3 Cincinnati Bengals

Marvin Lewis is rebuilding his porous defense on the same foundation that brought him success elsewhere: bruising linebackers
September 04, 2005

HIS SECOND season as an NFL head coach was off to a miserable start, and Marvin Lewis decided enough was enough. Tired of watching opposing offenses effortlessly roll up the yards against his team, Lewis took over the defensive game-planning and play-calling duties from embattled coordinator Leslie Frazier before the fifth game of the season. The one-game experiment officially became a disaster midway through the opening quarter, when the Browns, pinned near their own goal line, scored on Jeff Garcia's 99-yard touchdown pass to Andre' Davis.

Three hours later, after a 34-17 defeat in which Cincinnati allowed 449 yards to a lowly Cleveland offense, Lewis gathered his players in the locker room and cracked, "Well, I just proved I could give up 34 points--just like anybody else."

Upon the completion of a second consecutive 8-8 campaign, Lewis made some tougher calls: He replaced Frazier and three defensive starters. "If you don't tackle well, that's a very frustrating thing, and it is somewhat a correctable skill," Lewis says. "You coach them as hard as you can, and then if they don't get it, you replace them in the off-season."

As the architect of the Ravens' record-setting defense in their Super Bowl season of 2000, as well as other punishing units in Pittsburgh and Washington, Lewis knew precisely how to address the problem: The Bengals' defense needed some dawg in it, and in April the coach took that philosophy to a new level, using the team's first two draft picks on a pair of relentless defenders from Georgia, end David Pollack and linebacker Odell Thurman.

Lewis and his new defensive coordinator, Chuck Bresnahan, projected Pollack, the No. 17 pick, and Thurman, a second-rounder, as immediate impact players--and Cincinnati's offensive players were quick to understand why. "What stands out are their motors," says wideout Chad Johnson. "They're consistently moving, moving, moving. They just don't stop. Most players from Georgia are like that."

Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson, sees the presence of Pollack and Thurman as the start of something nasty in 'Nati. "If you want to have a good defense, you've got to have some real bad-ass linebackers," Anderson says. "Your linebackers have to bring an attitude. They should be the identity of your defense, or even of your entire team."

That's the way Lewis has always liked it, from his days in Pittsburgh, where he coached such standouts as Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene and Chad Brown, through his glory days in Baltimore with Ray Lewis. He coached a Ravens unit that went nearly three seasons without allowing an opposing runner to gain 100 yards. The Bengals, by comparison, were victimized by nine 100-yard rushers and gave up four runs of 50 yards or more in 2004 alone.

Enter Thurman, a 6-foot, 235-pound middle linebacker who has impressed Lewis with his quick grasp of the pro game and his intensity. "I don't want to jinx Odell and compare him to other guys," Lewis says, pausing before doing just that. "But he has the personality that Ray [Lewis] had as a rookie. Ray walked into that [Baltimore] huddle on the first day with vets like Pepper Johnson and Don Griffin like he'd been there for years. Odell has that same aura."

Landon Johnson, who had 84 tackles as a rookie in '04, will likely start the season ahead of Pollack at outside linebacker, opposite steady veteran Brian Simmons. But Pollack will be given ample opportunity to put up eye-catching numbers: On passing downs he will be asked to come off the corner and harass quarterbacks. The Bengals, however, don't expect the 6'2", 276-pound Pollack to live by the sack alone. "Everybody puts him in the wrong category," Anderson says. "I see him as a young Junior Seau--someone who can put his hand down and rush but can also make plays in the running game and in coverage."

Whatever Pollack does for the Bengals, Lewis is convinced it will elevate the defense. "Talk to anyone he grew up with--no matter what it is, he's always been good at it," the coach says of Pollack. "His entire life, everything he's touched has turned to gold."

The same, of course, has been said about Lewis and the defenses he coached elsewhere. This year, finally, he hopes to add the Bengals' to the list. --M.S.

PLAYMAKER

Few noticed because the Bengals were already slipping out of playoff contention, but Carson Palmer's development into a potent passer took a dramatic jump in his final six starts of 2004. During that span, in which Cincinnati was 4-2, the former Heisman winner and No. 1 pick of the '03 draft threw for 1,429 yards and 13 touchdowns and had a rating of 96.9. With a stable of big-play receivers led by All-Pro Chad Johnson, Palmer should be able to air it out with even more impressive results this year.

AN OPPOSING SCOUT'S VIEW
ENEMY LINES
This is a very dangerous team, especially on offense. I don't think anybody has stopped Chad Johnson yet, and he's still improving. They have a lot of weapons at the receiver position.... Carson Palmer is an up-and-comer; he's making the progress each year that you want a young quarterback to make.... Rudi Johnson is a strong, tough runner. He moves the chains, and that will make their passing game even scarier.... They have one of the better offensive lines in football, which is something that goes unnoticed. Levi Jones is coming into his own, Eric Steinbach is getting better, and Willie Anderson is one of the league's better tackles. He's a big guy who is very, very steady.... Brian Simmons, when he's healthy, plays at a consistently high level.... The defensive line certainly isn't one of the team's strengths. They did get Bryan Robinson, who should help against the run.... The secondary is solid, and there's some young, untapped talent there. Madieu Williams is an instinctive guy who's always around the ball. He was versatile enough to play some corner for them early last year, and he has a chance to be a helluva safety.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2004 statistics

OFFENSE

RUDI JOHNSON
POS. -- RB
PVR -- 14
ATT.-- 361
YARDS -- 1,454
AVG. -- 4.0
REC. -- 15
YARDS -- 84
AVG. -- 5.6
TDs -- 12

CARSON PALMER
POS. -- QB
PVR -- 59
ATT. -- 432
COMP. -- 263
% -- 60.9
YARDS -- 2,897
TDs -- 18
INT. -- 18
RATING -- 77.3

JEREMI JOHNSON
POS. -- FB
PVR -- 326
ATT. -- 3
YARDS -- 5
AVG. -- 1.7
REC. -- 16
YARDS -- 53
AVG. -- 3.3
TDs -- 1

SHAYNE GRAHAM
POS. -- K
PVR -- 200
XPs MADE -- 41
XPs ATT. -- 41
FG MADE -- 27
FG ATT. -- 31
PTS. 122

CHAD JOHNSON
POS.-- WR
PVR -- 24
REC. -- 95
YARDS -- 1,274
TDs -- 9

REGGIE KELLY
POS.-- TE
PVR -- 266
REC. -- 15
YARDS -- 85
TDs -- 0

LEVI JONES
POS.-- LT
HEIGHT -- 6'5"
WEIGHT -- 310
GMS. -- 16
STARTS -- 16

ERIC STEINBACH
POS.-- LG
HEIGHT -- 6'6"
WEIGHT -- 297
GMS. -- 16
STARTS -- 15

RICH BRAHAM
POS. -- C
HEIGHT -- 6'4"
WEIGHT -- 305
GMS. -- 10
STARTS -- 10

BOBBIE WILLIAMS
POS.-- RG
HEIGHT -- 6'4"
WEIGHT -- 330
GMS. -- 16
STARTS -- 16

WILLIE ANDERSON
POS.-- RT
HEIGHT -- 6'5"
WEIGHT -- 340
GMS. -- 16
STARTS -- 16

T.J. HOUSHMANDZADEH
POS.-- WR
PVR -- 130
REC. -- 73
YARDS -- 978
TDs -- 4

DEFENSE

LANDON JOHNSON
POS. -- OLB
TACKLES -- 84
SACKS -- 2
INT. -- 0

ROBERT GEATHERS
POS. -- RE
TACKLES -- 13
SACKS -- 3 1/2

JOHN THORNTON
POS.-- RT
TACKLES -- 57
SACKS -- 3

ODELL THURMAN (R) (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- MLB
TACKLES -- 65
SACKS -- 3
INT. -- 0

BRYAN ROBINSON (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS.-- LT
TACKLES -- 41
SACKS -- 0

JUSTIN SMITH
POS. -- LE
TACKLES -- 71
SACKS -- 8

BRIAN SIMMONS
POS. -- OLB
TACKLES -- 107
SACKS -- 1
INT. -- 2

TORY JAMES
POS.-- CB
TACKLES -- 63
INT. -- 8

KIM HERRING
POS. -- SS
TACKLES -- 62
SACKS -- 0
INT. -- 1

MADIEU WILLIAMS
POS. -- FS
TACKLES -- 91
SACKS -- 2
INT. -- 3

DELTHA O'NEAL
POS. -- CB
TACKLES -- 40
INT. -- 4

KYLE LARSON
POS.-- P
PUNTS -- 83
AVG.-- 42.2

2004 RECORD: 8-8

NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE  17/17/18
DEFENSE  26/13/19

COACH: Marvin Lewis; third season with Cincinnati (16-16 in NFL)

NEW ACQUISITION
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 170)

SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER
11 at Cleveland
18 MINNESOTA
25 at Chicago

OCTOBER
2 HOUSTON
9 at Jacksonville
16 at Tennessee
23 PITTSBURGH
30 GREEN BAY

NOVEMBER
6 at Baltimore
13 Open date
20 INDIANAPOLIS
27 BALTIMORE

DECEMBER
4 at Pittsburgh
11 CLEVELAND
18 at Detroit
24 BUFFALO (S)

JANUARY
1 at Kansas City

(S) SATURDAY

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: T10
Opponents' 2004 winning percentage: .523
Games against playoff teams: 5

"Madieu Williams is always around the ball. He has a chance to be a helluva safety."

PHOTOWADE PAYNE/ICON SMI HELP'S HERE Solid vet Simmons will get much-needed support from a pair of rookie Dawgs PHOTODAN BEINEKE/WIREIMAGE.COMPALMER PHOTONFL/WIREIMAGE.COM

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)