Aug 29, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) against the Chicago Bears in a preseason NFL football game at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 21-10. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
The 2015 NFL season is almost here, so let’s take another minute to reflect on the offseason. Last week, I was lucky enough to be able to talk with the editors of the AFC North’s other three FanSided blogs in a divisional preseason wrap-up piece, and today I will ask a few similar questions–but this time, to two members of the writing staff at Stripe Hype. Thank you to Anish and Dustin for your work on this piece and for all of your work here at StripeHype!
Who’s your favorite player on the Bengals?
Aug 29, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) against the Chicago Bears in a preseason NFL football game at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 21-10. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Anish Kapil: My favorite player on the Bengals has to be Jeremy Hill. The combination of his power, speed, confidence and swagger is exactly what the Bengals need to get over the playoff hump.
Dustin Merritt: Wallace Gilberry, because he exhibits what you want in a player who can be a silent cog in championship type runs and he just seems like a generally good dude. At the preseason game last year in Kansas City I made my way down to the front row and the fans were really giving Wallace a hard time. But he still came over after the game and signed an autograph for a kid in a Bengals jersey and myself.
Connor Howe: I feel like my favorite player on the Bengals changes every season, but this season (for the second season in a row), my favorite player is George Iloka. He’s one of the most underrated players in all of football, right next to Andrew Whitworth and fellow safety Reggie Nelson. Iloka recorded 74 tackles, 10 pass defenses and three interceptions in 2014, giving up only 14 catches for 257 yards (67 yards after catch) and one touchdown all season long. When throwing towards Iloka, opposing passers combined for an overall passer rating of 42.1. He’s a dominant safety and needs to be extended as soon as possible.
Who’s the player you’re most excited about this season?
AK: I am very intrigued and excited for the young corner, Dre Kirkpatrick. He finally showed his ability by stepping in for an injured Terence Newman and came up big during the Denver game. He will be a full time starter for the first time in his career and his play will determine how the Bengals season will go.
DM: Rex Burkhead. He is your example of a guy that has kept grinding and is finally going to get his opportunity to contribute. He reminds me of a guy the Patriots would find and turn into a productive player.
CH: I’m excited to see Michael Johnson back in stripes. He was one of the NFL’s best run-stopping defensive two seasons ago and recorded 11.5 sacks in the previous season. And even though his sack totals in his past two seasons have been low (just four sacks in each of the past two seasons), solid play from Johnson will open up space for Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Wallace Gilberry and other players to make a play. Johnson’s play could largely determine Cincinnati’s defensive success in 2015.
Who’s your biggest X-Factor for Cincinnati this season?
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Cincinnati’s X-Factor this season is
. His 2013 season was fantastic and he provided a big play threat to ease up coverage on
. In 2014,
struggled in being able to get the ball down the field. Jones’ health and production will be key for the Bengals’ offensive success.
DM: Tyler Eifert’s health will make this offense go. Andy Dalton’s middle of the field passing has suffered without a true threat to throw to. I hope he can catch 65-70 passes this year; that kind of production could be huge for Cincinnati’s offense.
CH: Andy Dalton is the obvious answer here, but I’m going to say Carlos Dunlap. He was the best player on Cincinnati’s defensive line in 2014 but only had eight sacks to show for it. Dunlap was pretty good at pressuring opposing quarterbacks, but he needs to start converting those pressures into sacks. If Dunlap can succeed, I believe the defense can improve to the level it was at under Mike Zimmer–not as a top five defense, but as a balanced defense that doesn’t show many weaknesses.
What’s your biggest concern about the team going into the season?
AK: Pass rush is my biggest concern. Last year, the Bengals had only 20 sacks and Geno Atkins was a non-factor. This year, the Bengals must sustain a pass rush to help the younger cornerbacks
DM: Continuing the trend. Some trends are good, like making the postseason 5 out of 6 seasons. Some are maddening, like the prime time duds, lack of success against the Steelers, inability to sweep the Browns, and being out game planned/coached against playoff-caliber teams. The players are here; there should be no excuse to continue the bad trend.
CH: I have three major concerns, which are as follows:
1. The defense shows no signs of improvement–Cincinnati couldn’t rush the passer in 2014; it was the worst team in the NFL. With Vontaze Burfict still recovering from injury and two aging corners in the secondary, the defensive line play needs to improve in 2015, both in rushing the passer and stopping the run. Geno Atkins can’t be the only guy Cincinnati relies on.
2. The team has to deal with a 2014-esque plague of injuries–This is the least concerning of the three, but after last season, I really hope Cincinnati can stay healthy in 2015.
3. The Bengals collapse in prime time games–The Bengals were undefeated at home in 2013 but lost two games at home in 2014, both to division rivals and both of which were in prime time. Andy Dalton needs to prove his worth in Cincinnati or he will have to choose between restructuring his contract or moving to a new city in 2016.
How many games do the Bengals have to win for Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis to keep their jobs?
To me, it doesn’t matter how many games Marvin and Andy win this year. They need to qualify for the playoffs and win a playoff game. If they don’t win a playoff game, Marvin will most certainly be fired. Andy would either be gone or on his last leg.
DM: Four wins for Marvin, five wins for Dalton. Some guys with this organization are just on a never-ending scholarship. Both Dalton and Lewis have done enough to earn a free pass from Cincinnati’s upper management–unless an utter disaster of a season causes riots in the streets of Cincinnati. Despite what the national media might think, Cincinnati has the strongest roster of any NFL team entering the 2015 season; that’s why the media’s only talking point is bagging on Andy Dalton when things go wrong.
If Marvin Lewis wants to stay in Cincinnati, he will–and he will get another reset button pushed. Over the last five years, this organization and Marvin have become very conservative; I don’t see that trend changing with a stinker this year. I fully expect both Marvin and Dalton to be back next season, and I can’t help but think what Mike Zimmer and Teddy Bridgewater could have done with this roster, a change that could have been a realistic option last year.
CH: One of the reasons why I’m a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals rather than of my hometown team, the San Diego Chargers, is because of the way Cincinnati runs its organization. The Brown family may catch some flak from a few haters, but it has done a great job managing the Bengals in focusing on continuity while limiting roster turnover.
That being said, the Brown family is patient. Marvin Lewis will continue to be Cincinnati’s head coach until the team misses the playoffs. But if Cincinnati misses the playoffs, I am almost certain he will be gone. There’s no excuse for Cincinnati missing the playoffs with this talent level. So in total, I’d say that Lewis needs to win at least nine games to keep his job.
Andy Dalton, however, is on a shorter leash. Next season, Dalton’s base salary will jump from $3 million to over $10 million. The Bengals will not be spending this much money for a quarterback that they can’t trust, so the jury’s out on Dalton in the upcoming season. If Dalton can’t win nine or ten games and make the playoffs, he’ll be gone as well. A.J. McCarron is still unproven, but unproven has the potential to be better than mediocre.
Predict Cincinnati’s record:
AK: The Bengals will go 11-5 and I believe they are going to be in the AFC Championship game. This team might be the most talented team the Bengals have had since the Super Bowl teams in the 80’s, with an influx of talent on both sides of the ball. They will finally get past the playoff struggles of the past and get to the doorstep of a Super Bowl appearance.
DM: The Bengals will go 9-7. Despite one of the best rosters in football, wins are going to be hard to come by. With four primetime games and one of the toughest schedules in the NFL, getting to nine wins is going to be a battle every week.
CH: The Bengals’ 2014 string of injuries scares me out of blabbing about how Cincinnati will win 11 games this season; the Bengals have a difficult schedule and will need to improve on defense in order to make the playoffs. However, the AFC seems a lot weaker to me than it was last season, mostly because Tom Brady is out for four games–and because him and Peyton Manning are another year closer to retirement. I’m going to go on a limb and call the Bengals a 10-6 team.
Thanks again to Anish and Dustin for sharing your thoughts. Bengals fans, be sure to subscribe to Stripe Hype below to see more of our work around the site.