It’s a cat team throwdown in the penultimate game of the regular season, and the Detroit Lions are looking to keep in a playoff hunt. Meanwhile, the Bengals are trying to ride out the end of the Marvin Lewis era and a wave of injuries. We talked with Scott Schulze of Cincy Jungle about the Bengals season thus far and what the future might hold on the Ohio River.
1. A.J. Green just made the Pro Bowl and he's put up one hell of a performance in spite of his quarterback's struggles. What's made him effective this year?
One of the things that A.J. Green does well is get open. He has a knack of making defensive backs look silly in man coverage and slipping open. Unfortunately, the passes aren’t always on target, which is where the other thing he does well comes into play – his ability to adjust to balls in the air. He’s got great concentration and body control to make the catches that most receivers just don’t make. That’s helped him make it to seven straight Pro Bowls in his first seven seasons. It’s been nice having Green and I really wouldn’t want to think of how worse the Bengals offense would have been without him over the past seven years.
2. The Bengals are on a three-game skid and well outside the playoff picture. What happened with this season, and what needs to be fixed to see Cincinnati back to competing for the AFC South?
I figure Star Wars is probably the best way to explain most things. The original Star Wars movies – A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi had some pretty cool things. They had lightsabers, the Force, Jedi, stormtroopers, Darth Vader, Yoda, and R2-D2. Anybody who liked the original movies would have thought that it would be near impossible to screw something like Star Wars up. But then the prequels were released. That’s basically what happened to the Bengals this season. They still had a lot of good pieces with A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, and Joe Mixon on offense, and guys like Geno Atkins, Carl Lawson, Carlos Dunlap, and Vontaze Burfict on defense. But somehow they managed to screw it up. Although instead of adding Jar Jar Binks and horrible dialog, they let their offensive line fall into ruin. They let their two best players (left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler) leave via free agency, and replaced them with draft picks who have struggled mightily. Until the offensive line gets upgraded it’s difficult to see them being as successful as they were from 2011 to 2015.
3. What's the strength of the Bengals defense? Its weakness?
One thing the defense does well is get to the quarterback. Rookie edge rusher Carl Lawson has been a great addition, and Geno Atkins is the best pass rushing 3-technique defensive tackle in the league. They generally get good pressure on the quarterback, and don’t give up a ton of passing yardage.
The biggest weakness this year has been the lack of turnovers. They are dead last in forced fumbles and in the lower half of the league in interceptions. For much of the season the defense was carrying the Bengals, while the offense was dragging them down. But over the past few weeks, it just seems like the wheels have come off, and the defense has thrown in the towel. I could also offer up the rushing defense as a weakness, and there have been issues at linebacker this year. But part of the reason the Bengals defense is dead last in rushing yardage allowed per game is the offensive ineptitude. The offense has been unable to score and hold onto the ball, allowing opposing teams to run the clock and run frequently.
4. What come after Marvin Lewis, besides the cold void that comes for us all?
For fifteen years Marvin Lewis has been like the Daleks and Cybermen of Doctor Who – just when you think they are gone, they show up a few episodes later. There have been multiple seasons during Lewis’ fifteen-year presence as the head coach of the Bengals where fans figured it was his last season, only to see him again at the helm the following year.
All of the stars seem to finally be aligned for making this Lewis’ last year for Lewis as the Bengals head coach. But Bengals fans have been disappointed in the past in this regard, so I’m hesitant to get too ahead of myself and dwell in what comes next, at least until Lewis is officially gone.
Once Lewis is gone (hopefully?) the team can either hire from within or look external. Most fans are not in favor of an internal hire as it seems to just perpetuate the current culture where Lewis seems to have lost the team who has given up on him. Bengals fans seem to prefer an external hire and the ensuing cleanup of the team as massive as Hercules performed with the Augean stables.
5. Andy Dalton looks like a Batman villain, that much is certain, I see it when he smiles, but I need your opinion as to which Batman villain he looks like.
I’ll admit that I’m much more a Star Wars guy than a Marvel/DC comic guy. If you had asked which Star Wars villain, I’d probably have to go with General Hux from the new episodes VII and VIII. Back to Batman I’d have to go with the Riddler. They both have the red hair, which is a rare trait for quarterbacks and villains alike. If I’m missing somebody obvious, I’ll gladly let your readers correct my answer.