The Cincinnati Bengals, who will travel to MetLife Stadium Monday night, are not a team the New York Giants have tremendous familiarity with. To learn more about the 3-4-1 Bengals, we turn to our friends at SB Nation’s Cincy Jungle for this week’s “Five Questions” segment. Connor Howe answers our questions this week.
Ed: The Bengals have made the playoffs five straight years. Last season they only lost four games. This year they have already lost that many. What is the difference, and do you believe they will get it straightened out and return to the playoffs?
Connor: The difference is that Cincinnati's offseason changes have been really hard to adapt to. On top of the Bengals' offseason losses the media chose to cover -- Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson -- Cincinnati also lost starters Reggie Nelson, Andre Smith, Leon Hall, Emmanuel Lamur, a couple more players and, more importantly, nearly every position coach on the defensive side of the ball, including defensive backs coach Vance Joseph, who is now the Dolphins' defensive coordinator.
The Bengals, faithful in their recent draft picks, only signed Brandon LaFell and Karlos Dansby in free agency. In retrospect, I honestly don't think the Bengals made very many bad choices over the offseason (if at all); it's just been difficult for the team to adjust to those changes.
We've seen struggles from 2015 first-round tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, and as a result, the offensive line's performance has taken a drastic hit from being one of the NFL's best units in 2015. Advanced stats guys, like Pro Football Focus and the Bleacher Report guys who do NFL 1000 -- Ben McAdoo's right, those guys can be annoying -- like safety Shawn Williams in his first year starting, but he's been an incredibly inconsistent player. Karlos Dansby hasn't been the coverage 'backer the Bengals had hoped he'd be when they signed him.
A lot of Cincinnati's struggles have also been in execution. It's hard for Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard to pop off any long runs behind a line which can't create any space. Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap have consistently generated pressure but haven't translated those pressures into enough hits or sacks. Players seem to be dropping potential interceptions left and right.
As to whether I think things will straighten out, I certainly hope so. In the same way I think the Browns are due for a win, I think things will even out for Cincinnati over the second half of the season, especially considering their schedule over the second half is much softer than it was in the first half.
Ed: Does Marvin Lewis have a lifetime contract? What is it going to take for Cincinnati to move on from him? Should they be considering moving on from him?
Connor: Cincinnati sports fans who don't like him certainly think Lewis will be here until the day we all die. Mike Brown and the Bengals' staff highly value continuity, perhaps to a fault. I myself am big on continuity, but I can understand fans' frustrations with the fact that Lewis is still around. At the end of the day, the Bengals were the Browns of today before Lewis made his way to Cincinnati, but they've yet to contend for the Super Bowl, let alone win a playoff game, in the coach's tenure, despite an incredibly talented and deep roster.
As to what will make the Bengals move on, I'm really not sure. History has shown hiring a coach generally doesn't yield immediate success with that new coach, though Gary Kubiak last season and Jon Gruden in 2002 have been extreme exceptions which fans love to point to. What makes this such a difficult decision for the Bengals is that Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Vontaze Burfict, Atkins, Dunlap and the majority of the quality players on the Bengals' roster are in their prime, which means a coaching change could narrow the time span in which the Bengals have a potential Super Bowl window.
If it were up to me, I'd stick with Marvin Lewis at least until the end of Dalton's current contract (which is set to expire in 2020), though I know a vast majority of Bengals fans would disagree.
For the Bengals to actually move on from Lewis, it would take a change in organizational mentality (which is incredibly unlikely to happen) or a disastrous season. I would say it would take a season in which the Bengals finish 6-10 or worse for Lewis to have a realistic shot at getting fired. Remember, we're talking about a guy who is responsible for seven of the Bengals' 15 total winning seasons in franchise history.
Ed: Who are a couple of players on the Bengals' roster we might not know much about, but that we should be aware of Monday night?
Connor: He's still not a fan favorite, but Dre Kirkpatrick has come into his own this season. He's still not as consistent as he should be, but the cornerback has really improved in his second year as a full-time starter. Kirkpatrick's best game came against the Steelers, when he was targeted three times, tallying two pass breakups and an interception.
Andrew Whitworth has lived in Joe Thomas' shadow for about a decade, but he's one of the best left tackles in football and has been for some time. The matchup between he and Olivier Vernon will be one to watch.
And finally, the previously mentioned Dunlap has been slept on as well. The defensive end -- who should be considered among the NFL's elite -- has tallied 18.5 sacks in the past season-and-a-half, and he'll look to increase that total in a favorable matchup on Sunday.
Ed: If you could take one player NOT NAMED ODELL BECKHAM (because everybody would take Beckham) off the Giants' roster and put him in the Cincinnati starting lineup, who would it be? Why?
Connor: If I were to guess, I'd say most Bengals fans -- who are still not sold on third-year center Russell Bodine -- would take Weston Richburg, which certainly wouldn't be a bad choice. Personally, I'd like to see Landon Collins don the orange and black. The Bengals' safeties have been under-performing this year, and adding a third starting-caliber safety would give Cincinnati the versatility it desperately needs in its nickel packages. The Bengals could play Collins or Williams as a hybrid safety-linebacker, while the other one patrols the deep portion of the field alongside George Iloka, immediately giving the team versatility to play more man coverages without any fear of getting burned by an opposing tight end or running back.
Ed: You are preparing a scouting report for the Giants. How would you attack the Bengals, both offensively and defensively?
Connor: The MMQB's Andy Benoit has been hitting this point home all year long, and it's hard to disagree. New York needs to put Beckham in motion more often, as it would give opposing defenses yet another wrinkle to worry about. Having seen the Steelers utilize Antonio Brown so well by getting him into space and being able to force-feed him the ball, even though opponents know it is coming, I know the frustrations that come with a mobile, dynamic pass-catcher. The Giants would be especially smart to attack the middle of the field in passing situations, as the Bengals' linebackers have struggled in coverage.
On defense, New York needs to overwhelm the Bengals' offensive line, plain and simple. Recently, I saw someone joke and say that Ogbuehi (the Bengals' right tackle) is the only player who can shut down Green. And while it's funny, he's not too far off. Dalton and Green have been excellent all season long, and the best way to prevent the QB-WR connection from happening is to disrupt the pocket and force Dalton to get rid of the ball quickly. If the Bengals' offensive line can keep Dalton upright and/or open any creases in the run game, the Bengals' offense will be able to move the ball and, more likely than not, win this game. If it cannot, the Giants will probably win on Monday night.