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Hobson's Choice: Holiday Missives From Bengaldom

Cornerback William Jackson III is one of the Bengals who are having a better season this year than last.
Cornerback William Jackson III is one of the Bengals who are having a better season this year than last.

I didn't see that performance coming on Monday night Geoff, did you? What changed to enable that display and why aren't we consistently able to put a complete performance together more often? Also, any early predictions for 1st round pick? Mark Burgess, Edinburgh, OH

MARK: No, I didn't. It looks like I had plenty of company with the line at 14. But at some point you stop being surprised at sports. Anytime they open the yard, school's out.

You are asking the same question that Bengals head coach Zac Taylor has been asking. It is a matter of consistency. What is the difference between Nov. 1, when they put together a steel-belted effort to take down the AFC South-leading Titans, to Nov. 15, when they were 0-for-13 on third down in Pittsburgh?

What is the difference between the Dec. 13 game against Dallas when their back-up quarterback hit 75 percent of his passes and they gave the game away on three straight fumbles to eight days later against the Steelers with their No. 3 quarterback not turning it over ever against the NFL's takeaway kings?

 Taylor is right. So much of the thing is takeaways. That obviously was the main element that enabled Monday's victory. Why did they have three turnovers in one game and three total in the five previous games after the bye and before Monday?

 Two factors could be they were seeing an offense for the second time in five weeks and they are playing with a defense that is starting to get into sync after that tumultuous first half of the season with injuries up front and in the back aggravated by the lack of pre-season games and spring ball. That doesn't mean this defense can stand pat this offseason. There are obvious needs. But you're looking for reasons for what happened Monday night and those are two. 

I also think on a larger level Monday night is a reminder of where this team was the snap before Joe Burrow went down. Except for the 0-for-13 third-down skein in Pittsburgh, this was a club scaring the bejeezus out of people offensively. They had play-off teams like the Titans and Browns flummoxed in back-to-back to weeks for a combined 65 points. The pundits were raving about how the Bengals were doing it the right way and were a team to watch. Then In the first half in Washington they rolled up 250 yards before it all went to hell. In that moment Burrow got hurt the Bengals went from one of the NFL's bright rising teams to an object of scorn and derision. Monday night, I think, provided some context. The cupboard is far from bare around here, although the missing pieces of Burrow and running back Joe Mixon is quite a vacuum next to the bowls and mugs.

Thank you for the note. Please read on about that first-round pick.

Geoff against Steelers our DBs in the first half, played the best half of football that I have seen in my life time. Glenn Groh, Cincinnati, OH

GLENN: They played well, no question, but I know you were around for some big-time efforts in the back end back in the day. From 2012-2015, opposing quarterbacks coming into Paul Brown Stadium could barely get to a 70 passer rating. When the Bengals beat Ben on Monday night at home in 2013, they followed it up in the next two PBS games with wins over two more Super Bowl MVPs Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Their passer ratings, respectively, were 73.1, 64.5 and 52.2 while the Bengals DBs in those three games had a combined four interceptions and 13 passes defensed.

As always, we can respectfully agree to disagree and I thank you for your continued correspondence and wish you and yours a good holiday season.

Geoff: Love the site, Bengals Fan since the late 70's. With the 3rd pick virtually a lock & the 2 QB's likely to go 1-2. How can we possibly pass up P. Sewell? If he's available & we pass, I'm afraid I'll have to become a Steelers fan. Dean Sutton, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada

DEAN: Thank you for reading and for the long-time support. Oregon tackle Penei Sewell could very well be the first Bengal born in the 21st century (Oct. 9, 2000), but you know where I stand on this. The last time the Bengals drafted a defensive lineman in the first round was about six months after Sewell was born. Justin Smith in 2001. But that No. 3 pick is not yet in the books.

To me, they've got some young tackles that can play. What they truly need is an alpha edge rusher. A top-flight-no-brainer-pass-rusher. I mean, they've got 16 sacks in 14 games. What they need is last year's Chase Young.

Yet I guess there's not one up there in the top 10. Really, I would think about trading out of three and getting two picks between 10 and 34, making sure one is an edge rusher and the other is a cornerback.

But ….

Hey Hobson, on to the draft. We are pretty much locked into the 3rd spot. Sewell is a no brainer. How about Joe Thuney in free agency and Ed Ingram or Jackson Carman in the draft. DT Naquan Jones or Tyler Shelvin would be nice too. Lorenzo Acoff, Lakeland, GA

LORENZO: No. 3 not a lock after Monday. But no question they should move the draft room into the trenches. Every pick should be an offensive lineman or defensive lineman. I'm not big on spending a lot of money on a free-agent guard. If you're going to spend that much, spend a little bit more for a cornerback. I'm not big on free-agent wide receivers, either. It always seems to be a chore fitting them into the offense. Plus, it's another deep draft of receivers.

OK, if Sewell is Canton-bound and you have to draft him, he's the left tackle. But maybe you don't have to go outside the building to get a guard. Maybe their future guards are Jonah Williams and Hakeem Adeniji, two tackles that have looked good in their debuts this season.

(And I'm not going to panic on Adeniji after he's been benched twice in the last month. He's big, smart, athletic and with some seasoning and consistency, he's going to be a versatile pro).

If not, work a deal with Quinton Spain. The Patriots' Joe Thuney? A nice player, but not worth the hellacious free-agent bang for the buck. You've already got a veteran guard here who has proven he can play in Spain.

Long time/first time. It doesn't seem like there are many players have taken a step forward from year 1 to 2 w/Zac. Certainly Bates on defense & Sample on offense, but everyone else seems to have regressed. Your thoughts? Happy Holidays Heather Woollard, Xenia, OH

HEATHER: Thanks for reading and happy holidays to you and yours.

I agree with you on safety Jessie Bates III and tight end Drew Sample. But I also think, defensively, guys like edge rusher Carl Lawson, cornerback William Jackson III and linebacker Germaine Pratt are playing better this year. I don't think left end Sam Hubbard has regressed. I think injuries to his elbow and around him have impacted him. He's still a solid player.

Before rookie quarterback Joe Burrow went down, he was outplaying the 2019 Andy Dalton, slot receiver Tyler Boyd keeps getting better each year and center Trey Hopkins has better Pro Football Focus grades than he did last season.

During the bye, head coach Zac Taylor said he wanted his rookies to approach the second half of the year like it was their second season and to take that jump between the first and second year of a career that everyone talks about in this November and December.

Burrow didn't get a chance to do that, but wide receiver Tee Higgins, linebacker Logan Wilson and defensive end Khalid Kareem have all taken big strides and while Adeniji has hit a speed bump, let's see how the rest of his rookie year plays out.

Clearly there need to be more names on the list. But the last two draft classes are looking like a solid foundation.

Mr. Hobson, Don't you believe it's time to put a man before money and re-sign A.J. Green as a Bengals legend for the rest of his career and life? This man has more than earned it! He provides dignity and hope to this organization and city! Greg Burns, Connersville, IN

GREG: They have always treated him as such. I don't know how many teams out there would have given a 32-year-old wide receiver who had missed the previous 24 games with ankle and foot injuries a franchise one-year deal for $18 million. But of course you give it to A.J. Green because of all the things you just said.

He'll always be a Bengals legend and Cincinnati icon no matter where he retires. We'd all love to see him finish his career here with those final Hall of Fame totals coming from the arm of Joe Burrow. But there are also other issues at play when it comes to team needs and salary cap. Hopefully everybody can get what they want and he's back wearing No. 18.

GH: Sherm is your father-in-law Mike Sherman, former Packers head coach Mike Sherman? Everyone knows this. Ask him why only36 Bengals are signed for 2021 and 10 of them are OL and only 40 M to spend on 17 players for a full roster. 25 FA's Mike M, Willoughby, OH

MIKE:  I can't assume everyone is as knowledgeable as you. If I hadn't identified him, I would have received twice as many e-mails asking, who the heck is Sherm. I thank you for reading so closely. So then you know the last couple of weeks when I've asked about issues for next year, Zac hasn't answered them citing that they are questions for the offseason.

What number are you using for the salary cap? $198 million? $175 million? A number in between? Below? No one knows what the cap is going to be for 2021. But they're coming off an offseason they committed $200 million to the future to put around Burrow. And that was in the middle of the unknown of a pandemic. With a young core of players headed by a quarterback on a rookie deal, my sense is they have plenty of room to add good players.

I also just saw this one from you Mike: "10 rushes for 47 yards after ZT is getting 2 QB's injured and you think it was a great move. I have come to the conclusion you are more then happy to see Bengal QB's get injured so you can have taylor made takes every week from your buddy."

Zac would be pretty surprised to hear I'm his buddy, but I'll bite. I wasn't the only one who thought what he did Monday night with quarterback Ryan Finley with the read option was a good move that had Pittsburgh off-balance. The estimable Bengals Radio Network analyst Dave Lapham and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin were also in that camp. Clearly you wouldn't get a steady diet of that. But with a back-up QB that had been sacked seven times in 26 drop-backs against the defense with the most QB hits and sacks, that's a nice one-game solution.  Just as clearly, Taylor knows protecting Burrow is among the offseason's top priorities.  

With the off-season approaching will attack Freeagency like we did last year and will we target sewell in the draft Charles Simmons, Dayton, OH

CHARLES: I would think every offensive and defensive line position is going to be targeted with not only that top draft pick, but all the rest. As for free agency, last year's activity was a direct reflection of having a quarterback on a rookie contract and he's still on it. I'm not sure they're going to drop $150 million for future years like they did last season. But I do think they're going to continue to be active because of that flexibility. But, to be fair, no one knows what free agency is going to look like because of the uncertainty of the numbers.