Your New York Giants take on the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3 of the preseason on Thursday. You probably know the Bengals better than you think, considering the number of former Giants currently employed in Cincinnati.
Let’s learn more about the Bengals from Anthony Cosenza of Cincy Jungle in this week’s “5 questions” segment.
Ed: How in the world did the Bengals end up with John Jerry and Bobby Hart, rejects from an awful Giants’ offensive line, as starters?
Anthony: There are a number of different routes to take with an answer here, and truthfully, there is truth in each of them. First and foremost, the Bengals are known to be thrifty in the early spring months when free agency rolls around. Back in the 2017 offseason, Cincinnati lost both Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler and have been reeling on the offensive line ever since.
That being said, when the Bengals go for outside assistance in free agency, it’s usually in bargain bin deals where they believe they can squeeze more out of a veteran cast-off. It has worked for them before (see the background of the late Cedric Benson, for one), so they probably believed that this new staff can get the most out of those two guys.
For John Jerry, it’s obviously because of his relationship with offensive line coach Jim Turner. The two go back to the Jonathan Martin “Bully-gate” days with the Dolphins, so their has been trust built between the parties.
As for Hart, most of us who follow the team are stumped with the infatuation with him. He played poorly as the starting right tackle last year, starting all 16 games at the spot. He was rewarded with a lucrative contract for a guy with that kind of 2018 film, only to be vehemently defended publicly by Bengals Vice President, Troy Blackburn. Ironically, that’s really one of the only positions on the line that hasn’t seen intense competition for a starting job.
Cincinnati seemed to have been counting on 2019’s No.11 overall pick, Jonah Williams for a high-profile role, along with veteran Clint Boling. Williams tore a muscle in his shoulder during minicamps and might not suit up in 2019, while Boling retired. That’s why a door has been opened for Jerry and Hart to seemingly have the inside track on starting jobs.
Ed: Kerry Wynn was a popular, useful backup defensive end for the Giants. He’s listed as third team on the Bengals’ depth chart. What are your thoughts on Wynn and whether he will help Cincinnati, or even make the 53-man roster?
Anthony: To be honest, when the move first came along the news wire, it screamed as the definitive low-net, Bengals free agency move. But, in researching a bit more on Wynn, he seemed to be a nice niche backup guy, who could also contribute on special teams.
Obviously, he’s comfortable with Lou Anarumo from their days in New York together, so the scheme and terminology should give him a leg up on things. Cincinnati has also been a team that likes to get pressure without blitzing a ton of linebackers (they play a more traditional 4-3 defense), so they covet guys like Wynn, who can also kick inside and get pressure.
In terms of practice performances, he’s been quiet. However, he played very well in the second and third quarters against Washington last Thursday. He notched a sack of Dwayne Haskins and recovered a fumble forced on another sack by Jordan Willis, who he has been competing against this spring.
I think he can be a relatively valuable lineman, given his ability to move around and his comfort level in Anarumo’s system.
Ed: After 8 years with Andy Dalton at quarterback what are your thoughts? Is it time for the Bengals to move on and try to do better?
Anthony: This is completely dependent upon whom you ask. There is a contingent of Bengals fans (and, apparently those within the franchise itself) who are staunch supporters of Dalton and believe he can play his best football under an offensive-minded coach like Zac Taylor, while also finally having a healthy roster around him (which has been slowly eroding with the Williams situation and A.J. Green hurting his ankle on the first practice of training camp). Then there is the contingent of fans who see direct disparities in levels of play when Dalton and the Bengals go up against Tom Brady’s Patriots, Aaron Rodgers’ Packers and/or Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs.
Regardless, I think all Bengals fans want to see Dalton succeed because he is a very nice man who does great things in the community and gives it his all to the team.
For me personally, it’s so difficult to properly describe my stance. I’ve seen Dalton play at incredibly high levels, like the 2015 near-MVP season, while most are grateful to Dalton carrying the baton from Carson Palmer, who quit on the team in 2011. No. 14 gave the fan base five straight postseason berths born out of the Palmer defection. I also see a guy who is on his fifth offensive coordinator as he enters his ninth season, while also under the watch of the rigid, defensive-minded Marvin Lewis.
I’ve also seen him falter in big moments. He has made big mistakes on huge stages, but the rest of the team crumbled around him as well. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have the talent level to pick up the team by its haunches when it’s a mess and lead them to a win.
The way I see it, the Bengals do not engage in many of the business and operational practices in which many other successful NFL franchises engage. Because of their dormant free agency approach, smaller scouting staff and lack of a true general manager (by title, at least), it pains me to say that Cincinnati needs a quarterback who is a generational talent (a la Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason) to sniff the promised land.
Can Dalton get them there? I think he can, but it’s going to take a loaded roster that remains healthy and competent coaching. Those are two facets that haven’t been overly-prominent since 2011.
Ed: Lou Anarumo was defensive backs coach for the Giants last year, and no one really looked at him as a potential defensive coordinator. He is that now in Cincinnati, of course. No real games have been played, of course, but what are your thoughts on Anarumo to this point?
Anthony: This is tough to gauge at the moment. Initially, it seemed like a big settling on a DC by Zac Taylor, who couldn’t make things come together on that front with names like Jack Del Rio and Dom Capers, who were part of the rumor mill. Then, as spring camps hit, players and those around the club were encouraged by Anarumo--especially after a deplorable year on defense by Cincinnati in 2018.
However, his defense got bombarded by Kansas City in the first week of the preseason. Things were better last week against a less-potent Redskins offense, which provides both pause and optimism. The pass-rush was improved, less points were allowed and this occurred without some high-profile players on the field (Geno Atkins, Darqueze Dennard, etc.).
The good news is that Anarumo really only has up to go, in terms of the defensive output. The unit was downright awful under Teryl Austin last year, as they ranked at or near the bottom of most significant statistical categories. We also know that defenses are vanilla in preseason games, so these four exhibitions aren’t the greatest of barometers.
Cincinnati’s defense is also without Vontaze Burfict (now with the Raiders), Michael Johnson, and has been experiencing summertime injuries. The linebacker group looks to be a continued liability with or without Burfict, so Anarumo will need to emphasize getting pressure and relying on the accumulated talent of high picks in the secondary.
Ed: It’s fairly obvious that the Bengals were looking for the next Sean McVay when they made 36-year-old Zac Taylor a first-time head coach. Thoughts on Taylor thus far?
Anthony: Zac Taylor has been a breath of fresh air to the franchise. Marvin Lewis did a number of great things in Cincinnati, including dragging the team into modernity, but his playing of favorites and aforementioned rigidity began to get stale. Furthermore, Lewis’ Bengals rarely stepped up in the biggest games against the NFL’s elite, failing to take the next step as a team.
Taylor has seemed to be emphasizing accountability, especially when it comes to the mental aspects of the game. Stories abound of his putting players on the spot, be it in their positional rooms or in walking down the hall, with terminology and assignments in given plays. A lot of the veterans gushed about how football is fun again and liked the approach of the young, affable coach.
It’s been an insanely tough start for the first-time head coach, though. After coming in touted as a wunderkind, Taylor had trouble assembling a coaching staff, then has had to deal with an incredible amount of retirements and injuries to important players. I’ve begun to say that if Taylor can somehow get the Bengals sniffing a postseason berth this year, hand him Coach of the Year honors for what he’s had to endure.
So far on the field, it’s been a mixed bag. There have been a frustrating amount of penalties (11 per game), and the explosive Los Angeles-type offense hasn’t really been seen with regularity. Still, in these first two preseason games, he’s essentially been without his first-round pick, last year’s AFC leader in rushing yards (Joe Mixon), Giovani Bernard, A.J. Green, John Ross and that isn’t even the full list of offensive names, nor does it include the other side of the ball.
I think Taylor has the stuff to be a good one, but it might not be until the second half of the season before we see marked improvement as a team. His offensive and defensive coordinators are also first-timers in those positions, so it may take some time for cohesion to appear because of accrued experience.