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CINCINNATI (AP) - Andy Dalton saw A.J. Green lined up on the outside and let it fly, lofting the ball deep down the sideline.

Nobody had to guess what the Bengals are focused on during their offseason team practices.

Throw deep. As much as possible.

Dalton is trying to refine the long-distance connection that was missing in their biggest games late last season. He tried repeatedly to get the ball to Green way down the field, but missed most of the time.

``It's not just Andy,'' Green said. ``It's me, too. I can run them better, give him a better target to throw the ball. It's on my part, too. We're both trying to get better each practice.

``That's the big focal point coming into the OTAs.''

The Bengals started their organized team activities on the field this week looking to refine a passing game that lacked the big play down the stretch.

Dalton overthrew an open Green in the end zone on a long pass in the closing minutes of a 19-13 loss at Houston in the first round of the playoffs, a play that epitomized their problems. In the last five regular-season games, Green caught only two passes for more than 20 yards.

It wasn't for a lack of trying. Dalton's long passes would drift out of bounds, sail too far or come up a bit short, allowing the defender to break it up. He knows that's the main area for improvement heading into his third season in Cincinnati.

Can't miss on those chances.

``It's been emphasized, yeah,'' Dalton said. ``Any chance we get, we're taking some deep shots, whether it be one-on-one (coverage) or just to let the receivers go up and get it. I think it's definitely helping us out and there will be room for improvement.''

Quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese has been working with Dalton on his footwork and getting more arc on his deep throws.

``As we've put in some work,'' Dalton said. ``I definitely see an improvement.''

He threw long passes to Marvin Jones and Green during practice on Tuesday, putting the ball where it had to be in order to get the completions.

``When you hit those on these first days, it kind of sets the tone of how these OTAs are going to be,'' Dalton said.

Cincinnati spent a lot of money keeping its offense virtually intact, looking to make the playoffs for the third year in a row - something the Bengals have never done in their history. They've made the playoffs as a wild card each of the last two seasons and lost to Houston both times.

The Bengals are 0-4 in the postseason under coach Marvin Lewis, entering his 11th season in Cincinnati. They haven't won a playoff game since the 1990 season, a streak of futility that ties for seventh-longest in league history.

Much of the focus this season is on Dalton, who has struggled mightily in his two playoff games. The second-round pick from Texas Christian has gone 41 of 72 for 384 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions during the two playoff losses, which equates to a passer rating of only 48.6.

Dalton expects to be better all-around in his third season. If he's not, the Bengals will have to re-evaluate him as the starter.

Lewis challenged Dalton and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga to take more of a leadership role last season. He liked what he saw and rewarded them by making them team captains, putting a symbolic ``C'' on their jerseys.

Now, it's time for Dalton to lead them deeper into the playoffs ... or else.

``It's all about a comfort level once you're in year three,'' Green said. ``I feel like this is his team and he knows it is his team, so all he has to do is go out there and play.''


NOTES: The Bengals reached a contract agreement Wednesday with DE Margus Hunt, one of their second-round picks. Seven of their 10 draft picks have deals.


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The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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