We recently had a Q&A session with Cincy Jungle where we asked contributor Rebecca Toback her perspective on the contemporary state of the Bengals. Questions and answers provided below:
1. How confident do you feel about Andy Dalton being the QB to lead you deep into the playoffs?
I'm highly confident in Dalton's ability and feel he doesn't get enough credit for what he's done for the Bengals. The playoff win will come; and hopefully it will be this year. Dalton greatly improved in the last two seasons and he may have his best arsenal of weapons yet in 2017. The one big issue is the offensive line and how it will do this year. The Browns stole away Kevin Zeitler and the Rams grabbed Andrew Whitworth and what's left is a very different and question-filled offensive line. How the line does in 2017 will greatly impact the Bengals' success.
2. Cincinnati has taken some risks on some talented but erratic players such as Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones- how do you think this has effected the culture and performance of the team?
I'll talk about Burfict and Jones separately because I don't think they should be lumped together, at all. I don't believe Burfict has impacted the culture of the team in a negative way. He's one of the smartest guys on the field, motivates his teammates and is a Pro Bowl level player.
We're talking about a 90 man roster or 53 man filled with some amazing guys. Dalton is doing something amazing for his communities every other week. Carlos Dunlap has an amazing charity that's done incredible work. The same goes for A.J.Green, Vinny Rey, and dozens of other players on the team. Burfict is actually a great guy (off-the-field). He's never done anything troublesome off a football field and has proven himself as a great teammate, player and person. Yes, Burfict has done questionable things on-the-field, but I don't think he's negatively impacted the team culture. And as for his performance, he's one of the best players on the team and has won the Bengals numerous games. I think he's going to continue to progress in his decision making on-the-field when it comes to reckless play and I'm confident he's going to be a member of the Bengals long-term.
Jones is a different story. He's a good player, borderline great, but his actions off-the-field are completely unacceptable and not something I personally want to see from a member of the team for which I'm a fan. The Bengals are standing by him and allowing him to continue to "make mistakes" but I do think that sends a very bad message to the rest of the roster. The Brown family is essentially saying, "If you mess up, don't worry, you can keep messing up and we'll still employ you... as long as you're a good, borderline great player." I'm not OK with that and I've seen enough from Jones. The Bengals keep drafting first round cornerbacks and have so many that they can't all even play. Why continue to employ such a headache? Burfict has a positive influence and impact with his football IQ and play. Jones, at this point, is negatively impacting the culture of the team... performance wise though, he's still a starting-caliber cornerback.
But when it comes to the overall culture of the team, I don't think the Bengals have a problem caused by Burfict/Jones.
3. How do you feel the Bengals performed in the draft and free agency?
This year's draft class seems to be very strong. The first four picks all seem like they'll be making a major impact in 2017. WR John Ross and RB Joe Mixon have huge potential. DE Jordan Willis and DE/OLB Carl Lawson are going to be great pieces on defense. And then Jake Elliott looks to be the Bengals' long-term answer at the kicker position. I'm confident about this draft class and the Bengals actually letting many of them play right away.
As far as free agency, the Bengals rarely make moves in free agency but they did make a few in 2017... The team signed Kevin Minter to upgrade Rey Maualuga's spot as a starting linebacker. And, Andre Smith was brought back after a year with the Vikings and is moving to right guard to take Zeitler's spot. The team lost a huge amount of players in free agency (Whitworth, Zeitler, Margus Hunt, Domata Peko, Rex Burkhead) but after a 6-9-1 season, maybe that was necessary
4. How do you characterize the team identity heading into the 2017 season?
Hmm, that's an interesting question because the results last season make things complicated. But, I think the Bengals are going to return to having a top 10 defense and with so many playmakers (A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Tyler Boyd, Brandon LaFell, John Ross, Joe Mixon, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard) the sky is the limit for the offense. I think we'll see a big shift in identity from 2016 and that will include a resurgence from the defensive line and a return to top-notch red zone play for the offense.
5. What is your greatest fear heading into the 2017 season?
There is no question, the offensive line is the #1 concern for every Bengals fan. Anyone who tells you otherwise is suppressing the fear ;) The team's ability to succeed hinges on whether the offensive line can protect Dalton better than it did last year and how Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher do as the team's new tackle tandem.
6. What do you predict as the Bengals' final record, and when the season will end? (ie Superbowl Champs, first round of playoffs, etc).
I hardly want to answer this question, but I'm going to say 10-6 as the record, and winning a wild card game before losing in the divisional round. This is the year the team finally gets over the hump and Marvin Lewis wins his first playoff game as head coach.
7. What do you foresee as the future for Marvin Lewis? If he retires, who do you think may be his successor?
I don't think Marvin Lewis is retiring anytime soon. If the Bengals don't make the playoffs this year, I do think the team will find a new head coach next season. He is entering the final year of his contract and isn't expected to get an extension before the end of the year. So, he's a lame duck coach and absolutely must have a winning season and hopefully a playoff win to save his job and get a new contract. As far as a successor, I'm not sure we can possibly know that. There's not really anyone who is currently available that I think the Bengals would want, so we'll have to see. The Patriots' coordinators are of course popular names for head coaching jobs and I've seen a handful of Bengals fans talk about Washington head coach Chris Petersen as someone they're interested in, too.