12-20-02, 11:25 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals are finding out that less is more with wide receiver Peter Warrick.
Since his snaps have dipped from about 50 to 35 a game since the 38-3 win in Houston last month, he's got four touchdowns and 172 of his 292 yards in his past six games have come after the catch in showing the first consistent signs of his college play-making days.
But if less is more, the Bengals are also finding out there is a lot to the kid when it comes to guts.
"I've got a lot of heart," Warrick said this week, still a little shook by last week's overnight stay at Christ Hospital. "That's what football is all about. It's not always who is the biggest guy. It's heart, man."
Warrick showed plenty of that two weeks ago in Carolina when he
came back into the game four times after taking a shot to the lungs that sent him to Christ Hospital that Sunday night.
"I wasn't scared when the doctor said I had to go to the hospital, but I was scared when he told me I had to stay overnight," said Warrick, whose stay was eased by visits from head coach Dick LeBeau and receivers coach Steve Mooshagian. "I had never done that before. Coach LeBeau came and Moose, and CJ (Chad Johnson). A lot of guys called. Spikes, ,Big Willie, Duges (Ron Dugans). It showed people care and that made me feel good."
Warrick didn't feel good enough to play last week and missed his first game in three NFL seasons, but not because he wanted to.
"The doctor said it was in my best interests and I didn't want to go against the doctor. He knows more than me about it."
Warrick has returned to practice this week and is still questionable for Sunday. But there is no question he is becoming more decisive after making the catch. Particularly his 37-yard touchdown catch in Carolina, where the yards came mostly off a run after he caught a short pass.
"We've joked about it that it's only taken him two and a half years to figure it out," Mooshagian said. "But he's becoming more patient. He doesn't try to do so many things when he catches it. Instead of trying to make his moves right away, he's getting up field and then making the moves. He's faster and got better balance that way."
That's what happened in Carolina. He caught a pass over the middle, cut it to the outside, got a block from H-Back Nick Luchey on the perimeter, and stayed in-bounds on the tightrope.
"Earlier in his career, his momentum would carry him out of bounds," Mooshagian said. "That was a perfect example of how he is now on the same page with (quarterback Jon) Kitna. Pete ran an option read route that he could have run across the middle, gone in and then out, or stayed in the middle. He went back out, Jon hit him and then he just made a guy miss going across the middle."
Mooshagian thinks Warrick has become better with the fewer snaps: "He's stronger, focused, more productive. We're asking for quality, not quantity, and he's responded."
BENGALS DENY STORY:** For the second time this week, the Bengals denied a published report concerning the state of their front office. They reiterated that a story in Friday's "Philadelphia Daily News," claiming NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has been putting heat on club president Mike Brown to step away from football operations and hire a general manager is "speculative and inaccurate."
Paul Domowitch, the paper's NFL writer, cited three league sources saying Tagliabue has had at least two conversations with Brown in the last month in which he's told him Brown needs to hire a GM after the season. The NFL has also denied the report and said Friday that Tagliabue and Brown haven't discussed the matter.
The story also said Brown is considering naming daughter Katie Blackburn as general manager. But Brown indicated earlier this month he didn't forsee major off-season changes in the personnel department, where he has the final say in consultation with head coach Dick LeBeau.
On Sunday, the Bengals denied an ESPN report that Brown had been talking to the NFL office, the NFL Players Association, and team executives about re-structuring the front office.
MATCHUPS:It truly is a special matchup pitting the Bengals' beleaguered special teams against what may be the NFL's best unit.Bengals KR Brandon Bennettcarries the banner against sensationSaints K-PR Michael Lewis**.
In what shapes up to be a wide-open shootout, the Bengals dinged-up secondary has to deal with New Orleans' terrific speed at receiver with CBs Jeff Burris and Kevin Kaesviharn on the outside looking at No. 1 pick WR Donte' Stallworth's first NFL start and WR Joe Horn's 1,205 yards.
Bengals WR Chad Johnson gets to test the speed of Saints safeties Sammy Knight and Jay Bellamy, part of a pass unit ranked just 28th in the NFL. Bengals DTs Tony Williams and Glen Steele have to defeat the Saints' athletic tandem of RG LeCharles Bentley and LG Kendyl Jacox. The education of Bengals LT Levi Jones continues against club sack leader Saints DE Darren Howard.
BENNETT VS. LEWIS:** Bennett is still in the hunt for the AFC kick return title, barely trailing the Jets' Chad Morton, 26.08 to 25.91, but the numbers are daunting in this matchup. While the Bengals have had trouble getting the right number of people on the field for special teams, the Saints are sending two specialists to the Pro Bowl in Lewis and Fred McAfee and have had three players named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week. One of them, Steve Gleason, is out this week, but McAfee is here and he'll be gunning for a Bengals' punt team that has already given up a blocked punt for a TD. He forced a game-winning interception in overtime on his punt rush in the opener.
Behind Lewis' two kick returns and a punt return for a touchdown, the Saints are fifth and second, in the league, respectively, in punt return and kickoff return, categories where the Bengals are 31st and 13, respectively in coverage. While Lewis gets 12.7 per punt, the Bengals only get 5.3 return.
Some argue the makeup of the Bengals' roster doesn't allow them to be particularly fast on special teams, plus injuries at linebacker and safety have given their teams a blow. But linebacker Adrian Ross thinks the Bengals can match up with their size.
"This team tries to be fast, more finesse, and speed," Ross said. "Their linebackers are speed burners at about 230, 235, pounds. Their linebackers are built like some of our safeties. A team like Baltimore is more physical. They lock you up physically. I think our size matches up with their speed."
The Bengals have already had a big dose of Lewis during the preseason when he returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown in the Saints' 31-13 victory at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Saints showed they don't fool around on teams when they crushed punter Nick Harris on the play. The key? Harris can't kick it down the middle and he has to get major-league hang time.
Bennett tries to take over the AFC kick return lead against a Saints'' coverage team that is 14th in the league.
BURRIS, KAESVIHARN VS. STALLWORTH, HORN: The numbers aren't in Cincinnati's favor. These guys can run and their secondary has allowed 11 touchdown passes of 20 yards or more, four in the last three games.
With Jerome Pathon out of the lineup, Stallworth gets his first NFL start, but he's already got seven touchdowns and became the first rookie in 20 years to catch a touchdown in each his first four games, and four of the seven are for at least 28 yards.
After having trouble dealing with perennial 1,000-yard receiver Jimmy Smith last week, here comes Horm and his 1,205 yards second only to Terrell Owens in the NFC for his third straight 1,000-yard season with six 100-yard games.
JOHNSON VS. KNIGHT, BELLAMY: The word on the Saints is you can spread them out with multi-receiver sets and do damage in the passing game. They are the 28th pass defense in the league and have allowed 10 passes of 20 yards or more for touchdowns.
If this thing is going to be a shootout, Johnson is going to have to match Stallworth and Horn. Spreading it out may be the only way to run the ball on the Saints like it was against the Ravens of '00 and '01. They have to get one of their two huge tackles (it's normally Norman Hand instead of Grady Jackson) off the field. **
STEELE, WILLIAMS VS. BENTLEY, JACOX:** Williams, sharing the sack lead with Justin Smith at five, should have got some Pro Bowl consideration. He takes on double teams and still makes plays. And he'll have to this week if the Bengals are to stop running back Deuce McAllister, the NFC rushing leader with 1,245 yards.
McAllister has estimated he runs 60 percent of the time behind the guards and says, "when we run the power play, and one of the guards has to pull, you pretty much count that as a block."
Bentley, the rookie second-rounder from Ohio State who was the best center in the country last year, and Jacox, who also played center in college and with the Chargers, are versatile guys who are big and athletic. **
JONES VS. HOWARD:Jones has had a couple of tough outings the last two weeks, but the Bengals like how he has kept fighting through injuries and the experience he is gathering. They feel like they've got an excellent player for the next 10 years and he gets another shot to prove it against the Saints and their leading sacker with 7.5 sacks. Howard had three of the sacks against the Redskins, and has 24.5 in his three seasons. Middle linebacker Charlie Clemons has just a half-sack after getting 13.5 last year and has been bothered by a groin injury.
NUMBERS GAME:** All the numbers you need for this Sunday's game against the Saints, including 357, 16-7, and 7-16 That's how many days since the Bengals last won a home game, the Saints' second-best road record in the NFL since 2000, and the Bengals' home record since 2000.
50 _ Yards Saints returner Michael Lewis needs to break MarTay Jenkins' NFL all-time record of combined return yardage.
37.6 _ Yards Bengals allow per combined punt and kick.
3 _ Return TDs by Lewis this season.
4 _ Return TDs allowed by the Bengals this season, one off tying the NFL record.
42,092 _ Last week's attendance, smallest in PBS history.
25,336 _ Smallest non-strike attendance at Riverfront/Cinergy Field, at 37-7 victory over Atlanta on Dec. 3, 1978 as the Bengals went to 2-12.
4 _ Yards Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson needs to become club's first 1,000-yard receiver since Darnay Scott in 1999.
0 _ Teams in NFL history who have finished with one victory despite having a 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver.
15-11 _ Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna's touchdowns to interceptions in his 10 starts.
17-7 _ Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks' touchdowns to interceptions in his last 10 starts.
87.6 _ Kitna's passer rating in his 10 starts.
87.8 _ Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe's season passer rating.
100 _ Plays of 15 yards or more by the Saints' offense.
16 _ Plays of 15 yards or more allowed by the Bengals' defense this season for touchdowns.
413 _ Points the Saints have scored, second in NFL, 10 from breaking club record.
416 _ Points the Bengals have allowed, 45 from breaking club record.