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Cincinnati Bengals

The offense looks good on paper, will it be good on the field?

James Rapien

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The Bengals offense has been tough to watch over the past two seasons. They didn’t score a touchdown until Week 3 in 2017 and finished last in the NFL in total offense.

The struggles came after a successful 2015 season. They were seventh in points scored and finished with a 12-4 record. They’ve won 13 games total over the past two seasons and the offense is a big reason why. There are plenty of reasons why their play has dropped off.

They’ve lost veterans in free agency like Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. The Bengals also lost offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and Andy Dalton’s play has dropped off.

Instead of blowing things up this offseason and moving on from Marvin Lewis or Dalton, owner Mike Brown decided to bring Lewis back. The organization did hit the ‘reset’ button by parting ways with offensive line coach Paul Alexander. He joined the Bengals in 1994 and was their offensive line coach from 1995-2017. Frank Pollack replaces Alexander and the organization believes it will help turn around an offensive line that has allowed 80 sacks over the past two seasons.

They officially named Bill Lazor offensive coordinator after he replaced Ken Zampese two games into the 2017 season. Can Lazor do what Zampese couldn’t? The Bengals averaged 20 points-per-game with Lazor at the helm last year. Will an entire offseason with this group change things for the better? The Bengals believe Lazor is the right man for the job. They were also excited to bring in Bob Bicknell to coach the wide receivers and Alex Van Pelt to be the quarterbacks coach. It may just be OTA’s, but wide receiver Tyler Boyd says things have been different.

“They’re giving us a lot more freedom to do us.” Boyd told me earlier this week. “Not over-coaching us. Whatever situation it is, it could be different looks every time. I think the coaches do a great job of letting us feel free, relax and just play.”

Boyd had 54 receptions for 603 yards and one touchdown as a rookie. He took a step back last season, hauling in 22 receptions for 225 yards and two touchdowns. Ten of those receptions came in the final two games of the year. There were questions about his knowledge of the playbook. It sounds like he’s more comfortable in Lazor’s system.

So they have new coordinators and position coaches – will it translate to success on offense in 2018?

On paper this team has a great group of skill players. Most NFL teams would love to start with A.J. Green, Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert. Throw in a speedy first-round pick in John Ross, a savvy veteran like Brandon LaFell, the aforementioned Boyd and you have a good group of skill players.

The Bengals didn’t wait around to see if Pollack could make Cedric Ogbuehi better. Instead, they turned the 12th pick in the NFL Draft into Cordy Glenn and Billy Price. Both should be significant upgrades at the left tackle and center positions. Now we have an offense with a new scheme, led by a franchise quarterback in his prime, a very good group of skill players and an improved offensive line. This unit will be much better than it was a year ago, right?

“I’ve been feeling this way since we drafted Ross – dynamic, explosive, deep threats, short, anything,” Boyd said. “You look at it and it’s like ‘how do you stop them? How do you stop that group of people?’ Guys should be open all over the place. Mixon should be able to hit any hole at any time. It’s hard to defend.”

The Bengals offense should be much improved in 2018. Boyd will likely face a lot of single coverage with Green, Eifert and Ross commanding more attention. The offensive line should be able to hold its’ own. If they can do that, then Mixon and Bernard will have plenty of running lanes. This offense has the potential to be better than it was in 2015. Will it reach that potential?

Health is a big concern. The Bengals are relying on players who missed most of last season. Glenn, Ross and Eifert played in 11 out of a possible 48 games. Glenn told me he’s healthy and is all set for training camp. Eifert was limited in OTA’s, but is expected to be full go when camp starts. Ross says his shoulder is “fine” and he’s 100 percent healthy. Will it stay that way?

It may sound crazy, but Eifert is the third most important player out of the three. The Bengals have a capable backup tight end in Tyler Kroft. Does anyone think Ogbuehi can be a competent starting left tackle? Does this team have another wide receiver that can have the impact Ross can on the other side of Green? The answer to both of those questions is probably no. This offense is relying on multiple players who dealt with injuries in recent seasons. Even Price, who the Bengals drafted 21st overall in April’s draft, is dealing with a torn pectoral muscle. He was Mr. Durable at Ohio State, making a school record 55 starts in a row at both guard and center. This offense needs him to be healthy and effective right away.

The right side of the offensive line is as big of a concern as any. I can buy into the idea of Christian Westerman, Trey Hopkins or Alex Redmond starting at right guard, but who’s going to play right tackle? Will New York Giants castoff Bobby Hart win the job? Can Jake Fisher overcome heart surgery and show he can be a competent NFL lineman?

The Bengals also have questions at the quarterback position. They feel comfortable with Dalton leading this team, but they need him to stay healthy. Does anyone think Matt Barkley, Jeff Driskel or Logan Woodside can lead this team if Dalton gets injured? AJ McCarron was a known commodity and a reliable backup. They have to cross their fingers and hope that Dalton can stay injury free this season.

There are so many questions surrounding this offense. Yes, the Bengals improved this offseason. Will they be good enough to get to the playoffs for the first time since 2015? No one knows the answer. Most of the players on this roster, especially at the skill positions, were here last season. Eifert and Ross didn’t have an impact due to injury. If that’s the case in 2018, then we’re looking at another bad season for the Bengals’ offense.

“That’s heartbreaking to all of us,” Boyd told me when I asked him about finishing last in the NFL in total offense last season. “I know a lot of the blame went to the linemen, but we all felt some type of way about how we played last year. We all felt like we could’ve done things to help the team win or create ways to win in the games that were close. I think we all want to prepare and get better and show everybody that we’re not just people who look good on paper.”

Right now they look great on paper. Can they reach their full potential in 2018?

James covers the Cincinnati Bengals and Cincinnati Reds for ESPN 1530 and 700 WLW in Cincinnati. He hosts shows on both stations, including Cincy 3:60 from 12pm-1pm daily on ESPN 1530. He is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati. Feel free to email him your ideas, fantasy football questions and hot takes.

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Cincinnati Bengals

Not Another Bengals, Chiefs Preview

Jeffery Carr

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© David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

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 Basics

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.

The Offense

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.

The Defense

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.

The Skinny

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

Follow @jefffcarr and @lockedonBengals for more Orange and Black content on Twitter

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Cincinnati Bengals

WATCH: Houshmandzadeh says the Bengals are going to beat the Chiefs

James Rapien

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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.

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Cincinnati Bengals

‘Vontaze can be as great as he wants to be’

James Rapien

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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.

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.

For more, listen to the latest Locked on Bengals podcast below.

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