On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns return home to take on the Cincinnati Bengals. To help preview a few topics from the Bengals’ perspective, we reached out to Scott Schulze from Cincy Jungle and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: “The Bengals' offensive line took two huge hits this offseason with the departures of Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. Which positions on the starting line are the most vulnerable right now?”
Scott: “The short answer is all of them. Center is always a weakness with Russell Bodine, who has I think has probably earned a permanent spot on PFF’s lists of worst offensive linemen. Right guard Trey Hopkins did a solid job replacing Kevin Zeitler, and was probably the best lineman in preseason, but he’s currently injured. Left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi has been a significant drop from Andrew Whitworth, while right tackle Jake Fisher has struggled even worse. They pulled Andre Smith off the bench last week to play some tackle and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that happen again.”
Chris: “Cincinnati couldn't even score a touchdown in the first two games, but came alive last week against the Packers after a change in coordinators. What did you see different from games 1-2 vs. game 3?”
Scott: “After the loss to Houston, A.J. Green made a comment about the Bengals needing to get the ball to the playmakers. And that is what happened against the Packers. Green was targeted 13 times for 10 catches for 111 yards and a touchdown. Joe Mixon also saw extensive work as the lead runner, rushing 18 times, compared to only 10 carries for both Bernard and Hill combined.
The one troubling sign from the Packers game was that even though the Bengals scored 24 points, only 17 of those were offensive scores, and both offensive touchdowns came in the first 18 minutes of the game. Over the final 42 minutes of the game, the Bengals offense looked like the offense that we saw in the first two weeks of the season.”
Chris: “Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, and Jeremy Hill. I think the Bengals are over-extending themselves with too many cooks in the kitchen at running back. Do you agree? If so, who should be the team's top back?”
Scott: “I think every Bengals’ fan would agree that two is company, but three is a crowd. Aside from half of the 2014 season, Jeremy Hill has been a “three yards and a cloud of dust” kind of runner who hasn’t shown much explosiveness, and has struggled with his vision, finding the running lanes. I think the ideal scenario would be to use Joe Mixon as the primary running back, with Giovani Bernard spelling him on third down. Hill is a free agent after this season, and I think many anticipate that we’ll see Mixon as the lead with Bernard on third down in 2018, with this year just being an awkward committee.”
Chris: “Rookie defensive end Carl Lawson had a great game against the Packers. What side does he typically line up on (over the left tackle or right tackle)? Assess his overall play from camp to the regular season.”
Scott: “Lawson typically lines up against the opposing team’s left tackle, so he would likely be facing Joe Thomas this weekend. Our starting RDE Michael Johnson isn’t exactly a good pass rusher, so you’ll likely see both Lawson and Jordan Willis both rushing from that side on passing downs.
In OTA’s and in training camp the team labeled Carl Lawson as an outside linebacker and have pretty much played him as a pass rushing linebacker on passing downs since that point. In that role, he’s been nothing short of impressive.
When one watches him, they see that he is a natural pass rusher who is hard working and has good technique. He seems to have fallen in the draft this year because he had a few injuries at Auburn and his size was more of a ‘tweener’ than a bigger defensive end. In this way, he reminds me of Geno Atkins, who saw his draft stock devalued for being ‘too small’ to be more than a rotational backup defensive tackle in the NFL, but has produced multiple first team All Pro selections.”
Chris: “What would you label as the biggest area of weakness on the Bengals' defense this year?”
Scott: “After the first two weeks it would have been difficult to answer that question. We held both opponents to about 260 total yards of offense, despite the defense spending way too much time on the field because the offense couldn’t move the ball. Last week the biggest problem was third down conversions – especially third and long conversions, and penalties giving up first downs.
The Bengals’ run defense has been good, and should only get better with Vontaze Burfict returning. And there is no question that the pass rush is much improved from last year. Keeping containment on quarterbacks who can run and covering receivers long enough when a quarterback eludes the pass rush would be the are I’d look at.”
Thanks again to Scott for taking the time to answer my questions.