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Hobson's Choice: Kicking Back At 3-2 As Lions Loom For Bengals

Ja'Marr Chase is going down field.
Ja'Marr Chase is going down field.

Taylor spoke about the need for better field position to help the offense. Seems like the return game has struggled. Why? Are they missing guys like Erickson, Carter and Fejedelem that much? Feels like special teams is an opportunity for us. Tommie Sisk, Celnia, OH

TOMMIE: The punt return game has struggled a bit and I think it's because returner Darius Phillips has never done it on a consistent basis and former returner Alex Erickson's experience is showing up. On kick return, though, they invested in bringing back Brandon Wilson, a league leader. He had a good return Sunday, but the truth of today's NFL is that no one does (or should) return kickoffs because of where they moved the kickoff line. It used to be the most exciting play in the game, and now it has gone the way of the Dodo bird, land lines and the Movie of the Week.

From a personnel standpoint, special teams ace Clayton Fejedelem has been gone two years now and while he was definitely a key guy, the Bengals finished ninth in the Football Outsiders' kicking game rankings (the current weekly gold standard for tracking special teams among coaches and players) last season without him. The loss of Erickson and tight end Cethan Carter are noted, but they retained wide receiver Stanley Morgan as a special teams staple and the quality young linebackers they have amassed (Logan Wilson, Markus Bailey, Germaine Pratt, Akeem Davis-Gaither) have restocked the cupboard. The Bengals currently rank ninth in the Football Outsiders' rankings and were fourth going into the Green Bay game, where they got marked down on the two missed field goals.

The interesting current issue is how they address the loss of a core special teamer in linebacker Jordan Evans (knee) after he was injured last Sunday. Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons has a track record of coming up with the answers.

Field position is also affected by offense and the more consistent the offense gets, the more field position turns in the Bengals' favor. Last week's first half highlights the issue with four three-and-outs, and two touchdowns, one on a 70-yard pass.

Hey Geoff, Wondering how you feel about Taylor's playcalling. In their loss to GB, he seemed hesitant to throw in the OT and was satisfied with our PK taking a shot from close to 50 yds. Rick Scott, Cincinnati, OH

RICK: I'm fine with it. In part because head coach Zac Taylor had to factor in so many things. And now having the luxury of looking at it a week later, maybe some of them beyond what we knew as the overtime unfolded, such as quarterback Joe Burrow's health. Did he modify play-calling for that reason? Who knows? But we know the bottom line and it is that the Bengals are 18th in scoring. So generally you feel that things are trending the right way.

In a post-mortem on last Sunday, I feel like you have to be conservative in a sudden-death overtime, which it is after each team has the ball. You're trying to avoid death, which is part of the reason they changed the overtime rules. Open it up and make it fairer. But after everyone has a series, here we go back to basics.

I guess what takes me aback is the short memory everyone seemed to have when Evan McPherson missed the 57-yarder at the end of regulation and the 49-yarder in overtime. The kid kicked a 57-yarder in the preseason. He not only had kicked two last-play winners in the previous month, but he had kicked two 53-yarders. Finally, a guy that can make those. Absolutely. You can't throw the ball on third-and-two when you're in a sudden-death game and you've got guy that has made them from that distance. You can't risk a sack or anything else.

Hi Geoff, I am very frustrated with Zac Taylor's seemingly conservative play calling. We have a Ferrari stuck in 3rd gear. We can't count on bombs to Chase at the end of the first half. Tee Higgins seem to have been forgotten. Will Jones, Rockford, IL

WILL: It's not exactly a '75 Duster. Joe Burrow is the AFC's leading passer and he's fifth in the league in yards per pass, so the man is going downfield more than a few times. Plus, Ja'Marr Chase is the only wide receiver in the league with any kind of catches who is averaging more than 19 yards per.

Some would argue Taylor is not conservative enough. You can't call an offense that ran it three times in the first half last week conservative. If you're going off late regulation and overtime against the Packers, please don't.

Like we said, you have to manage the game differently in sudden death overtime and if you look at that last drive in regulation, they were a dropped ball away from making it a lot less than a 57-yard try. Like I said, I back him to the hilt on that sequence. Taylor has this offense evolving and he knows the next step is continuing to protect Burrow while doing a better job converting third downs and retaining the exciting passing game that has been on display at times this season.

How many more times does Eli Apple have to get beaten before they take a look at Jalen Davis? Love your column and I really don't dislike Eli (Buckeye!) - just want to see the best secondary on the field. Tom Lambe, Fairborn, OH

TOM: Thanks for reading, but I have to defend Apple here. He's played the bulk of the snaps at cornerback for a defense that has the eighth best passer rating against them, is ranked 12th overall in NFL defense and he's allowed just one touchdown while getting three pass breakups.

Plus, Davis is pretty much a slot cornerback while Apple works the outside. Apple faces some competition from Tre Flowers, just picked off waivers from Seattle, a guy with 40 starts as well as three in the playoffs. To me that's another sign they think they can make a run here by claiming Flowers and his $2 million-plus salary to add depth at cornerback.

And, simply put, you can't have enough of these guys. Say what you want about Apple, the guy is a first-rounder who has produced and now that they're down a starting cornerback with the injury to Trae Waynes, they're better off than a lot of other teams that have had to go to their bench. I like Apple. He's big, he can run, he cares and he knows the game.

Just look at the Lions, the team they play Sunday. After losing their stud corner in the first half of the first game, Jeff Okudah, they lost this year's third-round cornerback, Ifeatu Melifonwu.

Now their starting cornerbacks listed on the depth chart are undrafted free-agent rookie Jerry Jacobs and Amani Oruwariye, a third-year fifth-rounder ranked 152 by Pro Football Focus. Behind them are undrafted rookie AJ Parker and Bobby Price, an undrafted second-year player with two NFL starts.

So, yeah, I'm good with Apple, Flowers and Darius Phillips. And Davis in the slot who has (you are right) played well.

Bengals must have a lot of money tied up in Trae Waynes to keep a guy that is a average CB at best, when he plays. Since he's been a Bengal has not been that much. Makenzie Alexander was better than Trae, should have kept him instead. Kirk Werner, Newtonsville, OH

KIRK: They certainly do have a lot of money tied up in Waynes after signing him to a three-year, $42 million deal. But since he's played just two games for them, it's hard to call him average or anything else. Can't judge a guy on two games. Waynes and Alexander play two different positions. Alexander is a slot guy and the consensus is the Bengals upgraded heavily when they signed Mike Hilton to play the slot as Alexander moved on. According to PFF, Hilton is allowing fewer yards per snap and target than Alexander and is rated 57 spots head of him in overall grades for cornerbacks. The addition of Flowers is an interesting factor, too.

Why have the Bengals been so reluctant to get their tight ends heavily involved? Teams that win championships dont ignore their TEs. Tight Ends arent just for blocking. I thought Zac wanted Marvins bad ideas out of the teams infrastructure. Jeff Horsley, Owenton, KY

JEFF: I would argue that they haven't been reluctant. Just the opposite with Burrow consistently relying on C.J. Uzomah as a big-time security blanket in crunch time. I'm sure you saw the Jacksonville game where Uzomah made three huge plays. And the two of them teamed up to win the opener on that memorable fourth-and-one, so you lost me.

Zac runs a wideout-centric offense, so while featured receiving tight ends like Travis Kelce and George Kittle may be elsewhere, the Bengals focus on Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Uzomah is a nice complement.

And the Marvin thing, I don't know about that either. When he was the head coach, the Bengals drafted two first-round tight ends in Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert and they both went to the Pro Bowl. And when Eifert was healthy (unfortunately just one year), he set a record for Bengals tight ends with 13 touchdowns and went to the Pro Bowl.

So, you lost me there, too.

Drafting a kicker in the 5th round, why did Taylor Not try 2 field goals (57 & 58 yds) during regulation? Instead going on 4th down and the other a punt. Despite McPherson missing 2 in IT, he has the leg to make 55+, very confusing. Daniel Adams. Liberty Township, OH

DANIEL: Not confusing at all. Not when Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback on the other side. Sure, McPherson has the 57, 58, 59 (do we dare even think it?) 60 leg. But only when you really need it at the end of halves and the end of games. You want him to try a 58-yarder with eight seconds left in the third quarter down, 19-14, and A-Rod salivating over there knowing he gets the ball at his own 40s on a miss?

That's not the time for a big leg. But it's nice knowing you have one of the strongest kickers in the NFL when you need him. Sunday was an anomaly. The kid has a bright future.