Posted: 8 a.m.
It looks like two things may happen this weekend as the Bengals prepare for Thursday night's dress rehearsal against the Rams in the third preseason game that is the Paul Brown Stadium opener.
Going off past history, they'll bring in some kickers to work out so Shayne Graham's groin can get a rest for that game and maybe the last preseason game. Also, the agent for Andre Smith has said he'll be in town to talk contract if they can close the gap some.
Beyond those two things, here are 10 things to keep in mind with Cutdown Day now two weeks away:
1. ZIMMER DRAWING IT UP
If there is one thing that stands out from the 7-6 win over the Patriots besides Horst Ochocinco's kicking heroics, it is the pass rush the Bengals slapped on Patriots icon Tom Brady.
Left end Robert Geathers not only pummeled him with a sack that forced Brady's surgically-repaired left knee to take a shot, but WILL linebacker Keith Rivers had a free hit on Brady on a blitz and like a nice guy he just flung him to the ground. And with the Patriots rolling out a bevy of four-receiver sets in the first series, the Bengals put enough heat on Brady so that he hurried at least two of his four incompletions in the eight passes that he threw.
Remember what Zimmer said that day at the NFL scouting combine back in February? He feared that he had emphasized stopping the run so much that the fundamentals of the rushing the passer were lost. So he went searching league-wide to pick some brains and he came back putting his guys through more technique-oriented drills.
What has transpired is that everyone is getting into the act, either via blitz or winning one-on-one battles, which is what Geathers did. So did the other end Thursday night, Antwan Odom. In the first team's defense work against Pro Bowl passers Brady and Drew Brees this season, they haven't allowed a touchdown.
(Look for Odom to be able to start the opener but he may not play much the rest of the month with a sore Achilles.)
2. LOOKING FOR MORE CHRIS HENRY?
At what point do the Bengals give Henry some more snaps opposite The Ocho with Laveranues Coles in the slot? The coaches have pointed to Henry's drops and the fact he is still catching up from missing all of last spring, training camp, and the first month of the '08 season.
But no one has covered him at any point in practice or in games. He certainly can't be covered one-on-one. Henry has looked for all the world like the guy that caught 15 touchdowns passes in 2005 and 2006.
3. OFFENSIVE LINE CHECK
The Bengals numbers with their first offensive line didn't suggest a good night with four sacks and a 2.9 yards per rush average. But there was some encouragement in the way they protected the passer. Three of the sacks were either missed blitz pickups or coverage sacks. And they didn't appear to have a problem with their tackles protecting against edge rushers, like the Patriots did with right tackle Nick Kaczur trying to block Geathers.
The Bengals have to be more consistent in the running game, however, and one red flag is right tackle Anthony Collins' holding calls in each of the two games on running plays.
As for who sticks as the four backups, it figures center Jonathan Luigs and guard-tackle Scott Kooistra are pretty much locks and left guard Evan Mathis is getting that way after looking pretty good against the Patriots. That last slot is most likely going to depend on the status of the unsigned Andre Smith. If he's not here, it looks like the Bengals keep right tackle Dennis Roland. Roland had a nice block Thursday when he chewed up the unfortunate cornerback Terrance Wheatley on the corner to spring running back DeDe Dorsey on his 45-yard run.
4. D-LIGHTFUL D-LINE
When is the last time the Bengals had tackles like this? When did they have a defensive line like this? Tackle Domata Peko has been absolutely brilliant and this could be a year he starts to be mentioned with the best around the league. And since Tank Johnson leaped by Pat Sims to start at the other tackle, Sims has been playing his best football since he arrived here in the third round in '08.
The Pats simply couldn't block Sims on Thursday. He had a team-high seven tackles, two for losses along with two hits on the quarterback. While Sims had a reputation last year for pacing himself at times, he played wildly Thursday in what was probably his most complete effort in a game down-to-down.
How do they stack up if the Bengals keep eight linemen? For sure there would be Peko, Sims, Johnson, Geathers, Odom, Jon Fanene and rookie end Michael Johnson. What do they do with Frostee Rucker? He can play some end, he can play some pass-rush tackle and yet he exasperates the coaches by always seeming to end up hurt.
Thursday night was typical. Rucker had been sidelined since early in camp with a hip problem, but he comes in against the Pats and plays about 20 solid, productive plays. Which is his M.O. Whenever he gets on the field, he does well.
5. NO 'I' IN OCHO
Chad Ochocinco gets so much heat for being a Me Guy, let's hope he gets some credit for his extra-point kick and his kickoff. Yeah, you can say he just wanted to do it to get more attention. But there are also a lot of stars who have had some issues with management (i.e. contract) that would have seen the team in trouble like the Bengals were Thursday night with their kicker and told them, "Child, Please."
He could have protected his $7 million groin, hamstring and whatever else kickers hurt, but he even lobbied to do it and that is refreshing as heck to see a five-time Pro Bowler do that. It also proves how much he simply loves the game.
And in defense of Marvin Lewis for using The Ocho in gambling with his health: The preseason is a run-through for the regular season and teams may have to use an emergency guy to get through a game and that would have been Lewis's guy. And he showed restraint by not letting Ochocinco kick field goals.
6. OTHER FIVE?
Who is going to join The Ocho at receiver besides Coles, Henry and Caldwell? You've got to think that Jerome Simpson has showed enough natural talent in the first two games that he makes it, but he'll have a tough time dressing on Sundays. He'll have plenty of competition for that fifth spot that must dress from guys like veteran Antonio Chatman, rookie Quan Cosby, and second-year man Maurice Purify.
There is a lot to be played out and it revolves around special teams. How long is Chatman's ankle injury going to keep him shelved? Does he get the punt return job by default? Or have the Bengals had their fill of his injury history? They're giving Cosby every chance to win the return job, but he hasn't done anything exciting yet and it looks like Purify would be more of a factor from scrimmage. He's bigger and more physical. In fact, Purify is probably the club's most physical and maybe best blocking receiver, and has been effective on special teams covering kicks.
Long way to go there.
7. J-JOE EMERGES
Cornerback Johnathan Joseph, the man called J-Joe, has been bigger than G.I. Joe this summer. He's had his best all-around camp, rediscovering his cover skills and impressing the coaches with a much more aggressive approach to tackling and doling out hits.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer chortled one day last week that "(Joseph) has gone over to the dark side" when it comes to coming up from the corner to tackle. And Joseph used a little bit of everything Thursday when he made the tone-setting play on the Pats' first series.
Quarterback Tom Brady had the Pats rolling in his no-huddle and had his favorite receiver, Randy Moss, isolated on Joseph on third-and-6 from the Bengals 14. Moss ran an out and Joseph muscled him for position and reached out and knocked the ball away.
8. FULL NELSON?
What do the Bengals do with free agent rookie defensive back Tom Nelson? They signed him out of Illinois State as a safety but he's making a roster run as a guy that can play nickel cornerback in the slot as well as play a little outside. Plus, he can catch punts.
As if to deepen the coach's dilemma, he made the two biggest plays of the fourth quarter playing cornerback in the nickel. He blitzed off the edge for a sack with with 3:49 left to preserve the win when he forced a fumble at the Cincinnati 12.
But there's a logjam in the numbers game if the Bengals keep nine defensive backs. If cornerback David Jones (foot) comes back for the opener as they think, the club's top four corners would be Joseph, Jones, Leon Hall and rookie Morgan Trent. Their top three safeties are Chris Crocker, Roy Williams and Chinedum Ndukwe.
Crocker also plays slot corner in nickel, so the team could decide to make him the swing man, put Nelson on the practice squad and have the fourth safety come from the group of Marvin White, Corey Lynch and Kyries Hebert. Or maybe they think Nelson is more versatile than say, Crocker, and if he shows he can also return punts in the last two games, maybe he's the swing man.
It very well could be that Nelson, two draft picks in White and Lynch, and the best special-teams player from last year, Hebert, are all in it for one spot over the next two weeks.
9. 'SC LOOKS OK
You could make an argument that Rivers has been Cincinnati's best defensive player and there are no arguments that rookie SAM linebacker Rey Maualuga is going to be a factor sooner rather than later as the pair from USC continue to impress during the preseason.
Rivers flashed his versatility all night Thursday. There was his blitz of Brady in the first quarter and then when Geathers brought heat on backup Kevin O'Connell in the end zone, Rivers flew into the passing lane to bat down a third-down pass.
Maualuga made a play for no gain on running back Fred Taylor on his first NFL snap, but his most telling play came in the fourth quarter when he smelled out a screen pass and finished it off with a big tackle. Yes, some day Maualuga is going to succeed Dhani Jones in the middle, but it looks like he's having 0.0 adjustment to SAM and the question now is does he play well enough the last two games to get into the Opening Day lineup.
10. J.T. O'EXCUSE ME
Lewis had a slip of the tongue Thursday night in his postgame when he called J.T. O'Sullivan "Ryan," before quickly correcting himself. Ryan Fitzpatrick had some nice preseason games last year, his only preseason with the club, but he didn't do what O'Sullivan has done in the first two games backing up Carson Palmer, which is rack up two games of 130-plus in passer rating.
Lewis calls Jordan Palmer the team's most improved player, but is O'Sullivan the same guy that struggled so in San Francisco last year? That was his first season he really played in seven seasons in the NFL, and it shows he clearly learned. Plus, one has to believe that in all his stops he's never had two receivers like The Ocho and Chris Henry. His arm might be average and he might not be the athlete that Fitzpatrick is, but he can move, he can think, and he can find open receivers, all of which translates to being able to move the ball in the NFL.