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Hobson's Choice: Snap Judgments

Joe Burrow takes a snap in his first road start.
Joe Burrow takes a snap in his first road start.

Geoff, I'm worried about our WR and lack of explosive plays. If not mistaken the team didn't have a pass play over 30+ yds. Some of our guys simply don't look explosive. Is this due to rust from the unique offseason or scheme related. Maan Aboulhosn, Titusville, FL

MAAN: A.J. Green admitted he's rusty in his first two games back from the 24-game injury hiatus. They also happen to be his first two games in a different offense than the one he's been in his entire professional life.

But if there is rust, there is also talent. Loads of it.

Receiver may be the most talent rich position on the team. We've said it before. You can stack up Green and Tyler Boyd, with newcomers Tee Higgins and Mike Thomas, and mix in accent players like Auden Tate, John Ross and Alex Erickson and that group competes with anyone in the NFL.

You are right that the talent has to show in games, but you have to feel that the plays are coming. They barely missed Green and Ross in the opener for long touchdowns, and, what I really like, they kept taking some shots in the next game and came out chucking right away to Green on the night's first snap. With that attitude and talent, you have to think they're close as maybe this Sunday.

Part of the mix, too, is having a rookie quarterback robbed of spring ball and preseason games, not to mention just being able to fly his receivers to a California weekend in early July. Maybe it's no coincidence that the only rookie quarterback to start the NFL's first two games in a pandemic has the lowest yards per attempt at 5.3. The timing for those long balls begins in the spring and grows into the fall.

OK, OK, no one wants to hear that. Nobody had a spring or a preseason so quit crying into your Who Dey towel. OK, I get it.

Whatever the reasons, they need big plays to start coming and look for progress on Sunday. A game of inches can transform quickly.

Old hat now, but speaks to ongoing issue with Bengals, clock management. Zac basically gave Chargers three points at end of first half. Instead of running out clock, threw three incomplete passes. No mention afterward in the locker room. Jim Cummins, Cincinnati, OH

JIM: Can't agree with you here. Actually, it's been a strength since halftime of the opener. Yes, the coaches took a chance to score in that one and it backfired. But they did it to take a chance at scoring while in good field position.

But since that snafu, the facts are pretty good. To end that game, they drove 69 yards to the Chargers 3 in the last three minutes with no timeouts and should have at least tied the game. And then in Cleveland they scored in the last minute of both the half and at the end of the game.

Take a look at that final drive last Thursday night in Cleveland. As the Browns scored to go up 12, Taylor took three consecutive timeouts on defense to give them 3:55 on the clock. Those calls gave them a chance at the end of the game if they got a similar onside kick result as in Dallas last weekend or what the Bengals concocted themselves in Miami last season.

Taylor takes his situations seriously. He devoted two training camp practices to them this season. When Dan Pitcher became quarterbacks coach, Taylor appointed assistant wide receivers coach Troy Walters to be in charge of situations. Walters is no fish out water as a former college offensive coordinator who was once a finalist for assistant coach of the year. Sitting in the booth with Walters is football data analyst Sam Francis, so the term "situational football," isn't merely a buzz word.

And after the Chargers game, there was no reason to bring up the end of the first half. Not after two fourth-quarter turnovers and an offensive pass interference penalty that wiped out the winning touchdown. That's where the game was decided.

My question, who exactly is driving the decisions regarding the offensive line? Is Jim Turner the loudest voice in the room? Does Zac have the final say? How much weight, if any, comes from Duke or higher up? Thanks. Jim Dunstan, Bethlehem, PA

JIM: You've got it about right. Head coach Zac Taylor and offensive line coach Jim Turner take the lead up front. But it is truly a team effort by consensus, and director of player personnel Duke Tobin works to support their direction. The offensive line is like other position groups, and Tobin and Taylor work in concert on many of the personnel groupings. For instance, Taylor, Tobin, and Turner were thinking in this last draft that they might take a tackle in the second round. But the draft fell another way with six – count 'em, six - offensive tackles going in the first round. So they pivoted and took a first-round receiver in Tee Higgins and then waited patiently for guys that Turner and the scouts had high grades.

When Kansas tackle Hakeem Adeniji was there in the sixth round, that was the kind of guy they had in mind. Higher grades than draft position. Early reports suggest that Turner likes what the film shows on Adeniji.

But there's no question Turner calls the shots during the season in consultation with Taylor along with Tobin presiding. Fred Johnson at right guard is his move. So is the belief in right tackle Bobby Hart. Remember how big of a hire Turner was for Taylor. The Bengals were and are still quite high on Frank Pollack, but Taylor had worked with Turner at Texas A&M and the Dolphins and wanted a guy he knew well for such an important position.

Hi Geoff. I love your articles and hard to believe is 20 years old. Crazy. My question is will the Bengals get creative and give up a 1st and 2nd round pick for a solid RT like Mitchell Schwartz to protect our QB? Matt S., Columbus, OH

MATT: Thank you very much. You are very kind. It seems like just the other day I posted my first story on from Spinney Field documenting the drafting of Florida State wide Peter Warrick at No. 4.

Way too much. I mean, is Mitchell Schwartz worth Joe Burrow AND Tee Higgins? Or Jonah Williams AND Drew Sample? Just take a second-rounder. Joe Mixon? Tyler Boyd? Jessie Bates III?

I get it. You need a solid right tackle and while they may think Hart is that right now, there are also guys in the queue like Fred Johnson and Adeniji. The thing is, a high draft pick is gold because they are so relatively cheap for what should be an impact player. They are really key now for the Bengals because they have to start saving for a Burrow extension as soon as possible. Draft a young Schwartz next year or the next one after that if these guys aren't the answer. Meanwhile, Schwartz is already 31.

Socially distant greetings from across the Pond, it's great to see football and there is much to like about Joe Burrow, and yet I have a feeling of dread looking at the schedule. What would be your season win-loss prediction? Mine is 4-12. Mark Burgess, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

MARK: All our best to the good people in the land of James Boswell. I think four wins may be a little light, especially after watching The Beard outduel The Moustache by more than a hair Thursday night and Jacksonville in here next week. The Browns and Giants are also in here along with games in Miami and Washington. I'd also like to see what kind of shape the Texans are in Dec. 27. If they get the Eagles Sunday and the Jags next week, they could be 2-2 heading into Baltimore. Huge two weeks coming up.

Remember, Burrow is going to get better and so is the offense.

Mr. Hobson, It is always a pleasure to read the words you write since I consider you the most "in the know " scribe covering our favorite pro football team. Are you disappointed in Coach Taylor's play calling. Not creative! George Hiotis, Zanesville, OH

GEORGE: Thank you very much for your kind words. I'm not disappointed with Zac's play-calling and he's done a hell of a job getting Burrow ready. But I am concerned about protecting Burrow. I'd like to see them use fewer spread formations and more heavy packages. You could say I'm looking for him to be less creative until Burrow and the offensive line find their identity. But it's clear that Taylor and his staff have done a nice job getting him ready.

Always good to read you! Question: What are the chances of turning Auden Tate into more of a tight end? At 230 lbs he's a little light to put his hand in the dirt, but might be ok as a move tight end if he would gain 10 pounds. Dale Miller, Cincinnati, OH

DALE: Thank you for the kind words and for doing more than reading. I love your idea. It's certainly one way of making sure Tate is active on game day. But he's still basically a big receiver because he's not big enough to be a masher as a blocker. It all gets back to matchups no matter what you call him.

Why don't you ask the tough questions and press farther when Taylor gives these types of responses? Anyone who knows anything about football can see the right side of the offensive line is terrible. Burrow will want out eventually. Gayle Paytes, Cincinnati, OH

GAYLE: Nothing wrong with my questions. My sense is you didn't get the answers you wanted. They like Hart and they want to get Johnson reps because they believe he's got a big upside.

Also, the coaches would take issue with the perception of protection. I think they feel like the film shows that the protection held up pretty well despite a high number of pass plays. The issue was being behind and chasing a defense that was out of sorts against the run. If they keep giving up a sack or two per 60 pass attempts, we can all probably live with that.

Why not flip Johnson to right tackle and Hart to right guard. And, while we are at it, get Auden Tate on the field. He is Joe Burrow's favorite receiver. Woody Woodward, Cincinnati, OH

WOODY: Hart's just not thick enough for guard. Johnson can play both. I, too, am a big fan of Tate. But I'm guessing Burrow's favorite receiver right now is Tyler Boyd. He leads the NFL with three catches on at least third-and-seven, he converted three fourth downs on Thursday night and his nine first-down catches are third in the AFC.