Besides molding a Pro Bowl quarterback and MVP candidate in Andy Dalton, another one of Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's calling cards is his ability to motivate all kinds of personalities and talents. Remember, it was Jackson in his first Bengals life 10 years ago as wide receivers coach who navigated the quirks and volatility of the Chad Johnson-T.J. Houshmandzadeh-Chris Henry trio into one of the dangerous receiving corps in the game.
And he looks to have found the right button with the emotional Jeremy Hill. After having a sit-down with Jackson the day before the Rams game a week ago, Hill has responded with his two best games of the season. While Jackson doesn't want to get into the particulars, he indicated Monday it had to do with preparation and clearing the mind before the game from distractions.
Jackson also divulged that he, Jackson, is a pretty good dancer.
"I think sometimes all the outward expression before things happen is not needed. You've got to preserve your energy so you can play well," Jackson said. "I mean, I can dance now. Anybody want to see me dance? I can Ne-Ne, I can Dab, I can Walk It Out, I can do it all. I get my shoulders popping, too, before the game. I just know how far I can go before my energy and focus is on something else. That's what it all is. At the same time you have to channel who you are and where you are because you have a big game to play or coach. We get focused that way."
So it sounded like he was looking for Hill to channel that emotion. Channel it. Not kill it. Jackson loves emotion. It's why he loved coaching Johnson.
"I am never going to muzzle Jeremy because I don't want to," Jackson said. "There is part of that you got to have to play this game. There's got to be a fire in your belly. You don't have any fire in your belly you can't play this game. I'm not going to do that."
Jackson is looking for balance. So he was OK with Hill jumping into the Dawg Pound after his one-yard TD run Sunday in the 37-3 win in Cleveland. Head coach Marvin Lewis was OK with it, too, because
"it was in the rules."
"I love that part. That didn't bother me. That's fine," Jackson said. "Celebration. I'm not down on celebration."
He wouldn't compare anyone's personality to Johnson's. But he loved the passion that Johnson brought to the game.
"No, no, no, no, no. You can't even draw a comparison between the two," Jackson said. "It's not even close. It's not close — 85 was all-time. There is no comparison. You couldn't put seven Jeremys out there and it be close to what Chad Johnson was. Chad, that's just who Chad was 24-7. Chad didn't have a turn off button. And if he did, it turned off when he went to sleep. Jeremy has a turn-off button, he can calm himself down. They are just two different people. Two different times.
"I loved who he was and what he did," Jackson said of Johnson. "I also know some guys can handle that and not go too far and other guys can't handle that and maybe it bleeds over into other things. You just need to know which guy you have and who to reel in and who not to reel in."
One guy Jackson never has to reel in is the implacable A.J. Green. The man never even cracks a spike after he scores a TD. And Jackson has been challenging him in front of the team on it in a joking way.
"I said, 'When you going to do something for us? Anything. Don't just toss the ball, please,'" Jackson recalled him telling Green in front of the team. "'I don't care if you just fall down to your knees and give thanks. Just something out of the ordinary.' But that's not who he is. Maybe one of these days he'll surprise me and do something. I love all our guys. I like our guys. I like how they come to the game ready to play. I like how our mindset right now."
PLAYER COACHES: With slot corner Leon Hall (back) sidelined on Sunday, rookie cornerback Josh Shaw took 18 snaps before, naturally, he suffered a back injury when he collided with safety Shawn Williams late in the first half. He didn't return, so Dre Kirkpatrick became the club's fourth slot corner with Darqueze Dennard already on injured reserve.
But Shaw said Monday an MRI was negative and he thinks he'll be able to go this Sunday against the Steelers (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) at Paul Brown Stadium. He said he was helped immeasurably by both Hall and starting cornerback Adam Jones.
During the timeout before the Bengals stopped a fourth-and-one in the second quarter, Shaw went to Hall on the sidelines and asked what he should expect. Hall called it. A bootleg and both Shaw and Williams were all over it as Williams almost picked off a high passed headed for Browns top target Gary Barnidge, the tight end.
"I ran to the sidelines and said, 'Dang, you must be a coach.' To have those guys help me makes my job a lot easier," Shaw said. "Leon let me do my thing, but I'm always going to go to him . . . It was probably in the second quarter and he told said, 'OK everything you've seen, you're going to get that. With a new quarterback they're not going to ask him to do too much. All the concepts you've seen, they'll run them.'"
Shaw said when he lined up on his side; Jones told him a couple of times what play was coming. He never missed.
"He sure was," Shaw said. "Every time, I promise you."
ANOTHER DECEMBER TO REMEMBER:
For the fourth straight December the Bengals and Steelers meet to play for something big.
Last year in the regular-season finale it was for the AFC North title in Pittsburgh, which the Steelers won. In 2013 in Pittsburgh, the Steelers, out of the playoffs, knocked the AFC North
champ Bengals out of the race for the AFC's No. 2 seed. In 2012, the Bengals beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh to secure the Wild Card berth the Steelers would have grabbed if they won.
Now Sunday's game at Paul Brown Stadium (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) sees the 10-2 Bengals needing a victory to clinch their second division title in three years and the 7-5 Steelers needing a victory to keep up with the 7-5 Jets and Chiefs for a Wild Card spot and cut the Bengals lead to two.
The matchup within the matchup is riveting. It is the Bengals' torrid defense vs. the Steelers' red-hot offense. The Steelers have rolled up a franchise-best four straight games of at least 30 points and are sixth in scoring while the Bengals defense has held foes to 10 points or fewer in five of the last six and leads the NFL in scoring defense after Sunday's 37-3 win in Cleveland.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has gone off the last few weeks with his Bengals-like silos of weapons. All three of his top wide receivers, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Markus Wheaton are in the top seven for the biggest receiving games. With 284 yards against Oakland and 195 against San Francisco, Brown has the first and fifth biggest games, respectively. Wheaton is third with 201 against Seattle and Bryant had the seventh biggest with a 178-yarder against Cleveland.
(Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green's 227 in Baltimore are second on the list.)
Roethlisberger is one of the few guys who have torched PBS in the last 26 games. In fact, last Dec. 7, his 350 yards in that 42-21 Pittsburgh win are the most passing yards they've allowed at home since Nov. 11, 2012 in a 21-4-1 skein. Big Ben threw for three TDs and that's one only of six games the Bengals have allowed multiple TD passes at PBS in that stretch: Andrew Luck (four), Cam Newton (two), Blake Bortles (two), Peyton Manning (two) and Philip Rivers (two).
They're giving up just 15 points per game in six PBS games this season and only Rivers has thrown for two touchdowns. That home passer rating computes to 79.1, but go back over those last 26 home games and it is 68.7. That's highlighted by 26 TDs against 39 interceptions, as well as 68 sacks.
REGGIE, REGGIE: How good was The Rattler? Ken Riley, the Bengals all-time interceptions leader, did it with 65 in the 15 seasons from 1969-83.
After safety Reggie Nelson's NFL-leading seventh interception in Cleveland Sunday, he has 22 picks as a Bengal and is now sixth on the list, two behind Lemar Parrish and three behind current teammate Leon Hall. So together he and Hall have 47. After the game, Nelson was all about his D-line and coaches setting him up. His pick came courtesy of an Austin Davis overthrow in the middle of the field.
"I kept my leverage. VJ (secondary coach Vance Joseph) is always talking about keeping leverage," Nelson said. "I think (Davis) thought I was going to jump inside, but I stayed outside and deep."
And, of course, the big stat this week is that five of Nelson's picks have come against Roethlisberger, three in the last two games. Three of them have come in the fourth quarter of the last three wins over the Steelers and either set up the winning points or iced the game.
FLEXED BACK: As expected, the next Bengals' road game has been flexed out of prime time and the Sunday, Dec. 20 game in San Francisco is set for 4:25 Cincinnati time on CBS and Cincinnati's Channel 12. They'll still make their franchise record-tying fourth prime time appearance the next week in Denver on ESPN's Monday Night Football. The 1990 and 2007 teams also played in four prime-timers. The Arizona-Philadelphia game was moved to Sunday night.
Cincinnati Bengals travel to Cleveland to play the Browns in week 13 of the regular season 12/06/2015