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Hobson's Choice: bye-in


A.J. Green saved the day in Wembley

Hey Hob! Well...that was sure something to watch. Especially when you're the only 3 Bengal's fans (my dad, brother and I) sitting in a New England only sports bar in NH (I swear they must think were crazy). Anyway, two questions (1.) What was with Marvin's strange takeaway after the game? "The best lesson learned today for our football team is you just got to keep playing." Doesn't this guy have anything better to learn from this game which exploited a plethora of discipline and coaching issues? (2.) Also, I saw too many calls on offense that were reminiscent of our old pal Bratkowski. Run the ball twice on 1st and 2nd down, and then only throw on 3rd when they know its coming. What's with this Hob? Does the team trust their offensive line that little to not take more shots on 1st and 2nd down? God love ya! Take care! Kieran Kiley, New Ipswich, NH

KIERAN: I guess 9:30 a.m. is even a little too early for New England fans to start griping about Roger Goodell, John Farrell and Bucky Bleeping Dent.

I have to give Marvin a mulligan on that one. I don't think a coach should be held responsible for what he says in those first weird, dazed moments after a tie. A freaking tie, for God's sake. Especially one on another continent with so many twists right at the end.

Remember, Brat's offenses put up a lot of great numbers. Most of this club's offensive records were set on his watch and he's a good man and coach. But I will say this. He liked the forward pass. Just leave it at first down for the run.

A little early to get down on Ken Zampese, who, by the way, had a big hand in a lot of those records. I think he's getting more and more comfortable calling a game in his first season as offensive coordinator. He's done a nice job reviving the run game the last two weeks by going to it more and more and hitting the 30-attempt mark. More Ryan Hewitt is a good thing. And the biggest shot of the Wembley game, the 40-yarder to wide receiver A.J. Green, came on first down. He took a couple of other deep shots at Green that were stymied by pressure on Dalton. They were there if he had time.

So let's ask about the run game and not about the deep game. Clearly they're having problems protecting quarterback Andy Dalton and who can blame them if they don't drop him back as much as they should on any down.  To put up close to his 2015 numbers getting hit like this is 2012 (46 sacks behind a banged-up line) is remarkable and all the more reason to emphasize the run.

Let me know when the bar starts getting on Celtics coach Brad Stevens. Thanks for the note from my ancestral grounds (Framingham, Mass.) in the land of New England.

Dear Mr. Hobson, Been reading your column for A while. You are a good, fair man. My question is why do the Bengals defer the ball till second half? When they do they don't come and attack, and they play prevent defense when they are only up 7 to10 points. I believe we have race horses on our team, but the coaches got them trotting. Come out and score on offense, and stop them on defense. Let the clock and officials not be the factor they are. Thank you. Ronald Goodwin, Cincinnati, OH

RONALD: Thanks for the kind note. That's all a writer wants to be, so thank you very much.

I didn't hear much criticism of the strategy last year, when it seemed like they spent the entire year leading, 7-0 or 10-3.

Last year the Bengals had a 90-37 edge in the first quarter. This year they're down, 41-37, halfway through the season. Totally different game now. So, I think it's a pretty solid strategy. Get the ball and momentum at the start of the second half. But it's like everything else in football. If you're not playing well, it doesn't matter what the strategy is, it looks bad.

Should they start taking the ball if they win the coin flip? You may be on to something. They may have to think about it.


Wallace Gilberry set to return.

Hi Geoff, What has happened to this teams' defense? Poorest display of tackling that I have seen from them in some time and our LBers run like they have 25 lb shoes on. Our lack of coverage by LBers tells me it's time for Vigil to play on passing downs. I got to wonder too if the lack of pass rush from Peko and MJ isn't bringing extra attn. to Geno and Dunlap. I keep hoping to see DeShawn Williams get some PT too. Your thoughts? Thanks. Rick Scott, Cincinnati, OH

RICK:  Thanks for the question because it's the number one head scratcher in and out of Paul Brown Stadium.

A few theories? And, believe me, these are just theories:

_It's a heck of a lot easier playing defense with a lead than playing from behind. (See above)

_The secondary misses the experience and hands of starting safety Reggie Nelson and the savvy and tackling of slot cornerback Leon Hall.

_Replacing four position coaches in the same season is a tall order and takes away from the continuity of the depth chart. It must mean something, Marvin Lewis fumes when the subject is brought up.

_Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins is getting double-teamed (as always) as well as left end Carlos Dunlap (often) and yet the other guys haven't been able to beat one-on-one. And that seems to be a reason for the anticipated re-signing of defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry (a leadership guy) and the return of Brandon Thompson off PUP probably answers the DeShawn Williams question.

_The linebackers need an infusion of youth and coverage ability and that's why you're going to see a lot more of third-rounder Nick Vigil after the bye week.

_They've hit the wall at the same time age-wise, which can easily happen in this league. Because when a guy's play drops off, it can happen suddenly since you only play 16 games a year.  The average age of the starting Opening Day defense was 29. The average age of the front seven was 29. Aging, by NFL standards.

Now mind you, these are just theories and can all be debated. For instance, with Nelson now 33 and Hall battling a bad back at age 31, wasn't it time to turn to younger players? So don't those younger players (Shawn Williams, Josh Shaw, Darqueze Dennard) need time to develop?

Just theories. There never is one answer in the NFL. But there are always a few.


The core, anchored by Andy Dalton, should get them through.

Mr. Hobson: You are the shining light for us out of town Bengal fans and a Hall of Fame Reporter For Sure! My Question: Has the window closed on this group of Bengal players - they just don't seem the same as the past few years - I know we lost players but it never seem to hurt other teams normally in the playoff hunt like the Patriots or Steelers. George Hiotis, Zanesville, OH

GEORGE: Thank you for the very kind words and you bring up an interesting topic. The window may be closing on some players, but not the core and that's how you win.

Green, Dalton, Tyler Eifert, Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard are all in their primes on offense and Tyler Boyd is emerging as future playmaker at wide receiver.  On defense, three Pro Bowlers, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, abd Vontaze Burfict are in their primes and draft picks Andrew Billings and William Jackson look poised to help.

Playmakers. Quarterback. Receiver. Running backs. Pass rushers. Pass coverers. The core is here for a while. Good players come and go in New England (good-bye Logan Mankins and Jamie Collins) and Pittsburgh (Hines Ward, Willie Parker, Aaron Smith) and they win because of their core.

So the window isn't closing on the core. As long as they've got that, they can win.

They have to make sure, of course, they surround the core. The quarterback has to be protected and the pass rush has to have coverage behind them at linebacker and in the secondary.

Yes, right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi has really struggled in his first season. So did Andre Smith. Give him time. Safeties George Iloka and Shawn Williams are in their primes and they got paid like it with extensions before this season. They are good guys, effort guys, and smart. But the defense needs more from them and they're hoping the more they play together they will. And that's the key. If they can adjust around the core while still contending.  At 3-4-1, they haven't fallen out of it like Baltimore did last season. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther hinted at some changes throughout the defense after the bye week.


Watch for Darqueze Dennard post-bye.

Hey, Geoff. First time writer, and life-long Bengal fan and love your articles. It's hard to find accurate reports about the Men in Stripes with the national media, so I'm glad we have you to rely on. Do you think the Bengals are on the precipice of a mini-rebuild? The Bengals continue to ride the struggle bus at the mid-way point of the season, and I have a sinking feeling in my stomach that we aren't going to magically reverse it.

There has been a lot of turnover in the coaching dept., and I think that the on-field personnel needs some more time to develop than everyone thought. Ogbuehi obviously is not ready to hold down the right side, and Big Whit is getting up there in age. The secondary looks completely lost most weeks, too, with Josh Shaw being the lone bright spot and Jones not living up to that new contract. Young talents like Billings and Jackson III are sidelined with injuries so they aren't due to make an immediate impact upon return. It's hard to see an immaculate upturn. I'm thinking three years until a real chance to contend for a title and a return to 2015 form. Thoughts? Kevin McCarthy, Cincinnati, OH

KEVIN: Thank you for writing in and I hope you do so again because this is a hell of a question. And it kind of piggy backs off the last one.

It shouldn't take three years. It may not take one. They're still in the hunt in 2016 and don't play a team they can't beat in the second half of the season. That's the beauty of the NFL. You can still win in transition. Look at New England, Pittsburgh and Denver.

You hit on some great points (the change in the coaching staff  since 2014 has been extremely underrated) and there's no question they've got to upgrade and get younger on defense (which is why defensive tackle Andrew Billings and cornerback William Jackson are great adds in the last draft), as well as get more consistent play from their best players.

And, yes, no question. Those best players (Atkins, Dunlap, Jones, linebacker Vontaze Burfict) have to be more consistent, although Tez played hurt in the last game and really gutted out his 80 or so snaps.  That's why it won't take three years. Those core guys are going to come around and play better because the back of their football card says they will.

Ogbuehi? Like I say, give him time because after his second season Andre Smith was supposed to be a bust and he ended up being far from it.

We do see a transition, but as long as the core is intact, I don't think we have to wait for three more years. As it is, they should be playing Pittsburgh at PBS for the AFC North title on Dec. 18.

The best way to get through a transition?  Run the ball. Run the ball. Run the ball. It cures all of a franchise's ills. Protect Dalton. Let Ced develop. Keep the defense off the field while it goes through its issues. Run the ball.

I know you won't address this but, how on earth can mediocrity becontinuallyaccepted in Bengal land. Time and time again I watch a team that is so not prepared to win its funny. This head couch has had 13 years yes 13 yes years to get it wright. I am so tired of hearing we need to keep working, really. Maybe couch Lewis should work harder on his couching skills. This guy has no clue what time management is. Everyone points to his drafting skills. Ok why do we have slow linebackers or all pro corners (because he loves them in the first round) and how about that offensive line. Look I could go on and on. This guy needs to move on. We as Bengal fans have seen enough. Joe Winblad, Tipp City, OH

JOE: Of course I'll address it. Please go back and look. I always address it. And now I'll address it like this:

You don't give Marvin Lewis enough credit for winning   55 games over the last five and half seasons. That's far from mediocre in the NFL. That's top five. And they didn't start going to postseasons until they began drafting cornerbacks in the first round. I hope they trade up and take two cornerbacks in the first round in the next draft.

Go to any other NFL city but Boston and the head coach is getting crushed. Jeff Fisher in St. Louis (oops, Los Angeles) and Gus Bradley in Jacksonville can't put together great drafts on the field. Why can't Bill O'Brien make Brock Osweiler Tom Brady in Houston? How come Jim Caldwell still has a job in Detroit? What's going to happen in first in Indy? Chuck Pagano get fired or Andrew Luck shoveled off the field by his invisible offensive line?

Most of the coaches in this league over the last five years haven't done close to what Lewis has accomplished in the last five years in the face of injuries and revolving coaches and still gone to the playoffs every year.

Yeah, it's tough he hasn't won a post-season game. I get it. Yeah, it looks real rough right now. They haven't played well this season. I can see that. But I don't think mediocrity has been accepted here lately.

If you want to get a good look at what it means to be mediocre or even worse, I suggest day trips to St. Louis, Cleveland, and Nashville. Well, St. Louis can give you the history for what the Rams brought to Los Angeles.

(Maybe those teams should start taking corners in the first round. Pittsburgh not only took a corner this year, but traded for Cleveland's first-round corner from a few years ago.)


Marvin Lewis has had to adjust to a slew of staff changes.

 Hi Goeff, Aside from truly appreciating your column, I also appreciate your being available to answer questions my television refuses to help me with, even when I yell at it. There are two: it seems to me that the offensive line immediately takes two steps back as soon as the balls hiked, thereby shrinking Andy's pocket in half before he can even make a play. And shrinks further, of course, once the linemen collide with the opposing defensive line. Why is that?? It brought to mind a certain center from years ago who lost his job, in part, because of that. Second, although I totally appreciate the effort our O & D lines put out, they seem to lack the 'fire' and burst other teams' linemen show every play. Could this be a reflection of Marvin's demeanor (as opposed to Mike Zimmer, Hue Jackson, say)? Thanks again for your wise counsel. Dave Christman, Oxford, OH

DAVE: Always great to hear from the Cradle of Coaches and thank you. There's no question the pocket has not been good this season. Dalton never seems to have any clearance like Ben, Brady and these other QBs. But I don't think it's a personnel problem. I thought Hue Jackson cleaned up what was more of a geometry problem when he was here the last two years but obviously the new right tackle's struggles have contributed to trouble down the line.

I'm not sure about the offensive and defensive lines, but I've heard suggestions how the departures of the fiery Jackson and Zimmer have affected things. Lewis has always played well off a "a hammer," an assistant coach who reads the riot act while Lewis remains calm and re-assuring. We'll see how that goes now.

But here's the thing. I think Marvin has read the riot act a few times this year so he knows how to play that card as well. If there is one thing Lewis can do, it is adjust to a situation. And, I'll say this. I thought everybody played with a lot of fire last Sunday under very trying conditions in Wembley because I sure as hell did lousy on jet lag.

Hobbs, As always, you continue to put out great Bengals info and insight. My first question: Is there a possibility of getting a "Hobsons Choice" article out on a weekly basis, the same day every week? I say every Friday or Tuesday. Also, I know the trade deadline is today, but what do you think about the Bengals trading with the Browns today (considering Hue Jackson & Marvin Lewis and Mike Brown ties and previous trade history)?

I know usually an inner division trade is normally frowned upon, but we have what they need NOW, an NFL starting Caliber QB (A.J McCarron, who is going to walk after next yr for more money anyway & Hue Jackson is familiar with him). Additionally, we will have extra comp picks next year we could use for trade (guessing a tleast a 4th & 5th rounder). Possibilities that would GREATLY help us now and in the future, might be: McCarron for- Joe Thomas, with I believe 2yrs remaining on a very Team friendly deal, and they throw in Josh Gordon on his remaining deal (knowing they are done with him, and he may not be reinstated this year or ever. Or if not Gordon, T.Prior, if we give them a fourth round pick next year. Other possibilities, Thomas, Gordon, and say (QB)Kessler or (QB) Kevin Hogan for McCarron, a 4th & a 5th round pick next year. Lastly, how nice would it be to get DB Joe Haden somehow? I know, it's not Christmas yet.? As always, thanks, wfstott (Retired USN) P.S. If u you don't post this on your next Hobsons Choice, I would truly like your thoughts via email. Bill Stott, Pensacola, FL

BILL: Thank you for the kind note and good to hear from you again. I'd like to write the column on a more regular basis, but there's never a true regular week because everyone has a different rhythm to it as far as news and schedule.  I have to do it when I can do it, which is a subset of It is What It Is. Plus, I'd like to think the site has enough of a following that many people check in almost every day during the season.

I like all those ideas you float, but it's just a non-starter because not only is it in the division, it's their in-state and historical rival. Bengals president Mike Brown is just not going to give them anything to help them. Especially a quarterback. Especially a quarterback for a coach he highly regards in Hue Jackson. No way.

(Legend has it one of the reasons Brown shocked the world in 1992 by taking a quarterback is because he feared Cleveland was going to take David Klingler.)

Now, it's not as heated as when Art Modell owned the Browns. The mushroom cloud caused by the firing of Paul Brown hung over the two teams and prevented a hello, never mind a trade.

It's not like that now, of course, with Modell gone and the Browns in Baltimore. Mike sees the Ravens as the old Browns and the new Browns as an expansion team, but it doesn't matter. The division is a hard thing to get around. Especially with a QB whisperer in Jackson.

Geoff, I'm really surprised at how far the defense has fallen in such a short time. No pass rush to speak of, can't cover, make mediocre QBs look like Brady, and horrible tackling. Do you think there is anything there that can be fixed without a massive personnel overhaul? Thanks from a long-time fan. Scott Andrews Huntington, WVA

SCOTT: I think we're going to see them try after the bye. The D-line is going to have a new look with Gilberry expected to sign and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson coming off the physically unable to perform list (PUP). Somebody is going to have to go. Look for rookie Nick Vigil to get more time at linebacker and Darqueze Dennard more time as the slot corner.

Hobs, I always enjoy your articles and thanks for keeping us in the loop! I'm sure after the debacle in England you have been flooded with questions, so will add to it. Has Marvin Lewis lost his team? We as fans are getting tired of hearing players telling us that they have to be better at controlling their emotions on the field. Yet every Sunday it is the same 2 or 3 players that do something stupid. As a lifelong fan of this team, 45 years, it is almost embarrassing to sit and watch the antics sometimes. Do you think the day is coming that Marvin or Mr. Brown will say enough is enough and start cleaning the locker room of these players? Adam Jones is turning into a cancer and can't cover anyone so I would start with him. Jesse Jaggers, Olympia, WA

JESSE:  Thanks for the note and my pleasure. But first I must strongly disagree with you on Jones. The coaches believe he's had a positive impact on the locker room and, yeah, he hasn't been as consistent as he has the past few years when he was one of the top corners in the league but there are plenty of other places to start when criticizing this defense.

Lewis has a hard job when it comes to controlling other people's emotions, but there's only one way you can do it. Start benching guys for 15-yard flags. It's the only way.

 But, you know what? For how many years did people (and I was one of them) complain incessantly about how these guys always got pushed around and how they weren't aggressive and how they were too nice? There's a middle way, I understand that. But there's such a fine line between being aggressive and out of control. Yes, it has to be handled, but be careful what you wish for.  It's still football.

That's kind of how I feel about the whole locker room thing you raise. For the most part this is a solid group of guys that have accomplished quite a bit in the last five years. They don't need a house cleaning. Sure, they could use a few new shingles and the trees trimmed and maybe a new porch. But they don't need a house cleaning.

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