Dave the Falconer (the Falcons blog) and I sat back and wonder about each other's teams. We talked strictly football -- sorry, no Michael Vick gossip.
1. With Joey Harrington, Josh McCown and Chris Redman at quarterback, what's the most likely scenario of the Falcon's offensive philosophy this season?
Run, run, and run some more. The Falcons will be best off if their strong line allows Warrick Dunn, Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling to wakka wakka wakka up yardage like Pacman. The receivers are better than a year ago in some ways, but the passing game hasn't been a strength for a few years now and I don't expect it to start now. I'm hoping for a conservative dink-and-dunk scheme with a few long passes to break up he monotony. If Harrington flashes some skill early on, that could change.
2. Can this defense carry the Falcon's offense if it stagnates this year?
The defense is criminally underrated, even with some of the new players. I'm not sure they can complete make up for a terrible offense, but the front seven is one of the stronger units in the NFC and maybe the league. I expect John Abraham and rookie Jamaal Anderson to look very good coming off the edges this year, and the linebacking corps can play coverage and the line of scrimmage equally well. The secondary is a concern, but I think rookie corner Chris Houston will be a big improvement over last year's Falcoholic whipping boy, Jason Webster.
3. Tell us of your first impressions of new head coach Bobby Patrino.
He's intense, man. It's impossible to know how well he'll do until the season really starts, but he's not just a one trick college coach. He plans well, he knows what he wants from players, and he shows no emotion except anger. Basically, he looks like an automaton programmed to coach this team. With any luck, his style will translate very well from preseason to regular season.
4. Last year I asked of your early impressions of former tOSU Buckeye, Michael Jenkins. You said, he "has a lot of potential. Runs some pretty good routes. Catches fairly well. As a #1 receiver, however, he gives me the willies." Has your impression changed?
If I could go back in time and stop myself from typing that (with gunshot, probably), I would amend it to say "he has some potential. Runs pretty crappy routes. Catches alright. As a #1 receiver, however, he makes me uncertain that life has any meaning." To be fair, I think Jenkins has a chance to build on his 7 TD performance from last year, but I thought his routes lacked precision and he had some bad drops early in the season. This year he could be in the slot, where his height and red zone prowess might benefit him greatly. I still think he could be a solid #2 receiver in this league, but he's got a lot to do to prove it.
5. Where do you see the Falcons after week 17?
Probably not in the playoffs. Honestly, if they turn in a winning season I'll be thrilled. I like the rookies, I like the coach, and I like some of the additions, but this was a 7-9 team last year and probably won't be any better than 9-7. More than likely, they'll hang right around 7-9 again, but I hope to see the progress on the field.
Kickoff: 8 p.m. EDT.
Television: ESPN broadcast with Mike Tirico (play-byplay), Ron Jaworski and Tony Kornheiser (analysts), and Suzy Kolber and Michele Tafoya (sideline reporters). In Cincinnati, the ESPN broadcast also will be aired by WKRC-TV (Channel 12), the Bengals’ preseason flagship station.
Radio: Live on the 26-station Bengals Radio network, which is led by flagships WCKY-AM (1530) "Homer" (all sports) and WOFX-FM (92.5) "The Fox." Broadcasters are Brad Johansen (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst).
Setting the scene: Give Marvin Lewis a key to the executive washroom in Bristol. His team is moving in at ESPN."Bengals: The Mini-Series" debuts Monday night from Atlanta, and bigger episodes loom. Cincinnati’s unmistakable striped helmets will also be in homes nationwide on two Mondays in September, both from Paul Brown Stadium and both against heavyweight opponents. There’s a season opener against Baltimore, and an Oct. 1 visit from ring-laden New England. Three times in six weeks on Monday night, it’ll be, reflecting a national perception that the Bengals can be one of the best teams in the NFL in 2007. The perception is even stronger that they’ll be one of the most exciting. People will be watching, to be sure. Thus, a bit of performance pressure will build as the long week toward the Falcons game plays out. No, it’s not November, and as QB Carson Palmer says, "If we beat Baltimore on Sept. 10, nobody will care what our preseason record was." But last week’s 27-19 loss to New Orleans elicited some audible grumbles from the second-largest crowd in Bengals preseason history (65,227). The first offense has no TDs in six total preseason possessions. And though Lewis is consistent in treating preseason as pure lab-experiment — he allowed barely a smile when the club went 4-0 last year — he is pushing his veterans for a show of spirit and precision. "It’s time for our guys to stand up and take responsibility," he said after the Saints game. "We have some good football players here. We need those guys to step up and do more. Obviously, we are pulling them out of these games and not letting them do more in that sense. But they can still do more in other ways, whether it be the huddle, the meeting room or the practice field." The Bengals have had 20 or more players held out of action for most of preseason, and Lewis expects relief this week for the 55-60 players who could have been heavy-legged against New Orleans due to a larger-than-average load of practice reps. Players who could return to practice this week include OT Levi Jones, CB Johnathan Joseph, FB Jeremi Johnson, CB Keiwan Ratliff, S Marvin White and WR Glenn Holt. TE Reggie Kelly is expected back for the Atlanta game after missing New Orleans for a family concern."We’ll keep doing what we do in preseason," said Lewis. "We won’t stray from the plan." "You just keep getting ready for that opener," echoed Palmer."You’re preparing for that Monday night game against Baltimore." But all Bengaldom is hoping that this week, the preparations are a little prettier. Because as they say on TV, the national Monday night miniseries begins "right now."
The series: The Falcons lead 7-2 in preseason play, but the Bengals hold a 7-4 edge in regular-season action. The Falcons have a six-game winning streak over Cincinnati in preseason play. The Bengals’ only wins in the preseason series came in 1973 and 1974. The most recent preseason meeting was a 37-10 Falcons win at the Georgia Dome in 2004. The Bengals are 1-5 in preseason meetings at Atlanta. The Falcons have won the last two regular-season meetings, 29-27 at Paul Brown Stadium last season and 30-3 at Atlanta in 2002. The Bengals won seven of the first nine regular-season meetings, with Cincinnati’s most recent win being a 41-31 decision at Cinergy Field in 1996. Counting preseason and regular season together, the Falcons have won the last seven times the teams have met. Since Cincinnati’s 1996 regular-season win, Atlanta is 5-0 against the Bengals in preseason and 2-0 in regular season. Dr. Lewis’ prescription: Heading into the 2007 season, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis offered this three-step formula for success in the NFL:"Win the running game, play well on third down, and win the turnover battle. Do that, and the other numbers maybe aren’t so important. You keep the ball in your hands with an opportunity to score, and you keep your defense staying fresh on the bench."Look at the end of the year, and the teams that have done that are probably the ones still playing. It’s the key to a season."