Updated: 10-11-13, 6:15 a.m.
A few talking points about the zone read offense the Bengals see for the first time Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in Buffalo:
» The zone read is a scaled-back version of option football, but with the same concept. It forces the defense to cover all 11 players on the field because the quarterback can run the ball.
» The premise of the play is the offense leaves a down lineman unblocked and in most cases that's a defensive end. When the quarterback puts the ball in the running back's belly, the end crashes down to take the back. The QB at that point can pull it and run it. If it looks like the end is waiting for the QB to pull the ball and keep it, he can hand the ball to the back.
» There's a premium on communication between the end and the linebackers on how the end plays it, so no gaps are left vacant. Plus, the defense can mix up who it chooses to cover when to keep the offense on its heels.
» The Bills don't run the zone read all that much compared to teams like Washington and Carolina. Maybe a handful of plays a game, even when rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel was running the show. He pulled the ball out of the back's belly and ran it less than 10 times combined in the first five games. All his other runs were scrambles. The Bills do have lot of zone-read looks with the ball in the quarterback's hands from which they run standard plays out of, particularly play-action passes to hold the end.
» But the Bills do it enough that the Bengals have to practice against it. Head coach Marvin Lewis says that's not a problem because they do that every day and Andy Dalton showed last week against the Patriots that the Bengals run their own version of the zone read with an eight-yard run.
Plus, once the Bengals signed backup quarterback Josh Johnson, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said they planned to give him a zone-read package.
"It would help if you had more time (to prepare) but the four days we're able to get on the field before Sunday is enough," says cornerback Leon Hall. "We did a little bit in training camp but not a lot that I can remember. We're not going back that far as learning how to play it. These four days should be enough. Having a guy like Josh Johnson gives us a good look."
» The Bengals gave up 213 yards rushing to the Redskins zone read last year when they won in Washington, but Washington put in a few wrinkles that basically turned it into the triple option. Plus, the Redskins run it mostly all the time as opposed to the Bills and they have the rare athletic gifts of quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Griffin makes it go because his speed and agility is a nightmare for linebackers. In Bills quarterback Thad Lewis, the Bengals are facing a good athlete, but not rare, who has more of a rep for being a dropback passer.
"This is the most disciplined game we'll have to play to date," defensive end Wallace Gilberry said. "This guy here, we are talking about a guy that runs a 4.9 (Lewis) compared to a guy that possibly runs a 4.3 (Griffin). it is two totally different speeds. At the same time it totally about being disciplined."
» Discipline is the word of the week:
Gilberry: "We have to be technique-sound and disciplined. This is not one of those games where you can run up the field and try to make something happen. You literally have to wait and play your position and play your technique. If not, that Thad Lewis guy will expose you."
Hall: "You have to be disciplined knowing the formation and assignments. ... Know your responsibilities, sometimes you second-guess who you have and get hesitant but you have to know who you have on that call and play it and depend on the other guys."
» This time around it is the running backs the Bengals have to stop with the versatile Fred Jackson and the speedy C.J. Spiller combining to lead the Bills to the top rushing spot in the AFC.
"They've got a two-headed monster at running back with Jackson and with Spiller; they are both explosive players and they can each go the distance with a couple tackles," defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "We've really got to be on point with our gaps and make sure we are getting enough blocks. Coach (Mike Zimmer) said it best, make sure we are wrapping up and getting two guys to the ball, three guys swarming to the ball. If we do that we should have another good day.
"Fred Jackson is more of a downhill runner, more inside the tackles, but both of them can do both. At any given time you miss a tackle or let them get the edge on you they can go the distance. They both are really fast and really good running backs. One of the better gaps in the business. We have to be gap sound, swarm a lot to the ball, everyone fly to the ball and wrap him up and we should be all right."
While speedy No. 3 wide receiver Marvin Jones made the biggest offensive play of the day last Sunday with a 28-yard circus catch on third-and-15 coming out of the end zone in what turned out to be Cincinnati's lone touchdown drive, he also quietly took 65 percent of the special-teams snaps while playing 53 percent of the offensive plays. And those 17 plays in the kicking game featured his work as a gunner on punt cover, a spot he's playing for the first time in his career once the club's top special teams player, safety Jeromy Miles, went down with a hamstring injury early in the opener.
Miles, a fleet gunner who racked up 35 special teams tackles in 38 games, later got claimed on waivers by the Ravens. So Jones continues in the role until wide receiver Andrew Hawkins offers some relief when he comes off injured reserve-recall for the second half of the season and cornerback Brandon Ghee gets healthy.
"I've never done it before. I took some backup snaps in practice last year, but it's new to me," Jones said before Thursday's practice. "Whatever they want me to do, I'll do it, and if that means having to go out there make plays (at gunner) while playing on offense and punt return, then I'll do that."
Jones, averaging a team-best 13.2 yards per his nine catches, is also tied for second with two others with two special teams tackles. He says simply, "It is what it is," and he doesn't mind the running.
"It's what I do; I can run," Jones said. "I can run all day. Conditioning has never been a problem for me. I can play on an 11-, 12-, 14-play drive and then go down and cover a punt."
The gunner situation is emblematic of the upheaval that has surprisingly taken over teams. After an offseason the Bengals re-signed all their specialists and most of the core of a unit that led the league in the combined top 10 special teams categories, injuries began to decimate them late in the preseason, starting with season-ending inuries to linebackers Emmanuel Lamur and Sean Porter, and continuing with Hawkins, Miles and other injuries in the secondary that had a trickle-down effect.
Now instead of reloading, Simmons is closer to where he was in 2010 when he began molding the veterans in this group.
"A bunch of moving parts. A bunch of interchangeable positions with a bunch of young guys," Simmons said. "It's tough for them to get settled in and learn and understand all the nuances of the position that they play on that phase. You take that times about four phases for each different guy and it's completely something new they're learning every week. They can't get settled into playing right guard on the kickoff return team. He may be playing right guard one week and left tackle the next week."
Simmons has had to turn to guys like Jones and tight end Orson Charles, rookies last season who have now had their roles expanded.
"(Charles has) played in every coverage play so far this season. Even though he's not a veteran guy, but he's still a young guy," Simmons said of a guy that wasn't in any coverage plays last season. "He's like a rookie in terms of coverage. He had a good tackle the other day. Wish he would have played the one punt play a little better. The one guy gets a 20-yard return. (Rookie safety) Shawn Williams played his best game, even though it didn't show up in the tackle production sheet, he played better than the way he's played."
Simmons is also pleased with Jones's double-duty. Jones says special teams is all about want-to and Simmons couldn't agree more.
"He's going to have to run all day," Simmons said with a laugh. "It's about attitude and effort and I think he's been good. He just has to work on the finer details of his job." INJURY UPDATE:Johnson was the only Bengal not dressed at practice Thursday as cornerback Brandon Ghee (quad) returned in limited fashion. Cornerback Leon Hall (hamstring) was limited for a second straight day, as was linebacker Michael Boley (hamstring). Right tackle Andre Smith (shoulder) and backup guard-center Mike Pollak (knee) were full go after being limited Wednesday.