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Hobson's Choice: playoff edition


Andy Dalton is looking to take the Bengals deep into the postseason.

If we can get this monkey off our back and win against Indy, I think we can make a run at the super bowl...what's your opinion? We've shown we can rebound! Your thoughts? Pete Holbrook, Burlington, KY

PETE: We've lived it for years in this division. In '05, the Bengals went to Heinz Field and beat the Steelers the first weekend in December in what was basically the AFC North title game. Then the Steelers got hot, didn't lose the rest of the way and won the whole thing. As recently as 2012 with both teams already in the playoffs, the Bengals knocked off the Ravens in the last game of the season and then watched Baltimore win it all as quarterback Joe Flacco heated up.

Bengals fans have to be saying, 'Why not us?' Just look at this season. The Bengals have had a pair of three-game winning streaks in which quarterback Andy Dalton gets on a roll. Plus, this is the best they've ever run the ball under head coach Marvin Lewis heading into the playoffs, not only an absolute must for most teams to win the Super Bowl but a must for this team to take the pressure off Dalton. People can say what they want about the Bengals getting blown out by three of the teams in the AFC playoffs (New England, Indy, Pittsburgh), but they also beat one division winner (Denver), had another one beat (Carolina), swept one Wild Card team (Baltimore), knocked Houston and Cleveland out of contention late in the year, and have shown a resiliency all season.

Sure they can make a run. They've shown they can win anywhere anytime if they run the ball and don't turn it over. That's the question. Can they translate one of those good months they've had (3-0 in September, 3-1 in November this year; 4-1 in December last year) against good teams in pressure situations? You look at what they did last month on the road to stay in first place, and it makes you think they can get hot and get on a roll.  

This is a Bengals team that went into Indianapolis earlier in the season and got shut out. Cincy had no answer for the Colts defense and struggled against the Colts offense. Looking back at the Cowboys and Colts game, Andrew Luck has struggled to stay off the turf and it seems teams are able to exploit the weaknesses on both sides of the ball. Is this the game where Cincinnati is able to turn the corner and take advantage of the weaknesses of the Colts, despite the game being in Indy? Antwan Sparks, Cincinnati, OH

ANTWAN: You're all over it. That's the biggest matchup of the game. The Bengals defense, last in the NFL in sacks and sacks per pass, against one of the NFL's most hit quarterbacks in Andrew Luck. The Bengals didn't sack Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger this season and paid the price twice. If they have a stat line where they only sack Luck once or twice on Sunday, don't look at the score. But Luck has shown a penchant to throw picks under duress. They have to push that button in this matchup.

The obvious factors to a win at Indy are Andy avoiding turnovers and making clutch throws, having success with the run game and pressuring Luck. With regard to the first, wouldn't more passing plays to our TEs and RBs help Andy? I know about the injury issues at TE, but I think Hewitt has better hands/speed than people realize, and both Gio and Burkhead are weapons out of the backfield. More short and intermediate throws that can be turned into YAC would seem to help and might be better than some of the INT-prone WR routes. Your thoughts? Matt Kramer, West Chester, OH

MATT:  As you've seen the last two games, when Dalton takes what is there, the Bengals move the ball the way you're talking about it.

In the last three weeks, he hasn't had a completion to a wide receiver longer than 17 yards, his longest pass is a 22-yard catch-and-run TD to Gio, and his longest pass in Pittsburgh Sunday night was a 19-yarder to Hewitt. Meanwhile, running back Jeremy Hill has run it more than 20 times in three straight games and A.J. Green's fumble came off one of those YAC routes. And then Lewis reinforced the idea this past Monday talking about patience.

Certainly they showed they can move the ball like that in Pittsburgh in the second half with the 15-play TD drive and the drive Green where fumbled. Even the drive that opened the half that ended in the missed field goal was dink and dunk. At some point, they've got a pop a big play in the pass game, but when you run the ball, it allows you to play any style.

Hey Butch--- Huge Bengals fan... Appreciate your great info. Question-- if we lose to Colts do we move on from Marvin as coach? 12 years of the same team and no playoff wins has to be an NFL record. I like continuity but we got to get over the hump... Hue would be a great head coach for us... Hopefully a mute point as we can beat Indy!  Brian Jones, Las Vegas, NV

BRIAN:  Thanks from the land of the spread. The odds are no.

It would be very uncharacteristic of Bengals president Mike Brown to make a move like that in the wake of a playoff season. If he didn't pull the plug after the way to they lost to San Diego at home last year in the Wild Card Game, it would be hard to see him doing it now.

Plus, you can make the argument Lewis has done a superb job no matter what happens Sunday. He lost two coordinators, didn't have his best defensive and offensive players for the whole season, didn't have two his top three passing weapons for the entire year, and got back to the playoffs in a division that saw three teams make the postseason.

At some point they've got to make a decision on how many coordinators they're going to let leave. But you'd also have to say Lewis offered one of his best coaching jobs this year.

As receivers why don't they use the middle of the field more Slants. I am tired of teams use it against us very hard to defend to much throwing to sidelines Where's Sanu Mike Caudill, Winchester, KY

MIKE: It seems like every time they throw a slant lately, it either gets air-mailed or fumbled. But I think offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is going to keep trying it. He's the guy that resurrected the slant around here and did away with most of those treacherous outside-the-numbers throws. When Dalton's throwing it straight, it helps him.

I think Sanu has had to adjust to playing so many snaps and might be a little worn down. He has proven he can start and that he's a clutch receiver, but this is the first season he's had to take every snap on the outside. He's ideally suited as a slot receiver who plays about half the snaps, but they haven't had that luxury with the injuries. I love Mo. He's shown he's a gutty guy who has really responded and has made some life-saving third-down catches even though he's grinding through making a huge adjustment. But I also think he's been available on some routes lately and they haven't found him.

Don't you think this team is missing a "go out there and take what's mine" attitude on both sides of the ball? It has been my opinion, for whatever it's worth, that they need a "been there, done that" veteran on both sides of the ball to establish that. The best example to me was last year with James Harrison. He was that guy and the defense played that way. Can't forget that interception and 'almost' return against the Browns last year. They only lost one game after that. My question is, why don't they pursue those free agents like that in the off season? Do they not see/value the attitude adjustment somebody like Harrison brings and look to keep him on instead of letting him go 1 year in? I know it's farfetched but imagine if we kept Harrison and got Steve Smith? Sounds silly but both are on teams that are playoff bound, have been contributors, tone setters, and neither team is as talented as the Bengals. ???? Joel Nelson, Columbus, OH

JOEL: It's an interesting question. But you may have your answer with Harrison. As important as he was last year, he didn't put them over the top, either. The guy they really needed on defense who has just the attitude you're talking about is Vontaze Burfict. They didn't have to go get him. They developed him, signed him to a long-term deal, and his injury has really hurt them because they miss that don't-take--any-prisoners mindset that he brings.

I hear what you're saying and what you're looking for, but they do have guys like that on both sides of the ball. Look at Adam Jones and Terence Newman on defense. They're tremendous tone-setters. Look at left tackle Andrew Whitworth on offense. And I think running back Jeremy Hill is turning into that kind of guy.

How do you sign a volatile 36-year-old Steve Smith when you're trying to get the ball to A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert, and Giovani Bernard? That might not have been a pretty sight and done more harm than good. Although, if you had a crystal ball and saw he'd play a lot because of injuries, you might have done it, but that's really some second-guessing. Marvin tried bringing in some of those types of free agents early on and while some of them helped him change the culture, they didn't put them over the top.

I get what you're saying. That's why I love Tez.  You can never have enough of those guys. But, to me, what the Bengals need to get them over the last mountain is more consistency from their best players in the big games. Sure, Harrison helped the Steelers. But the only reason they're back in the playoffs is they got big-time performances down the stretch from their the best players Roethlisberger, Bell, Brown and everything else is window dressing.



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