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Hobson's Choice: Bengaldom seeks answers


Alex Erickson is catching the ball.

Hey Hobs, always enjoy reading the articles. My question today is regarding Alex Erickson. He is no doubt a great special teams player and has shown he can produce on offense, so why isn't he more involved on offense? I know the receiver corps is stacked but the guy always finds a way to make plays. Paul Province, Washington, WVA

PAUL: Thank you for reading. More plays like the 22-yarder on Sunday's third-and-eight and you'd think he'll get some more. But for as much ink as the tackle rotation is getting, how about what is going on behind A.J. Green and Brandon LaFell and slot receiver Tyler Boyd out with a sprained knee?

Erickson had just nine snaps in Pittsburgh after getting 31 two weeks ago against Baltimore and had one target and one catch each. Cody Core went from 12 snaps to 21 snaps in those two games and had two targets and no catches. Rookie Josh Malone got his first 13 snaps in Pittsburgh with one target and no catches. And that's not even counting the possible return of rookie John Ross, who has played just five snaps with no targets all year. Where does he fit?

They're clearly still trying to find a combo that clicks heading into the seventh game. But they're not long on experience and Andy Dalton is still searching for a connection with them. Ross, Malone, and Core have been drafted to play but the undrafted Erickson is the one, for whatever the reason, making catches. And I think they've got something exciting with Ross, Malone, and Core, but we just haven't seen them very much yet for a variety of reasons. Tough call. Everyone loves Erickson. But don't Malone, Ross, and Core need to get worked in, too? That's one of the shocking stats of this season. Ross, Core, and Malone have no catches heading into the seventh game.

Mr. Hobson I have seen enough to know we will only win 5 or 6 games this year. My question is do you think they will fire Marvin and start over? I think our def is good enough to keep as is. I would have taken TJ Watt with the first pick this past draft. Could you see him on one side and Lawson on the other? But we really needed help on the offences line. Next year they had better start there. Until we can beat the Steelers we are going to find it hard to do much. Like to hear your thoughts and thanks for reading. Steve Bowlin, Galion, OH

STEVE: Thank you for writing.  Let's be fair to Marvin and see how this thing plays out. I think whatever happens the offense is going to be the off-season priority with everything coaches, players, scheme on the table to be re-evaluated. I also think the offense is again going to be a priority in the first couple of rounds in the draft. Again.

The way it must have panned out is they didn't have a pass rusher or a tackle rated worthy of the ninth pick because they no doubt would have grabbed him.  The thing is, if they took Watt at No. 9 (far too high anyway when he went No. 30 to the Steelers) they probably would have taken either Jordan Willis or Carl Lawson, but not both. Watt had a good game against them Sunday, but I like Willis and Lawson as a tandem for the next several years. Let's see about that one. That should be easy to chart since we'll see Watt twice a year.

You're right about the Steelers. It's the team that has stopped the Green-Dalton Era from going where it wants to go. They've had great success on the road, against the Ravens, and even beat the Patriots once. But a 3-11 record against the Steelers has made them bridesmaids. 


New OC Bill Lazor is looking to rebound from Sunday's 179-yard day.

Mr. Hobson thanks for always keeping us Bengals fans up to date on everything Bengals. I have a few concerns about the offensive line, which I'm sure others do as well. After watching all first 6 games of the season the weakest part of our team is the line. So when is the front office going to do something? Yes Bill Lazor is helping this offense get going but eventually teams will catch on and expose that weakness. I refuse to believe the 5 guys we have on the line are the best out there and some changes need to be made. So will that be in the offseason or can we expect that soon? I believe changing quickly will help our playoff chances as our team is good enough to win. But if not it will turn into a season like last year. Aaron Cline, Westerville, OH

AARON: Thank you for checking in from Ki-Jana Carter country and thanks very much for reading.
I think the front office has already invested much in the line.

In 2014 they traded up in the fourth round to get center Russell Bodine and in 2015 they extended left guard Clint Boling. That's also when they drafted in the first and second rounds their current tackles, Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, and then last year signed a rare UFA when they inked old friend Andre Smith, so far their best tackle.  You can't knock them for not paying right guard Kevin Zeitler $12 mil a year and letting go left tackle Andrew Whitworth is always going to be debated no matter what happened.

What is interesting is three-fifths of the Steelers offensive line that so outplayed the Bengals offensive line on Sunday didn't get drafted and the Bengals started four players drafted in the fourth round or higher. So I wouldn't say the front office has neglected the line.

There's no one out there that is going to help them this season, but what they have to do is figure out is what these guys do best. I would think at some point it is going to be time to see if the young guards they like, Alex Redmond and Christian Westerman, can play. The kind of changes you're looking for can only happen in the offseason and I would imagine they've got to be mulling another revamping of the line.

Geoff, Hello from rain soaked Florida. Very disappointed in last week's results. Steelers have our number. Why do we continually get pushed around and out hit by them? Don't think our talent level is that lacking. The Bears and Jags gashed them for 200 yds rushing. Their QBs barely threw the ball. I hate to play the blame game, but how can this not be on the coaches. Maan Aboulhosn, Titusville, FL

MAAN: Good to hear from you again and hope everyone is safe. If there is one thing that is consistent about these games, it is how the Steelers offensive line always seems to dominate the games they win. And I blame that more on the Bengals offense than the Bengals defense. It just doesn't generate enough first downs to keep that offense off the field. What can you do with 51 plays, like the Bengals had Sunday?

The Steelers offensive line is a weapon and should be treated as such. Keep them off the field. I've said it before. I'll say it again. The difference between the Bengals and the Steelers in the 15 seasons of the Marvin Lewis Era is that the Bengals say, 'We want to try and run the ball and be balanced." The Steelers say, 'We must run the ball no matter what."   Even though they've got a Hall of Fame QB. But Jerome Bettis, Fast Willie Parker, Le'Veon Bell, just to name a few, are big reasons why Big Ben is headed to Canton.


One thing everyone knows about rookie running back Joe Mixon. The kid's got talent.

Hi Mr. Hobson, love reading your page and observations!! I have an observation, as an arm-chair Quarterback/Coach fan, and what I believe is the obvious question about this year's team. The observation is that one doesn't have to be an NFL Coach to see that the Offensive Line on this team is extremely unproductive and either undisciplined or incapable of run or pass blocking based on the fact that they cannot run the ball - even with three very capable running backs, and that Andy Dalton is running for his life on most passing plays.

The only time Dalton had opportunities to pass during the second half this week is when he had two blocking backs. This is ridiculous! Seven blocking personnel and he was still getting pressured or sacked by a 3-5 man rush. It is simply my opinion, but a football team must have a solid front line on both sides of the ball in order to be successful.  As such this team is going nowhere unless they do something immediately. So, is there any hope that they can right the ship with this front line group or do they look to the streets for anybody to make improvements, or is the season lost?

Lastly, I know it is taboo to mention, but...When is management and ownership going to realize that they need to be paying top dollar for Line players they have developed rather than letting them go to other teams? The loss of the two front linemen this past off season seems to have been devastating. The two young tackles just don't seem to be ready and sadly needed another year of tutoring. Your thoughts? Greg Burns, Connersville, IN

GREG: Thank you for reading and joining in. Like I say, at this point in the season these are the guys they've got and the challenge now is to use them on plays and schemes that fit them best. And I do think they've invested in this line. They drafted a first-rounder to replace Whitworth (a guy they re-upped multiple times), a second-rounder to replace Andre Smith, traded up to get the center, and extended the left guard, a fourth-rounder.

On paper, it works. But the paper hasn't translated to the field. I love Kevin Zeitler, but I can't blame them for not paying him $12 million. It seemed like that was one of the reasons why they drafted Westerman and signed Redmond, but it hasn't gone that way yet. I do think T.J. Johnson is a versatile guy that can help anywhere inside.


Marvin Lewis: in the media spotlight.

Jeff, you're a good dude and a talented writer. Love and appreciate your passion. But I have a serious question: When will the local media turn on Marvin and Mike Brown? This crap year in and year out is not tolerated in real cities like Philly, NY, Washington or even Buffalo for goodness sakes. When the Reds were horrific Marty B. respectfully became critical. You folks just continue the same sugary sweet coverage never wanting to ruffle feathers. When will Dave Lapham speak up? As he has the most Bengal gravitas.. Our team constantly gets out-maneuvered at half time. No real accountability. Just Groundhog Day year after meaningless year. We folks out here can quit watching. We can stop buying tickets. Apathy on parade. But until you professional media folks step up, it won't mean a thing...Tim Feller, West Chester, OH

TIM: Thanks for the note and for reading. It sounds like we'll have to agree to disagree on this one, probably because we're coming at it from different perspectives and I love to hear what you think. But we differ right away and we're just not reading or listening to the same things.

"Year after meaningless year?" Really? Three division titles since 2009? Yeah, I know. No post-season wins. But six post-seasons berths in eight years? Yeah, I know. It's not the Patriots. But year after meaningless year? That's a bit much for me.

I don't think you can mistake the team's approach for the media's approach. This is Mike Brown's style. He hates change. He thinks in the Green-Dalton Era he's been on the brink of a championship. (Plenty of pundits have been with him, too.) Now, he may change his tune after this season, who knows, but this is why he's hung with Marvin Lewis. He thinks he's close and he thinks any kind of change is a setback. Agree with him or disagree with him, but franchises like Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Miami and others that keep changing coaches and quarterbacks like socks and cell phones reinforce his fears.

But just because he doesn't change doesn't mean the media in town doesn't question him.  I think we define "sugary," a bit differently.

Start with the city's columnist, The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Daugherty. He has no problems ripping Mike, Marvin, even me on occasion. I'd argue that Doc has been tougher on a Bengals franchise that has been financially committed to keeping their good, young players on a roster that has been to the postseason more often than not in the last decade than he has been on the Reds. Doc is a hard-nosed guy and calls his shots and he's been all over the Bengals and that's his job and he does it well. He's not an easy out. His column after Sunday's game wasn't exactly "Green Eggs and Ham."

Same with Dave Lapham. No team radio analyst calls it as bluntly or as honestly as Lapham. If you're looking for a guy with blood on his fangs calling for people's heads, Lap's not your guy. But he's given enough tough analysis down through the years to occasionally butt heads with players, coaches, and management. Did you hear him talk about the offensive line's problems Sunday?

No sugar. No spice. Just meat and potatoes. And they were cold.

And you won't find two better beat guys at a newspaper in the city that has an NFL team than Paul Dehner, Jr., and Jim Owczarski at The Cincinnati Enquirer. Plus, The Dayton Daily News' Jay Morrison's, Channel 12's Richard Skinner, the AP's Joe Kay and's Katherine Terrell are all seasoned, smart, and not afraid to ask tough questions. I mean, just because they don't ask Marvin every day if he's worried about his job doesn't mean they aren't doing their jobs. How many times does Dehner have to write the Marvin-is-0-for-the-playoffs story before he's considered tough?

When Owczarski crafts a story analytically questioning why they're rotating their tackles, that's good journalism. A headline that says "Fire Marvin," says exactly what? Believe me, as this season winds down and Lewis still doesn't have a contract, what do you think we're going to reading about every day? These guys haven't avoided the tough stories. They rolled out the Tez question Monday.

But I always appreciate a question about the media, I hope you write back, and I hope the winded answer doesn't turn you off. I just think its perspective. If you're not the person getting pummeled by the coverage, it sounds soft. Ask Marvin and Mike and I'm sure it's a different answer. It's probably like everything else. It's not as soft as you think and it's not as tough as I think.

But, heck, Marv merely stepped off the podium quickly on Sunday and got ripped in a headline saying he walked out of a news conference. But he didn't.

Tough crowd.

I hope that's not what you mean by "real city.'

But thanks again for introducing the topic.

How are you Hobson big follower of your work here... Question number 1 what did the Steelers do differently in the 2nd half to stop us? 2nd question is the Oline that bad? 3rd question be honest do you think Dalton has the arm strength to fit it in tight windows for wrs that are not getting a lot of separation or are the wrs being blanketed? (I'm an Andy supporter) 4. I like Marvin Lewis but do you think he will get the axe? Gregory C., Miami, FL
GREGORY:  Thank you to the Land of Chad. From what I could see, the Steelers didn't have to change a thing. When the Bengals couldn't/wouldn't/didn't run the ball, that allowed the Steelers to stay in their zone that took away A.J. Green and put pressure on their young, inexperienced receivers. 

There's nothing wrong with Dalton's arm strength. You saw the TD throw he muscled into the back of the end zone to Brandon LaFell in the first quarter. No QB, except maybe two or three guys, can consistently zip it into windows. The young non-Green receivers are going to have ups and downs trying to get open and that was a down day.

I don't know what to make about the offensive line. All I know is they have to put the running game up on the lift in the offseason and figure it out. Players?  Scheme? Plays? Because if you can't run it, you can't score or keep your quarterback healthy or playing at a high level. I give you the 1990s. As for Marvin, let it play out.

Hopefully I don't jinx anything by saying this, and if I do, well, I'm sorry. Could you thank the strength and conditioning coach and the trainers for doing such an excellent job keeping our guys healthy for me please?

Also, with our inconsistent offense and the bleak outlook on the rest of the season, would you say to finish 6-10 Is being more than fair? If so, with our roster being as deep as it is at key positions, do you see them breaking the mold a little and reaching for o-line help or continuing to take the best player available. One more thought, is it likely that with the Bengals being as high on Driskle as they are, that they trade AJ, Jeremy, and Eifert to help secure more picks so an o-lineman is less of a reach? Don Tully, New Bedford, MA

DON: I'll pass the message. You're right. Overall this team is healthy. Don't put me down for 6-10. Ask me on the evening of Nov. 19 after they play their third straight road game.

It's an interesting question about the draft. Reaching is dangerous, but if you build your team on the draft, is it a hazard of the occupation? I think they go a good job of balancing need and talent, so need is going to be weighted differently every year. I don't think they break the mold, but I think they're taking a long look at tackles.

With the Oct. 31 trade deadline approaching, they're not going to get that kind of pick you're seeking. Even if there's a major injury at QB circa Jason Campbell 2011.  Oddly, this time it was Carson Palmer that got hurt, but it sounds like the Cards are staying pat and, besides, they're not going to trade Andy Dalton with Jeff Driskel still coming back from his broken hand and Eifert isn't tradeable on IR. I guess Hill could fetch a mid-round pick if a starting back went down, but that would seem to be a longshot. And that won't get you a starting tackle.

Some observations & questions Post- Bengals/Steelers game& William Jackson looks like our best corner out there, am I missing something? Why shouldn't he be getting more snaps or even following the best receivers?

Michael Johnson looked very good his career seems to be rejuvenated with his hybrid role. He had similar stats to Dunlap, but for some reason Dunlap looked kind of just like a guy out there. What can Dunlap do to be more impactful vs. backup RTs?

Sims also had good production on Sunday with 8 tackles. I know Bengals are all about their run-fits, but who should be the guys stopping the run vs the Steelers scheme? The Killer Vs looked like they were more worried about being in the right place than meeting the blockers & runners in the holes& thoughts? Beau Christopher, Los Angeles, CA

BEAU: Interesting takes. I was also surprised by how the defense played. It has played so well. I didn't see that coming. But they weren't helped by an offense that couldn't make a first down in the last 38 minutes. And I thought Carl Lawson and Carlos Dunlap would be a nightmare for the Steelers tackles, two undrafted guys. I never thought they'd see their sack streak end. But if you'd told me Ben had to throw it only 24 times out of 68 plays, maybe I wouldn't have been as surprised.

If you want to unleash Carlos against a backup tackle, stop the run and get the offense to score. The pass rush is done when Big Ben becomes a caretaker. See how running the ball makes your pass protection look good?

Jackson has been what they thought, it seems. But the guy is playing plenty. Even before Adam Jones got hurt. In the last three games Jackson has played at least 72 percent of the snaps. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues when Adam comes back. The Bengals haven't moved their cornerbacks in years and don't chase. I doubt they'd do it with a young guy. But who knows as time goes on? He looks good, doesn't he?

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