Bengals need big-play blitz

Posted: 6:05 a.m.

In Marvin Lewis' first victory as head coach, wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco caught a 55-yard touchdown pass and the Bengals since are 17-8 whenever Ocho makes a 40-yard catch or longer.

The good news is they've won their last six games whenever he's done it. The bad news is that the last time was in 2007.

But The Ocho thinks the stars are aligned Sunday because even though the Bengals' beleaguered pass protectors are playing an Eagles defense that loves to pressure with the extra man, they will also see defensive backs one-on-one.

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Ocho Cinco

"They have to play one-on-one. They blitz every play, so you can't double," Ocho Cinco said before Wednesday's practice. "We need some big ones. The inability to get deep is something that has really hindered us this year. Just complete them. It's going to come. I've been as patient as I can be. It's going to come at some point.

"What we've done this week with our game plan, I think we have a chance to expose some things they do. They're aggressive. I think we'll counter it. When you have quality corners like they do, you're able to have a lot more freedom to do stuff. With us offensively with the win last week, it puts us in a comfort zone to do a few more things we wouldn't normally do."

Lewis also sounds as if he's ready not for the deep end, but for the deep ball.

"Number one, in those situations, your play has got to match coverage. You've got to be in a situation where if you are getting a pressure, your protection is such that you can hold onto the football to get it down the field," Lewis said. "And then the execution of the route and the catch. It's a four-part thing, but let's not make this too complicated. The more times you throw it out there, the more opportunity you have. And I think that's important for us as well. To not limit ourselves for fear of this or fear of that. Sometimes it's not going to quite match up, and the ball's going to go somewhere else. Sometimes it will match up. "

Go back to the protection.

While The Ocho continually beat one of the AFC's elite cornerbacks in Rashean Mathis one-on-one and he just missed on two long balls from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick two weeks ago against Jacksonville, Fitzpatrick knows he has to choose his spots carefully against Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's highly-regarded pressure scheme.

"They're different than Baltimore but they do some fire zones like Pittsburgh," said Fitzpatrick, whose inexperience is red meat for Johnson's carnivore mindset. "You could say they're probably going to bring more safety pressure than most teams.

" For me it's about being ready to manage it and not allow them to force me into making silly mistakes. It was good to get an extra day in on Monday and get used to some of the stuff they're going to attack us with. Going into a game like this, you never know what blitzes they're going to pull out of their packages and which ones they're going to keep in their back pocket."

The beauty of Johnson's genius is that he's come up with a big-play defense that doesn't give up a slew of big plays. Yes, the Eagles are vulnerable, but they've only given up five pass plays of at least 40 yards this season. They have allowed 13 plays of 20 yards or more in the last four games, but in the previous eight seasons of his nine-year reign in Philly they are fifth best in the NFL at holding down a quarterback's passer rating.

More Johnsonian numbers?

The Eagles came into this season tied for first in sacks in this decade and second in forcing fumbles, third down, and allowing touchdowns in the red zone.

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Jones

"Even if something may not look right, he's still going to attack because he believes his defense can get there," said Bengals middle linebacker Dhani Jones, who played for the Eagles from 2004-2006. "It's fun. You know you're always coming and you're always going to have a chance to get a sack or cause disruption.

"It puts pressure on the corners and the secondary. Especially on the zero blitzes, there's nobody out there besides you. You have to do the work. There's no one to lean on for help. At the same time, you've got seasoned vets like (safeties Quintin) Mikell and Brian Dawkins that aren't going to allow (big plays) to happen. It's not like they're (lacking) in the corner department. That's the reason why Jim has been able to do that."

Dawkins says the key is that Johnson may leave the DBs alone "but not for very long."

Not being able to protect the passer is a big reason why the Bengals haven't been able to find a big play. It has to lead the list why the Bengals are 1-8 because it was their failure to protect Carson Palmer on a corner blitz against the Giants that has put them in this predicament.

With a No. 4 ranking in generating sacks per play, the Eagles become the sixth top 10 team in that stat the Bengals have faced this season in the Giants (1), Steelers (2), Jets (3), Titans (9) and Texans (10).

Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski wonders if those teams have padded their stats against the Bengals and he's not prepared to say his team made strides even though it has allowed just four sacks in the two games since giving up seven against the Steelers, the most ever under Lewis.

"I think you have to judge things by a body of work," he said after Wednesday's practice. "If we continue to show improvement, yeah, I'll say we've made strides."

They made enough of an improvement that when Jacksonville changed up its scheme and blitzed more than the Jaguars have all season, the Bengals adjusted well enough to keep Fitzpatrick clean for the most part. They got a nice big game out of running back in Kenny Watson picking up the blitz two games after he struggled against Pittsburgh's big outside linebackers.

Watson is going to see some Eagles linebackers Sunday, but it won't be the same kind of big guy used primarily as a pass rusher because the Eagles are blitzing out of a 4-3. He'll probably see more DBs than anything else.

"They're effective with their safeties, which provides a different element," Lewis said. "Their secondary guys, when they blitz, are very effective at beating a back in the protection."

"We've seen pressure since (Pittsburgh), but we've blocked it better. This will be the ultimate challenge. They're very aggressive in their style," Bratkowski said.

Because Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo worked under Johnson the Bengals can see similarities. So remember it was Giants cornerback Corey Webster that came off the edge past tight end Reggie Kelly and ripped off Palmer's elbow Sept. 21. Palmer also couldn't get on the same page with his receivers on the hot read.

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Jones

"There are a lot of different variables that go into sacks," said left tackle Levi Jones, who draws the Eagles best pass rusher in defensive end Trent Cole. "The wide receivers getting open. The quarterback getting the right depth in the pocket so he knows where he's going to be. The offensive line and the running backs and tight ends blocking their guys. It hasn't just been the offensive line, but I know the offensive line is what you look at when that happens. As long as those variables match up, the sack numbers are down. If not, the sack numbers are up."

Bratkowski says the line has the majority of the breakdowns simply because they are protecting on every pass. But he also chalks up some of it to communication and says the backs and tight ends have shared just as much in the struggles.

How?

This is a team that in two of the previous three seasons set franchise records for fewest sacks allowed. Left guard Andrew Whitworth thinks a lot of it has to do with the lack of a consistent running game.

"Teams are just teeing off on us and they're going to make us run the ball well before they stop teeing off on us," Whitworth said. "Last year we were prepared for it. When you continually get challenged and you haven't shown you can run the ball well yet, every chance they get when they think it's a passing situation, they're going to bring pressure. Now that we've shown the ability to run the football (with Cedric Benson's 104 yards against the Jags), it changes defensive game plans a little bit.

"I think we've gotten better each week. We're getting on the same page. Ryan has a lot of talent. He can win games in this league if we play the way we should around him."

The Bengals play the Ravens and Steelers twice a year, so they're used to pressure but the Eagles will be different.

"Nobody is like Baltimore because they don't even really line up; they just walk around," Fitzpatrick said and Jones observed, "Baltimore likes to bring pretty much the same guys and the same with Pittsburgh (the Eagles) blitz a lot of different people."

But Lewis, the old defensive coordinator, knows the long ball can be the ultimate wrench in any defense.

"You can stop it, but as a defensive coach, that's the one thing you're always fearful of - the ball going over your head," Lewis said. "That's a scary feeling."

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