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Cincinnati Bengals

A Year in the Life of the Bengals – 2003

Andrew Dunn

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And finally… mercifully… we have the turning of a corner in Bengals history.  We started this journey back in 1992, and though we have had some minor ups along the way, it’s mostly been a lot of bad memories that didn’t seem to have an end in sight.

Enter Carson Palmer and Marvin Lewis – an era we somehow still live in.  While we all have a lot to say on the situation these days, the outlook was considerably different back in 2003.  So much was about to change in the Queen City.

Other notable occurrences in 2003 – the $2 bill, while still in circulation, was last printed that year.  Outkast topped the music charts with Hey Ya! which is ironic because I was listening to that song early today for nostalgia purposes.  And 2003 was the year in which Steve Bartman became something of a baseball legend.  The Chicago Cubs were playing the Florida Marlins in the NLCS, and on what appeared to be a playable foul ball for Cubs’ left fielder Moises Alou, Bartman reached over and tipped the ball away from Alou.  The Cubs’ left fielder was outraged, the Cubs went on to lose the series, and Bartman became synonymous with all of the other various Cubs’ shortcomings over the years.

Now for our main event.  The 2003 Bengals effectively kicked off with the signing of Washington Redskins Defensive Coordinator Marvin Lewis to be the new head coach.  They would also hold the top draft pick that year, and used that selection on reigning Heisman trophy winning quarterback Carson Palmer out of USC.  Gone were the days of David Klingler, Jeff Blake, and Akili Smith – enter the upper-tier Palmer.  It is also worth noting that the Bengals drafted Eric Steinbach in the second round, a talented guard from Iowa who would go on to have some nice seasons in Cincinnati.

This 2003 team began their season much like so many of the teams before them, dropping three consecutive games to open the season and entering their Week 6 bye at 1-4.  It seemed that another woeful season awaited.  And then the team caught fire, winning six of seven out of the bye week, capping off the streak with a Week 13 win in Pittsburgh.  This setup a huge division-defining Week 14 game against the Baltimore Ravens, with the Bengals walking into the game 7-5, prepared to separate themselves at the head of the AFC North.

Like so many times since then, the team let us down, showing they were in no way ready for the spotlight, losing 31-13.  They would win Week 15 in a thriller against the 49ers, but dropped the final two games of the season to close out an 8-8 campaign, 2nd in the AFC North.

In a move that would be questioned by many in today’s NFL, Palmer did not play in 2003 – Jon Kitna remained at the helm, and what a season he had.  He tallied 3,591 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions en route to the best season of his career and earning the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award.  Chad Johnson was the primary beneficiary of Kitna’s stellar season, notching 1,355 yards on 90 catches and 10 scores.

This would also be the last year of note for former fourth-overall pick Peter Warrick, though it was arguably his best.  He managed 819 yards and seven touchdowns on 79 catches – he would make sporadic appearances in 2004 and 2005 (in Seattle), but this was effectively the end of his career.  Third-year receiver TJ Houshmandzadeh missed all of 2003 with a hamstring injury.

This is the longest any of our recent journeys have gone without a mention of Corey Dillon.  The Bengals’ star running back hit his proverbial rock bottom with the Bengals this season, as a combination of disgruntlement and injuries limited Dillon to only 541 yards on 3.9 yards per carry, easily his worst season in orange and black.  However, this was not all bad, as Rudi Johnson emerged as a pretty good running back, filling in to the tune of 957 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 4.5 yards per carry.

The defense still had its struggles as key linebacker Takeo Spikes had departed for Buffalo.  However, his spot was filled by former Jaguar and Cowboy Kevin Hardy, who racked up an impressive 124 tackles.  Duane Clemons and John Thornton had six sacks apiece, while Tory James began what would be a fairly impressive run in Cincinnati with four interceptions.

Having only been 13 years old at the time of this season, it’s hard for me to remember exactly how the feeling in town was, but I can recall quite a bit of excitement for what turned out to be an 8-8 team.  We knew that better times were ahead and we were excited at what all of these changes were becoming.  A new coach had turned the team around to be a competitive club, a new face had entered at running back, Chad was emerging as a top receiver… .we couldn’t wait to see what it would bring.

Tune in next week as we begin to examine the rise of Carson Palmer!

Andrew graduated from the University of Kentucky (direct your hate tweets to @atdu222) with a degree in Business Management and minor in Communications. You can find some of his previous works on Bleacher Report. Andrew is a lifelong fan of the Cincinnati Bengals and Reds... he was born in 1990, so his life as a sports fan has been pretty crappy until you extend the boundaries to Lexington. Andrew works full time for Western & Southern Financial Group and is married with a 1 year old daughter.

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Podcast

Austin, Bates and Kirkpatrick discuss George Iloka’s release

James Rapien

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I discuss the Bengals’ decision to release George Iloka on today’s podcast. Plus, hear from defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and the man who’s expected to replace Iloka in the starting lineup – Jessie Bates. Hear that and more on today’s Locked on Bengals podcast.

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Cincinnati Bengals

Grading the Bengals victory in Dallas

Russell Heltman

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The Cincinnati Bengals are undefeated halfway through the 2018 preseason slate but if the 2017 Browns taught us anything it’s that victories before September matter a lot less than the performances that go into them. With that being said it was a victorious night for the orange and black but it was rarely pretty, time to assess their performance in each phase of the game.

Offense: C-

It was an ugly night on offense for Cincinnati, The starters basically no-showed in the first half and here’s how each drive looked before they headed to the locker room: Punt, Punt, Punt, Fumble, Punt, Interception.

All in all the first-team offense put together two drives with no first downs and 10 total yards.

That’s enough to put any team down three scores early in a regular season game and plenty of those struggles were linked to the offensive line. The left side looked decent with Clint Boling and Cordy Glenn proving they can be trusted with backside pressure. Outside of that, it was pretty rough, Bobby Hart started the game at right tackle and was shredded by Pro Bowl end Demarcus Lawrence. Cedric Ogbuehi was even worse as his replacement, allowing a sack to Taco Charlton even though he was called for a hold on the play.

As for right guard and center, Trey Hopkins didn’t make any egregious mistakes and contributed as the center on a 14-play, 92-yard TD drive in the third quarter. The argument could be made for him to be the backup center over T.J. Johnson.

Rookie center Billy Price on the other hand still has a lot of work to do, some of it looks like rookie mistakes but that is now two games into his career where he’s looked a little lost. The former Buckeye isn’t quite where we need him to be three weeks from Indianapolis. Right now Joe Mixon is averaging 2.4 yards per carry in the preseason, don’t expect that to get much better without improvement up front.

On a positive note, Jeff Driskel looked competent and collected in the second half. The Florida product went 10-of-16, for 116 yards and 1 interception but he led the Bengals longest drive of the night highlighted by this gem to John Ross.

The Bengals got the win and scored 21 points but still have a long, long way to go on the offensive line.

Defense: A

I fully expect this group to be the heart and soul of the 2018 Cincinnati Bengals.

They were absolutely dominant in Dallas, especially on the defensive line where they picked up five sacks including this power rush from Jordan Willis.

Sam Hubbard, Nick Vigil, and Carl Lawson tallied a sack and highlighted this crew’s biggest strengths: depth and versatility. Teryl Austin has the luxury of a talented front seven that isn’t reliant on one or two players but on the machine as a whole. The Cowboys could never get into a rhythm offensively because Cincinnati consistently won the first two seconds of each play. Andrew Billings was a big part of that equation, he got pressure on the inside all night and all but cemented a starting spot alongside Geno Atkins.

Pair this group with another deep crew in the cornerback room and all of those issues I mentioned above might not matter if the defense only allows 13 points on a regular basis.

As for the last line of defense, rookie Jessie Bates III got some first-team reps in place of George Iloka and looked the part, Austin has talked about running more three-safety looks all offseason and Bates III is making that game plan look more likely each week.

The offense might not be ready but this defense, despite missing Vontaze Burfict, looks ready to pounce on Andrew Luck in week one.

Special Teams: B+

This was arguably the Jonathan Brown game.

The soccer convert out of Louisville had never kicked a field goal at any level before coming to the NFL and now he has put the pressure on incumbent kicker Randy Bullock. Brown went 2-for-2 on field goal tries including a 55-yard field in the third quarter, that would have tied the Bengals regular season record set by Mike Nugent.

Marvin Lewis came out after the game and said Bullock is still the guy, which isn’t big news, he did go 18-of-20 for the Bengals last season, but keep an eye on Brown over the last two preseason games. Cincinnati let a young kicker go last year who is shaping up to be pretty special.

As far as the return game goes, Darius Phillips will be returning his fair share of kicks for the Bengals this season. he flashed serious game-breaking ability last night, finishing with three returns for 96 total yards. Making it pretty clear how he left Western Michigan as the NCAA’s all-time leader in return touchdowns.

Phillips can slide in alongside Alex Erickson this season and form one of the most dynamic return duos in the NFL. The Cowboys put together a couple of nice kickoff returns but Cincinnati’s unit won the night in the end.

The Bengals were edged out in one phase while dominating the other two and that often leads to victories in the NFL. We will see if they can link all three together next week in Buffalo.

 

For more quick-hit thoughts on the Bengals follow me on Twitter: @russheltman11

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Players are buying into Bill Lazor’s offense

James Rapien

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The Bengals finished dead last in total offense last season. Yes, the 0-16 Browns finished ahead of them. So did the Colts, who played all 16 games without quarterback Andrew Luck. If you love offense, then you probably didn’t enjoy watching the Bengals last season. They scored less than 10 points in five games and didn’t reach the end zone until week three.

The offense hit rock bottom in 2017, but they don’t expect that trend to continue. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor led a complete overhaul of an offensive that had been in place since Andy Dalton and A.J. Green were drafted in 2011. Sure, they made some tweaks over the past seven seasons, but nothing like this. Lazor rebuilt an offense that needed it desperately and the players are buying in.

“I like it. It’s different terminology, numbers and stuff like that,” Alex Erickson said. “It’s obviously challenging in the beginning, but we’ve had minicamp and OTA’s to really learn it. It’s allowed us to really progress this training camp.”

Erickson hasn’t played on a winning Bengals team. He beat out Brandon Tate for a roster spot in 2016, after going undrafted. The former Wisconsin Badger is one of the many weapons that Lazor has in his arsenal. Did he design a system that will put the skill players in the best position to succeed? That’s a question that cannot be answered until actual games start, but it’s been asked since Lazor was named offensive coordinator.

The Bengals used high draft picks on skill players over the past three seasons. They drafted a wide receiver in the top ten, a running back in the second round and multiple wide receivers in rounds two through four. They have former pro bowler Tyler Eifert, a talented running back like Giovani Bernard and a top five wide receiver in Green. Did Lazor design a system that will get the most out of a young, but talented offense? Third-year wide receiver Tyler Boyd loves the depth this team has.

“We got fresh guys out there. Guys that are hungry,” Boyd said. “Guys that are willing and dying to get out there on the field and make plays. Every guy wants the best out of each other. We do a great job of motivating each other, grinding hard and competing with one another. We all have a great friendship. We’re all cool and we’re all real tight. We all want everyone to play a part. We don’t want it to just be me and A.J. all of the time. We are able to get me and A.J. a break or get two fresh guys in there and continue what we were doing. It makes it a lot easier for the offense to improve from last year.”

That unselfishness is important to have, even on a team that finished dead last in total offense last season. There are a lot of mouths to feed. From Joe Mixon and Bernard, to Eifert and Tyler Kroft, who are both in contract years. Boyd is eager to prove last year was a mere speed bump, in what will be a successful career in Cincinnati. Former ninth overall pick John Ross not only wants to move past last season, he wants to show people that the Bengals made the right decision when they drafted him in 2017. Instead of worrying about their own touches, it seems like the offense is more worried about being successful.

Fans got their first glimpse of Lazor’s new offense last Thursday at Paul Brown Stadium. The first-team offense scored two touchdowns on three drives. Dalton completed six passes to five different players. They were nearly perfect, outside of an interception that occurred when Ross fell down on a route. The Bengals are buying into Lazor’s system and the skill players are excited about their potential.

“You look at the depth at each and every position. To me, it’s absolutely insane,” tight end C.J. Uzomah said. “It’s not fair – how much skill we have. The offensive line is protecting well. When we’re able to establish the run early, I think that opens everything else up.”

The Bengals will need to be better on the ground this season. They averaged 3.6 yards-per-carry last year and finished next to last in the NFL in total rushing yards with 1,366. Detroit was last with 1,221. If this team is going to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015, they’re going to need their rushing attack to take a significant step forward. The offensive line is expected to be better with the additions of Cordy Glenn, Billy Price and Bobby Hart. Improvement up front will give Lazor a chance to show he can properly utilize two dynamic and versatile running backs in Mixon and Bernard.

And while the Bengals offense may begin with the ground game, it certainly won’t end there. They have made a concerted effort to throw the ball downfield in training camp. That makes sense when you have Green, Ross and other young players who are capable of making huge plays. Rookie Auden Tate has been impressive and so has second-year wide receiver Josh Malone.

They have shown their potential throughout training camp. Don’t look now, but this offense may complete a 180-degree turnaround from where they were a year ago.

 

For more on Bengals training camp, listen to today’s Locked on Bengals podcast:

 

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