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Browns vs. Bengals: Getting to Know the Enemy With Cincy Jungle

Scott Bantel from Cincy Jungle exchanged five questions with us, discussing the Bengals finally turning their franchise around, the difference in Andy Dalton in 2015, the team's top performer on defense, and more.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

This Thursday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 9 of the regular season. To help preview this week's game, we reached out to Scott Bentel from Cincy Jungle and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!

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rufio: "The Bengals have been a 'good' team for several years now, but they seem to not be able to take the next step and become a "great" team. For instance, they still haven't won a playoff game with Andy Dalton behind center despite 4 chances to do so. Why haven't the Bengals taken that jump?  Do you think it is possible for this current Bengals team to make it to the next level without blowing it up and starting from scratch, and if so what do they need to do to make it over the hurdle?"

Scott: "While the Bengals have made the playoffs each of the last four seasons, three of those appearances were as the wildcard and they simply were playing a team, on the road, who was better than they were. The one that hurt was the loss at home to the Chargers in 2013. That being said, I think we are seeing the Bengals take that proverbial 'jump' this year and I do believe this team can make it to the next level and make a deep run in the playoffs.

As for blowing things up and starting from scratch, it won’t happen. The Bengals front office has done a great job the last ten years of drafting, managing the cap and putting together one of, if not the deepest and most balanced rosters in the NFL. This is a team (and coaching staff) that has made the playoffs each of the last four seasons and five of the last six. If the Bengals don’t make a deep run in the playoffs this year or next, maybe Marvin Lewis’s job would be in jeopardy, but I don’t foresee any scenario that would lead to a complete blow up and starting from scratch."

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Matt Wood: "After years of being viewed as just good enough to get you beat,  Andy Dalton seems as if he has turned a corner. How much of that is just him getting better or is there something below the surface we don't see?"

Scott: "Dalton’s great start is a combination of a few things. First, he has his weapons back. Most who talk about Dalton’s 'struggles' in 2014 forget that he was without his number two receiver (Marvin Jones) and difference making tight end (Tyler Eifert) for the entire season (well, all but about 10 snaps). Eifert is arguably the second best tight end in the NFL right now and in 2013, Jones put up 712 yards and 10 touchdowns. On top of the injuries to Jones and Eifert, A.J. Green missed about five games as well (including their playoff game) and Giovani Bernard was banged up the second half of the year. To give you an idea of how decimated the Bengals receiving options were in 2014, in two games (including their wild card matchup against the Colts), Kevin Brock was their starting tight end and Greg Little served as their number two receiver. It is hard to win with those guys in the starting lineup.

Another reason for Dalton’s improvement has to do with his second season in Hue Jackson’s system. When Dalton broke into the league in 2011, he had Jay Gruden as his offensive coordinator and Gruden’s system was never a good fit for Dalton. Gruden was unaware that running the football is allowed in the NFL and asked Dalton to throw way too much. Jackson’s system has implemented a strong running attack and has geared the passing attack to Dalton’s strengths , and as a result, Dalton looks more comfortable and his numbers have greatly improved. Dalton can be very productive in the right system -- like Hue Jackson has proven. He has some physical limitations and is not the type of quarterback that will carry a team like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, etc., but he is a very smart and very good quarterback, and surrounded by the right team, he can lead a team deep in the playoffs."

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Tim Miller: "The Browns, along with other teams, had had a few of their players mentioned in trade rumors. OLBs Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger, as well as center Alex Mack were among those mentioned. Even though the trade deadline has come-and-gone, of these three, who would you most want to add to your team (sorry, you can't have Joe Thomas)? Additionally, in what area of your roster would you most want to make a mid-season upgrade?"

Scott: "Hands down Alex Mack. The Bengals have a very good offensive line, but the weak link is Russell Bodine, their second year center. Bodine has had some issues with snapping (two last week alone) and he has struggled against good nose tackles. In fact, there are a lot of Bengals fans that wanted to sign Mack last year and many that wanted the Bengals to trade for him this year.

As for a mid-season upgrade, I would say linebacker. The Bengals get a big boost with the return of Vontaze Burfict, but they could still use another play maker at the linebacker position. I believe the linebacker position is the biggest weakness on this team at the moment."

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Joe Ginley: "The Bengals have started fast at 7-0, which most attribute to Andy Dalton and an offense with a variety of dangerous weapons. However, the Bengals boast a top-10 defense that has performed quite well this season. Who is the team's defensive MVP and why? "

Scott: "Geno Atkins. After tearing his ACL in late 2013, Atkins is finally healthy and when healthy, he is one of the best defensive tackles in the game. He requires double teams on every play, and as a result, the other linemen get more one-on-one opportunities. Those linemen, particularly Carlos Dunlap, are good enough to win the one-on-one battles. In 2014, the Bengals were dead last with 20 sacks as a team. Through seven games, the Bengals already have matched that total. While Atkins played all of 2014, it was clear he was not the same player. In 2014, he was just an average defensive tackle, and as a result, the entire defense struggled. His return to his pre-injury form is the biggest reason this defense has returned to being one of the top defenses in the league."

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rufio: "A few years ago, I remember some Cincinnati fans saying that the Bengals 'would never be good' as long as Mike Brown owned the team. Since then, the Bengals have experienced a lot of success in the AFC North. Does the apprehension about Mike Brown's ownership style still cloud over the team, or is this a 'winning cures everything' situation?"

Scott: "There is still a large faction of the fan base with great disdain for Mike Brown and those fans are still reluctant to support the team and reluctant to buy into the team’s success. Those fans will never come around -- they would rather be right than give Brown any credit.

However, the smart fans realize that over the years, Mike Brown has changed (for the better), and in fact, has given up many of his day-to-day duties. While it has never been confirmed, I believe his daughter (Katie Blackburn) and his son-in-law (Troy Blackburn) do most of the 'owner' responsibilities and they have done a good job of progressing the franchise into the modern era of the NFL. And, while Brown still carries the title of GM, player personnel decisions have been ceded to Marvin Lewis and Director of Player Personnel, Duke Tobin -- a change which I believe Brown made after the death of Chris Henry in 2009. This change has made a huge difference. Tobin is one of the better player personnel folks in the NFL and while Lewis can be criticized for his failures to win in the playoffs, he is very good at identifying good players. Brown was known for taking players with questionable pasts (like Henry, Corey Dillon, etc) and giving them second and third chances. This is something Marvin Lewis and he disagreed on. Since Brown ceded the player personnel decisions to Lewis and Tobin, the organization has steered away from those players with the questionable character issues and as a result, the team has become more stable and the arrest record has greatly diminished.

Because of these changes, changes Brown has to be given credit for, the Bengals have become one of the better run and most stable organizations in the league and have established a reputation as one of the best drafting organizations in the NFL as well. So, while it is fair to criticize Brown for the lost decade and a half (1990-2004) -- and I would agree, the Bengals could never be good with 'that' version of Mike Brown - we also have to give him his due for the changes which have resulted in one of the best rosters in the league and a team that is well on its’ way to making the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.  If the Bengals make a deep run in the playoffs, I wouldn’t expect many fans to give Brown the credit he deserves, but the smart fans will be more than willing to give him that credit."

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Thanks again to Scott for taking the time to answer my questions.