Cincinnati Bengals free safety Jessie Bates (30) celebrates after an interception during an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. Cincinnati Bengals defeated Tennessee Titans 19-16.

Cincinnati Bengals At Tennessee Titans Divisional Playoff 70

Notebook: Bengals’ secondary wise to Rams’ ‘smart’ receivers

Ahead of Super Bowl LVI, one of the words Cincinnati Bengals defenders are using to describe their Los Angeles Rams opponents is “smart.”

“There’s multiple times where you’ll see Odell (Beckham) or Cooper Kupp, they know exactly where the zones are, where the soft spots are in zones. … Very talented group, but also very smart, and that’s what makes them dangerous,” Bengals safety and captain Jessie Bates III said Thursday.

It will be up to Bates and the secondary to slow down a dynamic Rams passing game in Sunday’s game at Inglewood, Calif.

Kupp won the receiving “triple crown” during the regular season by leading the league in receptions (145), yards (1,947) and touchdowns (16), becoming the first player to accomplish the feat since Steve Smith in 2005. In November, the Rams signed the talented Beckham, who had 27 catches for 305 yards and five touchdowns in eight regular-season games in Los Angeles.

The Rams, who also received contributions from DeSean Jackson before his release and Robert Woods before a season-ending ACL tear, led the NFL with 18 passing plays of 40 yards or more.

The Bengals will counter with Mike Hilton, a lauded nickel corner who may see a lot of Kupp in the slot. Bates, Vonn Bell and Ricardo Allen play safety for Cincinnati and Chidobe Awuzie and Eli Apple start at outside corner.

They also have depth in the form of Tre Flowers, a former Seattle Seahawks cornerback who dealt with Sean McVay’s offense plenty in his past.

“I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to play against these guys seven times before I left (Seattle), so it’s gonna be a great challenge,” Flowers said.

Allen, who played with the Atlanta Falcons from 2015-20, is the only Bengals player with past Super Bowl experience. The day did not go exactly as planned as he watched Tom Brady lead a comeback from down 28-3 to give the New England Patriots a stunning win over Atlanta.

“It’s an offense that’s very adaptable,” Allen said of the Rams. “They can adapt on the run and stuff like that. So you’ve got to know that about them. To be honest, it’s going to be players making plays, man. We’ll have to go out there and see what matchup they’re trying to get, see what analysis they’re trying to take away from us.”

While the Bengals have drawn attention for their high-powered offense, led by Joe Burrow, and their own set of wideouts, head coach Zac Taylor felt his defense (ranked ninth in yards allowed, fifth in points allowed) often was overlooked.

“I do agree that they haven’t gotten the credit that they’ve deserved,” Taylor said. “You look at the group, they played their tails off in the playoffs, but really it goes back way before that. They’ve been consistent throughout the season.”

— C.J. Uzomah, who sprained the MCL in his left knee during the AFC Championship Game, reiterated his stance Thursday that he is “not missing the biggest game of (his) life.”

Uzomah did not practice Wednesday and the Bengals held Thursday’s media availability before practice. But Taylor has said Uzomah’s status is trending in a positive direction.

The seventh-year tight end is a Bengals fan favorite, and he continued to ingratiate himself with the city of Cincinnati this week. At a fan rally Monday night, Uzomah came out wearing a knee brace before he theatrically ripped it off his leg and tossed it aside to hype up the crowd. He admitted Thursday that he used a prop brace for that move, not the one he had actually been wearing.

He also promised in a podcast interview that he would bathe in Cincinnati’s famed Skyline chili, with the host, if the Bengals won Sunday’s game.

“Easy. 100 percent,” Uzomah said. “I’m wearing swim trunks, but you put it in a swimming pool, I’ll dive in there and I’ll eat my way out.”

–The Bengals say their team culture under Taylor’s regime has been years in the making, even through recent setbacks.

In late 2020, Burrow’s rookie season was cut short by an ACL and MCL tear. Bates said Thursday that after Burrow went down, Taylor called him, running back Joe Mixon and wide receiver Tyler Boyd to discuss carrying on as leaders in the locker room.

“(He challenged) us to kind of step up,” Bates said, “embrace the situation we were in last year where we didn’t have the MVP of the league or the comeback player of the year. We knew what we had here. We knew what we were building with. … If you learn from it, it’s not really the struggle, it’s part of the process. That’s the beauty at the end.”

Bengals legends Ickey Woods and David Fulcher appear before a crowd during the Bengals Pep Rally at The Banks on Friday, January 28, 2022 ahead of the AFC Championship game on Sunday.

018pep Rally

Notebook: ‘Ickey Shuffle’ returns to center stage

The “Ickey Shuffle” has been removed from storage and is back in the spotlight with the Cincinnati Bengals participating in the Super Bowl for the first time in 33 years.

The famous touchdown celebration dance performed by running back Ickey Woods was all the rage during the 1988 season and the ensuing postseason that ended with the Bengals falling to the Joe Montana-led San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.

Woods performed the step/hop routine in Cincinnati before a recent playoff victory over the Las Vegas Raiders and is prepared to do it again should the Bengals defeat the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI on Sunday.

“It’s lived on,” Woods told reporters. “It lived a good life, and I’d never in my wildest dreams thought that something I did more than 30 years ago would still be relevant to this day. And I’m still enjoying it.”

Woods did the “Ickey Shuffle” during a GEICO commercial in 2014 and that renewed interest. Wherever he goes, he knows a request is coming.

“Every time I do something out in the world, people want me to shuffle,” Woods said. “I’m going to schools and teaching a new generation of kids how to shuffle.”

Truth be told, when Woods initially showed off his dance idea to his family and some teammates, they begged him not to do that during a game. Woods refined parts of it and unveiled it during an early October game in 1988 in which he scored two touchdowns against the New York Jets.

By the end of the month, T-shirts were being sold and it was a huge deal in Cincinnati and on its way to being the talk of the nation.

And thanks to the Bengals’ stunning success this season, the “Ickey Shuffle” is back in the limelight.

–Cincinnati left guard Quinton Spain isn’t thrilled with the rhetoric that the offensive line could be the cause should the team lose to the Rams on Sunday.

“Are we going to be the heroes or are we going to be the reason (we lose)?” Spain said on Wednesday. “We attack the game the same way. I feel like we have a great chance to pull it off. It’s going to be a dogfight. It is the Super Bowl so everybody is going to come with their ‘A’ game.”

The Bengals were viewed as having a below-average offensive line prior to the season and that tag didn’t dissipate due to quarterback Joe Burrow being sacked a league-high 51 times during the regular season.

Burrow has been dropped 12 more times in the postseason, including a stunning nine during Cincinnati’s 19-16 upset win over the Tennessee Titans in the AFC divisional round.

“People don’t know what’s going on,” Spain said. “They see a sack and they blame the offensive line. Nine times out of 10, it might not be the offensive line. What if the receiver’s timing wasn’t right? We all play a part. At the end of the day, we ignore the noise.”

–Bengals cornerback Eli Apple knows he will stare across the line of scrimmage and see former teammate Odell Beckham Jr. at some point during Sunday’s game.

Apple was on the same New York Giants’ squad as Beckham for parts of three seasons (2016-18). Beckham is now a receiver for the Rams.

“Me and O have a pretty good relationship,” Apple said. “He really taught me what to expect when I was a rookie. … Off the field, he’s a great guy and someone I can talk to.

“Even after I left the Giants, he’d see me and all was cool. … Now we are going to compete, I can’t wait. I can’t wait for that.”

–Bengals tight end CJ Uzomah (knee) missed practice Wednesday but coach Zac Taylor said the 29-year-old is making progress from the injury sustained in the AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

“We have three more days of work to see where he’s at,” Taylor said on Wednesday. “He should get some work tomorrow.”

The Bengals are also observing the progress of right guard Jackson Carman, a second-round draft pick who started six games in the regular season. Carman is dealing with back pain. Hakeem Adeniji will likely start the game.

–Field Level Media