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Hobson's Choice: Bengaldom re-groups

Being an optimist, watching that Green Bay game made me very excited about our young defensive players. Obviously Will Jackson did big things, but players like Lawson, Willis, Vigil, Dennard (who was all over the place), and Chris Smith get me excited as well. Now on to the question. Where did Billings go? I know he is still coming back from injury, but he doesn't look like the superman strong draft pick we made two years ago. Do you believe it is a technique/footwork issue, a mental smarts issue, or is he just not physically back to where he was coming in? Alex McKenzie, Erlanger, KY

ALEX: With Green Bay deploying so many receivers and not being a great run team, the Bengals simply didn't play their big nose tackles so Andrew Billings had just three snaps. He's usually going to play more than that, but I think you can say he's still trying to find his game after coming back from last season's knee injury that wiped out that promising training camp and everything else.

So this is basically Billings' rookie season and, like Will Jackson who is in the same boat, Billings has been up and down with typical rookie inconsistency. I just think he's still adjusting to the pro game as well as coming back from the injury and it has slowed his progress.  

Geoff, thanks for your previous thoughts and replies. As you must be getting a lot of questions this week on the Bengals lack of offense and slow start, I'll try one or two with a hopefully different slant. Appreciate your thoughts...

 Do the Bengals really think that a change in OC is going to right this sinking ship? I'll grant you the 1st half was notably better against Green Bay but the 2nd half looked similar to 8 other quarters to me. Maybe a little time will change my view but golly Marvin and the Bengals do not have time on their side. My crystal ball says 10-6 may get you in but it is not a slam dunk if we continue to lose to AFC teams like the Ravens, Titans, Broncos, and Steelers. 5 AFC losses will almost certainly doom us IMO. I think we probably have to win out at home (6-2) and go 4-4 on the road to get to 10-6. Tough in the best of times. But we have issues that don't seem to be going away and I doubt if they will:

1)   we can't protect Andy - 11 sacks in 3 games, 2) Andy has always been a below average QB in the face of pressure.... it is either 3 yards, incomplete, out of bounds, or a sack. Very, very seldom does Andy have a productive play when scrambling which is not tolerable considering our overall lack of offense, and 3) We have not shown an ability to run the ball.... even with 3 talented RBs. So I come to the conclusion that we have serious OL issues, which if not fixed pronto, will lead to a 6-10 like season. Yeah I know Dalton, Alexander, and Lewis all have said that this is not an issue but I see better than I hear. Thanks for your thoughts. Doug Lottes., Knoxville TN

DOUG: Thanks for writing in. You're right. At least 10-6, but they're all winnable games the rest of the way, right? Especially with how Baltimore and Pittsburgh played Sunday. That Jacksonville-Ravens score is the most discouraging I've seen in some time. The Jags look like the Patriots against a defense that shut out the Bengals? Either that or Baltimore was simply road kill last week.

Your points are all good ones. But I've yet to see a QB who is good with pressure in his face. Except maybe Big Ben and Aaron Rodgers, so I think that criticism of Andy Dalton applies to just about everyone else, too.

No question, though. The offensive line was the biggest off-season question and the early answer hasn't been good. I see signs of improvement in pass protection but it's still not good enough. The inability to run the ball is mystifying. To average 3.5 yards per rush against the Cover Two and the nickel defenses they've faced in the first three games, that's tough. Joe Mixon looks like he's going to be one of the top running backs in the league but he always has to make that first cut in the backfield. It looks like they're still trying to figure out how to use the new guys at tackle and new right guard T.J. Johnson.

I hated to see it because I've got a lot of regard for Ken Zampese as a guy and a coach. But I thought it was a bold move for a franchise that relies on continuity. To me the change to Bill Lazor showed how much they believe they can do this year with their talent. They didn't just shrug into October. I thought that was very telling.

 Hobson's Choice provides the fans with great info and insight, keep it coming. A 0 and 3 start brings some big questions. 1. How long do we keep waiting for Eifert to be on the field with regularity? Is it hurting the team to continue to think of him as our #1 when he can't get off the rehab field? 2. Do we bite the bullet that we missed on a #1 and #2 draft pick for O tackles? If so what do we do? 3. The same question that has haunted the team for the last few years, Are we over rating out talent, including Andy? If is as good as the pendants think, is the problem coaching 4. It is hard to imagine Coach Lewis' is not being looked at for being replaced. If he goes, does Brown look outside the organization for a new coach? 5. And lastly, with a 0 and 3 start is it wishful thinking to hope for an 8 and 8 season? Let's hope for a huge turn around!!! Lou Petrofes, Jupiter, FL

LOU: Good to hear from you again. They've been dealing with the Eifert question since he came into the league. I don't know what you mean by hurt, but they certainly have to re-evaluate his future here. His injury problems and contract year are why there was a school of thought to draft tight end O.J. Howard in the first round this year.

If you decide the tackles aren't good enough, it's pretty clear what they have to do. Draft them in the first round because the good ones never make it to free agency. I think it's too early to make a call on anything and that includes coaching. Let's see how it looks in December.

I certainly don't think they've overrated Dalton. I mean, he's a year removed from people talking about him as an MVP candidate. Did those people overrate him, too?

All that's been confirmed in the first three games is that, except for Tom Brady and Rodgers, he's a product of how people are playing around him. Those two guys would be great if they played in a\ car wash. Not everybody else. And that includes Ben and Flacco and Ryan and Brees.   Agreed. Dalton has not played well, but he's not getting a heck of a lot of help, either.

8-8? Check out Marv's first season. 0-3 going to Cleveland, won, and finished 8-8.      

I am going to make this short and to the point, Hobs. What do we do with Eifert?!? His talent is top-tier, but we all know the sad story behind it in Bengaldom. Will some team still throw high tight-end free agent money at him for his upside? What's your opinion on the situation as of now? I'd like to know your take, and I enjoy your angle on things. Take it easy bub, and hope for the Bengals isn't lost over here in Indiana despite being 0-3! We are starting to see a slight glimpse of that fire power! Cale Smith, Shelbyville, IN

CALE: Thanks for the note on your fellow Indiana product. We all love Eifert. Great kid. Great talent. It's a shame. It's a hell of a question, but I have a stock free-agency answer. Yes. Yes. Yes. There is always going to be one team that is going to pay an elite guy something you never dreamed of even if you think he's constantly hurt or he's too old or he doesn't fit you. It only takes one and they always show up in March.

 With the way Pac man has played this year so far, is it time to see him as a slot corner only? John Gourley, Waterford, OH

JOHN: It's early. Long season. He's had more nice plays than bad ones. Adam Jones is one of the game's great gamers. I do think what we are seeing at corner is that depth they thought they had is emerging in William Jackson and Darqueze Dennard.

Big fan here, please keep up the good work. I am typing my questions as i am watching Palmer throw Td against the cowboys and it reminded me how solid he was at the line of the scrimmage during his tenure with the Bengals, something that Dalton struggles with, his inability to change the play at the line when the box is stacked, what preventing Dalton from making the audible from a run to a pass, or at least run away from the safety?

 Second question, as long as Dalton keeps overthrowing or not seeing open receivers I don't see us turning this thing around anytime soon, what is wrong with Dalton? How to fix that? In between, rookie RB is the real deal, solid pick. Thank you in advance for answering my questions. Karim B., Cincinnati, OH

KARIM: Thanks for weighing in and taking the time to write. They believe one of Dalton's strengths is at the line and his ability to make those decisions. They put him at the top of the league in that category. But when you don't block guys, it looks like you made the bad call. As for his accuracy down field, they have no idea what's wrong with him. I will say on the vision thing that he's not a tall guy and a collapsing pocket doesn't help him.

Here's the Bengals in a nutshell for you. Draft a talented kicker just to let him sign on elsewhere while sticking with the choke artist. I don't care what happened in preseason. Elliot should be kicking here. Instead our guy kicks off out of bounds leading to a packer TD. With the way they were harassing Rogers, I bet they end up with a fg at best. Then he misses a 48 yarder and gives the packers the chance they needed. Meanwhile the guy we DRAFTED as old chokers replacement is kicking a 61 yarder to win a game.

 But hey, isn't that just the Bengals for you. Dalton is just awful right now. How many times did he have chances to put a dagger in a packer team ripe for the taking. Here's a prediction... We get the first overall pick in 2018. Mike Brown should cancel the 50th anniversary stuff. Those guys who are being honored don't deserve to be subjected to this garbage. Ken should demand Dalton change his number. How can a team with so much talent stink so bad Geoff? Jonathan Lee, New York, NY

JONATHAN: Good to hear from you again. That's a little harsh, don't you think? I guess you're kidding because I think this 50th celebration is a tremendous year-long event. There have been some great players and great men who have played here and been through some tough seasons themselves and for them to gather like this every home game, I just think it's great for the town, the fans, and the team. That's a new one. Mike getting ripped for not planning the 50th with a 3-0 start. Like I say, I guess you're kidding. But it just rubs me the wrong way because it demeans the celebration. I think the organization has done a great job with it and it's important to honor these guys.

 I agree. Dalton hasn't been good. But I've been writing a lot about that 1981 opener Kenny Anderson got booed off the field and ended up winning MVP. Can we get through October before saying everybody stinks?

As for Elliott, you'll recall that was the debate during the competition.  Randy Bullock has the back of his football card and that's what he's going to do. No more, no less. And it's about average. Pretty solid. But in Elliott you had a young guy with a great leg who's got a higher ceiling. And there was some internal thought you go with the kid because of that ceiling no matter what.

But Marvin and special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons were out front and up front. It was going to come down to a decision based on data from practices and pre-season games and Bullock had to knock him out. He did. Bullock outkicked Elliott, plain and simple. So how do you tell your team the best guys play, but you keep the kicker they watched for three months get beat out?

This is the classic decision that can't be second-guessed for at least a season and probably five. Sure, it looked bad Sunday. But you can't kill them right away on this one. The irony is that if Elliott hits the 60-yarder in Indy, he makes the team.

Out of curiosity, do you think that it added insult to injury as we all watched Jake Elliot kick the game winning field goal for Philly from 61 yards out while the guy that beat him missed what would have been the winning field goal from, what was it? 49? Also, is it time to move on from Eifert, Hill, and Dalton? Can't pay a guy who's never healthy, can't keep a guy who just isn't the same since his rookie year and we can't keep betting on a QB who keeps regressing. Thoughts? Don Tulluy, New Bedford, MA

DON: Greetings to the land of the late, great Clarence Brooks.

And, yes, it does add insult to injury. With Eifert's back a looming question and Joe Mixon's carries expanding, those questions may have already been decided. And, still, both guys may end up having a big impact on this season.

Dalton regressing? Slumping, yes. Regressing? I think that's too quick of an observation after three weeks of a season because I think most people thought he had a good year last season despite not having Green for half of it.

Sure, I'll buy a slump.  Jared Goff is leading the NFC in passing and Cam Newton is last. Think that will hold up?

Hey Geoff, Maybe it's just me, but Marv seems to be a little more upfront in his press conferences about what he thinks about the team and staff; he's using less coach-speak. Consider who we are talking about, that is a major departure from the norm. Is that change also present in his coaching style? Is being more aggressive as a coach as well as a speaker? Thanks. Kevin McCarthy, Columbus, OH

KEVIN: Thanks for the intriguing question. Honestly, from the interview room to the coaching box, I can't see much change from the guy who was in the middle of a three-year extension and started 4-0 in 2005 to the guy that's in a contract year at 0-3 this season. I just don't see it.

Marv is typically very good talking to the media about league trends and rules and is good putting big-picture topics in context because he's been in the NFL 26 seasons and in this job for 15. So even if he doesn't mean to give you anything he does just because of the experience.

But, like every other NFL coach, it's like raking leaves with a toothpick asking him about the day-to-day issues. Take a look at the Monday transcript.

Forget asking about injuries, although for some strange reason they get leaked by who knows who to national types that are never around asking all the other questions. He won't answer questions about individual players or who'll play or elaborate on the obvious. On Monday he confirmed Vontaze Burfict is a good player.

And, look, I don't blame Marv. He's no different than any other coach. He's trying to keep foes in the dark while balancing the egos of 53 distinct and different players, not to mention about 20 coaches. No problem there. I get that.  I just don't think he's changed his personality. I bet you'd be shocked at how close a 2003 transcript would resemble Monday's.

I can't see much difference on the field, either. He's pretty aggressive with the challenge flag and I thought he got a good one as the game was going into the fourth quarter, a risky time to lose a timeout. He lost the challenge, but he gave an excellent answer on why he thought the 12 men-on-the-field penalty was wrong. Like I say, he's a member of the NFL competition committee and he knows that stuff cold.

First time writing, long time reader. I enjoy reading your articles and insights. My question is besides AJ are the other receivers not creating separation? Because there was a lot of talk in the off season of how talented the receivers are. 2nd question is do you think it's too late to fix up the line? Add A. Smith or trade sign or change it up. I'm still hopeful I just think the Oline needs help Gregory Charles, Miami, FL

GREGORY: Thank you for the kind note and your support and I hope you write in again.

Again, some of this gets back to the lack of a punch in the running game. Because of that teams have been zoning the heck out of them and it's tougher to separate in a zone. And the few times they've separated, Dalton's accuracy downfield hasn't been reliable. Wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Cody Core (a 4.4 guy) are two of their more improved players from last year's rookie season. But on Sunday Core played just five snaps and Boyd had one target on 30 snaps. They may have to look at that, but the bottom line is the QB has to get the ball there.

The O-line has struggled, but pass protection looks to be a league-wide problem. Look at what Green Bay had backing up their tackles. They would have brought someone in if he was out there back in June. On paper, they're actually better off than most with two first-rounders and a second-rounder at tackle and, yeah, I think Andre Smith plays a lot more after how well he played at left tackle for the first time in Green Bay.

Cincinnati Bengals take on the Green Bay Packers in week 3 of the regular season.

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