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AFC central
Paul Zimmerman
September 07, 1992
It almost looks too easy. The Houston Oilers play 11 games in domed stadiums this year. They have only one cold-weather game, at Cleveland in December. Three of their first four games are at home, and so are three of their last four. Too easy. With the schedule suited to their run-and-shoot offense, the Oilers should waltz into the playoffs, fortified by a home field advantage.
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September 07, 1992

Afc Central

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If there's any consolation on offense, it's that there is now a big, bruising rookie fullback, Tommy Vardell, and a Super Bowl hero, former Giant tight end Mark Bavaro, to help the Browns get back to the basics. Belichick is a defensive coach, and name one who doesn't like a basic, ball-control offense. O.K., Tom Landry was one. Yeah, Jack Pardee's another, but there aren't many.

A defensive unit that could be good, in an overachieving kind of way, has been slow to come together because of injuries. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Michael Dean Perry is coming off surgery he had on his right knee in July.

When Don Shula, at 33, was hired to coach the Baltimore Colts in 1963, there were no quotes that said, "Wow, what a great move, what a stroke of genius." There was a lot of head scratching. Gee, 33 years old.... So I will tread lightly in trying to figure out why in the wide blue sky the Cincinnati Bengals chose 33-year-old Dave Shula, Don's son, to be their sixth head coach.

There were a lot of smirks and plenty of gossip around the league: Cincinnati vice-president/general manager Mike Brown regards the Shulas as "family," Don did a terrific job lobbying for the kid, the Bengals got a real break on Dave's salary. The usual stuff. After all, Dave had worked for two years in Dallas and suffered what some people consider a demotion, from offensive coordinator in 1989 to quarterback coach in '90. Then last year he was Cincy's receivers coach and was, well, organized...uh, well organized.

This move will either be viewed as a disaster or as a stroke of genius. There will be no middle ground.

Boomer Esiason seems to have jumped on the bandwagon. He said he liked the idea that Shula stayed away and let the quarterback coach, Dana Bible, work with the QBs. "You don't have that pressure of the head coach watching you the whole time," says Esiason. That's an oblique slap at former coach Sam Wyche, who is now drawing praise in Tampa for his hands-on approach to the quarter-backing. You go with the flow.

The offense was functional last year, but now it's struggling, with top wideout Eddie Brown (ruptured disk) lost for the year, and the line unsettled by holdouts. The defense was ranked last in the league, so Shula swept out that half of the coaching staff and brought in former Charger assistant Ron Lynn to be the coordinator.

The draft was a good one for the Bengals once you get past the fact that their first selection, quarterback David Klingler, held out so long that he is virtually a write-off for '92. Darryl Williams, the team's second pick in the first round, will play a lot at free safety, and Carl Pickens, the second-round choice, is a gifted receiver. A couple more good drafts, and Shula could have something going.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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