For this week's FGQ we speak with Scott Bantel from SB Nation's Bengals blog, Cincy Jungle to get a few answers about what the Raiders can expect in their season opener Sunday in Oakland. Here is that Q-n-A.
1. How is our old buddy Hue Jackson doing in Cincinnati and what should we expect from his offense Sunday?
Hue has done well and the players seem to love playing for him. In fact, he received some consideration for head coaching positions at the end of 2014. Though his offense was fairly average in 2014 and struggled in terms of consistency, the issues were more the result injuries and not being able to use his entire playbook. A.J. Green missed five or six games in 2014 and the offense was missing their No. 2 receiver (Marvin Jones) and their top tight end (Tyler Eifert) for the entire season. The strength of the offense is certainly the run game and the Bengals rushing attack ranked 6th in 2014. All parties are healthy in 2015 and I would expect to see a very creative, yet run heavy offense. If the Bengals stay healthy, this should be a top 5-10 offense in 2015, and if so, Hue will likely get another head coaching opportunity.
2. Andy Dalton gets trashed a lot for being overrated. How justified do you think that is?
Dalton gets bashed a lot - nationally, but even more so locally - and in my opinion, unfairly so. In fact, I wouldn't say people bash him for being overrated, I would say they bash him for being - in their mind - a below average quarterback. Most of the criticism is the result of his 0-4 playoff record (and no one can deny he has played terrible in those games), but he has been a very good regular season quarterback and most franchises would love to have a quarterback who has 40 wins in his first four seasons and is four for four in making the playoffs. As I tell our fans, Dalton is certainly limited physically - he will never be a Rodgers, Brady, Manning type - but he is good enough to win with, as evidenced by his record. He is a slightly above average quarterback with a manageable salary which the team can build around - his current salary is very team friendly and ranks him 19th amongst starting quarterbacks. And as I tell our fans, who are you going to replace him with in free agency or the draft who is going to do better than he has done (at least in the first year or two)? With a good supporting cast, Dalton can lead a team deep in the playoffs, but I don't see him ever being a quarterback that can carry a team through the playoffs.
3. The most hyped player I see on the Bengals these days is Jeremy Hill. What is all the hype about? Does he look like the real deal to you?
He is definitely the real deal and the hype is based off his explosion in 2014 once he was inserted as the starter in Week 9. Over the last nine weeks of the season, Hill ran for 929 yards (105 yards more than the next closest back), averaged 5.4 yards per carry (best in the league) and had three runs of 60+ yards. In fact, despite starting only eight games, Hill was 8th in the NFL with 1,124 yards, ranked 3rd with 9 touchdowns and tied for second with 5.1 yards per carry. He is also a complete NFL back. At 6'1" and nearly 240 pounds, Hill has the power to run over defenders, the speed to run past them, the elusiveness to make them miss and good enough hands to contribute in the passing game. The Bengals will bring Giovani Bernard in the backfield as a change of pace back and in obvious passing situations, but by the end of 2015, Hill will likely be in the discussion for the best back in the NFL.
4. Last season the Bengals defense wasn't quite as good as it had been the three previous seasons when they were top ten each season in yards and points allowed. What happened and what do you expect from that defense this year?
The drop off of the defense was a combination of a few things. While the loss of their defensive coordinator for the past six seasons (Mike Zimmer) hurt, the biggest issue was injuries. Their linebacking corps was decimated in 2014 and in at least one game (Indianapolis), the Bengals played with zero starting linebackers. Vontaze Burfict, their best linebacker and defensive leader, missed essentially the entire season with concussion and knee issues. Geno Atkins, one of the best defensive tackles in the game, was returning from a 2013 ACL tear and was not the same player he was prior to the injury. While Burfict will start the season on the PUP list, the Bengals signed veteran AJ Hawk and drafted a talented rookie (PJ Dawson) who will limit the impact of the loss of Burfict - experience and talent they lacked in 2014. Atkins is back to 100% and has looked like his disruptive pre-injury self, and the Bengals replaced an aging Terrence Newman with a young and talented 2013 first round corner in Dre Kirkpatrick. I would expect this defense to be back up in the top 10 in 2015 and if Burfict is healthy, possibly top five.
5. What is the weakest area on this Bengals team and why?
The weakest link on this team is still the linebacker position. While they are certainly better, deeper, more talented and more experienced in 2015 with Hawk and Dawson, without Burfict, this is still a unit that lacks disruptive play makers. At the moment, I would say the Bengals linebacking corps would rank in the bottom half of the league.