Off allowing 47 points in back-to-back games, the unit of Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer heard plenty about fundamentals before it left for the bye week. The only time the Bengals gave up more in consecutive games last year came in 30-10 and 27-24 losses to the Vikings and Chargers, respectively, on the road.
Sunday's 24-21 loss to the Bucs was the first time in seven home games the Bengals allowed more than 13 points and Zimmer is looking to get back to those days when allowing 20 or more was rare. Of course, the offense did give Tampa Bay seven of those and the Bucs scored 17 points off turnovers.
"Get back to some fundamentals, technique stuff," Zimmer said of his plan. "Things we have to get more proficient at. We've got a lot of stuff and we make hard for the offenses but we're not proficient enough in what we do. We've got 10 guys doing it right and one guy doing it wrong. So we're going to work on being more proficient."
The biggest eyesore is lack of sacks. It's not good when safety Chris Crocker is the team leader with two and the designated pass rushers (Robert Geathers, Antwan Odom, Michael Johnson, Geno Atkins) have combined for one sack.
Zimmer said the "front four" rushed a little better against Tampa Bay on Sunday, but 13 of the 47 points have come in the final 2:18 of the half or game largely because of no pressure. The best thing the Bengals may have done all week to light a fire under the pass rush is bring in former Ravens and Patriots linebacker Adalius Thomas for a workout.
The Bengals didn't sign him, but he's on their radar if there is an injury or they find themselves in the race and are still having problems getting to the quarterback. Of the seven guys they worked out, he would seem to be the one that has the best chance of ending up here.
The 33-year-old Thomas has plenty of ties on the coaching staff, starting with head coach Marvin Lewis, his first defensive coordinator when the Ravens drafted him in the sixth round in 2000. Bengals linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald was Thomas's position coach with the Ravens in the three years he emerged as a pass-rushing force at outside linebacker after four years he paid his dues as a defensive end/special-teamer. Thomas had 28 of his career 53 sacks in his three seasons under FitzGerald before he went to the Pats.
FitzGerald hosted Thomas on his trip here and found him to be as athletic as usual in the workout. He's down to 259 pounds from his 270 back in the day and is hungry for a shot.
"He looks really good. He didn't have much of an opportunity the last four years," FitzGerald said. "They didn't do much with him in New England and he's eager to get back in the game and do all those things he did in Baltimore. ... He's always been able to get sacks."
Stat timeout: The Bengals starting front four has 48.5 career sacks.
FitzGerald says Thomas could be a SAM backer, or a defensive end, or the X backer that roams when the defense goes with a three-man line. He's also willing to play special teams, where Thomas literally made a huge niche as a monster cover player.
(Still hurting from the opening day kick return, the Bengals are 27th in the league covering kicks and tied for 10th on punts.)
*TRYOUTS: *According to various media reports, the Bengals also tried out wide receivers Michael Clayton and James Hardy, safety Al Afalava, defensive tackle Dre Moore, center Nick Leckey and nose tackle Tank Tyler.
The Bengals liked the 6-5, 220-pound Hardy's size coming out of Indiana in 2008 and were disappointed when the Bills grabbed him five spots before they could at No. 41. That pick spurred quite a run. Eddie Royal went to Denver at No. 42 and has been solid. Jerome Simpson went to the Bengals at No. 46 and has been inactive more than active. DeSean Jackson went to the Eagles at No. 49 and is a Pro Bowler. Limas Sweed went to the Steelers at No. 53 and busted.
But since then Hardy has had three injuries, including an ACL, and that won't cut it in the post-Antonio Bryant era. Clayton worked out on his 28th birthday, but he was out at Tampa Bay because he wasn't a speedster and that would have to concern the Bengals.
CLOCK IT: Lewis isn't the only coach this week that stood up to take responsibility for key plays in last Sunday's game. While he said it was his call to be aggressive and to go for the first down via passing on third-and-13 with 2:28 left, Zimmer says he wishes he had backed off and called a timeout with 14 seconds left. Before Tampa Bay's final offensive snap, a 21-yard pass to wide receiver Micheal Spurlock working on cornerback Johnathan Joseph that turned a 52-yard field goal into a 31-yarder.
"Everything was so hectic at that point. Fourteen seconds left, ball turned over, ball's on the (34). They're running guys on, we're trying to get guys in," Zimmer said. "We had a timeout out there. I should have used it and got everything settled down."
HALL OF FAMERS: FitzGerald is using the bye week to get inducted into the Hall of Fame at his alma mater before Friday night's game in Burbank, Calif., at John Burroughs High School. Small world. Bengals receivers coach Mike Sheppard is also going in.
"They sent us some dates when we could go, and it turned out that the bye was one of them, so it really worked out," FitzGerald said.
Fitzgerald, 50, smiles and says he didn't know Sheppard, 58, in high school.
DRAW BLOOD: Wednesday's ninth annual Bengals/Hoxworth Community Blood Drive at Paul Brown Stadium collected a total of 808 blood products, and for the sixth time in a row the event is the year's largest blood drive in Greater Cincinnati.
"Each unit donated can save up to three lives," said Hoxworth director Dr. Ronald A. Sacher in a Bengals news release, "so we are estimating that the drive will save more than 2,400 lives in the Tri-State area. We are thrilled with the support that Bengals fans have shown."
Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers served as the event's official spokesperson for the second straight year and his donation was matched by head coach Marvin Lewis and several teammates at an event also sponsored by Local 12 (WKRC-TV) and Quest Diagnostics.
"As always, it's an honor to help take part in this drive," said Lewis in the release. "We congratulate everyone who participated. There is no substitute for this vital resource, and no other way to obtain it."
Donations can be scheduled at Hoxworth at 513-451-0910 or 800-830-1091 for several local locations.