For the past five seasons, this is the way it has been for the Cincinnati Bengals: win in the even years, lose or break even in the odd ones. Don't ask me why—maybe they get mad one year, unmad the next—but that's the way it has worked out. So here comes a winning season, after the slump to 8-8 in '89 on the heels of a Super Bowl year.
What happened to the Bengals last season? To put it bluntly, they lost their muscle. They couldn't stop the run. Defensively, they're undersized, but in '88 they got away with that because Tim Krumrie had perhaps the finest year a noseguard has ever had. Then came his terrible broken leg in Super Bowl XXIII, and his hard road back in '89. Suddenly, the Bengals found themselves getting shoved around, with no policeman to keep order.
Offensively the Bengals lost muscle when fullback Ickey Woods went down for the year with a knee injury in the second game. The Bengals' final statistics always look nice, because they're good for three or four big-yardage blowouts per season. When quarterback Boomer Esiason, his high-powered receivers—Eddie Brown, Tim McGee, Rodney Holman—and nifty little running back James Brooks get going, it's curtains. But last year in short-yardage situations the Bengals were punchless.
One more thing. The special teams, which weren't all that hot even in the Super Bowl year, were atrocious in '89.
Well, Krumrie looks healthier now, and even if the Bengals don't have a bunch of big defensive linemen, they have some oversized linebackers. First-round draft choice James Francis (252 pounds) looks like a crusher. Third-round pick Bernard Clark (248) bulks up the inside. Offensive punch could come from the No. 2 pick, 222-pound running back Harold Green (until Woods returns, perhaps as late as midseason), and the Bengals expect their fourth-rounder, Mike Brennan, eventually to replace right guard Max Montoya, who took the Plan B route to the Raiders.
Flashy drafts are nothing new for the Bengals, who always seem to have a good rookie drop in. But a leak opened up in another part of the boat when cornerback Eric Thomas, a Pro Bowl player in '89, was lost for the season with a torn knee ligament, and then Rickey Dixon, who was to switch from free safety to replace him, suffered a less serious knee injury. Dixon is expected to be ready for the season opener.
A key acquisition at defensive back, a return to form by Krumrie and Woods, serious rookie help, and Cincinnati will be right up there again.
Here's my advice to the HOUSTON OILERS: Forget about all that House of Pain stuff. All it does is get opponents mad, the way America's Team used to fire up the Cowboys' foes. Where was the House of Pain when you needed it last year? Cleveland took the division title from you by scoring a touchdown with 39 seconds left. Pittsburgh knocked you out of the playoffs when cornerback Rod Woodson put a thunderous hit on running back Lorenzo White, causing a fumble and setting up the Steelers' winning field goal in overtime. Both games were in the Astrodome, the House of Pain.
Jerry Glanville has taken his smash-mouth brand of football to Atlanta. The new guy is Jack Pardee, who has been perfecting the run-and-shoot offense in Houston for five of the last six years, two of them with the USFL Houstons, three with the university. The Oilers should have no trouble adjusting. Glanville's four-wideout Red Gun offense was almost the same thing, and Houston has the weapons to make it work—lots of receivers and runners, fine offensive line, good quarterback in Warren Moon.
Last year all that House of Pain stuff got the Oiler defense so crazy that it burned itself out, and by the end of big games it was tired and a trifle loose. I don't believe Pardee, who was brought up in the George Allen school of discipline, will let that happen.