Hobson's Choice: By-By To The Bye

QB Jake Dolegala and QB Ryan Finley
Ryan Finley gets his first full week of practice this week.

I understand the decision to see what Ryan Finley is capable of doing at QB. I'm concerned about the lack of speed on defense. Since the trade deadline is over does that mean there is no way possible for the Bengals to upgrade defense? Gerald Graham, Chesterfield, VA

GERALD: Adding personnel, not right now. It’d be nice to have all top four cornerbacks healthy at once instead of two or three (William Jackson III, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, Darius Phillips), which has never happened this season, but clearly one of their top off-season priorities on that side of the ball has to be to acquiring speed at linebacker.

While they’re finding out if Finley can play, maybe they’ll do the same for his college teammate, rookie middle linebacker Germaine Pratt, and give him the bulk of the snaps the rest of the way. He’s got the physical tools and looks to me like he can be a solid starter, but, like any rookie, is up and down and needs the reps.

One way not to upgrade the defense is to unload two of their top three sackers of all-time in Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. Makes no sense to me. Look, it’s been extremely difficult for Bengals’ pass rushers the last three years when they’ve been ranked 30, 29 and 32 defending the run, respectively. Get that fixed first.

Which gets you back to the linebackers and that opens up some philosophical questions. They’ve spent a slew of third-round picks on linebackers. Is it time to go higher in an attempt to find that impact guy? Or, drop a big number on a backer in free agency, a venue they haven’t used much in the last decade while focusing on re-signing their own?

Do you think the benching on Andy Dalton was a good idea, especially since he hasn’t had the chance to be on the field this year with A.J., Green, Tyler Boyd and John Ross as the receiving core? Alex Lisk, Wichita, KS

ALEX: As you probably know, I’ve been a big Dalton guy. Still am. But at 0-8, there are also some big questions and with Andy nearing the end of his deal, quarterback is certainly at the top of the list. Far from all Andy’s fault. Tough business. But it is a business.

Big Bengals fan since the 7th grade way back in 1977. Always enjoy your columns. My question is this. Is the o-line going to protect any better now with a new Qb then it has or open up some running room. Tom Brady would be bad with this line. Jeff Rogers, Chesnee, S.C.

JEFF: That’s a long time, ’77. The year Brady was born. Thank you for your support and kind words. It’s been a tough stretch up front. Next Sunday against Baltimore the O-line is looking at starting its fifth different combination in nine games. It’s interesting because Finley doesn’t seem to have the typical rookie quarterback flaws of holding on to the ball or staying anchored seven steps deep in the pocket. In preseason, that is.

So, of course, let’s see what happens for real Sunday when Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale comes home to Paul Brown Stadium (a Dayton guy out of Trotwoood-Madison High School) and is sure to show Finley more looks than the Wright brothers had bicycles. I’ve got to believe there’s going to be even more of an emphasis on improving the run with a rookie quarterback. The multi tight end looks and the six offensive linemen alignments seemed to help the run and some more seven-man protections would no doubt help.

Have you gone radio silent? Need a new Hobson's Choice... Please explain to us what the plan is? No trades and then bench the QB? It just seems like no plan at all. La Canfora drives me crazy, but I have a hard time now not agreeing with him. Dennis Parker, Jacksonville, FL

DENNIS: Radio silent? Each game and move has been chronicled right here. Always tough to do as many Choices as I do in the offseason and I’m trying to do more during the season. But radio silent? The headlines haven’t stopped.

From what I can see, there is a plan but it’s not sexy enough for the pundits to qualify as a plan. The Bengals apparently want to keep their best assets while answering the biggest question of all. What to do at quarterback with a big-ticket starter staring at free agency in 2021? Not to find out about a rookie quarterback at 0-8 would border on negligent. Not having anybody behind the rookie quarterback would be negligent.

We’d all love a quick fix. But at what price? Sports is no different than business. There are no quick fixes. Only due diligence. That’s the plan, it seems to me, and who likes plans? They take time. But they’re necessary.

I'm sorry, but WHY do people believe a new QB is going to fix this team? It's the front line, not the QB! WHEN are they going to actually address the REAL problem? Greg Burns, Connersville, IN

GREG: But they have addressed it. It has yet to pan out, but they’ve tried to address it. Three of their last five first-round picks have been offensive linemen. For the first time in their history back in April, they drafted tackles with the first pick in a four-year span. In 2015 they took tackles in the first two rounds, the only time they’ve ever done it. In this last draft they traded back up into a round for the first time ever when they grabbed Ohio State guard Michael Jordan in the fourth.

Yes, the ’15 picks, Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, are no longer here. Billy Price, the Ohio State center who was the first pick in 2018, is making the transition to guard. And it was the shoulder injury to 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams, the tackle from Alabama, that started this crazy mess up front back in June.

But they feel good about a future with Williams and Jordan on the left side (they’ve sat Jordan after a rocky beginning as the Opening Day starter and believe he just needs seasoning) and veteran Trey Hopkins has among the best grades in the league in his first year as the starting center. Re-signing him has to be a priority. Obviously they have to keep addressing the line, but it’s not like they haven’t tried.

Who Dey! I’ve have been a Bengals Fan since 1974 and want to know what you’re thoughts on getting this team on track to win a Super Bowl? Phil Prehoda, Middle Granville, NY

PHIL: Great to hear from the hometown of the great Greg Luckenbaugh, a former sports editor of the Glens Falls Post-Star now an English teacher and coach at Lake George. Thanks for being around since ’74, the year long-time Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham was drafted out of Syracuse.

First thing I’d do is fix the defense. If it’s one thing the Mike Zimmer Era taught us, it’s that good defense hides a lot of warts. A big reason the Green-Dalton Bengals got off the ground so quickly was defense. A big reason the Carson-Chad Bengals were wildly inconsistent was a lack of defense. After three seasons with three different coordinators and pretty much the same results, they’ve got to find the answer between scheme and personnel.

Even if the Bengals considered benching Dalton before week 8, why would anyone, including Andy, think that they would trade him, when they would be one play away from having an undrafted rookie as the back-up QB? Tony Layman, Cincinnati, OH

TONY: Couldn’t agree more.

Hi Geoff, I continue to enjoy your work. My questions are 1. Considering all of the team needs at this point, what are your thoughts on pursuing OT Bryan Bulaga this offseason? 2. Your take on Germaine Pratt's development/future? Joe F., Cincinnati

JOE: Thanks, Joe. Good to hear from you again. That gets backs to the philosophical question they’ll have to deal with in the offseason. When they re-booted in ’11, they had a solid defense and offensive line and didn’t have to delve much in free agency. They have not been fans of big multi-year free agents (which is a trait they’ve shared with successful teams like the Patriots and Steelers) but in years past when the Bengals felt they’ve needed to do it, they’ve done it. It’s been awhile.

But if they do it, I don’t see them going with a guy like Bulaga, who’ll be 31 when free agency starts. When they’ve done it, they’ve preferred an ascending, younger guy.

Like I say, Pratt’s got the tools, big and fast, and he certainly seems to be tough and dedicated. But he needs reps to get more comfortable with the pro game.

Hi Hobson, I am a huge Dalton-fan ever since he and A.J. came to the team. My question is a two-part: 1) Will we ever see Dalton start again? 2) if not, will A.J. (given his tag-comment) want to re-sign given the benching of his best friend? Christian Nielsen, Copenhagen, Denmark

CHRISTIAN: I’m a Dalton guy, too. In 20 seasons writing the site, I’ve learned to never write one word. Never. Never write it, say it or think it in the NFL. Or life, for that matter.

My sense is A.J. would like to re-sign with the Bengals and he seems to ready to catch balls from anybody. He and Dalton are close, but they’re also businessmen.

Read the Taylor Made interview. Disappointed in the answers related to trades. Better to play for future than try to win 3 games this year. How many picks could have been obtained by trading Green, Dalton, Atkins, Eifert, and Dunlap Ken Taylor, Tuscaloosa, AL

KEN: Thank you for reading. I think there’s a big difference between playing for the future and tearing the guts out of your team. No one doubts they could have got some draft picks. But what kind of picks? You panic and unload your best players to a contender for what? A first-round pick that is really a second? A fourth that is really a fifth? Forget about this year. Who is going to rush the passer in 2020 and 2021? Who is going to stretch the field in 2020 in 2021? Some argue the Bengals over-value their players but, gee, you have to line up.

I get it. Time to move on from their 2015 core. I get that. But, as Paul Brown would say, you better be able to replace them. It sounds great. Load of draft picks. But after the top 10 players in the draft, do you want to start a team with what-ifs and maybes?

(The Bengals began the 2011 reboot with a top 10 pick in A.J. Green and a top 35 pick in Andy Dalton, two picks they had no shot of getting at the trade deadline. Even the Raiders gave them only No. 17 at the ’11 deadline for Carson Palmer.)

Sure, the way it turned out in 1999, the Bengals should have jumped all over the Ricky Williams trade. They were picking third and could have had eight draft picks from the Saints. New Orleans coach Mike Ditka ended up doing the deal with Washington at No. 5 and Washington did a trade with Chicago that put Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey in D.C. with the seventh pick.

But those eight picks between Washington and the Bears? Linebacker LaVar Arrington was the only Pro Bowler. The only players that appeared in more than 47 NFL games were a pair of journeymen tight ends in Desmond Clark and Billy Miller. It didn’t transform Washington. They did win Wild Card games in ’99 and 2005, but was it because of the trade? Bailey was long gone in ‘05, traded for Clinton Portis (who did rush for more than 1,500 yards in ’05), and Arrington started just eight games in that ’05 season.

The dynastic Cowboys of the ‘90s transformed themselves with draft picks amassed in the Herschel Walker trade, no question. But here’s a nugget from that trade. According to a book about that Dallas team written by Norm Hitzges, Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson offered wide receiver Michael Irvin to the Raiders, but Raiders boss Al Davis asked him two questions. Are you sure you want to do that? And, who is going to catch passes for you?

Sure. Irvin was at the beginning of his career. Green is 31. But I’ve got the same questions for you.

And, really, the same thing with Dalton. Who knows how this thing is going to end up? There are not only eight games left, there are college all-star games to be played, the combine to be served up and the draft to be had. As the late Bengals personnel chief Pete Brown was fond of saying, “Never eliminate yourself.” Translation: keep all your options open.

If Dalton is benched for not producing. Why is Joe Mixon and/or Bernard not Benched for having the worst running game in the NFL?? W Meyer, Cincinnati, OH

W: No one is blameless. But Mixon is the same talented guy that led the AFC in rushing last season at 4.9 per pop. Giovani Bernard is the same talented guy that is running at James Brooks’ dual franchise records of most catches and receiving yards by a running back. Everybody has to take blame for that running game, but sitting two of your more explosive offensive players isn’t going to solve any problems.

What kind of leader is Ryan Finley? Vocal or quiet leader? Wally Bucher, Cincinnati, OH

WALLY: After talking to some of the offensive players last week, it sounds like Finley is like any guy that has grown up playing quarterback. He’s used to taking charge in the huddle and telling guys what needs to be done. Let’s see him play, first, though. He seems to have an edgier personality than Dalton, but what does that mean in the huddle and the locker room? Let’s find out.

Are they going to look at QB in the draft? I'm not sold on the supposed top quarterbacks and the team has other needs. Why not strengthen positions and improve depth? Why reach for a QB when you can take a higher rated player? Chase Young? Andrew S., Lancaster, PA

ANDREW: Hell of a question. It seems to me that’s a big reason they’re giving Finley eight games to see what he can do.

With Andy taking the fall for an awful offensive line that began crumbling when the brass completely misevaluated Whitworth's ability to play at a high level and Cedric Ogbuehi & Jake Fisher's ability to play at all, why should we believe in this organization? Mike Smullen, Alexandria, VA

MIKE: This is the same organization that not only drafted Andrew Whitworth, but then switched him to left tackle and got a Pro Bowler when many NFL people thought he could only play guard. This is the same organization that drafted a Hall of Fame worthy tackle in Willie Anderson. This is the same organization that drafted a solid left tackle in Levi Jones before knee injuries curtailed his career. This is the same organization that drafted Andre Smith 10 years ago and he ended up as the starting right tackle on five straight play-off teams.

So, yeah, they whiffed on Ogbuehi and Fisher, but I’d certainly trust them to keep looking considering their track record picking tackles.

Considering Our 0-8 start and the pending transfer of control to Finley, what changes are going to be made to the offensive line to help provide Ryan with the best opportunity to shine? Michael Montgomery, Lima, OH

MICHAEL: Andy went to the bench leading the NFL in passes attempted. The offensive line will be helped if Finley doesn’t tie him over the next eight games.

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