The Cincinnati Bengals have been facing incessant questions about their rebounding process after a disastrous end to their 2015 campaign. While a mixture of factors led to the Bengals’ 18-16 loss to the Steelers in the Wild Card round, a number of players on the team propelled the implosion.
Bengals cornerback Adam Jones and running back Jeremy Hill have been two of the public enemies since January. After Hill fumbled away a ball in a scenario where the team was set to ice the win, Jones lost his cool on the ensuing Steelers drive and contributed to 30 yards worth of penalties to set Pittsburgh up for the game-winning field goal.
The Bengals showing the ability to match their overall roster talent with discipline, both in the forms of sloppy play in key times and reining in emotions in 2016, might be one of the biggest keys to their finally getting over the postseason hump. According to Jones, in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio, owner Mike Brown addressed the team’s need to keep their cool this season.
“When you have the owner coming to the team meeting, to tell you he loves the way we play football, he loves the aggressiveness, don’t stop the way we play football, but stop with the stuff after the whistle, it’s different than another guy than the one coming at us who’s paying our checks,” Jones told former Bengal players Takeo Spikes and Solomon Wilcots in the interview. “You live and learn from your mistakes and, like I said, we are not going to stop being a physical team. That’s our motto here, we just got to play in between the lines and everything else will take care of itself.”
Aside from the physical play Jones mentioned, the Bengals’ defense has also gained a reputation for trash-talking. It has really been spurred on by the Steelers, whose unit also annually exemplifies both traits. Jones noted that as long as the physical play continues, the talking won’t stop.
“As far as being physical and talking, we gonna talk trash in a game, we’re going to be physical,” Jones said. “But all the fouls added after the play, the 15 yards, that’s the stuff, as a team, that we don’t need. I think everybody knows that. We were in a great position last year and let it slip away, you know. You never get those chances back, so all you can do is build on right now and get ready for the ride.”
Meanwhile, Hill is focusing more on the physical aspects of his game this offseason. While 2016 marked a season of highs and lows, fumbles were still an issue even in his outstanding rookie season. That’s the area he’s focusing the most.
“I want to take care of the damn football, that’s what I want to do, I want to make that clear,” Hill said. “I think that’s what’s most important and I think everything will take care of itself. Our offensive line has a lot of veterans and guys who have played a lot of snaps, so those guys are ready to go and will handle their business. I just have to do my part and everything will take care of itself. I just want to take care of the football.”
One of the facets to Hill’s game the Bengals loved when he was coming out of college was his ability to hang on to the football. While he had a successful rookie campaign and has a nose for the end zone in the NFL, he still has had eight fumbles (six lost, including the postseason) in his two pro seasons. Even though fumbling the ball is a physical issue, Hill is taking the mental approach this offseason as a remedy.
“For me it starts mentally,” Hill said when asked about his offseason preparation. “It’s just a mentality you have to have that ‘nobody is going to get the ball from me’. After the playoff game, it was rough for me, so I have to put myself in that mindset that nobody’s going to get the ball from me. Going into my training, just everyday working on ball security.
“Every day at practice, when no one is looking, working on it constantly, constantly until it’s at the point where it’s second nature for me. So, I think that’s where I’m at right now, getting to the point where the ball is high and tight, so it’s second nature and no one is going to get it from me.”
The statements from both players about moving forward have to be nice for fans to hear, especially as it seems to be the chorus of the rest of the players and coaches this offseason. Both Hill and Jones will be critical players for the Bengals this year as they look to bounce back with authority in 2016.