Hobson's Choice: Going Deep On Narratives 

Zac Taylor had his offense pointing in the right direction at the end of the season, averaging 24.4 points per game in December.
Zac Taylor had his offense pointing in the right direction at the end of the season, averaging 24.4 points per game in December.

Hey Hobs, Do you see any truth in the recent narrative that Joe Burrow may be hurt by playing in Cincinnati? What can Cincy do this off season to give this kid the tools needed to win? Can they silence the doubters? NC Bloomfield, Wilmington, N.C.

NC: Narrative. Even the word kind of sets me off. To me, "narrative" means a half-assed "story" short on depth, long on perception and not much meat in between. A high school theme paper culled from mashed-up headlines, breezy Tweets, a juicy sound bite sticking out of context like a sore thumb. Years melted into seconds to beat the commercial break.

So let's go deeper than a screen.

Was Andy Dalton hurt by playing in Cincinnati? Hell, as a Bengal he went to three Pro Bowls, quarterbacked two division winners, led his team to the postseason five times and got a $110 million deal. And what about Carson Palmer? He can say all he wants, but the Bengals made him the highest paid player in the game on the way to back-to-to-back Pro Bowls. Ruined? Really? Bring me some ruin.

I don't think any serious argument can be made that Burrow coming to Cincinnati would be a bad fit for either side. I think he'd flourish here. How many teams can tell their rookie quarterback he'll have two 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard running back, along with a first-round pick at left tackle? Right, Jonah Williams hasn't played a snap yet but you don't have to be profootballfocus.com to know he'll be better than the four guys they had over there last year at left tackle. And no knock on any of them – they played hard – but Williams is actually a left tackle.

(Keep an eye on the offensive line. It kept improving enough during the back half of the season that it makes you think it will be the surprise storyline of the year.)

And, look, I know A.J. Green hasn't played in a year and a half and no one knows how he'll come back at age 32. But I know this. No matter how he comes back he'll still be the best wide receiver in the AFC North. Hey, I think Odell Beckham, Jr., and Jarvis Landry are really good in Cleveland, I love JuJu Smith-Schuster's toughness in Pittsburgh and Baltimore's Hollywood Brown is flat-out dangerous. But none of them have done what Green has done yet.

They've got weapons for Burrow (and to help protect him they need to do what they did in the second half of the season when running back Joe Mixon led the NFL in carries) and they need to draft defense early and often. No, Burrow – an Ohio kid – won't be hurt by staying home and playing in Ohio.

Silencing doubters only happens when you win it all. Head coach Zac Taylor is planning on taking that big step forward in "year two," of installing both his offense and defense.

I moved to Jax in 92 and I am tired with the situation here. I grew up in Fairfield, and excited to be back to root for my hometown team. Any advice on things to be on the lookout for besides the obvious? Team weaknesses, or strengths? Bryan Ross, Jacksonville, FL

BRYAN: Thanks for reminding us. Every town, every team has drama. Glad to have you back. Good timing. You may have heard. There is most likely going to be a new quarterback in town and he'll have better talent around him than people think.

The offensive line is going to be better because of a) the addition of Jonah Williams, b) the emergence of rookies that played well late in the season in Michael Jordan and Fred Johnson and c) it is the second straight season with the same line coach, which only center Trey Hopkins has experienced among the vets.

The draft, from No. 33 to as far as they can get a potential starter, has to be all defense. They've really got to focus on that side of the ball and they'll look at it in free agency, too. By the time we reach May, don't be surprised if this team looks pretty different.

The Bengals can't address all their needs with picks. We have the worse defense in the league a few rookies won't change that. Thinking the offensive line is fine because we added Fred Johnson, Prince & company is absurd. Status Quo! Lorenzo Lonardo, Cranston, R.I.

LORENZO: Nice to hear from the Narragansett neighborhood, so I lift a Ganset in your honor. But I totally disagree with your take on the offensive line.

No one is saying their O-line is Canton-bound, but it is a hell of a lot better than it was on Opening Day for the reasons above. They've already been at work on with Jonah Williams (draft pick), Mike Jordan (draft pick), Trey Hopkins (re-signing), John Miller (free agent), Bobby Hart (re-signing), and Fred Johnson (rookie waiver acquisition), so it's time to help the defense. I expect them to try and add talent there in the second, third and fourth-rounds. With respect to the O-line, they looked much more comfortable running the ball more during the second half of the season and it helped their pass protection. You can't blow off that this line, with a rookie left guard and without its left tackle, was sixth in NFL rushing for the season's final eight games.

It's really heartbreaking watching and reading the media bash the Bengals and their commitment to winning. I've been a fan since 1981 and watch the Bengals through thick and thin. Why does the nation feel this way and why? What can we do to change this is it because we don't have a GM is it because we do not have an indoor practice facility is it because we don't have the same scouting departments as others. Chad Sullivan, Lima, OH

CHAD: I guess the first thing we can do is do what the national media doesn't do and take more than a drive-by shrug at the thing.

The Bengals do have a general manager, but he doesn't have the title. Duke Tobin, the director of player personnel, is the GM. And while he heads up the smallest scouting staff in the league, when last season ended only the Patriots and Ravens (47) had more drafted players around the league than the Bengals' 43, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

And, up until the last year or so, the national media routinely banged the Bengals for underachieving with what was deemed one of the more talented rosters in the league. So these guys can't have it both ways. The Narrative would have you believe the Bengals have tanked for the last decade or something. Actually, since 2011 they have a better winning percentage than the Cardinals, Rams, Titans and 13 other teams.

I mean, it's one thing to criticize a team for having a lousy game plan or screwing up a draft.

But lack of a commitment to winning?

That would be a surprise to head coach Zac Taylor, who walked into Paul Brown Stadium last year and got the go-ahead for virtually any renovation he wanted, from coaches and players spaces to culinary delights in costs that are believed to have exceeded $1 million. They also gave him the largest coaching staff in team history and in the last couple of years the scouting staff has been supplemented by multi-million dollar technological and video upgrades.

That comes on the heels of five years of player spending where the Bengals ranked 10th in the NFL in 2015, sixth in in 2016, 19th in 2017, eighth in 2018, and 18th last year.

Right, no indoor facility. It's a project they have studied but haven't solved because they are landlocked. They have instead countered it by what they've done throughout the existing building. No bubble fits The Narrative, but not the enormous work they did on the place when Taylor arrived. Not committed to winning? Where does that fit?

Do you think the Bengals should look for top notch help on the offensive line through free agency? Thanks, Tony Stahley, Cincinnati, OH

TONY: I'd prefer to see the money spent on defense. You get what you pay for. Like I say, I think the line showed enough late in the season that you have to prioritize defense in both the draft and free agency, especially when you recognize that Jonah Williams will be back and be healthy this year

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Hi Hobson,

Big fan from across the water in the UK. Question. Which type of offence? You favour the grind, run & play action. However last two teams flopped in the Super Bowl (Rams, 49ers). Wouldn't Burrow be suited to the Air Coryell? Rosh Jhoree, Potters Bar, Hertfordshire

ROSH: Great to hear from the home of the great Tony Jacklin. One of my first golf memories is Jacklin on the cover of Sports Illustrated winning the '70 U.S. Open. I didn't realize until now that he was the only European to win the U.S. Open for something like 80 years, until Graeme McDowell won it in 2010.

Anyway, yes, exactly right. Grind and play-action and the 49ers would have won the Super Bowl if they continued to grind in the fourth quarter instead of throwing on second down leading with seven minutes left. The most stunning thing about last Sunday is that 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan learned 0.0 from his Falcons blowing that 28-3 lead to the Pats a few Super Bowls ago.

Rookie QB? All the more reason to protect him behind play-action. What best suits Burrow is not getting him killed and putting him in positions where it's all not on him. The hero stuff can come later. Right now, less is more in the sense he can do his most damage as a learning player with all the help he can get.

With everyone talking about Joe Burrow being the number one pick as a guarantee, what position and players could you see the Bengals targeting with their 2nd round pick? Jordan Seebeck, Beavercreek, OH

JORDAN: Best defensive player on the board. No matter where.

If the Bengals take Burrow, do you feel they are committed to putting players around him in free agency or draft or trade, so he can be successful and get back to playoff football in Cincinnati. Brandon Snider, Mt. Sterling, OH

BRANDON: I think they already have. Green. Mixon. Tyler Boyd. A first-round left tackle. And the guess here is they'll pump up their defense with early draft picks and some free-agent signings. Like I say, Burrow isn't coming into an empty cupboard.

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