Posted: 9:20 a.m.
CLEVELAND - The Bengals secondary, so good in the first two games, has direct orders not to repeat last Sunday?s first-half performance against the Steelers.
After giving up a 27-yard touchdown pass and a 51-yarder and 41-yarder, the defensive backs regrouped to get back to what they did against Denver and Green Bay when they gave up next to nothing in the Bengals 23-20 victory.
?We started challenging these guys a little bit; it was nothing earth-shattering,? said defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
Browns quarterback Derek Anderson is a much different species than the Steelers? Ben Roethlisberger. The scoring pass to running back Willie Parker and the 41-yard pass to Hines Ward were more products of Roethlisberger getting out of pocket and buying time. Anderson isn?t known to do that, but two years ago he sat back in the pocket and picked these same cornerbacks for five touchdown passes and 328 yards in ringing the Bengals for 51 points.
Long, long time ago.
Since then, the music has died in Cleveland. Anderson used that performance to launch a Pro Bowl season, but he?s lost his job twice to Brady Quinn and his head coach once before getting the nod again at halftime last week in Baltimore in what turned out to be a three-interceptions half.
?He doesn?t move around as much as Quinn,? Zimmer said. ?But he?s pretty accurate and seems to be much more composed.?
And a lot of water has gone under the bridge for the cornerbacks. Leon Hall was in just his second game in the NFL and Johnathan Joseph was in just his second season and struggling with a foot he broke back in June 2007. Joseph did miss some practice time this week with a foot issue but he went full go Friday and has no thoughts of that game back in ?07.
?You can?t do that; I look at each game by itself,? Joseph said of facing Anderson again. ?He?s a Pro Bowl player. You can?t make it easy for him. You can?t give him easy looks. You have to screw with his head. He can make all the throws and you just can?t let him do what?s drawn up on the paper.?
Joseph was in the middle of it all last week. He got the Bengals back into it with a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the second half after giving up what should have been a touchdown to the streaking Mike Wallace on the 51-yarder.
?That?s football. Things like that are going to happen. I know you have to eliminate those kinds of plays in a game like that,? Joseph said.
He and the rest of the secondary had played so well in the first two weeks. They blanked Green Bay?s Greg Jennings and held Denver?s Brandon Marshall to four catches for 27 yards. They even held the Steelers? Santonio Holmes to just one catch.
Joseph didn?t buy that it was the softest coverages the Bengals had played this year, but he said there were receivers running free unlike the previous two weeks and they can?t let it happen against Anderson and wide receiver Braylon Edwards.
Zimmer calls Edwards ?Marshallish. Big, strong, can catch the ball. Double moves.?
Actually, Zimmer has just as much concern for the running backs since they?ve caught 19 balls combined compared to the receivers? 31. He?s looking for guys like Jerome Harrison to get loose on screens and reverses. The Browns will also get wide receiver Josh Cribbs in the Wildcat. James Davis had caught four balls, but he's been put on season-ending injured reserve and running back Chris Jennings has been activated from the practice squad.
?The runs are basically the same, the passing game is a little different,? said Zimmer, who has no desire to look at the 2007 tape.
For one thing, the Bengals played Anderson last year and held him to 138 yards with his longest pass a 20-yarder in Cleveland?s 20-12 win. For another, in 2007 Zimmer was the defensive coordinator in Atlanta with Bengals safety Chris Crocker and nickel safety Chinedum Ndukwe was in his second game in the pros and standing on the sidelines that day in Cleveland.
Since then, Ndukwe has four career interceptions, three off Anderson and one last year. With Quinn benched, it looks like the Bengals are going to have to wait to get their first look at Ndukwe?s boyhood friend from Columbus, Ohio.
?I can only imagine,? Ndukwe said of Quinn?s disappointment. ?But I can?t let that affect me. It?s Anderson this week. The guys who played in that (?07) game know he can throw the ball.?
Ndukwe?s picks of Anderson have come in three different coverages. He pretty much knocked the Browns out of the playoffs in their second game in ?07 when Anderson threw two ill-advised passes late in the first half of a game the Bengals led, 6-0.
Nduwke made two interceptions to set up 13 points and a 19-0 lead in what would be a 19-14 win. One came working against tight end Kellen Winslow and the other came underneath when the Bengals were virtually in a prevent with six defensive backs. Last year he got Anderson when he switched up on a wide receiver in zone coverage.
Given his track record against Cleveland and Roy Williams not practicing most of the week with his forearm wrapped up, Ndukwe may get his most action of the season.
?We?re not preparing for a quarterback,? Crocker said. ?We?re preparing for a scheme, not personnel.?
This is the second time Crocker has come back to Cleveland since the Browns drafted him in the third round in 2003 and was traded to Atlanta by the departed Phil Savage-Romeo Crennel management group. So it doesn?t hold as much emotion for him as last season?s 14-0 blank job in December. He was still in Miami for the Bengals loss to the Browns last September.
?It?s a whole new regime now; it has nothing to do with anything,? Crocker said. ?(The secondary) definitely left some plays out there last week. (Zimmer) was disappointed because he knows we can play better. We know that. We can?t underestimate Anderson, but that was ?07 and this is now.?