Hobson's Choice: Wish Lists

Joe Mixon eyes return.
Joe Mixon eyes return.

Geoff, Hope you and family are well. I'm trying to figure out the quickest way to fix my team. It has to be OL, DE ,WR. What do you think? Hopkins injury hurts the line even more. No consistent pass rush. Lack of speed at WR is alarming. Maan Aboulhosn, Titusville, FL

MAAN: Good to hear from you and hope you and yours are safe this new year. To me it has to be defense. Agreed, center Trey Hopkins' ACL injury so late in the season is a sobering end to the season because it makes the availability of their smartest and steadiest lineman for the opener tenuous at best.

But it has to be defense, defense, defense.

I'm not telling you anything you don't know, but this is a rush and cover league and they've got one proven edge rusher under contract (Sam Hubbard) from a team that had the fewest sacks in the league (17) and one full-time cornerback under contract (Trae Waynes) who has yet to take a snap in a scheme that has finished 29th and 26th the past two seasons.

Also agreed. With John Ross III expected to leave, they need an infusion of speed at wide receiver. But with another deep receiver draft looming, solve that problem in the third round. There's no bigger gamble in the league than free agent veteran wide receivers. They're overpaid and often don't match their production (or projected production) they had in their original scheme with their original quarterback.

I hear you on the offensive line, but I just don't know how that takes priority away from the defense. With Joe Burrow, they had little problem moving the ball but they just couldn't stop anybody. That was early in the year when they were trying to adjust to a rash of injuries and they did play better defense the more the season went on. And there were injuries, but I don't know how a team gives up 404 yards rushing to a division foe and doesn't take defense with their first two picks.

I'll get to protecting Burrow quickly, but it strikes me they have some young, talented tackles (Jonah Williams, Fred Johnson, Hakeem Adeniji) that they can work with in the future and a pair of veteran guards in Xavier Su'a-Filo and Quinton Spain (a free agent they might like to sign) that gives them some physicality in the middle. And in Billy Price they've got a first-rounder who is a good center if Hopkins isn't back for the opener. Hopkins is going to be back at some point and Billy has had some really good games at that spot. Remember how he got a game ball back on Nov. 1 when he coordinated an overnight improvised line to a no-sack effort in a win over the AFC South-leading Titans.

No doubt they can add pieces there.

But defense, defense, defense.

The 20th anniversary of the last draft they took a defensive lineman No. 1 (Justin Smith) would be a good time to take another one. Even if it means trading down.

Hi Geoff. Appreciate your outstanding coverage of the Bengals! Why do the Bengals lose so many players to significant injuries each year? We play so many games without our best players. How do we compare to other teams? Jim Reynolds, Marana, AZ

JIM: Thank you for the kind words and for checking in. When it comes to players on injured reserve, the Bengals are pretty much in the middle of the league with 11. A dozen teams have more and three other teams also have 11, according to spotrac.com.

The problem is, who is hurt. Remember, three of their biggest signings of the offseason (Joe Mixon, D.J. Reader and Trae Waynes) played a combined 11 games out of a possible 48. According to spotrac, a total of 31.2 percent of the Bengals' salary cap ended the year on IR, second only to the 49ers' 39 percent with a total of 19 players.

I don't think this is an every year thing, but it's been glaring ever since the end of the 2015 season because of the stars that have been on the shelf. That was the fifth year of the Green-Dalton run and after Dalton (thumb) suffered a season-ending injury in '15, Green (hamstring) had one halfway through 2016 and they both missed the last five games of 2018 before Green (ankle) missed all of 2019, too.

Throw in two-time 1,000-yard rusher Joe Mixon (foot) missing the last ten games of 2020 and perennial Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins' shoulder injury that drastically limited his season before he went on IR and , well, that's a lot of injury update headlines, never mind Burrow's ACL.

But I can't see any kind of a thread. I don't know how you avoid Dalton falling on a bad snap and somebody else falling on his thumb. They talk about the Dayton practice field dooming Green's ankle in Zac Taylor's first practice, but Green was jumping for a ball and came down on a DB's ankle on a play that seems like it could have happened on a grass field adjacent to Paul Brown Stadium. And Burrow, well, yes, we all know they have to protect him better. But when 600 pounds of man fall on you, that's not something you can prevent with an off-season program in the weight room.

It's an interesting question. But beyond nagging soft-tissue injuries, I don't think anyone has ever been able to explain football injuries, never mind prevent them.

The Bengals first priority must be protecting Burrow don't you agree? Rick Lockhart, Pinellas Park, FL

RICK: Absolutely. First, second and third. But that's not all the offensive line. Much of it is also scheme and play-calling. Zac Taylor's off-season test, and it may very well decide his fate, is he must be able to marry his Burrow-centric philosophy with protecting him.

Taylor has been adamant in saying his team's best chance of winning is with Burrow passing the ball. No doubt he's right. But how many times? There's much angst about the offensive line, but they may decide their best offensive lineman is Joe Mixon. More carries from Mixon puts fewer shots on Burrow.

And look, Zac is a smart guy. He's been immersed in the NFL's high-tech offenses for the last decade and, of course, he would like to run the ball more. But they have to be more consistent running the ball and while a lot of that is personnel, a lot of it is scheme and some kind of change is on the way in the run game with a new offensive line coach. But it's pretty clear they've got to be more balanced. I mean, look, the kid was on pace to throw 680 passes, the third most of all-time.

Like I say. Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan are smart people. They know what has to be done. Look, they had Burrow headed to a Rookie of the Year season. Burrow and the up-and-coming Bengals were the talk of the league until Nov. 22. They're going to spend the offseason adjusting to make sure Burrow and the scheme is a match for the Steelers and Ravens. In his first eight games against them, Taylor has had four different quarterbacks averaging 241 yards and 10 points. Hopefully he gets Burrow for all four games against them next season.

With Zac Taylor returning with only one year on his contract, how likely is it the Bengals will be able to recruit quality assistant coaches to work with a head coach whose contract may not be renewed unless significant improvement in wins? Doug Fecher, Hamilton, OH

DOUG: I'm not sure you've got the right contract parameters there, but there are examples past and present of coaches getting it going in the third year. Most recently 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan went to the Super Bowl in his third season after winning ten games in his first two seasons.

In the end, good coaches want input and they want to be with good players, so I don't doubt that Taylor is going to be able to lure an excellent offensive line coach coveting the chance to protect a passer like Burrow and scheme the run for a top back like Mixon. Same with a running backs coach. (The guess is assistant wide receivers coach Troy Walters gets promoted.)

Hi Geoff. I am an original Bengals fan since 68. What would it cost us to move from 5 to 2 in the draft to get Sewell? If we could get him and one of the premier guards in FA like Thuney I think it would help solve our OL issues. Bill Evans, Fort Myers, FL

BILL: Thanks for your support down through the years. Can't do it. According to the Draft Tek value chart, that trade up to the Jets at No. 2 would take at least their second-rounder and maybe more. The only trade there is down and for defense. They can't be giving away picks. And especially not when it appears they already have some young tackles that can play. I'd make that argument even if they could get Sewell without a trade.

Defense. Defense. Defense.

As for Patriots guard Joe Thuney, I hear you on that. But that's just going to cost too much for a team that is stocked with so many offensive linemen and needs help on defense. The answer there is to develop the slew of guards you've already got. Take Thuney money and go after a a defensive lineman or cornerback.

I can't believe they kept Lou as defensive coordinator. He cost us at least 5 games with his unwillingness to adapt his game plan especially in the fourth quarter. Just another in a long line of bad decisions. James Buchanan, Cincinnati, OH

JAMES: I don't buy five losses. It looked like the second Cleveland game and the Philly game got away from them on the last drives, but I've got a tough time talking about scheme and adjustments when they're facing Lamar Jackson with the Nos. 4-6 tackles and No. 4-6 cornerbacks. And that wasn't the first time they were in situations like that. In Pittsburgh they were down to three cornerbacks and two were basically playing their first snaps of the season.

Let's face it. They've got to play better. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo would tell you he's got to coach better. But keeping him isn't exactly earth-shattering when you think of the continuity.

This past offseason was the first since 2017 they had the same defensive scheme. When Anarumo arrived in 2019, guys like Jessie Bates III Sam Hubbard, and Darius Phillips were working on their third coordinator in two years and William Jackson III on his fourth in four years. That stuff matters. When the defense put together a very winnable streak from Nov. 22 to Dec. 27, Bates and Hubbard pointed to another year in the system.

So it had to settle down. Plus, Anarumo had a huge $120 million overhaul during the offseason when they signed and drafted six Opening Day starters and/or regulars, but no spring or pre-season games to get it in order. No excuses and that's fine. But there's also reality, which is where continuity and health come in and, in that two-month stretch, they showed real improvement.

It is plain to see the Bengals need to upgrade their defense. Why won't they pursue a different DC. For instance Matt Patrica ??? Homer Saunders, Cape Coral, FL

HOMER: Matt Patricia? The former Lions head coach? The Lions were last in yards allowed this season. In 2019, they were next-to-last. No question the Bengals need to upgrade their defense. I think they felt like they did last year in free agency and then had it all blow up on them with the injuries. I think they felt like they'd be putting themselves in a deeper hole if the kids and newcomers had to learn another scheme and after seeing the turbulence of 2018 and 2019, they just may be right. Plus, Anarumo has shown he can keep them in games despite a sharply reduced depth chart.

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