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Cincinnati Bengals

The Bills have set us free, so now what do we do at center

Cody Tewmey

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Until Russel Bodine was officially signed by another team, thanks again Bills, we all were in fear of his return. With all of the options that the Bengals are “familiar” with off the table, what is next? The free agent pool that the Bengals might have considered are all signed now, or they won’t be signed until after the draft, so that leaves us with one main option draft our new center in April. There are multiple options in this draft that would be upgrades to Bodine in the upcoming draft and I will cover those in a bit. The Bengals are very fortunate to have this draft have three top tier options at center for them to choose from and with the trade down to pick 21 they are right in the spot where teams would start considering the position.
 
James Daniels – Iowa 6’3″, 305 lbs
The only player I’d consider at pick 21 is Daniels. I can already feel the OSU fans scrolling to the comments section to tell me about Billy Price, but please just hear me out. In Frank Pollock’s wide zone scheme (ZBS) athleticism at the center position is critical. The last time Pollock had a shot at a center like this, his name was Travis Frederick and he took him at pick 31, after a trade down. Since then interior offensive line has gained some value, but at pick 21 he is still going to be in rare air for a drafted center. With Daniels you are betting on his ceiling, not his floor as the better floor player is Billy Price, for those OSU fans still reading. I’ll get to him soon with more detail though. Having a center that is athletic enough to pull and get to the second level, and actually block his intended linebacker, will be a huge benefit to Mixon/Gio. This won’t help as much with the 3-8 yard runs, but will provide more opportunities for home runs if Daniels can clear out the second level it’s the RB versus the DBs with a full head of steam. Make one man miss and you’ll hear Lap all the way in Covington from the booth on the call; I’ll take those odds. Does Daniels have some issues, sure all players do, but if I’m taking a center in the first round I want the chance that at some point of his career he’s the best in the NFL, Daniels gives you that. For those that want a guy with local ties, Daniels fits that as well. He played high school football in Ohio and actually against Billy Price, who he claimed to have pancaked twice at an interview during the NFL Combine. Daniels can sometimes get overpowered by bigger guys, but he has already added weight since the seasons end and if he can carry that weight well it will help with that. He’s is great at controlling the quicker 3T defensive tackles to seal off running lanes. 
Bodine upgrade Rating 4X
 
Billy Price – OSU 6’4′ 306 lbs
Let the heavy breathing begin for the Buckeye faithful. This is one of those rare times where a huge need in Cincinnati matches up with a top flight prospect from Columbus and thus the excitement begins. Would Billy Price be a terrible pick at 21, not really, but he is likely reach there so I wouldn’t do it, now at 46 that’s a solid pick. As they say in the scouting world “you don’t get fired for hitting doubles,” and Price is likely that, his floor is solid, but he doesn’t have the athletic upside that Daniels does plus he just doesn’t have the wow plays. Is Price athletic enough to run Pollock’s system, yes he is, but is he such the prospect that Pollock will stand on the table at 21 for him, I’m not sure. People will talk about his size, but Daniels has put on nearly 15 pounds in the draft process so I expect them to have similar playing weights in the NFL. People will talk about his leadership and his grit/heart, well a lot of players play hard in the NFL, but that doesn’t make them great. Price was a vocal leader on the offense, super durable (starting every game in his career), and has played both guard and center, so that is a big bonus. Price is a very powerful blocker, so that is useful attribute in this division with all the big NT that they will face, but he can get too aggressive and miss at times. I think the Bengals are going to go a different direction at 21 with this center class, although I would say it is a mistake just take your top guy and start off this draft well. I have a feeling they will see it is so deep, so they will likely just wait until pick 46 and take the best guy in their board between Daniels (5% chance he’s there), Price (60% chance he’s there), and Frank Ragnow (85% chance he’s there). It very well end up that the Buckeye faithful go to bed unhappy on Thursday night only to be filled with joy early into day two of the NFL Draft.
Bodine upgrade rating 2.5X
 
Frank Ragnow – Arkansas 6’5″ 315 lbs
If there is a prospect that Bengals fans will love, not named Billy, that they aren’t talking about it’s Ragnow. Were you a fan of Russell Bodine, if so Ragnow is not your guy. They couldn’t be more different in their on field play/demeanor. When Bodine would whiff on an block, fall to his keister, then clap his hands angrily at his mistake. Ragnow will quickly get to his feet and try to “find some work” to get some payback. Want a guy that “plays through the whistle,” then buckle up for some Ragnow kill shots. He’s got a mean streak and likes to finish dudes, and is pretty successful at it. The biggest issue with Ragnow will be one that no one will have an answer to until draft night. He had an ankle injury and a few other nagging ones that he played through could be a cause for some concern, but he is tough as nails and played through them. The Medicals for his injuries will largely determine some of his draft slotting, but those things we won’t know about until we see when he is picked he could go round one or as late as early round 3. He is the type that always wants to finish guys off, and somewhat surprisingly testing great athletically compared to other centers. He was a captain in his final year and was known to push his teammates to get better, something this offensive line room can use. His second level blocking is really good, so I think Pollock will really want him if Daniels is gone. He was the top rated center by PFF last year, yet another stark difference from what we have seen at that position the last four years. I thought with him playing through injuries and a slightly down 2017 year because of it he might be a target for pick 77, but more and more I’m hearing that might be his draft floor I’d bet he is gone somewhere before pick 55 now. Thus, hoping for him to be available in the third round might leave you holding the bag, so as I stated before I think the Bengals need to take their center at 21 or 46. If they pass on center at 21 & 46 then be ready to trade up from 77 to the 50s if only one center of the top three is left because Buffalo and Minnesota are both in that range and possible landing spots for a center. When it comes to early plans at center, these three guys are the only real options that are not reaches at 21 and 46.
Bodine upgrade rating 3X
 
Plan B, the later round options
 
Mason Cole – Michigan 6’4″ 310 lbs
Cole is a polarizing prospect, some love him some don’t, but the tape says to me he’s a quality player. For the same reasons that Price gets a slight boost in our area, I’d say Cole gets a bit of a bad shake, but that’s human nature it’s okay. Michigan didn’t do Cole any favors either, moving him from center to left tackle and back and forth did not help his development, or draft stock. I think Cole is likely in the same conversations as the other three guys if he plays at center his whole career at Michigan, but he didn’t and here we are. When we look back at the centers’ in this draft we very well may look back and see him as a better player then one or more of the top three and say he was the best value. I could see the Bengals using him as their parachute at center, knowing he’s most likely there at 77 and possibly even at 100, so they wait early to get maximum value if they miss on the others. He also has played some OT, so they’ll like his versatility/smarts too, as it’s not as easy to move around the line as Madden leads us to believe. I think I heard a recently signed free agent guard describe moving from one side to the next as learning to wipe with your other hand, now that’s a visual that we can all relate to, but please do not attempt this at home and tweet me the outcome. My point is playing center and left tackle are so different, which is why his development might have been slowed and his NFL upside has some added potential. Even right now, as he is he would still be an upgrade over what Bodine was, I know that’s a low bar, but think about how a fringe 4th rounder could be an immediate upgrade, that’s a good thing. If the Bengals decide to wait and the top three are gone at 77, I don’t think that they will risk it and will go with Cole at that pick to be safe. 
Bodine upgrade rating 2X now potential 3X with development
 
Will Clapp – LSU 6’5″ 310 lbs, & Scott Quessenberry- UCLA 6’4″ 310 lbs
 
These are the extreme last options for an upgrade for the Bengals. The problem is if we get to this point we should all be dissatisfied with this outcome. They is still an upgrade, but with this class you can get a guy that is a 4-5x upgrade over Bodine, yet these guys are is more like a 1.5x upgrade. That is missed opportunity, when the draft lines up with needs, you pounce and improve your team as much as possible, because the end result is felt much stronger. Having a center that can do the line calls and take that burden off of Dalton is a huge benefit to him and the offense.
Bodine upgrade Rating 1.5X
It would be hard pressed with this draft for the Bengals not to improve on what we have had at center for the last for year, but that cannot be the standard. The Bengals would be foolish to think there is a lot of value at this position and try to wait on what might slide to the middle rounds. Look at the draft with Kevin Zeitler as an example, they could have waited on that position, but they didn’t they took one of the top guys and it really paid off for this offense. I think that they should do the same thing with this center class there are three guys that can make an immediate impact and really change the landscape of this offensive line going forward. If they want to move down before picking one of them because they have similar grades on Price, Ragnow, and Daniels I am okay with that too. It worked for them the year they got Zeitler, and it worked for the Cowboys when they did it with Fredrick. There is something to just taking your guy at pick 21 and running with it, but as long as we have one of the top three by pick 46 it will be a big win for all Bengals fans.

Salesman by day, DraftTwitter by night, I’ve been working on film study of Draft prospects, and mocks for about 5 years now. Feedback and debate are healthy and it’s how we get better, so let’s engage.

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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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