Updated: 2:55 p.m.
It turns out that Phil Simms, CBS's lead game analyst, can do a heck of an imitation of Jon Gruden, ESPN's Monday Night analyst.
It is Friday morning in the foyer outside the Bengals locker room and Simms is showing how his head spun during his Christmas Eve film study of the Bengals in preparation for Sunday's game at sold-out Paul Brown Stadium (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) against the Ravens as he watched offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's endless supply of Xs and Os. Complete with a scrunched-up Chuckie face and the high-pitched stream of terminology, Simms pretended like he was at a board.
" 'Hey, they do this, they do that, they run the Wildcat, they run reverses and screens. I don't know how you can stop it.' "
The bit was spawned by Simms's admiration for what Gruden has done with the Bengals offense, back in the NFL's top 10 for the first time since 2007 at No. 10.
"Christmas Eve I was trying to do as much work as I could and I got a headache," Simms said. " 'Another concept. Another play.' It was really unbelievable. I started making a list and I was laughing to myself because it's Jay Gruden, the offensive coordinator, and I was saying, 'Man this would be right up Jon's alley.' "
And make no mistake. Simms loves it that Jay Gruden has more in his playbook, not less, and doesn't buy the notion that the Bengals have too much at their disposal to master.
"By and large my one complaint about offenses in the NFL is they don't do enough. So I'm sure not going to complain about this one because I don't think a lot of coordinators and teams give the quarterback a chance to get into rhythm," Simms said. "They don't give him enough easy throws. You've got to do that.
"In this league now, 70 percent of your throws have to be easy. That's what most offenses are doing. Except maybe you look at teams like Baltimore, you just have to back up because here it comes. There are more simple really, basic offenses than there are what we're seeing with the Bengals. If you made me choose one, 99 percent of the time I'm taking the Bengals and that philosophy and what they're doing."
And while Jon's name has floated for a head coaching job for five years, Simms said he won't be surprised if Jay's name surfaces when the NFL roulette wheel starts spinning Sunday night.
"Because everybody is looking for what? 'Somebody who can groom the franchise quarterback.' It's like a comedy act. It always gets back to the same line," Simms said. "It's a huge feather in his cap what he's done with Andy Dalton. If you're not in love with him, that's one thing. But you can't lie. Three years in the playoffs and some of the games he's had this year, the numbers, they're pretty awesome."
It seems fitting that Simms is the booth Sunday. After all, Dalton is trying to go 4-0 against Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks this season on Sunday when he takes on reigning Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. Simms, MVP of the first Giants Super Bowl win 27 years ago, thinks Dalton can join the list.
"Sure. I say that without hesitation. Yes. I think they've got the system, the players, they're kind of got a roll going on the offensive side when I watch them," Simms said. "They're a little streaky … they have spurts like NBA basketball games. They're unbelievable. But then, they can have the other one, too. But that's kind of the state of the league. When they have their spurts, they can win games in a matter of minutes, which I think is really impressive."
Simms doesn't want to hear the chatter about the questions surrounding Dalton, fueled by media and fans alike. Not after racking up a 29-18 career record as a starter with three postseason berths and an AFC North title this season with a career-high passer rating of 91.
No, Simms doesn't want to hear how the guy hasn't won a playoff game after 47 games. Not after he was sentenced to NFL oblivion numerous times by the New York media before he won his ring. Not after what he's heard this season in other NFL towns.
"If the local media is trying to run you out of town, that means you're close to stardom," Simms said. "That's just the way it is when you're an NFL quarterback. Every city I go to it's the same story in the paper. The only towns that it's not a story is Denver and New England. And maybe Green Bay, but I haven't been there this year. 'The coach can't make the right decision.' 'We might have to get a franchise guy.' 'Should we get one in the draft?' 'Should we trade for Aaron Rodgers?'
"It's the same story. I talk about it a lot on TV. During games. It's the most overused phrase in sports. 'We've got to get a franchise guy.' It's ridiculous. What it comes to a lot of times is the teams have to develop that guy. Many times I see quarterbacks in the NFL that have the talent to be a front-line starter, but the organization stinks or the team stinks, so he's not going to get it done. Andy Dalton in three years, look guys, it's over. He's the guy here. For the writers, the fans, get over it. He's going to be here. If you don't like him, just keep going because that's the way it is."
It's the first time the Bengals are back in the top 10 in offense since '07, a year that has summed up the Lewis era. They got a franchise record in passing yards from Carson Palmer and a franchise receiving record from Chad Johnson, but averaged just 23.7 points per game and finished 7-9. With 396 points heading into Sunday's finale for an average of 26.4, the Bengals are trying to best the Lewis high of 421 points set in 2005. That year, last year (24.4), and this one are the only seasons the Bengals have averaged at least 24 points since Lewis arrived in 2003.
Lewis points to the productivity in the red zone with touchdowns instead of field goals. Indeed with 13 straight red-zone touchdowns, the Bengals are only behind Peyton Manning's Broncos in red-zone TD percentage.
"That four-point swing is huge," Lewis said after Friday's practice. "We just have to keep it up. If you get over 24 points in the NFL, you should be OK because the defense is trying to limit it to 17 points."
A 26-point effort on Sunday would give the Bengals a Lewis-high of 422 for the season (they're averaging 34 at home this season), good for the third-most in franchise history. That's about right because Lewis says this offense is "more rounded" than the previous years. Running back Giovani Bernard is his first speed back, but he also says the depth at receiver has played a large role. From a fast rangy No. 2 receiver like Marvin Jones to another speed guy in slot receiver Andrew Hawkins to the strong, big Mohamed Sanu who can play inside and outside.
"We've just got a bunch of guys that all contribute their deal. Tight end. They all contribute in their ways," Lewis said. "There are a lot of good options."
That's a reason Simms likes these guys not only on offense, but on defense. And he liked them right away even though he worked the opener in Chicago, a 24-21 loss the Bengals gave away with a careless two minutes at the end of the first half and three turnovers.
"I thought they looked really good in the opener. I was very impressed. I walked away saying 'oh my gosh'; first they blew the game and I just remember thinking that they are ready," Simms said. "They've really fought through some things – some of it is self-inflicted and others. They fought through two devastating injuries. That's a good thing. I don't hear about their injuries in Cincy but everywhere else that would be all we're reading about. It's just the state of the NFL right now.
"That will be one of the opening things I'll say in the game is that this is one of the few teams with depth and it shows. Heck, (linebacker) Vinny Rey? Who's he? I'm looking at him and starting to study them and now I'm wondering why he wasn't on the field before? Someone has a good eye. That's an interesting thing. Some injuries devastate teams but they've overcome some big ones. Even (left guard Andrew) Whitworth not being 100 percent; that is pretty cool too."
INJURY UPDATE: The Bengals offense could be seriously reduced without its top two tight ends Sunday. Tight end Jermaine Gresham (hamstring, questionable) went on and off the practice field a few times Friday morning before not working and Tyler Eifert (neck, doubtful) remained where he has been all week since his injury in last Sunday's game and watched in sweats. WILL backer Vontaze Burfict (concussion, questionable) was on the practice field with helmet for the first time this week and went full go.
With Gresham playing an estimated 90 percent of the snaps and Eifert about 63 percent, the two tight-end formation has been a major element in a Bengals offense that has reached 10th in the NFL the past two weeks.
Also not working were cornerback Terence Newman (knee) and defensive tackle Devon Still (back) and they were ruled out, but it looks like Newman can be ready for the playoffs either next week or the week after. Everyone else was probable, including left end Carlos Dunlap (illness), sidelined for Friday's practice, and right tackle Andre Smith (ankle), limited on Friday.
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