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Hobson's Choice: Next Steps

Safety is well stocked and a big reason is canny veteran Vonn Bell.
Safety is well stocked and a big reason is canny veteran Vonn Bell.

Mr. Hobson, sad to see Joe Burrow getting hurt. Which player and coaches moves do you see for next season to give Joe a better chance for success and playoffs. Injuries seem to derail our season every year. Time for a new trainers regime? Who Dey Michael Sobczak, Oberhausen, Germany

MICHAEL: I can see them looking to add speed at wide receiver and more depth up front, although I think the future is bright at tackle and there is talent at guard. The biggest thing to me seems be looking at scheme and marrying the idea of putting the ball in Burrow's hands with him not getting hit so much.

As we even watched these Thanksgiving games, we were reminded injuries aren't only a fact of life here, but all around the league. I was struck by the post-game meeting of Washington quarterback Alex Smith and Dallas quarterback Andy Dalton on the field after Washington's win.

There was Smith, everyone's Comeback Player of the Year after nearly having his leg amputated two years ago. And there was Dalton, whose best season was wiped out in December of 2015 with a broken throwing thumb. 

Can't blame the training staff for 600 pounds of man falling on the knee of your franchise quarterback. It's a department that's been excellent in getting injured players back on the field. If you look at the track record of rehab chief Nick Cosgray under the direction of head trainer Paul Sparling, they get people back and producing like they did before the injury. It ranges from ACLs (Bernard, Geno Atkins, Clint Boling) to Achilles (one each for Leon Hall) and shoulders (Jonah Williams). That strikes me as a spot where they wouldn't make a change.

Hi. My Bengals question is with holes everywhere, do you think the Bengals will trade the pick this year? Second, what happened to the quarterback from last preseason? I think he should play. He's earned a shot and has potential. He's not Burrow, but good. Michel Bowman, Canton, OH

MICHEL: I think this year has shown that many holes are being filled by the past two draft classes. There are quality players at wide receiver, quarterback, running back, tight end, safety and linebacker.

Let's see where the 2021 first-round draft pick ends up being, but you could certainly see a scenario where they'd drop down to get some extra picks. No change there than in years past. But in my mind if you're in a spot where you can draft an edge rusher or cornerback, grab him.

And I believe you're speaking of Jake Dolegala, now a member of the Patriots practice squad. The Bengals seemed to move on him from him when they kept Brandon Allen instead of him on the weekend of final cuts. The coaches opted for Allen's comfort in head coach Zac Taylor's system and his experience in the league that includes a 1-2 record as a starter.

When they signed Kevin Hogan to the practice squad on Saturday, they went with a guy that Allen beat out in Denver last season. He hasn't played since 2017, but has 184 NFL snaps (all with the 2016-17 Browns) and that's at a premium right now. He looked good in his workout, plus, he's a smart guy they figure can come in here and learn the offense quickly. Bengals fans have first-hand knowledge of Hogan's athleticism. In his NFL debut at Paul Brown Stadium, he came off the bench and rushed for 104 yards in the Bengals' 2016 victory.

Watching Joe Burrow drop back 50x/game behind this o-line always begged the question of how many games he could make it through. Think Zac will learn to balance the offense now? Chris H., Cincinnati, OH

CHRIS: I asked head coach Zac Taylor this week what he felt about the criticism that the Bengals over exposed Burrow. Here's what he said:

"We're not going to lay down and just concede games. Our best chance to win is when our quarterback can drop back and throw the ball because he's so efficient. He gets the ball out, sees the defense so well. He started that game on fire. We're not going to apologize for trying to win football games the way we think we need to do with Joe Burrow. We had a ton of confidence with him at the helm moving the ball. We had some games we didn't punt. There were really some fun things that were happening on offense."

The man has his philosophy. Taylor's been pretty up front that his is a pass-first offense, particularly with Burrow. I think he feels like a lot of these throws do protect him and act as runs. Quick game. Bootlegs that move the pocket. Run-pass options.

Taylor is a smart guy. He knows if last off-season's top offensive priority was fitting his offense to Burrow, then this year's is protecting Burrow. Whether that means different schemes, different protectors, I would imagine it's all on the table. But it sounds like Taylor is sticking with what he feels is their strength and that's putting the ball in Burrow's hands.

Oregon's Penei Sewelll is a favorite for the Bengals to draft, but my concern is over how that actually helps the line. OT is the strongest with Williams, Johnson & Adeniji. OG is pretty tragic. Do we take best available or trade for lower picks & get OG? Jen Hodgson, Houston, Texas

JEN: You're right about tackle. They've got three good ones all just 23 years old in Jonah Williams, Hakeem Adeniji (who turns 23 next week) and Fred Johnson. They've got to figure out which side to use them and maybe one of them can kick into guard.

I also think you're selling them a little short at guard because guys like Alex Redmond and Quinton Spain (one of their best mid-season pickups in some time) have played well for the last month. Plus, they felt like they upgraded from the year before when they signed a solid veteran guard in Xavier Su 'a-Filo, a guy that got hurt in the opener. He is expected to be added to the active roster again next week. So I don't think the guard cupboard is all that bare.

My opinion is they have to go D-Line before anything else in the offseason and that they've got some good talent to work with up front offensively.  Remember, it's going to be 20 years since they took a D-lineman in the first round. (Justin Smith, Missouri, No. 4, 2001.)

First time/Long time. Needless to say there is not much backing up Burrow. Finley looked lost and don't know anything about Allen. So do you foresee the Bengals trying to claim another QB off another teams practice squad, etc. Dale Lister, Springboro, OH

DALE: Thank you for checking in and I hope it's the first of many. You just said it. We don't know anything about Allen and it sounds like we're about to find out. So let's do that first. I certainly do expect that the Bengals to attack the practice squad lists, knowing that the best ones are going to be protected. If they haven't already. It basically takes a guy a week to get in the building because of COVID protocols.  And as you saw, they've signed Hogan.

What is up with SEC leading rusher, Trayveon Williams? We watched Dalton's pummeling in 2019. In 2020, same result with Burrow. So it can't be blitz pickup. Good coaches find ways to get good talent on the field, the Bengals don't. Why? Larry Wischer, Fort Thomas, KY

LARRY: You can put me in the camp that would love to see Texas A&M's Trayveon Williams get more carries than the five he's had since they drafted him in the sixth round in 2019.

But I also disagree with you on the blitz pickup thing. Thanks largely to the work of running back Giovani Bernard, blitz pickup by the backs has been a strength the past two years. I don't have a problem with the coaches opting for veterans in that role if they believe it's the best way to protect Burrow. Looking back at the Washington game, according to Pro Football Focus, Samaje Perine (six) and Bernard (two) allowed no pressures on their combined eight chances, which has been pretty typical.

Plus, Bernard (32 catches) and Perine (4.3 yards per his 24 carries) have been quite productive when they've been in there, so I'm not sure you can criticize the coaches at going with those two guys over Williams. But, yeah, I'd like to see him, too. I think he's a talented guy.

Due to lack of production and needed stops when called on, any chance the Bengals search for new Defensive Coordinator? Indiana DC Kane Wommack can scheme when his D is overmatched or less talented to opposition. We need that here. Eric Hibbard, Florence, KY

ERIC: You can also make the argument that defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has stitched together a competitive stretch despite playing with a depth chart that has as many backups as starters.

He's lost all his tackles and the only one left from July, his best one, Geno Atkins, has been hurt. The two most expensive free-agent players in Bengals history, nose tackle D.J. Reader and cornerback Trae Wayne, are on injured reserve (Waynes never got on the field) and the overhauled linebacker room has been trying to do it on the fly with youth and newcomers.

But, not good enough on defense. Agreed. I think the defense has kept them in as many games as they've lost for them, given who they've had available. So there's the other side of that, that he's done more with less.

To me, the biggest need of all on defense isn't coaching or scheme. It's finding pass-rushing talent. They didn't think Carlos Dunlap was a fit on the edge. OK, but they've got to find people that do fit and can just flat out rush the passer. More people to team with Carl Lawson and Sam Hubbard. They've got a mere 13 sacks in ten games. Next to protecting Burrow, welcome to the biggest off-season priority.

No sugar coating. Considering what we know about our coaching staff. The DC and O-line coach. And with it getting out that the players don't believe in the coaches. Isn't the Taylor experiment over? To me, it was over post Washington game. Ed Bohl, Williamsburg, OH

ED: What do we truly know? The locker room has been shut ever since this team gathered in July. What exactly is the big picture? How exactly do the players feel about the coaches? You can't get in there unless you've got a contact tracer. So do we really know what's going on in there? Really?

What we do know is that the best players and team leaders have defended the coaches publicly by putting their names and faces out there. I'm assuming the negative stuff is coming from guys not favored by the coaching staff who haven't put their names and faces out there. I'm assuming that because that's life and you can go to 31 other teams and get the same stories. Only the names change, not the anonymity.

All I know is this. This has been a unique year for everyone alive and a tough year to be judged. Would any of us want to be judged on how we survived 2020? 

You're the insider, what are your thoughts? Why was a rookie passing 40 times a game behind a makeshift line? Why were we losing games when scoring 30 or more points? How many players are we from winning? Will Mike suffer with Taylor? Lou Petrofes, Jupiter, FL

LOU: No one is a true insider this year because of the effort to keep COVID out. But I'll give it a shot, anyway.

Burrow was passing a lot because the head coach wanted to play to their strength. Plus, their two-time 1,000-yard rusher was hurt. I know people want five first-round picks on the offensive line, but I wouldn't say makeshift. I would say young. Makeshift is what has happened this month with injuries and COVID and they've probably played their best ball despite all that. 

And for losing despite scoring 30 points a game, well, that has happened twice, both times to Cleveland and, you're right, it shouldn't happen. I still think this defense has played well enough to be 5-5 (they allowed 16 points to the Chargers, 23 to the Eagles 20 to Washington), which you have to take given the injuries. But you don't have to be an insider to know they need to massively upgrade their pass rush and to get healthy over there quickly to compete in the AFC North.

How many players from winning? A pass rusher and another cornerback and let's go.

As for Mike suffering with Zac, go back to what a lot of people around the league were saying last week. They like what the Bengals are doing with Burrow. You heard them. They were saying the Bengals were headed in the right direction. They were just coming off an offseason they had committed $200 million to surround him. The only hesitation they had was how much Burrow was getting hit.

Welcome to offseason priority Nos. 1, 2 and 3.