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Under Lewis, Bengals finally see the light


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Found this on nfl.com -- I love to read this type of stuff.

Under Lewis, Bengals finally see the light

By Geoff Hobson

Special to NFL.com

(Oct. 6, 2005) -- It's The Shovel vs. The Ax when Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and old friend Jack Del Rio meet under ESPN's lights Oct. 9 in a Sunday night in Jacksonville.

Del Rio spent three years working as Lewis' linebackers coach in Baltimore before he tooled his way into the Jaguars' head job in 2003, the same year his friend took over the lowly Bengals.

Now they aren't so lowly. Lewis has them at 4-0 for the first time since Sam Wyche, Boomer Esiason and their offensive hardware led Cincinnati to the 1988 AFC championship. But standing between the Bengals and 5-0 is the mirror of the programs Lewis and Del Rio have built over the past three seasons.

In that first year, Del Rio, the former Pro Bowl linebacker, put an ax in the locker room to symbolize his head-down "Keep Chopping Wood," philosophy. Meanwhile, Lewis was using a shovel from the Paul Brown Stadium maintenance staff to bring to life his methodical tunnel-vision work ethic of "Just Keep Shoveling," an image from his days he spent one summer shoveling coal at a plant in his native Pittsburgh

"I had the ax long before Jack had the ax," Lewis said with a laugh earlier this week when asked about their blue-collar philosophies. "Very similar. Jack is a fine coach, a guy who is a close friend. I tried to hire him as a player in Baltimore. ... I used teaching tapes for my guys in Pittsburgh (when he was the Steelers linebackers coach) of Jack and how he played."

A 16-10 victory against the Texans on Oct. 2 at home typified how Lewis has kept his team shoveling through the pile of naysayers and punchlines in building a 20-16 record since he took over a 2-14 team. The Bengals put their head down to survive the loss of two injured centers, their starting free safety and 14 penalties.

"The main thing I am most proud of is the way we hung together as a team," said quarterback Carson Palmer, whose Pro Bowl play has been the fulcrum of the turnaround with a 112.2 passer rating that is second in the NFL. "Special teams played great. The defense won the game for us again. A huge key in the game was we lose our first two centers and (left guard Eric Steinbach) comes in and hasn't played any center. ... It's a great team win, and the way the offensive line stepped up, jelled together, talked and communicated was a key to the game."

This from a team that when defensive tackle John Thornton played against it as a member of the Titans, the word was to wait four quarters because the Bengals would always find a way to lose. This from a team that used to rely on a small core of offensive superstars in a locker room racked by dissension.

But now, a la the Patriots, their units are introduced together instead of individually in pregame introductions before they stun their opponents with their depth.

"The thing I like is that we're truly playing as a team," said linebacker Brian Simmons, a first-round pick from 1998 who has seen all the good, the bad and the ugly. "When we're on the sideline, we feel like the offense can score at any point, and I'm sure when we're out there, the offense is thinking we're going to come up with some kind of turnover."

The Bengals do have stars. Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson, shooting for his third consecutive AFC yardage title, leads in catches and is second in yards. Running back Rudi Johnson went into Week 4 as the NFL's rushing leader over the previous seven games. He got 88 more against the Texans; the Bengals improved to 12-4 when he gets at least that.

But the Bengals are using their entire roster. Palmer's first five touchdown passes went to five different players in the first two games. Then five different players had interceptions in Week 3 in a 24-7 victory at Chicago, and seven different defenders recorded sacks in Week 4.

The way Lewis hired Del Rio as his linebackers coach is a clue to how he has transplanted his success from his days as Baltimore's defensive coordinator to Cincinnati's head coach. From coaching appointments, to free-agent signings, to draft picks, he has draped his program in the trappings of success.

The Bengals completed a 3-0 September after winning a total of only five September games since 1996. The AFC's worst road team over the past decade has won five of its past six games away from Paul Brown Stadium. The NFL's worst team in 2002 is 20-16 since Lewis got the job, and has won six straight dating back to last season. And Cincinnati has piled up a scoring margin of 104-38 this season.

The Bengals haven't been to the playoffs since 1990, but Lewis has signed 13 players with a total of 52 playoff games. His defense, which leads the league in turnovers with 17, is in the first year of being guided by Chuck Bresnahan, a Super Bowl coordinator with the Raiders. Rookie linebackers David Pollack and Odell Thurman, the team's two top draft picks who were All-SEC at Georgia, registered their first career NFL sacks on back-to-back snaps early in the fourth quarter against Houston in a 10-10 game.

"I think one thing Marvin knows from Baltimore is you have to have the right mix," said former Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe, now a CBS analyst. "You can bring in some guys, but the backbone of your team has to be the first-, second- and third-round picks. If those guys don't make it, then you have to bring in free agents and overpay them. I don't think that's something they really had here before. They'd have a first-rounder and let him go in two years, or he wouldn't make it, and they'd have to move on."

Now the Bengals are trying to move on from their Week 4 gut check.

"We needed a game like this," Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson said. "To test our conditioning in the fourth quarter and guys playing hurt. We've been kind of lucky the first three weeks; guys getting subbed out in the fourth quarter. But we knew coming in these guys were hungry and were off a bye and would be ready."

It was definitely a game where the Bengals kept shoveling. It's a charge Lewis has given to his defense as it prepares for an offense that hurts people with the toughness of quarterback Byron Leftwich and the game-breaking abilities of wide receiver Jimmy Smith.

"You play defense with 11 guys. One week it's going to be one thing, one week it's going to be something else," Lewis said. "Just keep playing and let the game play the way it plays. See what happens and go.

"We've just got to keep doing it. Win the third-down challenge, keep the offense from scoring, get off the field and get the ball back to our offense as quick as we can every chance we get."


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Bengals.coms "Calvin and Hobbes-son" calvinandhobbeslarge2oz.gif couldn't have written that piece. I'm certain of that because I liked it. :rolleyes: Especially where he makes this point:

The AFC's worst road team over the past decade has won five of its past six games away from Paul Brown Stadium.

That bad habit used to really irk the s**t outta me. They would play great against a good team at home one week, then lose badly to a crappy team on the road the next! :angry:

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