This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns play in the first Battle of Ohio of the season when they take on the Cincinnati Bengals. To help preview the Week 7 contest, I reached out to Connor Howe from Cincy Jungle and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: “The Cincinnati Bengals are off to a very disappointing 2-4 start. Statistically, they seem to be off to a decent start, but the big number that stands out is the fact that they are 29th on offense in points per game. Has Tyler Eifert's absence been a big part of that, or are there deeper issues?”
Connor: “Eifert's absence has to be a major component of this team's struggles. As you mentioned, the Bengals are one of the worst scoring offenses in the NFL, despite having what looks like a good offense on paper. The biggest struggle on offense has been converting in the red zone, something which should drastically improve with Eifert's return -- whether with Eifert catching touchdown passes or commanding attention away from his teammates.”
Chris: “Former Browns ILB Karlos Dansby was basically granted his release to the Bengals this offseason. He leads the team in tackles through six games, but how would you really judge his overall body of work in 2016?”
Connor: “The numbers here clearly don't tell the whole story. To put it nicely, Dansby hasn't been great. He's struggled in coverage and hasn't made many impact plays, if any. That said, he's signed to a one-year, fairly team-friendly deal. While he's not the excellent player he once was, he's been fairly impactful. While he's been lacking in coverage so far, he's still been better than the departed Emmanuel Lamur and A.J. Hawk, who struggled even more last year. Plus, having a veteran like Dansby around to veteran Cincinnati's young linebackers has to count for something.”
Chris: “This is the second straight year where Jeremy Hill's YPC average has been stuck at 3.6. Does he still have a lot of support, or is it the run blocking causing the problem (if so, which position is the weakest on the OL)?”
Connor: “The Bengals' offensive line has easily been the most frustrating and disappointing unit on either side of the ball. Pass-protection issues highlighted the line's struggles through the first few weeks, but run-blocking hasn't been any better. Cincinnati ranks 28th in the NFL in terms of yards per carry, but 61 percent of the Bengals' rushing yardage has come after contact. This in itself illuminates the line's struggles. Sure, Hill and Giovani Bernard still need to be better, but it's hard to run when there aren't any holes to run through.
I wrote a comprehensive article highlighting the struggles of each player on the offensive line, but in short, every player on the line (Clint Boling and the injured Russell Bodine aside) hasn't met expectations. Veterans Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, both of whom are playing for contracts, haven't been the dominant players they've been like in years past, while first-year starter Cedric Ogbuehi often looks overpowered at right tackle.”
Chris: “Do fans miss the days of Hue Jackson calling plays? Has Cincinnati's offense changed much from a playcalling/scheme perspective?”
Connor: “Fans certainly miss him, as the national media has pinned plenty of the Bengals' struggles on the departure of the new Browns head coach. But to be honest, the Bengals' offense hasn't changed all that much schematically. I'd pin most of the team's struggles on the line's underperformance (something I wouldn't assume the departure of Jackson had a lot to do with) and lack of execution in the red zone (which, at least so far, has been more a fault of the players than coaching). But yeah, fans really miss him. Losing a coordinator to a head coaching position seemingly every year never gets easier.”
Chris: “What would you consider the Bengals' weakest position group on defense right now?”
Connor: “I think the linebacking corps is an easy first choice, with safety play coming in a close second. But to be honest, no one is really stepping up on defense this year. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick is finally starting to play like a former first-rounder, but him aside, the only players to surpass expectations have been defensive ends Will Clarke and Margus Hunt, who had very low expectations to begin with. Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap are still great players, but they need to make even more game-changing plays than they're already making if the Bengals' defense is going to give opposing quarterbacks headaches like it did all year long in 2015.”
Thanks again to Connor for taking the time to answer my questions.