In this week’s question and answer exchange, we’re fortunate to be joined by sports journalist, publisher, editor and author Dave Biddle, who writes about the Cincinnati Bengals and Reds on Three-Way Chili.
Following are Dave’s answers to our questions, after the jump.
Total Titans: Reader jimgill28 asked this question. The Titans defense, which doesn’t have a good pass rush, seems like an ideal situation for an opposing young quarterback like Dalton. What do you see that he will/won’t be able to do against the Titans?
Dave Biddle: Almost every Bengal fan was happy when Andy Dalton fell in the team’s lap in the second round of the draft, especially right on the heels of Carson Palmer announcing he would never play for Cincinnati again. However, no one expected that Dalton would be this good, this fast. He’s not doing anything extremely special, he’s just very steady and consistent. Doesn’t have a huge arm, but is highly accurate. He’s also a good leader that has already won the locker room over.
As for what he will be able to do against the Titans, expect a lot of short passes as the Bengals run the West Coast offense. They will take a couple deep shots, usually to rookie standout A.J. Green, but most of Dalton’s work comes on three-step drops and quick patterns. I expect Tennessee to cheat its defensive backs close to the line of scrimmage because it’s clear to everyone at this point that the Bengals like to rely on their running attack and short-passing game. Can Dalton connect on a deep ball or two to loosen things up? That will be one of the keys to the game.
TT: Reader dedkrikit asks, has the culture of the organization changed with the recent changes (Ochocinco leaving & Palmer’s trade) coupled with the rookie success or is it the same Bengals just performing better?
DB: Yes, the culture has definitely changed. It was a circus act last year with Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens having their own reality show, and Palmer becoming disenfranchised during the latter half of the season. Dalton has been a breath of fresh air and so has Green. This is also a team that has a “no-name” defense that has proven to be one of the best units in the NFL. It’s not a star-driven squad any longer. There are still players with big egos and bad reputations, like running back Cedric Benson and cornerback Pacman Jones, but there’s a hell of a lot less of them on the team than in past years.
TT: The Bengals have already won more games this season than they did last year. What do you see as the main reasons for the improvement? How much of a role has Jay Gruden played in this improvement and how much of an upgrade is he over Bob Bratkowski?
DB: First of all, Gruden has been a huge improvement over Bratkowski. Bengals’ defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer gets a lot of pub, and rightfully so, but Gruden is a rising star in the profession. Bratkowski was far too predictable and not innovative enough. So, Gruden’s impact is certainly one of the reasons that the Bengals are greatly exceeding expectations this season. (I predicted they would be 6-10.) However, it must be pointed out that Cincinnati’s schedule has been one of the easiest in the NFL up to this point. It will get tough down the stretch — two meetings apiece with Baltimore and Pittsburgh await — but the Bengals have only beaten one good team this year: the Buffalo Bills. Also, the Bengals have won a lot of close games this season that could have gone either way. I still don’t think the Bengals will reach the playoffs, but just the fact that they are in the running has made this an exciting season for Bengal fans, who by and large were expecting the worst.
TT: Who are some of the undersung and underappreciated players on this team? Which of them are worth keeping an eye on this week?
DB: I mentioned the “no-name” defense earlier and two of the guys that will eventually be well-known across the NFL are second-year defensive linemen Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. Dunlap, a DE, was a second-round pick, and Atkins, a DT, was a fourth-rounder. They are effective pass-rushers and are part of an excellent D-line that goes seven deep. The Bengals will rotate a lot up front to keep the linemen fresh. … Another guy to watch is the player who I call the Bengals’ “secret weapon” in third-down back Brian Leonard. The Bengals love to give him the ball on third down and he has a knack for picking up first downs. Benson is not on the field on third downs unless it’s third-and-very-short.
TT: If there’s anything I haven’t asked about that you’d like for Titans fans to know, please say so here. Also, feel free to make a prediction on the game if you want.
DB: This is going to be a tightly-contested game in my opinion and it will be interesting to see if the Bengals can prevent Chris Johnson from having his breakout performance against them. I’ve also been intrigued with the play of veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and would be feeling much better about this game if the Titans were starting their rookie QB, Jake Locker. Home-field advantage won’t be easy to overcome for Cincinnati, but I think the Bengals’ offense will make just enough plays and the defense will show why it’s one of the league’s best. My prediction is 23-20, Bengals.
Thanks to Dave for joining us in this week’s question and answer exchange. My answers to Dave’s questions will be appearing shortly on Three-Way Chili. Check there for that, as well as more fine content on the Bengals.