Hobson's Choice: Bengaldom Stretches For A Run

Hakeem Adeniji's offensive line is a topic this bye week.
Hakeem Adeniji's offensive line is a topic this bye week.

Greetings Mr. Hobson: I hope that all is well with U & ur family. Teams look at the Bye as a point to get physically healthy. After 9 games do u feel that The Bengals r mentally exhausted & this bye could have started after the Jets? Victor Pate, Dayton, OH

VICTOR: Nice to hear from you again and I hope you and yours are well. Actually, I don't think they're exhausted. I just think they're evolving.

It's a team largely filled with players acquired in the last two offseasons and it seems to me they're still getting each other and the schemes figured out. Hence the inconsistencies ranging from last month's dominant victory against Baltimore to a stunning loss to the Jets in the span of a week.

Plus, you've got to remember that while quarterback Joe Burrow has looked so good most of the time, he just finished his rookie year in the Oct. 17 game in Detroit. Throw in the fact that this is the first full season they've operated in basically a non-pandemic setting with so many of their players vaccinated, in many ways it's a team still finding its way.

And they had so many key guys coming off season-ending injuries (Burrow, Joe Mixon, D.J. Reader, C.J. Uzomah, Tee Higgins, Jonah Williams, Logan Wilson) that they figure to hit more of their stride in the second half.

I think most fans taking a look at the schedule in May would have taken, at the bye, wins in Pittsburgh and Baltimore on the way 5-4 and being a game-and-and-half out of first in the AFC.

That said, the losses in Chicago and New York make you shake your head and the losses at home to Green Bay and Cleveland make you tear your hair out after watching them. Next week they clearly embark on finding out what and who they are. The next eight games are going to tell us the whole story. Given how they've built this team over the last two years, they are certainly thinking going into the final drive that they are playoff worthy.

Been a Bengals fan for 52 years. I am not worried about the offense. The O-line, WRs, RBs, and Especially Joe Burrow are playing great. How do you get better at tackling? John Johannesen, Jacksonville, FL

JOHN: It's a heck of a question. You're right. You can't have 15 missed tackles one week in New York, say you're going to improve, and then miss 11 tackles the next week against Cleveland. (Stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus.)

Join the club. I often wonder, 'How do you get better at tackling in the 2021 NFL?' Because of the rules, they wear full pads once a week. The salaries are so high you can't old-school practice with nutcracker drills and tackling dummies. Get a starter hurt form tackling and who's the dummy? Defenders are basically coming out of college as extras in seven-on-seven shows where tackling is not exactly viewed as a premium except when rushing the passer.

Not easy. When the first-place Ravens lost to the Bengals, there was no doubt the same discussion in the Charm City. They had 12 missed tackles and three of them could have been on one play, the 82-yarder to Ja'Marr Chase.

But somebody is doing it. The Browns only missed six tackles out of 75 plays last Sunday. The week before, the Jets missed six. In the last two weeks, according to PFF, the Bengals have missed 26 in about 140 plays. Can't have it, and it wasn't happening at the start of the season. Bottom line is that defense, where big money has been spent, has to start playing big again and move beyond missing tackles.

Hi Goef: As much as I love the potential of so many Bengal players, it seems to me that the OL and DL have LOST THEIR INTENSITY - especially in these last two games. Is it the coaches being too casual? Please enlighten us, and thanks. Dave Christman, Athens, GA

DAVE: Offensive line coach Frank Pollack and defensive line coach Marion Hobby casual? Wow. They are two guys that played in the NFL for a combined dozen seasons and are two of the more intense coaches I've seen. They'd rather chew their arm off than watch one of their guys miss a play.

Nope. That's not it.

I would go to The Guru on this one. No one studies tape better than Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham and he has emerged from the last two games convinced there has been no lack of effort out there.

Gee, last Sunday the offense comes out and drives it for 141 yards on the first two series and establishes the line of scrimmage. (Running back Joe Mixon was untouched on an 11-yard touchdown run.) The week before they went on the road to score at least 30 points for the third straight game. That sounds to me like the O-line has had plenty of intensity.

As for the D-line, I don't think a lack of fire up front is the reason for the last two weeks. I mean, that's one of the reasons the Jets went with all those screens and quick throws to the backs. Get the D-line off quarterback Mike White.

Agreed, it always looks bad when you give up a long one, which the defense did twice against Cleveland. But that can also come from being too jacked up, resulting in gaps being overrun. You don't think tackle Larry Ogunjobi wanted to take down old teammate Nick Chubb in the backfield? He probably wanted it too badly.

Check out some of the best images of the Bengals offense through the first nine games of the 2021 season.

Willie Anderson worked with Jackson Carman and also recommended the Bengals draft him. How is it that Carman, after 9 games, and a few starting opportunities, Carman cannot hold a starting guard position? The offensive line is still bad! Mike Gray Grand Prairie, TX

MIKE: The move to Hakeem Adeniji to right guard says more about him than Carman. It looked to me like before Adeniji got hurt in the spring even before the draft, he was the guy they were targeting to be an Opening Day guard. That became obvious when they went to him last Sunday for all 79 snaps even though he'd been practicing for just two weeks.

The move doesn't mean they don't think Carman can hold a starting spot eventually. Carman has played well at times. He got very high grades against the Ravens and then struggled against the Jets. Typical rookie year ups-and-downs. (Exhibit A: Everyone's Rookie of the Year Ja'Marr Chase.)

But, like Adeniji, Carman is making the conversion from college tackle to guard and Adeniji has the edge on him because he's been in the league a year longer. In Adeniji and Carman, I think you're seeing two future offensive line starters who can play both guard and tackle. Willie Anderson can tell talent and Carman has it. But even the great Willie Anderson had to develop. Let Carman.

Is the offensive line bad? Or NFL average? It's been a disappointment in short yardage, yes, which has killed their rushing average. Still, their top two backs, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, average 4.2 and 4.4 yards, respectively. According to Pro Football Reference, they've allowed 28 hits on the quarterback. Half the teams have given up 28 or more. They must be blocking somebody. Burrow is the AFC's leading passer.

Hello, life long Bengals fan who enjoys your column. Wanted to hear your thoughts about the offensive line play. To me it's simply not good enough, can't seem to run the ball when needed and Joe is taking way too many hits as well. Ed Berry, Limerick, PA

ED: Thanks much and I hope you write in again. As for the line, well, see above. Sure, they have to play better, of course and more balanced play calling helps. Forced to drop back 47 times last week once they fell behind big makes it tough on the O-line. And I can see why you say that because it seems like every time they need a yard or two, they can't run for it.

But I also think the O-line is a work in progress that is trending up. This is the first year Pollack has worked with these guys and I think some of the bugs are still getting worked out, along with personnel.

Yes, they have to do better. Adeniji played well last week and maybe that is a good piece to be adding. But this isn't last year, when they gave up the fourth most hits in the league.

Hi Geoff. Why has Auden Tate disappeared from the WR rotation? I mean, 6'5", 228 lbs, ridiculous catch radius. I would think that he would be a given in third down, or red zone situations. What gives? James Hudgens, Cincinnati, OH

JAMES: He's missed the last two games because of injury, but let's begin the discussion about targets. Look, I also love Tate as a great target that seems to catch them all … but who do you want targeted in the red zone? Chase, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, Uzomah, Mixon? And you've got one ball.

Hi Geoff, Thanks for all your ongoing Bengals coverage! I'm curious, what is the Bengals record this year with Jackson Carman starting at RG and how has the run game comparatively fared in those games? Peter Neefus, Virginia Beach, VA

PETER: Thank you for continuing to read and write in. In Carman's five starts, the Bengals are 3-2 and average 86 rushing yards per game on 22 attempts for 3.9 per carry. In the other four games they are 2-2 while averaging 111 yards on 29 attempts on 3.9 per carry. He didn't start the Lions game, but he took a third of the snaps in a game the Bengals tied a season high with 36 carries for 142 yards, second only to the opener.

Browns... Ouch. With Tre Wayne's history, do the Bengals target Damon Arnett? LB Jaylon Smith and a Center? Burrow can not force balls to Chase!! I believe he targeted Boyd only twice the whole game! Why? Hopkins is a huge weakness right now Kiva Dior Sr. Cincinnati, OH

I'm all for Chase getting his targets but doesn't it feel like Boyd's been forgotten? We need some more sustained drives, not just looking for the deep shot. Burrow is forcing it to Chase, Is Taylor/Callahan not seeing this too? Brad Miller, Westerville, OH

KIVA, BRAD: I think the Boyd thing is a bit of an overreaction to last Sunday, when Chase had 13 targets and Boyd had two. I mean, just the week before in New York, Boyd had the most targets with eight and Burrow targeted him on his two biggest throws of the day. They came on their last scoring drive, both on two mega third downs and the last one for a touchdown that should have salted it away.

Forgotten?

Gone, maybe, for a game. But not forgotten. Coming into last Sunday's game, Chase had 60 targets and Boyd had 53, which sounds pretty reasonable to me. And head coach Zac Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan have both addressed the discrepancy against Cleveland and don't exactly see it like others.

One of the reasons Taylor was so peeved about the play-action sack on missed blitz pickup is because Boyd was open for a big play.

"We felt like we had some good opportunities outside that we took advantage of. I will say two of the sacks that we had were going to target TB down the field for some big plays down the field potentially, you know, and we just didn't have time to get them there," Taylor said Monday. "It certainly wasn't my intention to have him walk off the field with two targets and one catch, and there were some other plays that could have gone to him that again, like I'm saying, Joe got sacked on, but he's a big part of what we do and we need to continue to try to get him more involved where it fits."

On Tuesday, Callahan said Boyd is getting more attention than Chase on some snaps.

"Tyler Boyd has actually seen more double teams on third down than Ja'Marr has," Callahan said. "He's seen some cloud coverage, some quarters and stuff like that. Just kind of keeping it in front of them. At the end of the day we've gotten behind defenses. We missed a couple in that Browns game. It wasn't like they've totally bottled him up in that regard. We put the ball down field a few times and didn't come up with it. I would say it's nothing crazy defensively people are doing with Ja'Marr. They're just aware of him now. He's having a good year. They're trying to stay on top of him and not get beat deep. But I would say the coverage specialties haven't really shown up yet."

So, no, they don't think Burrow is forcing it.

As for the Hopkins question, he's still getting his feet under him in his first nine games back from his ACL injury, which happened just 10 months ago. I wouldn't call him a weakness. I'd call him courageous for what he's done coming back. I know his PFF grades are lousy, but I also know they use Pollack's grades and if he thought was a weakness, he'd get him out of there. Hopkins means so much to them when it comes to getting them lined up and you don't see that in anyone's grades but the internal ones.

They've got a lot of faith in rookie center Trey Hill. I think that's their future target there.

Damon Arnette? The ex-Raiders cornerback? A guy facing NFL suspension with 13 games under his belt? They've just claimed two veteran backups with a combined 115 NFL games (Tre Flowers and Vernon Hargreaves III) and they're most likely going to draft a cornerback quite high, maybe as high as the first round.

And for a defense that doesn't have a lot of linebackers, can't see them dropping big money on one, especially after committing nearly a quarter of a billion dollars on defense the past two offseasons and key offensive players like Burrow and Higgins coming up for deals sooner rather than later.

Check out some of the best images of the Bengals defense through the first nine games of the 2021 season.

Culture or playoffs. Tough choice when 7 of the 8 teams left have .500 or better record while 5 of the 9 teams they already played have a below .500 record lost to 2 of them. I know you want year 4 of Taylor made takes. Mike M., Wiloughby, OH

MIKE: In your honor I posted my latest Taylor-Made Takes on Wednesday, but couldn't get in a PFF reference for you. But here's Pro Football Reference, the site that keeps the standings:

Their next game is at the 5-3 Raiders, a team that has also lost to two losing teams. Then they're home to the Steelers, a team that needed the last seconds (one in overtime) to beat Geno Smith and Justin Fields. After another home game against the Chargers, another 5-3 AFC team (three wins by a combined 12 points to Washington, Philly and Cleveland), they play the 49ers, then go to Denver to play a 5-4 Broncos team that has lost by a combined 24 points to Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

What's it all mean? Everybody has got something. Are the Bengals really all that different than everyone else in the mix? I get it. When you live and die with a team, you tend to forget that most everyone is in the same boat. But the good news is: Like the players have said, it is all in front of them. So hopefully they will be good enough to earn it.

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