Notes: Bengals eye first rookie QB matchup since Smith-Couch; No Benson call Tuesday


Andy Dalton

Updated: 6:35 p.m.

It will be one day shy of 12 years Sunday in Jacksonville (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12), since the last time the Bengals were involved in a game with two starting rookie quarterbacks. They hope it ends the same way when Andy Dalton duels the Jaguars' Blaine Gabbert, the Missouri product many draftnicks projected to go to the Bengals with the fourth pick.

Meanwhile, the NFL had no announcement of running back Cedric Benson's appeal of a three-game suspension at the end of business Tuesday. An NFL spokesman said he wasn't sure if there would be an announcement later in the week.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has said he's assuming the league would let the team know of a decision before Wednesday's return to practice, and the situation is unflolding like last week when there was no decision and Benson played. David Cornwell, Benson's lawyer, has asked the league not to take disciplinary action until there is a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board or an arbitrator on the side letter signed by the NFL and the NFL Players Association regarding the status of Benson and seven other players.

Cornwell confirmed Tuesday he hadn't heard anything regarding a ruling and that the grievance process concerning the letter is in process. 

In Akili Smith's first NFL start on Oct. 10, 1999, the Bengals went on the road to beat the Tim Couch-led Browns, 18-17, when Smith hit wide receiver Carl Pickens on a two-yard touchdown pass with five seconds left. Smith, the third pick after the Browns made Couch No. 1, won only two more starts.

The Bengals, who only had eyes for Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green at No. 4 before picking Dalton a round later, already have two wins from Dalton starts with Sunday's decision over Buffalo of the fourth quarter comeback variety. His stats have taken a hit the past two weeks with his 58.1 completion percentage ranked 24th among quarterbacks and his 76.1 passer rating 27th.

But the two wins are two wins. Gabbert is 0-2 and mired in struggles. He's last in completion percentage and rating and is next to last in average yards per throw. After getting swept by the Jets' Mark Sanchez in back-to-back weeks that included the 2009 Wild Card game, the Bengals beat the Panthers' Jimmy Clausen and the Browns' Colt McCoy last season to raise their records against rookie quarterbacks to 8-7 under head coach Marvin Lewis.

The CW is usually to blitz rookies and Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has never been afraid to unleash it. But this week he sounded a bit hesitant about going all out against Gabbert.

"I don't know; they run a million screens," Zimmer said. "I've looked at all the games but haven't talked protections or blitzes yet. The quarterback throws the ball pretty good. They protect a little bit. Throw a ton of screens."

"They opened it up last week," he said of the Jaguars loss to the Saints in which Gabbert completed only 16 of 42 passes. "They were pretty simple for a while. Now (the Jags) are going to what everyone is doing – open it up and spread it around."

For the third straight week the Bengals get a stud running back in Maurice Jones-Drew, the NFL's second-leading rusher with 98 yards per game. His 5.1 yards per carry is a good match for the Bengals run defense allowing 3.1 yards per, best in the NFL.

"He's a good back. He's a lot like (Fred) Jackson," Zimmer said of the Bills back the Bengals held to 66 yards last Sunday. "Catches the ball well. Protections, screens. Slithery."

BLOCK PARTY: While Benson seemed a bit uncertain about the Bengals' attempt to rotate him in with Bernard Scott, he's quite clear on why he's getting a chance at breaking longer runs this year than last.

His longest run in the first four games last year was 13 and this year he's already got a 39-yarder and a 28-yarder. In Sunday's game alone he had a 28-yarder and a huge 14-yard gash to the right perimeter in the tying touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, a run detonated by wide receivers A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson.

"Forgive me for not mentioning them," Benson said Monday after praising left tackle Andrew Whitworth and fullback Chris Pressley and the rest of the offensive line. "They're always improving every week. I can't say enough how much I appreciate them working their tails off on getting the big run."

The receivers wanted to atone for what happened the week before on the first snap after the Bengals recovered a 49ers fumble on the San Francisco 16 early in the fourth quarter of a 3-3 game they ended up losing 13-8. Benson ripped a run off the power play and looked headed for a touchdown when no one got to the cornerback in time and the tackle was made at the 6. The Bengals couldn't get in and had to settle for a field goal.  

"Yeah, it's a point of pride," Green said. "Coach (James) Urban is always telling us we have to stay on our blocks so we can get the long runs."

The coaches, not exactly fond of last year's downfield blocking from the dearly departed receivers, had to like the kids' handiwork on the 14-yarder. Benson did.

"It's a big difference. You don't have to worry about the corner and the safety," said Benson, who was able to outrace the corner to the edge.

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