7-29-04, 12:15 a.m.
The Bengals report to training camp Friday and with them seven key stats that can put Marvin Lewis' team into the 2004 playoffs.
330 _ The pounds belonging to new right guard Bobbie Williams.
Forget Carson Palmer's numbers on the radar gun or Chad Johnson's Pro Bowl numbers. The Bengals are going to get back to the playoffs like they did the last time and that was with a punishing running game and a prudent, yet big-play passing attack.
Williams, 27, the free-agent from Philadelphia, teams with Pro Bowl 340-pounder right tackle Willie Anderson to give them formidable density at the point of attack. Departed right guard Mike Goff had more experience and is probably a better pass protector than Williams, but Williams has the potential to move people consistently in the running game.
Here is the huge stat that has to be reversed. The Bengals haven't had a 100-yard rusher in the last nine division games. Williams helps them, along with more seasoning for key second-year blockers left guard Eric Steinbach and fullback Jeremi Johnson.
The running game is, of course, a must to help Palmer. Just look what it did for Jon Kitna. The Bengals were 5-0 last year in games they had a 100-yard rusher and Kitna threw 11 touchdowns and just one interception. **
37 _ ** Career interceptions by starting cornerbacks Tory James (22) and Deltha O'Neal (15).
Which is two more than James and Jeff Burris brought into last season, but Artrell Hawkins (9 career picks) ended up playing more because of Burris' injuries.
These are the two best playmakers they have had teamed at that spot since Ashley Ambrose (13) and Jimmy Spencer (14) walked in with 27 interceptions in 1997. They only ended up with four that season, but the Bengals are banking on these guys making the plays that have, by and large, been missing from the secondary for years.
James' four picks last season were the most by a Cincinnati corner since Corey Sawyer outdid both Ambrose and Spencer in 1997 with four, and no Bengal has matched O'Neal's nine picks in 2001 since Ken Riley celebrated the Bicentennial in 1976 by taking one of his nine to the house.
Does it matter? The top three AFC teams in interceptions (The Patriots, Chiefs, and Ravens) won their divisions. **
16 _ ** Palmer's No. 9 jersey plus 7, which is the number of 40-yard passes Chad Johnson caught to lead the NFL last season.
The one thing we know about Palmer is that he can throw deep. The first of the many things we know about Johnson is that he can go deep. But he'll only be good as the other receivers.
(Why have they been looking for another speed merchant? Here's another stat to reverse. In the three December losses last year, foes were making sure Johnson wouldn't beat them and his longest catch in the Baltimore and Cleveland losses was 13 yards.)
But Kelley Washington looked terrific in camp, sleek Peter Warrick was hampered in the slot by a bad knee in the courageous stint against Cleveland, and rookie Maurice Mann could give them some wheels off the bench. Someone else is going to have to get down field to spring Johnson like Warrick did against the Chiefs. **
159 _ ** The uniform numbers of starting linebackers Kevin Hardy (51), Nate Webster (52), and Brian Simmons (56).
Last year, the Bengals were playing with two of them, Hardy and Simmons, in a new position with Hardy in the middle and Simmons on the weak side. With the free-agent acquisition of the speedy Webster for the middle, Hardy is at the spot he has spent the bulk of his career at strong, and Simmons is back for what should be a more comfortable second season at weak.
They feel this should help reverse maybe the most disturbing stat from last season. When they went 1-3 in December, the least amount of yards they gave up rushing was 143. Since they failed to beef up the defensive line rotation with a veteran tackle, they are banking on the speed of the back seven.
How important is defending the run?
Of the 12 teams that made the playoffs, 10 had rushing defenses ranked 20th or better. The Bengals hope the addition of Webster's speed and the comfort level of Hardy and Simmons key the run defense's move out of that tie for 25th.
44.7 _ The Bengals' AFC-best third-down efficiency percentage last season.
Boomer Esiason likes to call third down the quarterback's down, which shows you what a fine year Kitna had. But the stat also shows that Palmer has so much more talent surrounding him than David Klingler and Akili Smith did. Or, for that matter, a better supporting cast than one Norman Julius Esiason had when he finished his career with that 4-1 run in 1997.
(Yes, that team had Corey Dillon at running back, but he was a rookie. It also didn't have injured wide receiver Carl Pickens, and it certainly didn't have a Levi Jones at left tackle, a Peter Warrick in the slot, and three quality tight ends.)
Jones and right tackle Willie Anderson were major reasons for that 44.7 because they were basically taking on teams' best pass rushers by themselves. Warrick and guys like tight end Matt Schobel have a knack for helping a quarterback in trouble on third down, tremendous comfort for a rookie quarterback. Palmer can also turn to wide receiver Kelley Washington (a blossoming Pickens?) after he used his strength to bull his way to some key third-down plays last year as a rookie.
But one thing that stat also shows you and is going to be a huge question for training camp: The reliability of the departed Brandon Bennett as a third-down back and how quickly first-rounder Chris Perry can fill that void as effectively. **
25 4 _ ** After finishing with the worst score of any special teams in the last 25 years in one survey in 2002, the Bengals under first-year position coach Darrin Simmons rose from dead last at No. 32 to No. 25.
Then came the 2004 draft and Simmons walked out of the board room smiling after four of the top five players turned out to be seasoned, solid teamers in college.
Second-round defensive backs Keiwan Ratliff and Madieu Williams were a hit as cover men and Ratliff returned punts for good measure. Third-round linebackers Caleb Miller and Landon Johnson also took their share of coverage duty and Johnson took on the quarterback-like role of personal protector on the punt team as a Purdue senior.
And Simmons can't wait to get his hands on a 6-3, 271-pound defensive end that can run in fourth-rounder Robert Geathers. Is he the answer to Ravens' Pro Bowl special teamer Adalius Thomas, a guy with virtually the same dimensions?
How important is special teams? The two coaches from whom Simmons has ties, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and Panthers special teams coach Scott O'Brien, met in the last Super Bowl. Which was decided on a poor kickoff and a last-second field goal. **
9 _ ** Consecutive sellout-streak now that the Bengals have virtually sold out the first six home games of this season, taking it to the Nov. 28 game against Cleveland.
One of Lewis' dominant themes has been re-establishing "The Jungle," harking back to the days Riverfront Stadium sold out for 43 straight games during five years in the late '80s and early '90s that saw two playoff runs.
He knows all about home-field advantage and what a hard-core fan base means Sunday after Sunday. He lived it in Pittsburgh and Baltimore as an assistant coach for nearly a decade. In fact, since 1994, the Steelers (.681) and Ravens (.602) have the fourth and seventh best home records, respectively, in the AFC.
Does it matter? In two of the three sellouts at the end of last season, the Bengals upset the undefeated Chiefs and scored their most points in Paul Brown history to fend off the 49ers, 41-38.
Does it matter? In the Riverfront streak from 1988-1992, the Bengals were 24-16. In the run from '88-90, they were 18-6 at home with two division titles.