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Bengals Pregame Quick Hits: Drew Sample Emerging; Man Of People Reggie Williams Rules; Inactive List Ibid.

QB Jake Browning warms up before kickoff of the Colts-Bengals game in Week 14 of the 2023 season.
QB Jake Browning warms up before kickoff of the Colts-Bengals game in Week 14 of the 2023 season.


The Colts defense comes into Sunday's game at Paycor Stadium with the second-fewest blitzes in the league, but the Bengals have a not-so-secret weapon if they decide to test quarterback Jake Browning.

After deploying him for his most snaps in three years, the Bengals coaches came out of Monday night's win in Jacksonville raving about tight end Drew Sample. When the Bengals went to more six- and seven-man protections to make things more comfortable for Browning on third down, Sample was a key blocker.

Particularly in the 02 formation, rarely used until Monday with two players in the backfield with Browning. He also showed he can do it as the only guy back there during 45 snaps.

On third-and-two he picked up a delayed blitz up the middle by Jags linebacker Foyesade Oluokun, helping allow Browning unleash the season's longest play with a 76-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase.

Then on third-and-10 in the overtime, Sample picked up linebacker Devin Lloyd with running back Trayveon Willams also back there picking up the safety and Browning whistled an 11-yarder to wide receiver Tee Higgins.

"Basically, there were eight up there," Sample recalled last week. "Trayveon got the gap to the edge. The line got five, and I got the sixth. When it's kind of a set thing like that, (where) I know I'm taking that guy, I can step up, where (other times) it's a scanning thing. On Ja'Marr's they had five down, they were in base, and they messed with the linebacker. You don't exactly know, so you have to go meet him."

Sample also added an 11-yard catch in the red zone to go with scoring two of his three career touchdowns this season.

'When you don't have a pass protection responsibility, (Sample has learned) to get out and get your eyes around and be where he expects you to be which is exactly what happened on that that play against Buffalo," offensive coordinator Brian Callahan of Sample's touchdown on a screen.

"He's really come a long way in that part and he's been effective when he's caught it and so that's always a concern (for the defense) as well. If he gets the ball in space, can he get to the first down? And then he's proven that he's capable of getting yards after the catch and getting us in a good spot. I can't say enough positive things about what Drew's brought and how well he's played for us this year."

The key guy for the Colts defense is run-stopping specialist tackle Grover Stewart returning after a six-game suspension. The Colts give a yard less per carry with Stewart in there, so they don't have to rely on the linebackers to blitz on the run.

HIS HONOR RULES: Reggie Williams, the Bengals' most prolific linebacker of all-time who once helped rule Cincinnati as a member of Cincinnati City Council, reigned over Paycor as Sunday's Ruler of the Jungle. His Honor was on the sidelines before the game, introduced himself to current No. 57 Germaine Pratt, and was amazed and pleased to see rookie safety Jordan Battle, among others, signing autographs.

"Love the setup here at Paycor Stadium that allows the players to interact with the fans before the game," Williams said. "I can't imagine signing autographs before a game. Riverfront Stadium didn't have the logistics. I love to see the fans rewarded for their loyalty."

Someone came up to Williams, 69, thanking him for coming out in the cold. Once upon a time, Williams made seven tackles in an AFC Championship game known as "The Freezer Bowl." But he still had his hands in his coat pockets on a 37-degree day.

"I'm always amazed," Williams said, "how I played in 59-below and I'm still cold on a day like this."

Williams wore No. 13, the jersey of his Freezer Bowl teammate and Pro Football Hall of Famer Ken Riley.

SLANTS AND SCREENS: Bengals head coach Zac Taylor was right on Friday when he felt good about slot receiver Tyler Boyd (ankle) and nose tackle DJ Reader (back) playing even though they were listed as questionable. They were dressed …

That meant the inactive list was the same as Monday night: Running back Chris Evans, defensive lineman Jay Tufele, offensive linemen Trey Hill and D'Ante Smith, and linebacker Devin Harper …

Bengals center Ted Karras didn't mind the cold and came out in basically T-Shirt and shorts. The Indy product arrived pumped up. He expected about 50 people making the drive down I-74 to root for the Bengals …

Karras was a natural game captain ...

For the other two, Taylor went off Monday night's performances and tapped Sample and running back Joe Mixon off his 117-yard game from scrimmage ....

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