For our look at Sunday’s opponent for the Patriots, we turn to our good buddy Joe Reedy, who covers the Bengals for the Cincinnati Enquirer. Please give Joe a follow on Twitter, @JoeReedy.
1. The Bengals scored 34 points in a win over Green Bay, then 6 points in a loss to the Browns. What’s up with that?
The Bengals consistently shot themselves in the foot in Cleveland compared to Green Bay, where they they did it in four straight series in the second quarter. Against the Browns Andy Dalton was responsible for both turnovers (interception and fumble), there was miscommunication on a fourth-and-1 as BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a loss of 2, a snap that slipped out of the center’s hand for a 15-yard loss and A.J. Green being reduced to a possession receiver. Also against Green Bay the other receivers – Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones – were more involved. They were non-factors against Cleveland. The Bengals also didn’t do a good job of remaining committed to running it a couple plays more. Right now they are doing some things well but not one thing great.
2. How much confidence do the fans and, more importantly, the coaching staff have in Andy Dalton? Is he still the long-term answer at QB?
The fans have zero while the coaching staff still says all the right things, about how everyone else needs to do a better job along with the quarterback. The fact remains though that he has been inconsistent, especially with an offense where all of the starters have returned and there were the additions of Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard in the draft. This season is going to be a referendum on whether Dalton is the answer and it still can’t be answered after four games. He had a slow start last season and then led the Bengals to a 7-1 second half. He has the mentality to be a starter but has struggled with arm strength. This is also a coaching staff that has handled him the same way as they did Carson Palmer – more reinforcement than anger over him struggling. The fans though, who gave Palmer a pass for many years, aren’t doing that.
3. What kind of impact is James Harrison having on the defense?
Right now he has been a force in the locker room and as a mentor in the linebacker room. On the field, he hardly played in the Steelers and Packers games because the Bengals played mostly nickel. He has been good in the run game, but hasn’t been much of a force as a pass rusher, which some thought he would be when he signed. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said two weeks ago that he expects Harrison to be a force by the time the season is done. He might line up some at defensive end, but as the Bengals play more base he should be able to get more comfortable in a 4-3.
4. Who is one player Patriots fans haven’t heard of but could have an impact on Sunday?
Defensive end Wallace Gilberry. If Michael Johnson can’t go due to a concussion, Gilberry will get the start. He was signed in Week 3 last season after being released by Tampa Bay and ended up having 5.5 sacks along with a fumble runback for a touchdown. The defensive line can go seven players deep and that is being tested a little bit with Robert Geathers out for the year with an elbow injury and now Johnson. Second-round pick Margus Hunt, who was a fan favorite during Hard Knocks, could be active for his first game.
5. Finally, the Bengals will win if....
They don’t commit any turnovers. The defense hasn’t allowed a 300-yard passer since Week 2 last season and they used a mixture of different pressure packages against Aaron Rodgers, forcing him to throw two interceptions for the first time in 42 games. Andrew Whitworth put it best about the offense when he said “if we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot, we’re pretty good”. In three games so far they’ve shot themselves in the foot but got away with one against Green Bay.