Training Camp in the NFL is an optimistic time.
Every team across the league has high hopes for the year that haven’t been squashed by the trials of a regular season. In the case of the 2017 Cincinnati Bengals, optimism surrounded just about every aspect of the team except… the offensive line.
Arguably the worst group in the league and easily a bottom-five unit, last year’s offensive line made it nearly impossible for the team to score points. The group didn’t have one player graded average or better by Pro Football Focus. It wasn’t a surprise either, every fan and analyst that watched the team at camp prepared for a long year.
Fast forward 365 days and a lot has changed for this position group: Russell Bodine out, Billy Price in, Cedric Ogbuehi out, Cordy Glenn in. All while the right tackle position remains unclaimed. This is a group in flux and they’ve tasked the mastermind of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line to put it together. I made my way out to training camp on Monday to see what kind of effect the new faces and Frank Pollack’s coaching are having on this group.
I want to preface this less than ideal assessment with a positive, Carl Lawson, Geno Atkins, and the rest of the front seven are going to take a big leap in 2018. That being said, the offensive line struggled on Monday.
Of the roughly 20 passing plays the Bengals ran in 11-on-11, only five left the quarterback with a clean pocket. Now there were a handful of plays you can chalk up as coverage pressure but it still wasn’t pretty. Plus, you’ll be surprised to see one of these players starting: LT Cordy Glenn, LG Clint Boling, C Billy Price, RG Trey Hopkins, RT Bobby Hart.
That’s right, the guy cast aside by the New York Giants and one of the lowest graded tackles in the league last year was the Bengals starting right tackle on their tenth day of camp. He didn’t look the part either, giving up a sack and two pressures in 11-on-11. This tells me two things: Jake Fisher and Ogbuehi aren’t proving themselves and this team still has no clue who will start in Indianapolis. Despite not seeing Fisher take snaps with the first team, I still think he has a solid shot at the job, we haven’t seen him fully round into form following heart problems.
It’s only the tenth day of camp so Pollack and Co. still have some time to figure out the answer on that side. Plus, the only teams that have played a real football game this year are Baltimore and Chicago. Preseason performance will provide the bulk of the answers but nothing they showed me in pass protection makes me optimistic.
Be prepared for another season of gun-shy Andy Dalton.
Enough with the negatives, Pollack has brought a new mentality and nastiness to this crew. A lot of Paul Alexander’s techniques were reactionary, while Pollack has clearly been preaching aggression. It already seems to be helping what was the second-worst rushing attack in the league. Joe Mixon and Mark Walton got the majority of the reps on Monday and looked dynamic behind Pollack’s crew. Expect to see a lot of these same blocking concepts this season:
The line communicated well, blocked downhill, opened up some highways in the process, and there weren’t any fumbled snaps between Dalton and Price. With a dynamic backfield trio and a fresh blocking mentality, the Bengals should heed the advice of our fearless leader James Rapien and ride a smash-mouth identity into the playoffs.
This offensive line is definitely better than they were on August, 8th 2017 but they still have a long way to go if they want to contend for the Lombardi Trophy. The road starts Thursday against the Chicago Bears.
Not Another Bengals, Chiefs Preview
Week seven of the NFL regular season is upon us and the Cincinnati Bengals have a golden opportunity this Sunday on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs. Guessing that’s not where your mind went when you thought of this game?
The Bengals and Chiefs have squared off 28 times, over the years, with the Bengals holding a slight 15-13 advantage. Cincinnati holds a four-game winning streak over Kansas City with the last loss coming at Arrowhead in 2007. Marvin Lewis is 6-2 against the Chiefs and 2-2 at Arrowhead. The Lewis-led Bengals have outscored the Chiefs 167 to 136, in their eight meetings.
The last game between these two teams was in week four of the 2015 season. The Bengals won in Paul Brown Stadium 36-21 with four of the touchdowns coming from running plays. Three TDs were scored by Jeremy Hill and the other came from Giovanni Bernard. The lone TD pass was a 55-yarder to Brandon Tate from Andy Dalton.
This is a marvelous chance for Andy and the offense to get back on track. They managed just nine total yards in the third quarter against the Steelers, but will be facing a very pedestrian defensive squad, this coming Sunday night. In two games career games against the Chiefs, Dalton has completed 66% of his passes for 551 yards and three scores. He will face a Chiefs defense that ranks stone cold last in pass defense, allowing 340 yards per game, through the air.
Joe Mixon will be happy, though, as the Chiefs also allow an average of 127 rushing yards, per game. In fact, the Bengals offense, as a whole, should feast on Sunday. They’re averaging 29 points per game and the Chiefs allow 28.7 per game.
They’re banged up, and they’re outgunned in this matchup. Statistically, Cincinnati’s defense has fared only slightly better than Kansas City’s. The Bengals are allowing just over 400 total yards, a game, and 26 points per game. Couple that with the high-flying offense of Patrick Mahomes, who averages 418 total yards and 35 points per game, and I’d say you should bet the over, whatever Vegas has it set as.
Nick Vigil and Darqueze Dennard have been ruled out and Shawn Williams is listed as questionable. Given that eight different defensive starters came off the field last Sunday, at different points in the game, and this coming game may be crazy, simply from a health standpoint.
This matchup has a real chance at being a playoff preview as well as a carbon copy of the Falcons game, a few weeks back. The Chiefs will be in a battle with the Chargers, all season, for the AFC West and the Bengals, though on top for the moment, have no room for comfort with the Ravens and Steelers knocking on the door. Whoever has the ball last in this pivotal game could very well end up the winner.
I’d expect to see a lot of William Jackson and Tyreek Hill matchups. Some have said Hill is the best receiver, in the game, this year so Jackson will need to be on his toes for all 60 minutes. Meanwhile, Kansas City receiving threat 1-B, Travis Kelce, will probably be Teryl Austin’s biggest headache. The Bengals, no matter the personnel or the coaching staff, have always struggled to cover the opposing tight end. Enter, arguably, the best tight end in the NFL with his 468 receiving yards and three TDs. I’m no expert fantasy football predictor, but I’d bet he is a top scorer, this week. And I haven’t even mentioned the Chiefs’ stud running back, Kareem Hunt. Dude is a threat to run all over the place (456 yds, 4th in NFL) and be a pain to the Bengals pass defense (17 yards per catch). Pray for Austin and the Bengals defense.
Bringing it Home
That being said, this is a winnable game for the Bengals. They have the firepower to hang with Kansas City. If you jumped off the wagon after the loss to the Steelers and think the Bengals are going to get absolutely crushed by the Chiefs, you won’t agree with me, so whatevs, but this game isn’t that big of a mismatch. John Ross will be on the field for Cincinnati, giving them their bonafide deep threat to contend with the Chiefs’ big play abilities. AJ Green has nobody to worry about on the Chiefs defense, and will be able to roam free, looking for holes in the coverage. Which just means Tyler Boyd will be able to give as much of his safety blanket-ness to Andy as he can. Should the line have a rough day protecting the pocket, Dalton will have plenty of chances to scramble and make something happen while extending the play. One of these two teams will begin the game hot only to try to slow it down with the rushing game, but I believe both defenses will be porous enough to allow some highlight reel plays deep. This is going to be an entertaining game to watch, if your pacemaker doesn’t give out in the first half. Call me crazy, call me a homer (whatevs, I’m no professional), but I say the Bengals win.
Prediction: Bengals 42, Chiefs 38
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WATCH: Houshmandzadeh says the Bengals are going to beat the Chiefs
Former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh says the Bengals are going to beat the Chiefs on Sunday night football. He also thinks Andy Dalton’s struggles in primetime games are just a ‘coincidence.’ He was a guest on ‘The Herd’ on Fox Sports One. Watch the video below.
‘Vontaze can be as great as he wants to be’
Vontaze Burfict has been talked about a lot this week. Not for his dominant play, but for a questionable hit on Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) October 14, 2018
This isn’t new for Burfict. His play has been discussed for years. He’s been fined or suspended 11 times in his career, which has cost him over $1 million in salary.
Some people believe Burfict should be suspended for the rest of the season. Others think he should be out of the NFL forever. There’s no denying that he’s earned his reputation.
Burfict doesn’t like how he’s viewed in the media. If he wants to change it, he can start by playing like an elite linebacker against Kansas City. He doesn’t look like the player he once was. It’s probably because he’s missed so much time over the past few years. Burfict has appeared in 11 games or fewer in his last four seasons due to suspensions and injuries. He hasn’t forced a turnover since 2016, which is the last time he was playing at an elite level.
That leads me to a question that has been asked a lot this week: Is Burfict worth the headache? His teammates certainly think so.
“Vontaze can be as great as he wants to be,” Carlos Dunlap said earlier this week. “And as you’ve seen up to this level he’s played as one of the best linebackers in the league. And I feel like he has the potential to be even better.”
Sunday is an opportunity for Burfict to put on a show. It’s a chance for him to remind people that he is one of the best linebackers in the league. If he goes out there, dominates and does it without any questionable hits, then the entire country will see why the Bengals signed him to two contract extensions. Leading a struggling defense into Kansas City and getting a win would be huge for how people view him. Fans and media could discuss his stellar play, instead of a late-hit or a PED suspension.
He needs to remind people, including fans, that he can be a great player. Burfict just turned 28-years-old. He signed a contract extension with the Bengals last season. There has been plenty of chatter about Burfict this week, but that isn’t bothering rookie safety Jessie Bates.
“He’s so smart and he makes things easier for me communication wise,” Bates said on Wednesday. “Obviously he’s been doing this for a long time. He plays very violent and some people don’t like that. I’m glad that he’s on our team.”
It’s hard to envision Burfict changing at this point, but he can use Sunday to his advantage. He can show a national television audience that he’s able to play the game at a high level and do so without getting fined, flagged or suspended for questionable play.
Once upon a time Burfict was an undrafted free agent who impressed coaches with his knowledge of the game. Fast forward to present day and he’s a ‘dirty player’ who should be suspended or worse. Burfict has a chance to remind everyone of how good he can be. Whether or not he takes advantage of it is up to him.
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