To help preview this week's game, I reached out to Mickey Mentzer from Cincy Jungle and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: "Mentally, I'm still scarred of the quickness that WR Andrew Hawkins has, due to a big play he had against Cleveland in Week 2 of the 2012 season. He has just returned these past two games from injury, but only saw six snaps against the Ravens. Will he stay buried on the Bengals' depth chart for now? Is there a call for him to see more playing time?"
Mickey: "Honestly, there has not been a huge call for him to see the field. There are playmakers abound for the Bengals and the call is to get these guys the ball. Fans want to see Giovani Bernard get the ball in space. They want Marvin Jones to get a screen with running room and they want A.J. to do what A.J does.
There is also some support for Dane Sanzenbacher to get a little more playing time. He seems to be ready to make the tough catches and has the ability to be a good possession receiver and at times the Bengals need that to move the chains. Maybe Hawkins can add another facet to the offense, but really, people just want to see all phases working first."
Chris: "Statistically, the Browns and the Bengals compare similarly on defense. However, the Bengals recently lost DT Geno Atkins and CB Leon Hall for the season. Has the Bengals' defense suffered since those two losses?"
Mickey: "Yes. It's tough to lose two of your top players and not feel the effects. However, Brandon Thompson has filled in for the injured Atkins well. The bigger loss is at the corner position where the Bengals have lost a step. In the past two weeks the secondary has been burned by getting beat on a route and making up for it with a big pass interference penalty. It seems the corners are having trouble finding the ball mostly because they fail to turn and look for it.
That being said, the defense is still the backbone of this team. They keep the Bengals in the game and have allowed the offense to struggle and eventually pull out the win. We expect everything to click like when the Bengals crushed the Jets by 40 points, but mostly it seems the offense has done just enough to win games. "
Chris: "Andy Dalton has slipped into another funk, throwing 6 interceptions over his past two games. Is he the person to blame for Cincinnati's two-game losing streak? If not, then who is?"
Mickey: "Sure, he is partly to blame. But there have been misfires all over the field. A.J. Green has dropped some simple passes. Other receivers have had drops and tips that lead to turnovers. I would argue the play calling has been detrimental to the offense and momentum at times.
Andy Dalton has been a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde this season. He went from AFC offensive player of the month to a goat for the last couple weeks. He has been the hot button issue for the fans this season and a lot of the wins as well as the losses fall on his shoulders. When he plays well in this offense the Bengals are a top team. When he struggles, we lose the Dolphins and Ravens..."
Chris: "The Bengals are 4-0 at home this season with wins over the Steelers, Packers, Patriots, and Jets. Is there a particular unit or a group of players who have performed much better at home compared to the road that you could point at, or is it just your typical, 'teams generally play better at home' situation?"
Mickey: "The Bengals are playing well at home. I hope this streak continues on Sunday. The team as a whole has played better at home. Against the Jets all facets of the game were great. Against the Packers the defense did enough to keep the team in the game and the offense came alive when it needed to. The Patriots was a game where the defense just shut Tom Brady down. The Steelers just aren't very good this season.
I do think we have seen the best play from the offense at home this season and this has allowed the Bengals to stay undefeated at home."
Chris: "If the Bengals lose to the Browns this week, do you still believe Cincinnati will win the AFC North?"
Mickey: "Yes? Officially, they would still have the lead for at least a week. The scary part is that the Browns would hold the tiebreakers. Down the stretch though, I still think I have more confidence in the Bengals pulling it out than the Browns continuing to play well. This opinion may change if the Browns do take this game from Cincinnati, but as of now, I think win or lose on Sunday, the Bengals still have the best shot to win the division."
Thanks again to Mickey for taking the time to answer my questions.