Geoff, Will our success result in top free agents wanting to come here, especially considering the ages of our rising stars. I see this as a chance to really fix our O-line and Def backfield. Thanks. Rick Scott, Cincinnati, OH
RICK: Free agency will always come down to the number of beans on the table and opportunity on the depth chart. But one of the things that has flown under the radar this year and is just beginning to get noticed by the national media is how attractive head coach Zac Taylor makes things here in Cincinnati. The players like each other. The team likes itself.
Quality free agents have already been signed here (Chidobe Awuzie, D.J. Reader, Larry Ogunjobi, Trey Hendrickson, Vonn Bell, Mike Hilton, Riley Reiff) and they like the program. That sells as much as anything.
Plus, a lot of veterans wanted to get their foot in the door last spring because of the presence of Joe Burrow and that should only continue with already one Super Bowl appearance under his belt.
Beyond the Coach and the Kid, it's a good young roster with Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins, Ja'Marr Chase on offense and Logan Wilson, Germaine Pratt and Cam Sample on defense, so this team should contend consistently for the playoffs, which is attractive in itself.
And the last two months have highlighted the city of Cincinnati, home of Bengaldom. The passion and reach of Who Dey Nation is no longer a local secret. The nation heard it in the PBS din of the Wild Card and then saw that stripes can travel in the division and championship rounds. And there'll be another PBS post card Monday night at the Super Bowl send-off rally, where as many as 30,000 are expected to brave the February elements.
All that sells.
I don't think the Bengals are going to stray far from their core philosophy that prefers the draft over free agency and signing their own. For the first time in a few offseasons, they've got guys they'd like to extend, such as free safety Jessie Bates III, defensive tackles B.J. Hill and Larry Ogunjobi, tight end CJ Uzomah and cornerback Eli Apple. But free agency has been so good to them this year, they'll keep using that as a tool where it makes sense.
But I think you're spending it in the wrong spot.
With the best safety tandem in the league (sorry Jordan Poyer-Micah Hyde) in Bates and Vonn Bell, along with the 3-for-3 acing in free agency on the corner in Apple, Awuzie and Hilton, the secondary looks good to me.
Especially after defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo went to a three-man rush in the AFC title game in Kansas City and the DBs were terrific at plastering and being physical. The way they've shut down receivers this postseason hasn't been seen around PBS since Leon Hall was in the slot several years ago and Terence Newman and Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones roamed the outside.
Bates is a free agent, but he figures to be here for at least another year, and Apple signed a one-year deal that seems to have satisfied everybody.
So, along with a focus on the offensive line, I'm thinking about adding more depth on the defensive line. And that may be done internally with the guys they drafted last year (Joseph Ossai in the third round, Sample and Tyler Shelvin in the fourth, Wyatt Hubert in the seventh) or a new guy or two in the draft.
Plus, I might add some depth at wideout. Fortune smiled on this team this season with the Terrific Trio of Boyd, Chase and Higgins missing just a combined two games. The Bengals could hedge their bets and add some depth there.
Are there any creative ways to counteract the fierce pass rush that the Rams will bring? I truly believe this will be the determining factor in this game.. Thanks Larry Burke, Loveland, OH
LARRY: You're right about that. Seems to be a pretty standard answer. Running game. Screens. Draws. Misdirection. The big plays may not come the conventional ways, but we've seen the Bengals pop off chunk plays this season on receiver screens to any of the three when they've had to slow down the rush, as well as a bunch of pre-snap motion.
You can't compare the Rams' front to anybody. Look, you've got the career active sack leader on the edge in Von Miller and the greatest interior pass rusher of all-time in Aaron Donald. They're ridiculous.
But maybe the Titans game in the AFC Divisional is a good object lesson. While that front racked up nine sacks, Burrow racked up 348 passing yards. Chase got them going early when he popped one of those screens for 57 yards. On the Bengals' TD drive that put them up, 16-6, Higgins converted a third-and-one on a screen and Burrow converted the next third down on his own draw. That loosened them up for Mixon's 16-yard cutback touchdown run.
As great as Burrow has to play for them to win, Mixon could end up being Super Bowl MVP. Not only can Chase play like a running back at times, but Mixon is a more than adept receiver. Did you see the one-handed screen catch in Kansas City? Mixon has the ability to get 100 yards receiving in a game out of the backfield as well as make hay in the run game, something they must do in LVI to stave off the rush. At the very least, he's a major weapon against the pass rush. Don't believe me? Check out the 49ers' six straight wins against the Rams as proof in games the Niners averaged 124 rush yards.
(In one of the Rams' last two losses of this season, the Packers' big back, AJ Dillon, had five catches for 21 yards and one of them was for a red-zone touchdown. FYI)
At 64, I've been a fan since the Bengals inception. Has the Bengals brain trust ever considered using Jamar Chase to return either kick offs or punts similar to how KC used Hill? Put this prolific play maker in as many positions possible. Fred Sticklen, Foster, KY
FRED: The organization salutes a fan since grade school. Then you know this is as well as anybody, they're not going to risk a 1,400-yard receiver on returns. I get it. Chase plays like a running back, but imagine putting A.J. Green or Isaac Curtis or Chad Johnson back there. Or Tee Higgins for that matter. And Tyler Boyd can do it, but he doesn't with good reason.
Can't do it.
Geoff: Will not having an indoor practice facility interfere with Bengals preparation for the game given the terrible weather we are having? Bill Huffman, Hamilton, OH
BILL: As we saw, they worked indoors every day last week in the University of Cincinnati bubble and, from what Taylor indicated, he didn't have to change a comma of his practice plan because had an eye on such a move when they made the playoffs. So, no interference. A change, but not interference.
By the way, if you saw Reader's news conference a few weeks back, he talked about how this team doesn't complain and just works their tails off. How they focus on results and not excuses. In this day and age, that was interesting to me.
Love the job you do. My question is if CJ Uzomah cannot go, any chance the Bengals use Auden Tate not as a typical TE but more like a receiving TE? If he is healthy? I am hope Uzomah can go, he is the most underrated TE in my opinion. Terry Peters, Bethel, OH
TERRY: Thanks for the kind words. Agreed. Uzomah has been a quiet assassin in huge (Jacksonville, Baltimore I, the first two playoff games) moments this season. Tate is on injured reserve and is ineligible to return for the Super Bowl. Tate (calf) returned to practice Jan. 11 and they had three weeks to activate him and they didn't.
I think in the past they have tinkered with some tight endish packages for Tate, but it's just hard when you've got three receivers that are that good and established tight ends. The guy is a fine talent who has been star crossed the last few years. He becomes a free agent and the Bengals love him. You've seen him in training camp. He can play.
Can Reiff come back for the Super Bowl? Michael Dangelo,Raleigh, NC
MICHAEL: Right tackle Riley Reiff is ineligible to return. It's going to be interesting to see if they re-sign him, go elsewhere in free agency, draft a tackle high or stick with Isaiah Prince.
Hi Geoff, Going to the SB and elated beyond belief. My dad would be beside himself. Wish he was here for this. Will they be looking to upgrade the interior OL and CB with Waynes likely gone and the line needing some stout"ness"? Thanks sir! Eric Kinser, Tipp City, OH
ERIC: I'm sure there are many folks like yourself who felt even closer to their departed loved ones when Evan McPherson's overtime klick went through in Kansas City. I'm one of them. As I typed the final score I could hear somewhere the voice of adopted Cincinnatian and Bengals lover Roy Hobson exhaling, "Geezus, Geoffrey. They made it."
I would say Yes and Yes. I think they'll try to upgrade the offensive line through both free agency and the draft but I think they'll reserve the draft for cornerback. They already went 3-for-3 in free agency on the corner and Awuzie and Hilton are playing great with three years left on their deals.
But with the same "you can never have enough corners" mentality that brought them Apple and Tre Flowers via an Oct. 14 waiver claim in really astute moves, I could see them taking one No. 1. It's a rush and cover league and they haven't taken one in the first round since William Jackson in 2016. It's time.
(If there's not an O-lineman.)
Hey Geoff second time writing. Great to be Bengal fan today. What I'd like to know is why can't we pull a Rams/Weddle deal and bring big Geno back to help with Dline? Not too long ago he was in a lot of same conversations as Aaron Donald. Eric Whitaker, Lexington, NC
ERIC: Thanks for jotting one and I hope you do it again. I would argue that the 6-1, 300-pound Geno Atkins is a big reason the Rams took 6-1, 280-pound Aaron Donald in the first-round in 2014. By then, in four seasons, Atkins had defied his height and fourth-round selection in 2010 by becoming the best three technique in the game.
No one thought a 6-1 guy could play in there effectively full-time, but Atkins used his height to his advantage to gain leverage and his speed and power were lethal. Thanks to Geno, by 2014 a guy like Donald was a no-brainer and not a risk.
The Bengals love Geno, a first ballot Hall of Famer, and did think about that when Ogunjobi got hurt last month, but Geno has continued to have shoulder issues and doesn't think he can play until the spring. That is why they pursued and got two veteran defensive tackles who were actively playing in the playoffs in Zach Kerr and Damion Square. The personnel department never sleeps.
The Bengals are scheduled to wear black jerseys, white pants (orange stripes) and orange socks in Super Bowl LVI against the L.A. Rams. Check out the players' media day shoot for Super bowl LVI. Presented by Fifth Third Bank.