Fantasy: Bengals' Wideouts

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24


Christopher Harris analyzes the Bengals' wide receivers for Week 8.
CINCINNATI -- When Paul Guenther was promoted this offseason to become the Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator, some were a little surprised by the move.

Those critical of the move mostly felt that way because they viewed Guenther as the antithesis to his predecessor, Mike Zimmer, the current Minnesota Vikings head coach.

For six seasons as defensive coordinator, Zimmer used a gruff, brutish and verbally crude leadership style to get the best out of his players. He would scream, he would yell, he would curse. He would be successful.

[+] EnlargeRey Maualuga and Paul Guenther
AP Photo/Al BehrmanBengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther isn't a screamer by nature, but he raised the decibel level this week.
As abrasive as they might have seemed, Zimmer's tactics worked. The Bengals had one of the better defensive units in the league under his watch. The Bengals ranked third in the NFL in total defense last season, the highest ranking a Bengals defense had in more than 30 years.

When it comes to Guenther, the first-year coordinator doesn't do many of the things that were hallmarks of Zimmer's coaching style. He doesn't scream, at least not too much. He doesn't yell often. Where Zimmer was viewed as a coach players feared and respected, Guenther is seen as one they can relate to and befriend.

"There's different ways to go about it," Guenther said, asked about his approach with players following three straight rough defensive performances. "Sometimes when you yell and scream all the time, they tune you out. But sometimes you've got to take that approach.

"In this case, that's what was needed."

Guenther didn't mince words during defensive meetings at the start of the week. He was critical of what players were doing wrong and adamant about the younger players knowing more about the defense than the starters ahead of them. When the Bengals were wiped out at linebacker last week at Indianapolis, a trio of reserves -- one a rookie, one a seldom-used second-year player -- finished the game at the positions because of injuries.

"I don't ever want to use that we have guys hurt as an excuse," Guenther said. "We go play. I've always preached that, even when I coached linebackers. When somebody goes down, the next guy goes in and he's got to know what to do. Point blank."

Defensive end Wallace Gilberry didn't see Guenther flip a switch and turn into a different coach in meetings this week, but he could tell the coordinator was desperate to make the defense's key fixes.

"Paulie's the same guy. He believes in us," Gilberry said. "He knows that the calls, and the guys he's giving the calls to, are there. It's just a matter of us getting it done. No one's jumped off ship and there's no reason to. You just got to get back and pull your weight. Grab the oars and pull your weight."

It wasn't all yelling and screaming for Guenther this week. He offered words of encouragement, too.

Despite losing 27-0 and giving up 500 yards of offense for the second time in three weeks, he saw flashes of good play last Sunday from his defense, which was on the field a whopping 39 minutes, 43 seconds.

"Coach was telling us, 'Dude, for the first half of the game, it felt like we were getting back to who we were,'" defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "It was encouraging to see us getting back to three-and-outs and playing fast. We'll be all right if we keep that mentality going, and if we keep that energy going throughout the whole game, we should be a tough team to beat."
INDIANAPOLIS – Hakeem Nicks will have an increased in the Indianapolis Colts’ offense against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday with fellow receiver Reggie Wayne not playing because of an elbow injury.

“I look forward to every opportunity,” Nicks said. “Each week I prepare accordingly, prepare like I’m going to play, just like I’m going to play this week. Just have to go out there and play within the offense and everything will be good.”

The increased snaps could help Nicks get going because he has gotten off to a slow start since signing with the Colts in the offseason.

Nicks, the Colts’ No. 3 receiver, is tied for sixth on the team in receptions with 17 for 141 yards and two touchdowns. He was targeted only once and didn’t have a reception against the Cincinnati Bengals last weekend.

“I knew the situation coming into it,” Nicks said. “I knew I had to have plenty of patience. We’re winning and that’s the most important thing. As long as we keep getting these [wins] everybody is happy.”

The lack of catches isn’t entirely Nicks’ fault. He’s part of an offense where quarterback Andrew Luck has excelled at spreading the ball around. Luck had back-to-back games earlier this season where he completed passes to nine different players.

"He's made an impact with the offense,” offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. “I think the ball is being spread around, and his opportunities are going to come. The more they adjust to take away certain receivers, tight ends or whoever it may be, it's just a matter of time before a pro like Hakeem has an opportunity to capitalize on the right matchup."
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- On the day the Baltimore Ravens announced that tight end Owen Daniels is out for Sunday's game, they essentially revealed that the starting left side of their offensive line will return.

Offensive tackle Eugene Monroe and guard Kelechi Osemele are both considered probable for the first-place battle at Cincinnati. They haven't been on the field together for the past four weeks.

Monroe and Osemele, both of whom are dealing with knee injuries, had full participation in every practice this week.

Defensive end Chris Canty, who is out for Sunday's game, has been cleared "to start training heavily," coach John Harbaugh said. "It's a matter of how fast he can get back in shape." Canty will miss his fourth straight game.

As for the Cincinnati Bengals, wide receiver A.J. Green is doubtful with a toe injury. The rest of the injury report:

Out: TE Owen Daniels (knee, did not practice Friday), DE Chris Canty (wrist, did not practice Friday).

Probable: OT Eugene Monroe (knee, full participation), G Kelechi Osemele (knee, full participation).
CINCINNATI -- Injured Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert was eligible to return to practice Wednesday afternoon. But he didn't.

The Bengals are now hopeful that the player who has been occupying a spot on their short-term injured reserve can make it back to work next Wednesday, days before they take on the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"We were aiming for a week from now," coach Marvin Lewis said Friday, adding that he didn't know exactly when Eifert might return to practice.

It's worth pointing out that the Bengals don't expect him to be ready against the Jaguars, even if he practices next week. Short-term IR rules give teams the option to reinstate injured players for practice purposes starting six weeks after they are placed under the injury-list designation. Two weeks after returning to practice, they are permitted to play in a game.

That's why, since Eifert went on the short-term IR on Sept. 10, the expectation has been that he would be healthy enough to practice this week, and to play in the Week 10 game against the Cleveland Browns. That's two weeks after this Sunday's Week 8 game against the Baltimore Ravens.

At this point, Eifert wouldn't be ready for that one, either.

"Obviously we wouldn't put him in to play with practice on a short week even if he was going to play anyway," Lewis said.

The Bengals' game against the Browns is on a Thursday night. That means Cincinnati will have a little extra time to get Eifert right after he dislocated his right elbow reaching for extra yard in the season-opening win at Baltimore. If he practices next week, he'll be ready in time for the Bengals' Week 11 game at New Orleans. That will be the first of three games on the road in the month of November.

Eifert has just three catches for 37 yards, all coming through one quarter of playing time in the opener. For the better part of the past month, he has been out of a sling and participating in conditioning drills off to the side during Bengals practices and before games.
CINCINNATI -- About a half hour before the Cincinnati Bengals released their injury report Friday afternoon, coach Marvin Lewis sounded more optimistic about A.J. Green playing this weekend than he had the last three weeks.

According to Lewis, Green (toe) has "looked better and better" during his rehab all this week. He peaked Friday, when he "looked like football form," Lewis said.

But despite that optimism, there is some pessimism about whether Green really will be able to help the Bengals this weekend when the Baltimore Ravens come to town.

That's because Green was listed as doubtful on the Bengals' injury report. That means, in a probability sense, the Bengals believe he has a 25 percent chance of participating in Sunday's game.

Along with Green, defensive tackle Brandon Thompson, who returned to practice in a limited capacity this week, was listed as questionable. Thompson might still be about a week away as he finishes recovering from a knee injury that has had him out since Week 2. Cincinnati will welcome the reserve lineman back with open arms when he makes his return, because he should give them a much-needed jolt in run-stopping situations.

Here's the Bengals' full injury report:

LB Rey Maualuga (hamstring)

WR A.J. Green (toe)

DT Brandon Thompson (knee)

RB Giovani Bernard (ribs)
CB Leon Hall (back)
TE Kevin Brock (neck)
LB Vontaze Burfict (neck)
DE Wallace Gilberry (eye)
LB Emmanuel Lamur (shoulder)
OT Marshall Newhouse (back)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
OT Andre Smith (shoulder)
DE Robert Geathers (toe)
CINCINNATI -- If you have already benched Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green on your fantasy team and penciled him in as "out" for Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens, don't.

His head coach gave a rather sizable nugget of hope Friday afternoon that Green could play this weekend.

After uttering his normal "we'll see," when asked about Green's status for Sunday's game, coach Marvin Lewis added that his injured Pro Bowl superstar has been progressing well through his rehab duties all this week.

"He looks good and each day of this week, he has looked better and better, and [Friday], he looked like football form," Lewis said.

For a third straight day this week, Green (toe) was training off to the side of the Bengals' practice surface, going through rehab and conditioning drills that tested his speed, agility, quickness and cut-ability. The fourth-year receiver has spent all season battling an injury to his right big toe that he has all but called turf toe. Since aggravating the injury in a practice three weeks ago, he has seen a pair of foot specialists who told him to expect to try to return this weekend.

During this latest workout, Green was seen during the open practice period jogging and performing various agility and speed drills. He didn't seem to favor the injury much when he was put through a series of short bursts and sprints.

Since last Friday, Lewis has remarked about how true Green's progression has been to the doctors' prognoses.

"It's a feel thing," Lewis said about Green's injury. "It's a feel and pain and tolerance thing that way."

After resting Green last week and the week before, the Bengals are hoping to get the wideout beyond the uncomfortable feeling that popped up in that practice three weeks ago. They know he's going to have a measure of pain associated with the toe the rest of the season, but they want him to not have to worry about whether the feel is off or the pain intolerable the rest of the season.

"That's what we're trying to avoid," Lewis said. "We're trying to get over the hump and find the solution that, other than totally shutting him down the rest of the season, will get him the rest of the season or as much of the season as we can get him.

"I don't want him to be frustrated by it. I want him to feel good about when he tells me, 'OK, I'm ready to go.'"

One week after Green was injured in the Bengals' season opener at Baltimore, he tried to give the foot a go in the Week 2 game against Atlanta. He only lasted six plays before having to come out.

In three-plus games, he has 17 catches for 314 yards and two touchdowns.
The Cincinnati Bengals have a lot to prove this week against the Baltimore Ravens, but their offense -- one that looked incredibly inept at the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday -- may have the most at stake. Being back at home and in a familiar venue where it has performed well this season may help the unit.

Cincinnati has played three games at home and three games on the road this season, but it has been significantly better offensively at Paul Brown Stadium. There, inside the place nicknamed "The Jungle," the Bengals have 450 more total yards, four fewer sacks allowed, 34 more first downs and a 17 percent higher completion percentage than on the road. After a month away from the "W" column, the Bengals will get back there this week, thanks to their offense.

Bengals 23, Ravens 17
CINCINNATI -- In their two losses this season, the Cincinnati Bengals converted just five percent of third-down chances they have had.

Yes, five ... percent.

Only one of the 20 third-down conversion opportunities have gone favorably for them in the two games that have been lost by a combined score of 70-17.

When an offense isn't able to turn third-down opportunities into first downs, it stays on the field for a shorter amount of time, and it greatly diminishes its scoring capability. That offense also is susceptible to allowing its short, quick possessions to turn into long ones for its defense.

Case in point: last Sunday's game at Indianapolis.

That afternoon, the Bengals were 1-for-13 on third down. They simply couldn't get anything done offensively, and ended up losing, 27-0. Beyond that, they also lost the time of possession battle by nearly 20 minutes, as the Colts' offense was on the field for 39 minutes and 43 seconds, wearing down Cincinnati's defenders in the process.

Why were the Bengals so awful on third down in both losses? To find the answer, we have to look all the way back to first and second down. When a team doesn't execute on first or second down, third-and-long scenarios become far more common than necessary. When an offense is in third-and-long, it's chances of getting a first down greatly diminish.

"It's kind of tough when you don't get positive yards on first down," receiver Mohamed Sanu said. "We can't start that way. You've got to get positive yards to stay within our game plan to be able to execute it."

This season, teams have a nearly 26 percent better chance of converting a first down from third-and-4 or shorter than they do of converting a third-and-5 or longer. According to ESPN Stats & Information, NFL offenses are averaging a 58.3 percent conversion rating on third-and-4 or shorter, and a 32.4 percent conversion rating on third-and-5 or longer.

It might be simplistic in nature, but it is a football truism: The best way a team can avoid third-and-longs is if it gains meaningful yards on first and second down.

"First downs are important," Bengals Pro Bowl offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "It doesn't matter if we are throwing it or running it. [It's about] getting something positive there. Something to put yourself in a positive down and distance for second and third down."

Against the Colts last week, the Bengals had six drives that began with them either losing yards or not gaining any on their first-down plays. They had 14 drives total.

Such problems were exacerbated by the fact the Bengals had trouble running the ball when they did. Despite trailing only 10-0 in the first half, they barely ran. At halftime, the running backs had eight rushes. Of those, Bengals ball carriers were first contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage on six of them. It was a clear sign that even if the Bengals could run on first down, the Colts' suffocating defense wasn't trying to let them.

Combine that with short or incomplete passes on first down, and you got a series of long third downs. Nine of the Bengals' 13 third downs last week came from third-and-7 or further. The others came with them needing four or fewer yards. The lone conversion of the day came on a third-and-4.

"In the NFL, stats will show you third-and-long means you are not going to have a very good day," Whitworth said. "If that's what you are going to have all day long, it is going to be a rough day."

Of the teams with the 11-lowest conversion ratings on third-and-5 or longer, the Bengals, at 3-2-1, are the only one with a winning record.
CINCINNATI -- Much of this week has been devoted to discussing how the Cincinnati Bengals' defense has changed from the first three games this season to the last three.

Indeed, the defense has made a 180-degree turn, going from an attacking and aggressive unit and becoming a softer, less physical group that has fans, players and coaches alike apoplectic over its sudden demise. It is safe to say the defensive issues have been a very real factor in the Bengals' 0-2-1 record since their Week 4 bye.

But also at issue has been the way they have started games.

When the year began, the Bengals made it a habit of not only scoring quickly in the first quarter, but extending their scoring into the second quarter, as well. By doing that, they had built up big enough leads at halftime, that the Ravens, Falcons and Titans had deep early holes to climb out of in the second halves of those games.

Only once in the first three games did the Bengals allow a first-half score -- a 46-yard field goal from Atlanta's Matt Bryant. Combined, the Bengals had built up a whopping 44-3 score through the first halves of all three games. That 41-point margin was the second-largest in the league for a team at halftime through the first three games. They also commanded the time of possession advantage in those contests, holding onto the ball for nearly three minutes longer than their opponents in the first two quarters.

Against the Patriots, Panthers and Colts, it was a different story.

In the past three games, Cincinnati has been outscored 40-20 at halftime, which was one of the seven-worst first-half point margins in the league during Weeks 5-7. They also have lost the first-half time of possession battle in the last three weeks to an NFL-worst six-minute and 20-second deficit.

When you don't have the ball, and you don't score points, losses aren't very far around the corner.

"That was one of the keys coming into [last Sunday's game]," defensive tackle Domata Peko said, "to start faster. Because the last couple of games, teams have been driving on us and scoring in the first quarter."

All of this is to simply affirm how important it is for the Bengals to jump out quickly on the Ravens this Sunday. It took the Bengals four and a half minutes to score when they played at Baltimore during the season opener, getting a Mike Nugent field goal. Although multiple promising early drives ended in field goals that day, the fact remained that the Bengals were at least putting points on the scoreboard when the Ravens weren't.

By halftime, they led 15-0 thanks to five Nugent field goals.

Would possessing the ball first help the Bengals on Sunday? Possibly, but they had the ball first in only one of their three wins. In the other two games, they got strong stands from their defense before the offense settled for field goals at the end of the ensuing possessions.

In two of the last three games, the Bengals didn't score until the second quarter. In the third, they didn't score in any quarter.

Cincinnati has won four of its six coin tosses this season, and has deferred possession each time. Last week, the Bengals lost the coin toss but Indianapolis still wanted to get the ball first. Might the Bengals similarly consider having possession first to get the offense out for an early yard-churning, time-eating drive?

Perhaps. But it's more likely they'll stick with the old formula of challenging the defense to get an opening-drive stop.

Whatever tactic they choose, the Bengals need a fast start.
CINCINNATI -- It may still be a little early on the schedule, but the Cincinnati Bengals believe they have already reached their first statement game of the year.

"This is a real important game for us," veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said, referring to Sunday's afternoon contest against the first-place Baltimore Ravens.

Baltimore currently holds the AFC North lead after the Bengals lost last week at Indianapolis. With the teams going in opposite directions right now -- the Ravens are 5-1 since losing to the Bengals in the season opener, and the Bengals are 0-2-1 in their last three games -- Sunday's division game becomes that much bigger.

A loss, and the Bengals' season could enter into a potentially irrevocable tailspin. A win, and suddenly they are right back atop the AFC North and in the conversation about the top teams in the league once again.

"Throughout the year I always say it's about the longevity of the season, not just one game," Whitworth said. "But this is an important one because it's a chance for us to claim back our position in the division and not only that, but to go 2-0 against them would be a great way to continue the rest of the season. It's a great opportunity."

While Whitworth is encouraging his teammates to realize the gravity of the moment before them, cornerback Adam Jones is encouraging them to be confident enough to expect the game to go favorably.

"When we go and win this game," Jones said, "we'll be back on the top of the division."

That's the kind of confidence the Bengals need right now.

Fresh off a 27-0 loss at Indianapolis, this has been a week filled with frustration and defined by fury.

"Guys are mad, they're not real happy," Whitworth said. "But at the same time they're excited for this opportunity and the opportunity to show the team we are.

"At some point you have to stand up and put a stop to it. This is an important week for us to get back on a positive track and see if we can put some wins together."
CINCINNATI -- A.J. Green missed his second straight practice of the week Thursday afternoon, but the Cincinnati Bengals did end up receiving a jolt to their health when veterans Leon Hall and Robert Geathers made it back after missing Wednesday's workout.

Just like the day before, Green was relegated to the rehab field off to the side of the Bengals' workout space adjacent to Paul Brown Stadium. During the open portion of the practice he was seen going back through some of the conditioning and agility drills he went through on Wednesday. He also was spotted wearing his black Bengals practice jersey, and he walked out to the rehab space carrying his helmet.

It was the first time he at least had been in practice attire.

What does all of that mean? It means the Bengals are still holding out hope that after the work Green is going through this week that he will be ready when they hit the field Sunday afternoon for a key division game with the Ravens.

The Pro Bowl receiver has been trying to return this week from a toe injury that has nagged him since Week 1, and one that will likely continue to bother him the rest of the season. Green still hasn't practiced in three weeks, when he left a Wednesday practice at the end of stretching. He aggravated the right big toe during the start of that workout. Since then, he has missed the last two games. He lasted only six plays in the Week 2 win over the Falcons.

As for Hall, the cornerback returned to practice after taking Wednesday off because of a lower back injury he sustained Sunday.

Geathers also was back after a toe injury held him out of the first practice this week, while running back Giovani Bernard practiced again this week, but in limited capacity.

Slowly, but surely, the Bengals are getting healthier.

Here's a look at the full Bengals injury report:

LB Rey Maualuga

WR A.J. Green (toe)
OT Andrew Whitworth (veteran's day off)

RB Giovani Bernard (ribs)
OG Clint Boling (veterans' day partially off)
CB Leon Hall (back)

TE Kevin Brock (neck)
LB Vontaze Burfict (neck)
DE Robert Geathers (toe)
DE Wallace Gilberry (eye)
LB Emmanuel Lamur (shoulder)
OT Marshall Newhouse (back)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
OT Andre Smith (shoulder)
DT Brandon Thompson (knee)

ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando delivers stats to help you make a pick for Baltimore at Cincinati.
CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals are desperate to change the mostly bad vibes that exist around them this week.

It seems they have been thinking a few good vibrations would help.

For the first time since Marvin Lewis became head coach 12 years ago, the Bengals played music at the start of practice Thursday afternoon, in an apparent act of trying to keep the players loose in the middle of what has been arguably the most challenging week of the season.

Last Sunday, the Bengals dropped a game 27-0 at Indianapolis in which their offense failed to cross midfield for more than 48 minutes, and one in which they converted just one third down. The loss came on the heels of another loss that was followed up by a tie. The 0-2-1 record since the Bengals' Week 4 bye has made their undefeated 3-0 start look like an aberration.

They are focused this week on proving that it wasn't.

One way they have attempted to do that was to put players at ease by blasting music from Cincinnati radio station 101.1 "The Wiz" FM over a set of speakers set up on the field. The speakers normally are brought out during weeks the Bengals are going on the road to simulate crowd noise. On this day, four days before their home game against the Baltimore Ravens, the Bengals had music coming from the speakers.

During the half-hour corridor when practice was open, several songs played. The most notable were Beyonce's "Partition," "Latch," from Disclosure and Sam Smith, and T.I.'s "All about the money."

As the tunes blared across the practice fields during stretching and position-specific drills, several players were seen nodding their heads and bouncing. They certainly looked looser than they have been all week.

Earlier this week, in an interview with, defensive end Wallace Gilberry said he's felt like the fun had been zapped from the team since its winless streak began.

"We're not having fun," Gilberry said. "Guys are trying too much, and when you're trying too much, it causes tension -- not within the group, but tension in what you're doing. We've just got to get back to having fun. Having fun and flying around and just making plays."
CINCINNATI -- When Cincinnati Bengals defensive sat down in their auditorium style meeting room Monday afternoon, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther directed their attention to the screen at the front of the room.

On it, he showed select plays from the unit's first three games of the year. They were games in which Bengals defenders held teams to an NFL-low 11 points per game and a stingy 31.7 third-down conversion percentage. The defense also sacked quarterbacks seven times in those games and forced seven turnovers.

It was the sight of good football being played.

Moments later, Guenther showed them select plays from the unit's last three games. Those were games in which Bengals defenders allowed teams to score an average 35.7 points per game and convert 41.3 percent of the third downs they encountered. Cincinnati's defense also could only muster three sacks and three turnovers in those games.


"It looked like a totally different team," defensive end Wallace Gilberry said.

But it wasn't.

"The funny part about it is that it's the same group of guys sitting in the meeting room watching [the film]," Gilberry said. "We're all here. We just have to get back to finding that mode."

Beyond rediscovering that attacking, physical and, in Gilberry's words, "fun," mode of play, Bengals defenders are out to do something else Sunday when they host the Ravens. They want to let the past -- good, bad and ugly -- remain behind them. They are out this weekend to make a new memory; one that will let them be glad to review film this coming Monday afternoon.

"A lot has been said about the first three games and then the last three games, but we're trying to make this game totally different," linebacker Vincent Rey said.

While the Bengals were good in the first three games this season, they want to play even better this week. They believe they can.

Part of the reason is because help could be coming this Sunday in the form of relief from several serious injuries. Linebackers Emmanuel Lamur and Vontaze Burfict practiced Wednesday after missing time in Sunday's 27-0 loss at Indianapolis because of respective ailments. Lamur didn't start the game after suffering a left shoulder injury at the end of regulation in the Bengals' overtime tie the week before. Burfict did start, but didn't finish Sunday's game after suffering a first-quarter neck injury.

Along with their appearances at practice, defensive tackle Brandon Thompson, a reserve who mainly plays on rushing downs, also returned to work. Thompson has been out since Week 2 rehabbing a knee injury he picked up in that game. In the games since he was lost, the Bengals have given up nearly 80 yards more per game rushing than they had in the two he played before getting hurt.

When Rey watched Guenther's film, he was appalled.

"You're just upset with yourself, maybe embarrassed at a couple of plays that you may have done out there," he said.

Guenther's biggest takeaway from the differences in play his unit has exhibited this season? Energy.

"They understand that we have to play with energy all the time," Guenther said. "When we do that, we're hard to beat. That's what we did in the first three games. We tackled well, we played with great energy, we ran to the football, we took blocks on, we covered guys, the whole thing. There's ups and downs in the NFL. That's what I told them. When you get in a little rut, the good teams can't come out of it, but the great teams come out of it.

"I have to help them out of it, and the players have to take the lead on that, too, in the locker room. They need to say, 'Hey, we need to start playing better and get our ass going.'"