Hobson's Choice: stretching for the stretch

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It looks like Leon Hall is fine after Sunday's fourth-quarter rest.

Hello Geoff! Love reading your articles and keeping up with the Bengals. My concern and questions revolve around the health of this team. What insight do you see with this team in terms of health for these last games of the season for the playoff push? Will they be missing guys or will they get back to full strength at some point? Example is Burfict, Leon Hall (he's had to leave several games, will that linger down the road?), Newman, Hunt, etc. Also do you think it's true about what Marvin Lewis said concerning Eifert not starting again this year? We could use him for the playoff push. Isaac Coffman, Columbus, OH

ISAAC:  Thank you and thank you for the question that dominates this week in Bengaldom because about the only thing Sunday's win gets them in New Orleans is the assurance they'll be in this thing pretty much all the way.

If Marvin talked about an injury publicly and, believe me, he'd rather stick needles in his eyes, then he must be fairly certain Eifert is done. But if they make the playoffs, that would be interesting because they could bring him back.

Other than Eifert, I think they get to Dec. 7 at home against Pittsburgh with everybody and that's all you can ask for your four December games.

I think they hope cornerback Terence Newman and right tackle Andre Smith are back for this week's game in Houston, but they won't know until practice. The same thing with running back Giovani Bernard. He'll try it his shoulder and hip and see how they feel. If not, he'll be good to go for Tampa the week after that, you'd have to feel. Since Burfict has yet to rehab on the field from his Oct. 29 knee scope, you figure he has to practice this week in order to be ready in Tampa Nov. 30. Hall looks like he'll be fine for this week as he rested his Achilles in the fourth quarter, but the way right end Margus Hunt was limping around the locker room, that's probably a couple of weeks.

All of this is guesswork of course, because that's all anybody ever does with them, even the medical people. But it looks like Dec. 7 is the date.

Will Hill still get a lot of reps with Gio back, and when do you think Burfict will return? Austin McLain, Sidney, OH

AUSTIN: Hue Jackson won't give up any game plans, but doesn't the answer have to be yes? Look at the way the Steelers used big back Le'Veon Bell in the cold weather Monday night.

You'd have to think it is going to be more of a partnership than before Bernard got hurt. And with the way Gio is banged up, you'd have to think they use him more as a spot back and let Hill carry the load. But with those fresh, quick legs blessing the Bengals in December, you know Bernard is going to be just as much of a factor even if he doesn't get as many carries. Maybe more because he'll be fresher.

The NO game was quite interesting to watch. The offense and especially the run game was solid the entire game and kept the explosive NO offense off of the field. Also, the defense did a great job without putting a lot of pressure on Brees. How can this team look so solid one week, and look so horrible the previous week at home against Cleveland? Gary Lorigan, Oxford, OH

GARY: I don't know. Of course, I have the same questions about Pittsburgh and Cleveland, as well as San Diego, Seatte, San Francisco, and St. Louis, just to name a few. It's like golf. How can you get 20 yards from the hole on a long par 4 with two great shots, then take a 6? Then make a 30-footer on the next hole? How? They always tell you, that's golf. I think that's the answer here. It's the NFL. 

Always a good read, keep up the good work. I have two questions. 1. Why don't the Bengals practice at night a couple of times a month, so they are used to playing in prime time games? 2. When looking to draft a quarterback, I would think finding one that has many 4th quarter come from behind wins would be something to look for, to see if they have that will to win mentality that you seek in a quarterback. Large hands can't hurt either. What do you think? Dalton had a good game, but I just don't think he has the IT factor. He seems to lose it when they are down by more than one score. Thanks Geoff Chris Maushart, Cincinnati, OH

CHRIS: Thanks very much. It's interesting you mention that because it's been a matter of debate. The Bengals altered their schedule the week they played New England on Sunday night and moved it back a couple of hours each day. You have to credit them for trying it because football is such a game of routine and habit it is always a massive risk to go off schedule. And this one may have backfired because they looked out of sync for a couple of weeks, just not in New England. And the turnaround was so short for Cleveland, it didn't matter. But credit Marvin Lewis for going out of the box.

I would agree with you on the drafting of a quarterback. I think all of that comes under the heading of intangibles, a category where the Bengals scouts ranked Dalton very high before the draft process even began. He went 42-7 at TCU and had a lot of respect around the program as one of the major forces that brought it back into the limelight.

And he may not have the big AFC North muckers of Big Ben and Flacco or, for that matter, Carson, but Dalton doesn't have little Kitna hands, either. He's got average size hands. I don't think that's why he went 10-for-33 against Cleveland.

Yeah, he played badly against Cleveland and they were out of the games in Foxboro and Indy when the fourth quarter rolled along. But I actually think he's played really well when they've been down this year and they've had a shot late. He brought them back twice against Baltimore and did it twice against Carolina in each the fourth quarter and overtime. As great as Drew Brees is, he's never brought the Saints back from down 17 in the fourth.

Of Dalton's 36 wins, he's had 12 game-winning drives which is a third of them. I'm not saying he's Manning, Brady or Roethlisberger. But Manning has 51 game-winners of his 174 wins (29 percent), Brady has 42 of his 156 (26.9 percent) and Ben 32 of his 102 (31.3 percent). So he's in the ballpark when you need a drive.

Hey Geoff, enjoy your articles. What are the chances of Gio coming back this week, and if he does do you think the Bengals should go back to their Benny and the jet for to wear down the Texans defense? Also, if the Texans use JJ Watt on goal line again what should our defense do to produce another stalemate like that did against the Saints? Corey Yates, St.  Cloud, MN

COREY: Thank you, sir. Say hello to Zim for us.

I'd say its 50-50 if Gio is back for Houston and it will either go up or down during the week when he sees how much he can tolerate. And, absolutely they should tag-team Gio and Hill and not just against the Texans. People can say it's a passing league, but for the most part teams that win Super Bowls not only throw it, but they also have the ability to control the clock with the run, defense, special teams, and make the other defense melt. Although, I don't think Watt ever gets tired. He has a whiff of superhero to him.

If Watt lines up on the goal line this Sunday, the Bengals have to do what they did to Saints tight end Jimmy Graham last Sunday on the fourth-and-one from the 1. SAM linebacker Emmanuel Lamur jammed him off the line.

Geoff Hobson Will someone PLEASE tell Jermaine Gresham to secure the ball? He makes us fans sit on the edge of our seats when he has the ball simply from a ball security standpoint. Just secure that ball PLEASE. How many fumbles does he have? Don't have to answer that, just PLEASE send a message to secure the ball. I am sure there is a coach that can teach him how to do so. Thank you Geoff. Shawn Murphy, Eaton, OH

SHAWN: I'll pass it along, but I'm pretty sure Marvin and Hue beat you to the punch.

I'm a UK Bengals fan and had my hopes up for a wembley appearance next year for the bengals, I thought the team had signed a new contract with pbs that dropped the exclusivity clause - and as the Bengals haven't been over yet I hoped now was the time! We need the bengals in London! Paul Grange, London, England

SIR PAUL: You and me both. I thought that's exactly what the clause meant. As you know, the Bengals are well represented in your neck of the woods.  I do think the Green-Dalton Bengals make an appearance there in '16 or '17.

Does the numerous dropped interceptions by Newman and the rest of the corners concern you as missed opportunities, especially in game changing situations? Matthew Wilson, Pittsburgh, PA

MATTHEW: Certainly. And if you're thinking about cornerback Leon Hall's drop in Indy that looked like a 98-yard pick six in a 0-0 game, so am I. And they had a couple of shots in the fourth quarter in New Orleans to seal it. But this secondary has been terrific, for the most part, particularly at not giving up the big plays and it says something that they get their hands on so many balls. The dropped picks would have helped, but it's not why they lost those three games or tied Carolina.

Butch, It's been asked before, but is there any hope that Tyler Eifert makes it back this season? Also, do you see the Bengals going Tackle early in the next year's draft? Thanks for all the great reporting, Tad Scheeler #1 Michigan Bengals Fan. Tad Scheeler, Kalamazoo, MI

TAD: Thank you and Michigan has a special place in Bengaldom even though it is in the heart of Buckeyeland. After all, it is the state that gave us Leon Hall and Darqueze Dennard, two pretty good corners.

As we've said, if Marvin says Eifert may not come back in time, he probably won't. But he could be back in time for the playoffs.

I definitely see them going for a first-round tackle. Both left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right tackle Andre Smith have contracts that end after 2015. The problem is ever since Smith was the second tackle taken in the '09 draft at No. 6, the top tackles are usually gone by No. 10. If Willie Anderson (1996) and Levi Jones (2002) came out now, they never would have been around for the Bengals to pick at No. 10.

And with six wins already, the way this season is unfolding you figure they're going to be picking in the 20s again. Their golden rule of not reaching may be severely tested. 

 Is Andy Dalton a consistent enough quarterback to win the AFC North and win a playoff game? Zach Peterson, Knoxville, IA

ZACH: Well, he led the Bengals to the AFC North last season, so he was consistent enough to do that while setting a Bengals record 33 TD passes. The question, I guess, is if he's consistent enough to win three or four playoff games in a row so they can win the Super Bowl. Given that he's had torrid stretches during his career where he's been Rookie of the Month and Player of the Month and has led the Bengals to a 7-1 finish in 2012 and a 4-1 December in 2013, I'd say he's got a run in him.

What happened to all the blitz schemes and packages from the first 3 games? Corey Brantley, Cincinnati, OH

COREY: In the first three games, the Bengals blitzed more than they have in the past, but they didn't go off the charts.  And, remember, a lot of times they show blitz but bail out as the last instant.  According to ProFootballFocus.com, the Bengals blitzed Drew Brees on Sunday (10) almost as much as they blitzed Tennessee's Jake Locker (11) when they went to 3-0.

Plus, when you're playing the run 31st in the league and you're playing with a lot of backups, you simply don't have the favorable down-and-distances or the experience to blitz. You've got to know when they're passing in order to blitz.

In the opener in Baltimore, when they had everybody healthy and were stopping the run, they blitzed 18 times, according to PFF. When they played the Ravens here seven weeks later and were more beat up, they blitzed eight times. It's not as much, but as the Saints game showed, it's not a dramatic change.   

I have been a Bengals fan since their inception, (I was 2 by the way) and though we have had excellent players and a good team several times over the years, I don't ever remember the Bengals having so much talent or physical ability as they do this year... Seems we have been plagued with injuries this year to key players at critical times...Do you see us coming back to full strength any time soon??? Can we get healthy in time for a legitimate playoff run...? Doug Morrison, Reedsport OR

DOUG: It looks like they'll have everybody but Eifert for December. Maybe they get everybody back just in time to go on one of those hot streaks all the way to the big game. Note that it looks like the Browns won't have linebacker Karlos Dansby or end Jabaal Sheard next month after they made life miserable for the Bengals two weeks ago. Just keep knocking on wood.

Will the Bengals ever have an indoor practice facility? If I'm not mistaken they are the most northerly team without one. Zak Bowling, Coumbus, OH

ZAK: I think they will at some point. They're now in the process of putting the team space through a multi-million dollar renovation that was part of an agreement with Hamilton County. After that gets done, we'll see what's next. They have a good arrangement with the University of Cincinnati and they'll be in the Bearcats' bubble for the next couple of days.

Geoff, Firstly, from a hopelessly devoted Bengals fan of 30 years supporting from afar (London, England), thank you for all the excellent coverage and insight you provide all year round. I loved your answer to the final question in Hobson's Choice a couple of weeks ago thats the thrill of it. The Ride. Absolutely spot on. That said, I remain somewhat exasperated by a lot of what I see this season. A fabulous start, buoyed by the positive energy from all quarters with the organization knocking it out of the park with their actions surrounding Devon & Leah Still, followed by having the stuffing knocked out of us by the Pats, the Nugent push, the Colts and now the Browns in the Jungle. Thats The Ride! I want to believe that the Defense is much better than the stats suggest - they played well in the most part in Indy without any support from the Offense, a lot of the yards surrendered early season were junk yards, and their injury toll is probably equal to that suffered by the Offense (all 3 starting LBs out at one point!?). Would you concur or do you see a lot of concern with the D? Other key questions on topics that I find particularly irritating are: What happened to the hurry up/no huddle offense? What happened to the blitz? Why do our players seem to waive the ball around in one hand when heading into contact? When Andy 2.0 shows up, how much of this is the WRs simply not being able to themselves open rather than Andy going wrong? Keep up the great work! Michael Horner, London, England

MICHAEL: Thanks for the kind note from across the pond.

It sounds like you wrote this before the Saints game, where they made improvements in a lot of the areas you're talking about. But I'm trying to figure out who the other Bengals are that wave the ball around other than Gresham. I understand Gresham has his problems with ball security, but the other guys are pretty good.

Sure, the defense has been a concern, in large part because of injuries and the defensive line adjusting to life without Michael Johnson and Geno Atkins' ACL recovery. It was evident how much they missed Maualuga. Getting Burfict back in the next week or two will help stop the bleeding.

But I think you're right. Even when they were going 3-0 the defense was more concerned about giving up points than yards and they're showing signs of their salty selves again. A banged-up unit didn't get a lot of help from an offense that couldn't stay on the field. They went into last Sunday's game on the field for an average of 72 snaps per game, highest in the league. But the offense took care of that with a couple of 90-yard drives last Sunday.

Dalton's 2.0 was pretty much his own doing. He made bad reads on his first two passes, one of which was a pick, and he never stopped the snowball. Usually it's a combination of protection, routes, and throws, and while the protection wasn't great, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu ran some great routes and Dalton just couldn't get it to him.

That was compared to the shutout in Indy, where Dalton didn't get any help at all. He played OK, I thought, but nobody got open and the line didn't move anybody. Now, that said, what happened when he had a career passer rating in New Orleans? He threw the ball great, had just enough time, and they ran the ball well enough to set up play-action. In that building and with the pressure on him, you have to hand it to him He was flawless. Maybe when Dalton plays like that they'll call him "Andy 143."

As for the no-huddle, it depends on the game and the opponent. It hasn't gone away. New Orleans is a tough place to use it because of the noise, plus they had the lead and they were trying to keep Brees off the field. We'll see it often again.

How are they going to get enough touches for both Hill and Gio. While keeping the other part of the offense going Gresham, Green, and Sanu. Bryan Strahler, Mareietta, OH

BRYAN: We'll see what Hue has in mind. He could use Gio more like a receiver, but you'd think Bernard would be even more effective running after a dose of Hill because his style is so different and speedy. And it's not that Hill is slow, but Bernard is quick like few in the NFL are quick.

And he doesn't have to touch it 15 to 20 times every game to be effective. Let Bernard light it up in spots. It will keep him healthier and fresher. That's how Bengals head coach Sam Wyche used James Brooks back in the day. As a Bengal, the 5-10, 180-pound Brooks averaged 14 touches per game (11.4 runs and 2.5 catches) and one of the great competitors of all-time, Brooks always wanted the ball more. But he went to four Pro Bowls and if he'd been with Wyche his whole career he would have gone to the Hall of Fame. Bernard has that kind of talent, but it looks like you have to use him in doses.

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