This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns play another game at home when they take on the Cincinnati Bengals. To help preview the Week 14 contest, I reached out to Connor Howe from Cincy Jungle and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: “An already bad season for the Bengals got worse with the injuries to A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard a couple of weeks ago. Do their injuries allow any young players on the back end of the depth chart to receive a chance? I'm not talking about established players like Jeremy Hill.”
Connor: “Absolutely, they do. Even prior to the injuries to Green and Bernard, Bengals fans were starting to get a glimpse of some of the younger guys taking reps, like rookie linebacker Nick Vigil, who plays on obvious passing downs. Rookie wideout Tyler Boyd, meanwhile, has seen his role increase even further following Green's injury. Sixth-round rookie wide receiver Cody Core has also gotten into the action, catching his first NFL pass last week.
Chris: “Does there appear to be any threat of coaching-related changes this offseason, or is there not a sense of any long-term panic?”
Connor: “I don't think fans would consider coaching changes any sort of threat, as most people in Cincinnati seem to think Marvin Lewis' time has come. I'm on the same boat, though I feel it will be Lewis' decision whether he will or will not be the head coach of the Bengals next season. (And for what it's worth, I doubt next season would be a disaster if Lewis were to decide to continue coaching and fulfill his contract.) I think most Bengals fans believe (and hope) this season is an anomaly and that the team is talented enough to compete for years to come.”
Chris: “After four rough games (a tie and then three one-possession losses), the Bengals ripped the Eagles apart last week. What changed?”
Connor: “For starters, Andy Dalton had one of the best games of his entire career. But I think it was more so execution rather than just one or two players (Vontaze Burfict was an animal against the Eagles) making individual differences. The offensive line, though far from perfect, looked somewhat better in pass protection, while Dalton's pass-catchers made plays. Additionally, the defense picked off three passes, recording a season-high in forced turnovers.”
Chris: “Besides receiver, have there been any depth chart changes on the Bengals since these two teams last met?”
Connor: “Running back Rex Burkhead has filled in Bernard's role as the change-of-pace back. The former Nebraska back is playing in a contract year and is finally being utilized in a way fans had hoped the Bengals would use him. It's unfortunate it took an injury to Bernard for Burkhead to finally see playing time, but fans are still excited to see the fourth-year running back continue to take snaps.
The right tackle position in Cincinnati has been a weakness all season. After 2015 first-rounder Cedric Ogbuehi essentially lost his job, it appears as though veteran Eric Winston and Jake Fisher will split time on the right side, with Ogbuehi potentially plugging in on the right side -- or maybe even the left side -- here and there.
And as I mentioned, Vigil and Williams have seen some time. The Bengals rotate linebackers a lot and still don't have a defensive lineman penciled in at the nickel defensive tackle position alongside Geno Atkins, so the team could rotate Williams with some combination of Margus Hunt, Will Clarke and/or Wallace Gilberry.”
Chris: “There is a good chance that RG III will start this week. The last time these two teams met, the Bengals basically ignored the quarterback in the read-option, letting Kevin Hogan rush for over 100 yards. Do you think the Bengals' defense will be more prepared this time, and would you, as a Bengals fan, rather see your team face RG III or another quarterback on the Browns' roster?”
Connor: “To be honest, I'm not threatened by really any players on the Browns roster outside of Terrelle Pryor -- and even he couldn't seem to make plays against the Bengals in their first meeting. Cincinnati allowed Hogan to rack up the yards, playing a somewhat sloppy game on defense for a team facing a rookie quarterback, yet the team still managed to pull out the victory -- I think that's all that probably mattered to them back then. The Bengals haven't faced Griffin III since his rookie year, so I think if you're the Browns, having a guy the Bengals aren't super familiar with is probably an advantage you need to utilize. It would surprise me if the Bengals' defense put up a stinker in Cleveland, as most of the players have been improving as the season has progressed. That said, since it's the Browns, with Hue Jackson coaching, a lot of fans are bracing themselves for a potential heartbreaking upset.”
Thanks again to Connor for taking the time to answer my questions.