Flem File's Monday observations
Here are my Top 10 observations from my trip to Cincinnati:
• I was shocked to hear national pundits rip the city of Cincinnati for the last-second sellout despite the Bengals being 4-1. If you ask me, it was an impressive and strong (if not long overdue) statement from the fans, who said, "Hey, after 20 years of bad football, we're not gonna get fooled by four fluke wins."
• Let Cedric Benson Week begin with the Bears coming to Ohio to face their former No. 1 pick. But the truth is, Benson and the Bengals have already won this battle in a landslide. Thanks to the Bears' mismanagement of the fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft, the Bengals got the third-leading rusher in the NFL (and a thoroughly changed man) for roughly $20 million less than they normally would have had to pay.
• Even with the loss to Houston, the improvement of the Bengals' offensive line (from five no-name, inexperienced misfits to a 4-2 start and the third-leading rusher in the NFL) has to be one of the most remarkable accomplishments of the first half of the season.
• In the first half alone on Sunday, I counted a half-dozen plays when Bengals rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga was badly out of position. That's to be expected with a high-motor rookie tackling machine. But even more disturbing were the white leather loafers Maualuga was sporting after the game.
• Besides being one of the most underrated tight ends in the game, Houston's Owen Daniels has a nasty TD spike (the ball went at least 25 feet in the air) and a pretty mean farmer's tan to boot.
• After talking to the Texans linebackers, I worry that the Bengals use so much misdirection on offense that it's beginning to have the opposite effect: Instead of tricking tacklers, it's actually telegraphing exactly where the ball's going.
• Headline on the cover of the Cincinnati Sunday paper -- Chris Henry: family man.
• If you thought the Bengals' "Who Dey?" chant was a tad hokey, you should hear the fight song they play inside the stadium. The only saving grace is that they play Johnny Cash's "I Walk The Line" when the refs are measuring for a first down.
• Maybe part of the problem is that the visiting locker room at Paul Brown Stadium is too comfy. Folks from the Texans were commenting that it was one of the most spacious and clean visiting locker rooms in the NFL.
• I worry that the now injury-plagued Bengals are about to become living proof of the most boring but essential tool in determining success in the NFL: roster depth. The problem? They have none.
A few more observations ...
• Carolina's Dante Wesley should prepare himself to be made an example of by the NFL. His hit on the Bucs' defenseless Clifton Smith can't be argued away as some heat of the moment mistake in a violent sport that often sends mixed messages to the players -- celebrating them for certain kinds of violence and fining them for others. The NFL is gonna see this as a cowardly hit on a defenseless player. Wesley left his feet to crush a guy well before the ball arrived. And a multiple-game suspension would not surprise me at all.
• Schematically, without Kris Jenkins, the Jets' defense will be playing 10 on 11 the rest of the season.
• I never do this, but: Orlando Pace? I told you so.
• How about Browns QB Derek Anderson barking at a prostrate Pittsburgh Steelers defender after completing a pass in the red zone. That's gotta go on the list.
• If I'm a Redskins fan, I'm hoping for Mike Shanahan to take over the team because that would solve the one problem in D.C. that never gets addressed: the front office. Shanny would control the entire operation and current GM Vinny Cerrato would remain, but he'd be in a mostly powerless post.
• Despite what the Saints did to the Giants, I still believe that the longer the NFL season goes on, the more precision yields to power.
• New Rule: Just like a missed field goal remains a live ball, when a quarterback blatantly throws the ball away out of bounds, I propose that said ball remains in play for the defense, and DBs can go get it and catch it -- even behind his own bench or in the first row of the stands.
• Anyone who has studied the history of rookie QBs in the NFL understands that Mark Sanchez's performance the past three weeks (one TD against eight picks and a passer rating in the 20s -- I can't do the math, sorry) is far more typical, and less shocking, than what he did at the start of the season.
• Teams are still not blocking Jared Allen on ever single play? Seriously?
• Drew Brees is having yet another amazing season. But the crazy, wild, unheard-of secret weapon of the Saints' offense is balance. Heading into Sunday's showdown with the Giants, despite all of Brees' aerial acrobatics, the Saints had passed the ball just five more times than they had run it.
• In the wake of the Patriots' massive blowout, researchers have been listing some of the bigger goose eggs in NFL history. This list always includes the 1925 Chicago Cardinals 59-0 win over Milwaukee, even though this result was ordered stricken from the record by the commissioner because the Cardinals had enticed four local high school players to suit up for the undermanned Badgers.
Reader E-Mail ...
Thanks for a great article. My son is a senior in high school and left tackle. His entire line busts their tails every day and come game day they help the running backs get 100 yard games and the QB get his 200 yard passing game, but when they come off the field no one hugs them but their parents. It surely takes a different kind of person to be a lineman. I am very proud of what my son and the other lineman have done for their team this year. I plan on printing off a few of your buttons and giving them to the families who's sons represent the toughest position in all sports.
-- Dave S.
The piece on offensive lineman was awesome. I am a former college lineman and now a high school offensive line coach in Ohio. I am going to pass out the piece to my guys today after school during our pre-game meal. All future lineman who play for me will read this piece before we start two-a-days. Thanks again, the article made my day.
-- Andy C.
After your spot-on and fearless explosion of the myth of Favre's 43 comebacks, I was surprised to see you promoting the "Tom Brady is invincible in overtime" myth. The Patriots closed five of those six wins with a field goal rather than a touchdown. It's exceedingly likely that the same sudden death rule that sunk the Patriots in Denver helped Brady accumulate his previously-spotless overtime record in the first place. Otherwise, keep up the good work.
THESE NOTES WRITTEN WHILE LISTENING TO: Robyn Hitchcock's "Balloon Man."
David Fleming is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and the author of the memoir "Noah's Rainbow" and "Breaker Boys: The NFL's Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship." And his work will be featured in the 2009 Best American Sports Writing anthology. The Flem File appears every Wednesday during the NFL season with updates on Mondays and Fridays.