Marvin Lewis did some homework over the mini-bye weekend and then gave a crash course to his Bengals on how it hurts so good to be a Super Bowl champion.
In the wake of the season-ending injuries to the club's two best defenders, two-time Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins and cornerback Leon Hall, Lewis showed his players the bulging injured reserve list for the past four champs.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 2009 Saints had 16 on IR when they won it all, the 2010 Packers 15, the 2011 Giants 14 and last year's Ravens 13. The Bengals are currently operating with eight, including two regulars, left end Robert Geathers and safety Taylor Mays, to go along with Atkins and Hall.
"They overcame it. The best team in the NFL year after year finds a way to overcome all the obstacles that come along the way," Lewis said. "Go all the way back to 2009 with the New Orleans Saints, and each year, those teams put double-digit numbers of players on injured reserve. I think that's a fact. Their leadership of the team, the maturity of the team, it all plays out. The playmakers of the team have to step up and win, and the coaching of the team. We've got to coach better and that's important. We can't let our guys flinch."
Every team's list, like the Bengals have at the moment, ranges from impact starters to key role players to practice-squadders or guys that may have been cut.
No team was hit harder than the Packers three years ago, when they lost 1,200-yard running back Ryan Grant on Opening Day and then weeks later lost gamebreaking tight end Jermichael Finley off his monster '09 season. They were comparable to the Atkins-Hall hits on offense, but the Packers also lost starting linebacker Nick Barnett, starting safety Morgan Burnett, starting offensive lineman Mark Tauscher and their second-round pick who was supposed to be one of their top pass-rushers, Mike Neal.
The Saints seemed to get off relatively unscathed the year before, but of their IR guys they lost Pro Bowl left tackle Jamaal Brown, a starting defensive end they lost for the playoffs in Charles Grant and his 5.5 sacks, starting fullback Heath Evans, and a rotational defensive tackle in Kendrick Clancy.
The '11 Giants got rocked right away in preseason when they lost their starting middle linebacker Jonathan Goff, as well as cornerback Terrell Thomas, their leading tackler and interceptor from the previous two seasons. Later on they lost their starting left tackle Will Beatty, as well as returner Domenik Hixon.
Last year the Ravens were hit hard, but avoided shots to their best players while Pro Bowl pass rusher Terrell Suggs made a remarkable recovery from a torn Achilles. The absence of its best cornerback, Lardarius Webb, was Baltimore's biggest hit of the unlucky 13. Starting inside backer Jameel McClain also ended up on IR, as did sometimes starting guard Jah Reid.
Lewis says dealing with injuries is the hardest part of the job and the front office would have to agree.
It's why it leaves what it calls an injury pad under the salary cap because clubs invariably pay more than 53 players as the season goes on. The Bengals not only have to pay two of their three richest players in Hall and Atkins, they're also paying a $3 million player in Geathers while also paying their roster replacements.
The Bengals already dipped into the injury pad to extend Atkins and left end Carlos Dunlap before the season, so they'll go over this year's $123 million cap and pay off the excess for the IR replacements in next year's cap, where they already decided to roll about $10 million from this year.
"I think the good thing is how hard we have to keep pushing. Regardless of the situation, that you have to keep pushing. We come to camp with the best 90 players that we can, and there can't be 30 of them over 30 (years old) or over 28, or whatever. There's got to be a balance," Lewis said.
"Your 53 might be a notch above, maybe your last four to five guys are a notch above some other squads and I just think it shows you how critical April and May are, through the draft and the periods after the draft. You continually work the roster, going through training camp, and then with the vision of where we are as you come out of camp. It's something you have to deal with. When someone asks me about doing this job, it's the single hardest part of this job."