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After reaching this plateau, Houston can go a step further and trade an occasional No. 1 for a reliable vet, e.g., the trade that brought them defensive end Sean Jones, a proven pass rusher, from the Raiders this year. Don't forget that one of the club's best trades ever was a No. 7 and a No. 4 for wideout Drew Hill, whose 3,270 reception yards since 1985 are second only to Jerry Rice's.
But everybody will be waiting for the 1988 Oilers; they sneaked up on people last year. Coach Jerry Glanville instilled a hard-hitting—some people called it late-hitting—attitude. Everyone remembers the famous postgame cameo of Noll grabbing Glanville in that I'm-not-gonna-let-go-until-you've-heard-what-I'm-gonna-say handshake and reading him his Miranda rights. Now Houston is going to be tested, and the results should be interesting.
Did you ever stop to think that no division in football has as many good offensive lines as the AFC Central? There isn't a bad one in the bunch, and the CINCINNATI BENGALS have one of the best. The trouble is, it has been lost in that flimflam, razzle-dazzle offense. But what if Cincy settles down to a more basic approach and decides to bang it out, set tailback James Brooks a yard farther back so he can get a better read, and use the heavy-duty stuff to set up the Boomer Esiason- Cris Collinsworth- Eddie Brown show?
O.K., I've been peeking. The report from Cincinnati says that's exactly what the Bengals will do. Not that coach Sam Wyche will abandon his "attack offense," the no-huddle approach he says scored twice as many touchdowns last year as the conventional one did. On defense, which has been a sticky subject for a number of years, the Bengals will go with something called the spinner, in which a lineman, usually right end Jason Buck, spins from place to place along the defensive front and often acts as a blitzing linebacker. Fine so far, but he had better keep out of the way of middle guard Tim Krumrie, one of the few defensive stars on the club and a very hard customer.
Wyche, fighting for his job, believes a 10-6 record is possible. He tried to remedy a lack of unity by assigning training-camp roommates, an offensive guy with a defensive one. Somehow Esiason ended up with running back Stanford Jennings, causing Jennings to comment, "They must be thinking of putting Boomer on defense."
Here's a weird stat from last year: Cincinnati outgained opponents by 45 yards a game and was still outscored 370-285. What does this mean? Probably that the special teams were lousy. The Bengals are working on that, along with everything else.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]