The Bengals get a rookie quarterback Sunday (4:05 p.m.) at Paul Brown Stadium in the person of Geno Smith of the Jets and, if anything, that is going to make Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer bear down even harder.
It has been far from a lock. Since Zimmer arrived in 2008, the Bengals are 7-8 against rookie quarterbacks and the last time the Jets came in here they knocked off the Bengals in the 2009 Wild Card game behind rookie Mark Sanchez throwing a safe 12-for-15 for 182 yards and a touchdown that was the courtesy more than anything else of the Bengals throwing for 110 yards.
A couple of oddities here. Six of those seven losses came in sweeps. Baltimore's Joe Flacco did it in 2008, Sanchez did it on back-to-back weekends, and in 2011 T.J. Yates threw for 300 yards at PBS and three weeks later won in Houston in the AFC Wild Card game.
And, the rookies' stat line is better than anything foes have put together against any of Zimmer's six defenses. They are a combined 249 completions out of 424 attempts for 3,085 yards with 16 TDs and six picks. That comes out to an 88 passer rating. The highest rating the Bengals have allowed since 2008 in a season is 87.3 that first season.
The Bengals are giving up 82.2 this season while Smith has posted a 74.3 with eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Fellow West Virginia alum Adam Jones has eight years on Smith, but he's been watching.
And Zimmer knows the Bengals have to get heat on Smith. He's been showing off what Smith has strapped to his right shoulder.
"He’s got a cannon. I showed the players this morning a ball he threw from one hash about 40 yards down the field on a rope to the far sideline," Zimmer said. "Obviously he’s a young guy that’s maturing, but I do feel like he’s gotten much better in the last few weeks.
"He’s got some running ability. He’s starting to scramble more than he was earlier in the year. He’s got good speed, but he’s a strong runner, so all of these things become issues."
As for Jones, he's not making any calls to Morgantown.
"At this level you don’t need to call anybody," Jones said. "We've got a lot of guys that do a lot of studying. Myself, I do a lot of studying and the coaches, they’ll put us in the best situation to win the game. I’m confident in the guys upstairs to lead us with the right information. We should be all right."
GRESHAM'S INTENSITY: Bengals Pro Bowl tight end
Sunday in Detroit was quintessential Gresham, an emotional and intense player that the Bengals believe has become one of the best all-around tight ends in the league.
But Gresham nearly got thrown out of the game with 7:55 left in the first half when he got in a post-scrum shove after running back
Head coach Marvin Lewis said he sent Gresham to the locker room to cool off. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said injured wide receiver
"I really like Gresham as a complete tight end," Jets coach Rex Ryan said to Cincinnati media Wednesday. "He looks like he is unselfish because he’ll do a lot of the dirty work. Great pass blocker, route runner, has the hands and long catching radius."
Gruden, too, has high regard for Gresham as the Bengals attempt to bottle that intensity.
"He was frustrated in the first half. He didn't have any (targets), as well he should be, but the second half he came out with a bang and made some big plays," Gruden said. "He's emotional. Every team has them. We just have to understand that he's a great competitor. He wants the ball and he wants to be great. Sometimes he gets frustrated when he's not a focal point. If he was somewhere he probably would be the focal point, however we have some other guys worthy of the ball. You just have to understand that his role as a tight end is what it is. He'll be fine."
His role? Gresham has woven together blocking skills he has worked hard to perfect along with his stunning receiving skills that made him a first-round pick in 2010. He's now a rarity: a guy who is a moose blocking and a ballerina catching the ball.
Gruden had to admit he had never seen anything quite like that first-half exit.
"That was weird. I haven’t seen that. I thought he had to go the bathroom. I've never seen that one before," said Gruden, who was delighted to see Gresham return. "I play the best guy available and he's the best guy for us."
Gresham leads the offense with six penalties and he had a crushing false start Sunday on a third-and-one from the Lions 38 at the two-minute warning that could have been fatal. Gruden thinks, at times, Gresham's fierce quest to succeed overtakes him.
"Some guys get more heated than others. They're more emotional. Hopefully we can come to a point where we can control his emotions. ... I think that's where he might get into problems sometimes. He lets the emotion overtake his ability. Once he controls his emotions, he's a great player. There's no doubt about it. We desperately need him to be successful on offense in all phases."
This is how deep the Bengals are receiving the ball: sometimes even one of the top all-round tight ends in the game can't get it.
"You see him frustrated when he's open and doesn't get it," Gruden said with a bit of a smile. "It's a tough job back there being a quarterback. We give him four or five options on every play. It's up to Andy (Dalton).
"We have progressions, we have reads, we have looks we want to try to get certain guys the ball. (Gresham) is part of every look we have. Whether he gets it or not, it depends on the coverage and the play."