It’s always nice to get the perspective from the other sideline before the Minnesota Vikings take the field. As we do every week, we’ve exchanged some questions with our fellow SB Nation site looking for intel on the opponent for the purple this week. This time, I’ve gotten the opportunity to exchange some questions with Scott Schulze from SB Nation’s site for everything relating to the Cincinnati Bengals, Cincy Jungle. They’ve already posted the answers to the questions they had for our side, and you can read those right here. Here are the questions that I sent Scott’s way, along with his responses.
1) With their loss to the Bears last week, the Bengals fell to 5-8 on the season. Is this finally the year that the Bengals move on from Marvin Lewis? Does Lewis even want to come back next season?
I sure hope so, as does about 95% of the fan base at this point. I really can’t vouch for that other 5% still want Lewis coaching the team. This isn’t Lewis’ first bad year, but it seems like, unlike other bad years, that he’s lost control of the team. He seems disinterested and defeated, like he has finally resigned himself to this being his last season, and just doesn’t give a rip. I’m sure he’d come back if the Bengals asked him to, but at this point I can’t imagine a team even as loyal as the Bengals bringing him back, yet again.
2) If the Bengals do move on from Lewis, and considering that you probably can't have Mike Zimmer back, do you think they'd have any interest in Vikings' offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur?
At this point, it’s difficult to say because as much as we “expect” Lewis to be gone – this isn’t the first time, or even second time, that we thought the Bengals would let Lewis go, only to see him return. So there is that cautious optimism that the Bengals will be looking for a new head coach, but it’s hard to speculate, when there is that sense in the back of your mind telling you not to get ahead of yourself, because the Bengals could very well bring Lewis back.
That being said, if Lewis is gone, my first guess is that the Bengals grab an NFL assistant coach to fill the vacancy. Ever since their miserably failed hiring of college coach David Shula back in 1992 (who went 19-52), they have gone with NFL assistants. I’ve not heard Shurmur’s name linked as a candidate, but I suppose those names will start popping up after Week 17. Since it’s been so long since they’ve hired a head coach, it’s very difficult to accurately pinpoint what kind of philosophy they will use.
3) The Bengals appear to have a significant amount of talent at the skill positions on offense, but they rank near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories. How much of that, in your opinion, falls on Andy Dalton, and how much falls on other factors?
Yes, I agree that the Bengals have a lot of skill position talent – and are getting so little from them. I’d argue that all around, this team has as much talent as the 2015 Bengals that went 12-4. But this team is unfortunately doing so little with so much that it’s quite frustrating. It’s like having $1,000,000 and investing it all in a checking account to draw the meager 0.1% interest.
Part of the offensive woes sit squarely with Dalton, but it would be unfair to pin the offense’s struggles on him alone. Dalton is your ideal game-manager in that he slightly better than league-average as a quarterback, and if you put a lot of good pieces around him, he can produce well. But if you don’t protect him or give him great receiving options, he’s not going to do much. And this year the offensive line has allowed him to be pressured pretty much all season, and he’s not exactly the first guy that comes to mind when you think of a quarterback who makes plays from a broken pocket – unless you consider tossing the ball 10 yards out of bounds as making a big play.
To put it kindly, the offensive line has been pretty atrocious all season long – although they have looked better over the past month, improving from atrocious to mediocre. For much of the season, the run blocking was abysmal, giving the running backs no room to run the ball. I think at one point in the season, 24% of Joe Mixon’s rushes went for zero or negative yardage because of the non-existent run blocking.
4) Give us one player on each side of the ball that Vikings' fans might not know about that you think will play a role in determining the outcome of this week's contest.
I really want to say Joe Mixon, the rookie RB the Bengals grabbed in the draft this year after trading down with the Vikings, who used the Bengals original pick to select Dalvin Cook. But Mixon is currently in the concussion protocol, and will likely miss the game. So I’ll go with our left tackle, Cedric Ogbuehi. He will play a role in determining the outcome of this game, but probably not in a good way. I had mentioned the struggles with the offensive line and Ogbuehi has had plenty of issues trying to replace All-Pro Andrew Whitworth at left tackle. Ogbuehi seems to be slowly improving, but still has a long way to go. If he plays like he did last year, or for much of this season, expect Dalton to be under a lot of pressure – which is good for the Vikings.
On defense, I’m going to go with our rookie edge rusher Carl Lawson. He leads all rookies with 7.0 sacks this season, which isn’t a bad feat for a kid selected after 20 other defensive ends and outside linebackers. He’s been quite impressive ever since he first showed up in OTA’s blowing past our offensive tackles, and has carried that thru to preseason and into the regular season. I have to think he deserves some consideration for defensive rookie of the year. What makes his numbers even more amazing is that the Bengals only play him on about 40% of their defensive snaps, and their inability to score or get a lead doesn’t put the opposition in many passing situations.
5) I think that many people expect the Vikings to win rather convincingly on Sunday afternoon. Is there any scenario in which you could see the Bengals pulling off what would be a significant upset?
I assume you mean besides sudden flu outbreaks or the team bus breaking down? I’ll say it’s unlikely that the Bengals win on Sunday, but I won’t say it’s impossible. In the parity driven NFL where crucial turnovers or bad calls can quickly flip a win into a loss, anything is possible. The Bengals offense is non-existent in the second half, which means if the Bengals are going to win they need to build a big enough lead before halftime, and hold on during the second half.
As I mentioned earlier, the Bengals roster has a much better collection of talent than the results show in the standings or on the field. So the players are there to pull out a surprising big game – especially if Dalton can get the ball to Green on a regular basis. Also, Marvin Lewis’ teams have a tendency to struggle in big games – playoffs, primetime games, or meaningful games that are must-win games. But his teams do well in games where nothing is on the line – which this games qualifies for. So I want to say the Bengals have a chance to win, but outside of a crazy turnover ratio favoring them, I’ll say that chance is fairly slim.
Thanks again to Scott for taking the time to answer our questions about the Bengals heading into this week’s contest. Once again, be sure you’re following the good folks over at Cincy Jungle for all of the latest news on Cincinnati Bengals football.