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Cincinnati Bengals

Not Another Bengals, Saints Preview

Jeffery Carr

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© Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Contrary to popular opinion, the Cincinnati Bengals (5-3) are in the driver seat for a wildcard playoff spot, heading into the second half of the season. They welcome an absolute NFC juggernaut to Paul Brown Stadium, this Sunday, in the New Orleans Saints (7-1), a team that just ended the Los Angeles Rams undefeated season. Cue the “Who dey?” or “Who dat?” debate.

The Basics

Interestingly enough, Who Dey holds a one-game advantage in its series over Who Dat. The Bengals have beat the Saints seven times out of 13. What’s interesting, though, is that New Orleans has won 4-of-7 meetings in Cincinnati. The Saints won the last meeting at PBS, in 2010, but the Bengals won their last game, at the Superdome, in 2014. In fact, since the turn of the century, the Saints have scored more than 16 points just once against the Bengals.

The Offense

You might have heard that a certain AJ Green will not be on the field this Sunday. This complicates things. The Saints have, statistically, the best rush defense in the NFL. In order for the Bengals to be successful in this game, Joe Mixon must handle the load, whether through getting lots of carries, or hauling in lots of passes. That would seem to be running into the teeth of the Saints, though, as they have handled opposing running backs. In fact, they’re the one team to hold Todd Gurley to less than 20 fantasy points, this season. Nevertheless, Bill Lazor must lean on his talented running back to find holes and get yards so that Andy Dalton doesn’t have to drop back for third-and-long plays.

Of course, Mixon will not get every play. Andy is going to have to throw it to someone. Out of the 184 total targets for the Bengals, this season, 142 have gone to either Green, or Tyler Boyd. Boyd is going to be blanketed by the New Orleans secondary, so someone else, who has had little exposure, will have to step up for the Bengals to win. The good news is (as some of you roll your eyes) John Ross is back. This will be a perfect chance for him to showcase what he can do! He hasn’t had ample opportunity to do so, but Sunday will be the best shot. Get him in space and let him fly. This will be the second challenge for Bill Lazor, because he can’t ignore Ross, now. That stat that I threw out there, that means there are some serious opportunities for Ross, Erickson, and someone of the rabble of Josh Malone, Cody Core, and Auden Tate to stand out.

A quick note on the offensive line: everyone practiced, including Billy Price. It’ll be interesting to see if he gets in for the whole game or is on some kind of snap count.

The Defense

Tall, tall task, this week. Drew Brees is, undoubtedly, one of the three best quarterbacks in this league. Dave Lapham dropped the stat on the Bengals Booth Podcast: Brees has gone 12-straight seasons throwing 4,300+ yards. 12 years in a row. I was just learning to drive, the last time he didn’t do that. And the defense will need to cover Michael Thomas, a resurgent Ben Watson, and the magnificent Alvin Kamara. Speaking of Kamara, he and Mark Ingram will put the Bengals run stoppers to the test, as well.

Firslty, Vontaze Burfict is not expected to play and neither is Nick Vigil or Darqueze Dennard, so their playing thin, again. Secondly, the defensive line may be able to put some pressure on Brees as the entire Saints offensive line showed up on the injury report, Wednesday. Now, that’s not saying they’re all going to miss Sunday, but maybe one or two will be out and some others may be less than 100%. Should be an opportunity for Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap to take advantage of a banged up line.

The Skinny

This is never something a professional football player or coach will ever admit, but the Bengals can lose this game. A win would be really awesome, especially considering the caliber of team on the other side of the field, but the NFL doesn’t use a ranking system in which the “quality” of a win matters. Plus, next week’s game is really the more important game. Will the Bengals still try to win? Duh, that’s what they’re paid to do, but I’m not losing sleep if they lose this game. They should rest the guys who aren’t quite 100%, work Price into the game, but slowly, and focus on keeping the healthy guys, healthy.

Prediction: Saints 42, Bengals 33

Follow me on Twitter @jefffcarr and also check out @lockedonBengals for more Orange and Black content.

Jeff has spent his entire life around sports. From playing baseball and golf in high school to traveling with college softball, volleyball, and men’s basketball teams as their media relations guy, sports have been at the center of his mind. Just as comfortable talking spread offenses as he is talking Sabermetrics, get ready for simplistic views of complicated sports jargon. The Queen City is his home and he is excited to write about the Reds and the Bengals.

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Cincinnati Bengals

The AFC North Power Vacuum

Russell Heltman

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The AB shoe has dropped.

After a drama-filled start to the offseason, Antonio Brown got his wish: A new home and contract in the Bay Area. The Pittsburgh Steelers shipped their disgruntled star to the Oakland Raiders for a pair of third and sixth round picks in this year’s draft.

The Killer-B Era in the Steel City is over.

Le’veon Bell called the organizations bluff last year and sat the entire season after he was offered $14.5 million on another franchise tag. That decision left the Steelers with the fifth most unused cap space in the NFL last season and now the loss of Brown hamstrings them even more. The Steelers must now eat $21 million in dead cap money with Brown in the Silver and Black, ostensibly the largest hit of its kind in league history.

Dec 10, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (26) celebrates with wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) after scoring a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Sweet, sweet music for the rest of the AFC North.

While Pittsburgh holds on to a fading era the other three teams in the division have kickstarted themselves with new coaches, quarterbacks, and in the Cleveland Browns case, both.

Baker Mayfield‘s talents are now fully paired with Freddie Kitchens, the duo led Cleveland to a 5-2 record down the stretch and has injected a breadth of confidence the franchise hasn’t felt since returning to the shores of Lake Erie in 1999. The Lamar Jackson Era is in full swing after the Baltimore Ravens shipped Joe Flacco to Denver for a fourth-round pick. Jackson is a dynamic playmaker but struggled as a passer in year one, despite aerial issues the former Heisman winner notched six wins in seven starts with a 27-24 loss to Kansas City mixed in.

In Cincinnati all of the eggs now lie in the Zac Taylor basket, The entire coaching staff has been overhauled outside of special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons and after 16 seasons of Marvin Lewis, there is tepid optimism surrounding this young coaching staff.

For the first time since Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie season, the Steelers don’t seem like the go-to favorite to win the AFC North and stomp on another Marvin Lewis team. Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan are bringing fresh eyes and concepts to this roster and ideally Bengals fans will experience the 2018 LA Rams Offense: Midwest Edition when they roll into Paul Brown Stadium this Fall.

On the defensive side things can’t get much worse than last season with new coordinator Lou Anarumo taking the reins of a unit that ranked 32nd in total defense (413.6 yards allowed per game), 32nd against the pass (275.9 per game), 30th in points allowed (28.4 per game) and 29th against the run (137.8 yards per game).

Meanwhile, many of the draft experts have the Bengals selecting do-it-all LSU linebacker Devin White with the 11th pick. A massive value at that spot, White is as durable a player you’ll find at the linebacker position and is graded by Scouts Inc. as the fourth best prospect available in April. He would be a welcome addition to a defense that was the worst in the NFL defending tight ends last season.

A New Dey has arrived not only in Cincinnati but throughout the rest of the AFC North and with the Killer-B’s done in Pittsburgh the Bengals have their chance to fill the power void.

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Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals fans guide to Super Bowl LIII

Russell Heltman

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It’s been 30 years since the Cincinnati Bengals last played in a Super Bowl. A heartbreaking 20-16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers was the Bengals most recent shot at glory, and while Sunday’s matchup between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams showcases how far Cincinnati is to breaking that drought, there are plenty of things for Bengals fans to focus on inside of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

 

Keep an Eye on the Incoming Head Coach

Dec 3, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Rams assistant wide receivers coach Zac Taylor against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Zac Taylor is taking the reins from Marvin Lewis in what will be the first head coaching change since I started watching Bengals games during that magical 2005 season. The 35-year old Rams QB coach joins six other “young, offensive-minded” hires from this years coaching carousel. For Bengals fans, they are hoping he’s a cut above the rest, despite being the last to ink a deal. Bengals faithful should pay close attention any and every time the CBS production crew decides to show him in action on Sunday.

This is the biggest game Taylor has been a part of since entering the NFL coaching ranks with the Dolphins back in 2012 and it will be really interesting to see him handle a moment all Bengals fans hope he can relive sooner rather than later in Cincinnati. No one on the outside of the Rams organization really knows how involved Taylor is with setting up the gameplan, but he has clearly had a very positive effect on Jared Goff since taking over his tutelage in 2017.

How he interacts with Goff in between plays and coaches him through mistakes could go a long way in determining how he will help Andy Dalton (or Ryan Tannehill?) return to his 2015 form. Zac Taylor might not be the most experienced coach getting a chance this year but the results with Goff prove he deserves this opportunity.

 

Pre-snap and Play-Action

Jan 20, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) audibles during the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

There are still questions as to who will call plays and control the 2019 Bengals offense, but in saying that fans should expect a lot of carryover from this Rams system that has willed their way to Atlanta with pre-snap communication and play-action passing. It’s no secret that Goff and Rams head coach Sean McVay communicate right up to the 15-second cutoff during every play.

McVay can read the defense, then call something to match their formation and he often times uses motion to accomplish that. Former Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was allergic to this kind of communication and the offense ranked 32nd and 26th in his two seasons because of it. Expect Taylor to have his voice in the Red Rifle’s ear plenty on Sundays.

In terms of play-action passing the Rams used these plays as the cornerstone of their offense, calling them 34 percent of the time with devastating effect. LA’s 9.0 yards per play on these calls ranked third in the NFL and they averaged 1.9 yards per play more than regular calls. On the flip side, Cincinnati ranked 13th in the league calling play-action on 24 percent for 1.5 yards per play more than all other calls. It’s not rocket science, play-action works wonders in today’s NFL and Taylor is expected to bring that mindset with him to the Queen City.

 

Todd Gurley: The Receiver

Jan 20, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley (30) is tackled by New Orleans Saints middle linebacker Alex Anzalone (47) during the fourth quarter in the NFC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Player A: 55 targets, 43 receptions, 296 yards, 6.9 yards per catch, 1 TD

Player B: 81 targets, 59 receptions, 580 yards, 9.8 yards per catch, 4 TD

Yes, I know Joe Mixon had a stellar year running the ball (1,168 yards, 4.9 yards per carry) but he was totally mismanaged in the passing game and his Player A numbers reflect that. Player B, well I’d say he was used correctly and will continue to be used that way on Sunday. Despite his two costly drops in the NFC Championship Game, Todd Gurley is still one of the best receiving backs in the NFL.

A big reason why he’s so productive is the way LA puts him in an ideal position to make big plays, whether it’s a wheel route down the sideline or a throwback screen off of…. play action, this coaching staff does all they can to help him gash defenses. So far in Mixon’s career, I’ve barely seen any of that, it’s similar to putting a governor on a 66′ Cobra. Keep an eye on how the Rams use Gurley’s receiving skills to their advantage and imagine Mixon on the other end of those throws.

This One’s For Whit

Sep 27, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth (77) and offensive guard Rodger Saffold (76) during the game against the Minnesota Vikingsat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Rams defeated the Vikings 38-31. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Every Bengals fan should be rooting for the new head coach to bring a Super Bowl winning pedigree with him to his new digs in Cincinnati, but if that wasn’t enough, we should all be rooting for Andrew Whitworth.

Likely on his way to back-to-back All-Pro selections Whitworth is one of the best players to ever play the tackle position and was a consummate professional during his 11-year stint in a Bengals uniform. He notched his first playoff win 13 years into his career and why not knock down all of the playoff milestones in one run. I know who I’m rooting for come Super Bowl Sunday.

Enjoy the holiday.

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Cincinnati Bengals

An Open Letter to Marvin Lewis

Andre Edwards

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Dear Mr. Lewis,

I have been contemplating sending you this letter for quite some time, and I hope it finds you well.   You don’t know me, but I am a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Bengals.  The second Super Bowl loss to the San Francisco 49ers remains as the first time I can remember experiencing heartbreak.  I have, quite literally, hated Joe Montana for what he did to my then 12 year old self, for 30 years now.  That said, my fandom has endured.  Admittedly, as I was in college in the late 90’s, I was not as honed in on every move my Bengals made.  So many losses, so little time.  Sure, I loved Jeff Blake, Corey Dillon, and Takeo Spikes, but I had finals to take and parties from which to recover.  But then something happened.  Something unexpected.  Mike Brown hired you as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003.  Marvin Lewis – the legendary architect of one of the greatest defenses in the history of the league – was coming to be our coach!  The excitement was palpable, and you were brimming with confidence.  It was a swagger not seen around here since the days of Sam Wyche.

As the years passed, you began to place your stamp on the team and the city.  The Marvin Lewis community fund is an outstanding work of art, and a tribute to your dedication to the people of Cincinnati.  Kudos.  On the field, the likes of Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, Rudi Johnson, Willie Anderson, and TJ Houshmandzadeh, made being a Bengals’ fan fun again.  They became must see TV, if not in person appointment viewing.  Cleveland was a guaranteed two wins.  Baltimore was almost two.  Pittsburgh was likely a couple of losses, but the wins were sweet, and the losses were respectable.  I’d look forward to your post-game interviews, and your Monday press conferences.  There was useful information to be gleaned from them.  Things that the average fan would miss as they had long turned off the broadcast and moved on with their lives.  Not me.  I am a loyal fan, remember?  I don’t break down tape or have some hot draft take, but I love my Bengals, and I follow them closely – you included.

I need to take a moment to give you some props on the transition from the Palmer-era to the Dalton-era.  That entire thing was a mess, what with Carson forcing his way out, you hiring an unproven offensive coordinator in Jay Gruden, and then drafting/starting a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton.  And all during an NFL lockout.  I still remember predictions of the team going 0-16 that year.  Somehow, some way, you guided this team, not only to a winning record, but to the playoffs.  I am not sure if I have ever been more impressed by an NFL coach.  You completely rebooted the franchise, and had a whole new cast of characters for us to get to know.  Dalton, AJ Green, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Clint Boling, and Andrew Whitworth.  Young talent, ready to take on the AFC North.  Two wins versus Cleveland – check.  Almost two wins versus Baltimore – check.  Still two losses to Pittsburgh – yeah, most of the time, but division titles weren’t out of reach.  The playoffs became an annual event.  This is where I need to touch on the obvious…

I do not understand your philosophy when it comes to playoff games, and for that matter, night games, games against Pittsburgh, Monday Night Football games, and any other game not at 1 pm eastern.  You seem to have think and preach that these games are just the same as any other.  No need for extra emphasis.  No need for extra hype.  No need to bring an extra chin strap because it’s just another game.  After watching 16 years of this approach from you, I humbly disagree.  Your teams are consistently outplayed, out-coached, and seemingly unprepared for the spotlight of these match-ups.  At some point, would it not make sense to try a different approach?  Maybe call it Pittsburgh week?  Maybe say this Sunday night game is going to be huge for us?  Maybe say that your team is chomping at the bit to play on Monday Night Football?  It’s got to be better than just another game – just another loss.

I know you love this city and this franchise.  I genuinely believe you want to win – for Mike Brown, and for the fans.  That said, I think that it is time to move on with your life’s work.  You gave it your all.  You got more out of Mr. Brown than anyone ever thought possible.  You raised this franchise to a level of respectability that no one could have predicted.  You have done good work.  It’s just not enough.  There is no shame in that.  And if I am being honest, you just do not seem to enjoy this anymore.  Your press conferences, that I used to look forward to hearing, are all the same.  Short, full of disdain for the people asking questions, and random giggles that make no sense.  The fire and energy after 16 years of being an NFL head coach have faded.  Why not let someone else give it a shot?  We both know Mike Brown isn’t going to fire you, so why not walk away?  Do what’s best for the franchise, and make them look for a coach.  Last time, it brought us you!

 

Thank you for reading, and I wish you all the best in your next adventure.

 

Sincerely,

Andre

 

P. S. Please take Hue Jackson with you.  Thanks

 

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