passer ratings have ranged from the 40s to the 130s. Like Carson Palmer, he was the first pick in the draft. But the similarities end there. Carr has been No. 1 ever since he was drafted and wouldn't trade any of his 76 sacks from his rookie season.
"There's only so much you can learn on the sidelines," Carr said. "You actually have to get in there and get hit with the live bullets you get with your own mistakes. . .I feel much more comfortable this year."
Carr said some of his best advice has come from fellow former Fresno State quarterback Trent Dilfer.
"If you lose your confidence, you're better off staying on the sidelines," Carr said. "Because if you don't think you can help your team win, you shouldn't be out there."
Kaesviharn, regarded as one of the Bengals' better ballhawks who came into the season with five interceptions in 26 NFL games, is still looking for his first interception of the season.
"Part of it is I haven't had many opportunities," Kaesviharn said. "If I get challenged, I'll get mine."
SMITH VS. PITTS: Pitts did blank 2002 NFL sack Jason Taylor this past Opening Day, and the Houston offensive line is playing much better than last year when Carr got dumped 76 times. But that's probably more because of the presence of running back Domanick Davis.
JAMES AND HAWKINS VS. JOHNSON AND BRADFORD: The Texans love to go downfield to their explosive wide receivers, which next to the Steelers' receivers may be the Bengals secondary's tallest challenge. Johnson, the rookie picked behind Carson Palmer, has eight catches of at least 20 yards and he leads the team with a 1,100-yard pace. Bradford's eight touchdown catches over the past two seasons average 48.5 yards, and his 19.8 yards per catch this season are second in the NFL.
ROSS, HARDY, SIMMONS VS. DAVIS, MILLER: Cardinals tight end Freddie Jones hurt the Bengals last week, and Miller is probably a better receiver because he's built more like a wideout. Over the past two seasons, Miller is fifth in the NFL among tight ends with 75 catches. He's had 15 catches for two touchdowns in his last four games, including last week's one-handed catch for a score against the Panthers.
Davis has turned into a fourth-round gem, and leads all rookie running backs in rushing (483) and receiving (30-228) and is coming off an October he was named NFL Rookie of the Month. Davis, coming off an injury, may be more of a factor in the passing game because he has become a nice safety valve for Carr in keeping defenses off balanced.
"He's got great quickness," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "He's got that jitterbug, water bug style. Low to the ground. Good cutting and he takes the ball downhill getting the burst."
JOHNSON VS. GLENN: A classic matchup. The explosive young wide receiver against the smart veteran cornerback. Glenn is playing on a tender groin that knocked him out of two games, but he's vowed to keep playing until it pops. Johnson will certainly give it some stress. Name the three receivers ahead of him in the NFL receiving race and it sounds like a Pro Bowl reservation: Torry Holt, Marvin Harrison, Randy Moss.
"It's a good challenge for me," Johnson said. "I've been studying film on (Glenn) the past two days. He looks really good. I just hope that I get a chance to go out there and it's just me and him alone, no double team." **
SCHOBEL, STEWART VS. SHARPER:** Schobel leads the Bengals' tight ends with 203 yards and Stewart leads them with 18, and the Bengals need both of them to solve the Texans' multiple coverages. Houston likes to make opposing quarterbacks throw into passing lanes jammed with seven and eight players, and hope the lurking Sharper makes some plays.
Sharper has a rep for that. He came into the season with six career fumble recoveries, 10 forced fumbles, and four interceptions. But he's trying to get his hands on the ball for the first time this season. **
ANDERSON VS. WONG:** The Texans need more than one sack from Wong and they need more than the eight they have in their first eight games from everybody in a defense designed to pressure the quarterback from the outside. Only middle backer Jay Foreman (two) has more than one sack.
NUMBERS GAME:** All the numbers you need for Sunday's game against the Texans, including 11/13/94. It's almost nine years to the day the Bengals last beat a team from Houston in Cincinnati. In quarterback Jeff Blake's first Riverfront Stadium victory, he passed for 354 yards and four touchdowns while wide receiver Carl Pickens hauled in 11 catches for 188 yards and three touchdowns, and Doug Pelfrey kicked a last-play field goal for the 34-31 victory.
101 _ Pick in the fourth round of the 2003 draft in which the Texans took running back Domanick Davis out of LSU.
100 _ Pick in the fourth round of the 2001 draft in which the Bengals took running back Rudi Johnson out of Auburn.
35 _ Interceptions by Texans cornerbacks Aaron Glenn (18) and Marcus Coleman (17), third best duo in the NFL since 1999.
30_ Interceptions by Bengals cornerbacks Tory James (19) and Jeff Burris (11), fifth best duo in the NFL since 1999.
100 _ Percent of snaps taken by Bengals QB Jon Kitna this season, joining the Giants' Kerry Collins as the only NFL quarterbacks to take every snap in '03.
100 _ Percentages through history on Bengals backup Carson Palmer throwing at least one pass in '03. The Bengals have never had a season in which just one quarterback threw every pass.
76 _ Sacks suffered by Texans QB David Carr last season in his rookie year.
82 _ Sacks suffered by Bengals QB David Klingler in his four-year Cincinnati career.
59 _ Sacks suffered by Bengals QB Akili Smith in his four-year Cincinnati career.
48.5 _ Average yards of Texans wide receiver Corey Bradford's eight touchdown catches this season.
46.8 _ Average yards of Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson's five touchdown catches this season.
42 _ Number of punts Texans punter Chad Stanley is on pace to put inside the 20-yard line this season.
39 _ NFL record for punts inside the 20 set by Bengals punter Kyle Richardson while with Baltimore in 1999.