This week has been more big-picture thinking, largely debating playoff possibilities with a pinch of individual perspective heading into the Bye Week. Call it the decompression period of the regular season, where the postseason appears closer than the next regular season game. That being said we wanted to praise the players deeper on the roster who should receive unexpected praise.
JOSH: It's Week Eight and the Bengals are 3-4. Despite that who is the team's best player not named A.J. Green or Geno Atkins?
JASON: That's a good question without an easy answer. While I wish I could say Andy Dalton, the fact is, it's not him. He's certainly top-ten and probably top-five, but I might have to go with somebody like Andre Smith. He's not the best run blocker or pass blocker on the team but he's the best combination of both and considering where he was a couple years ago, he's made massive strides.
After watching Vontaze Burfict rack up 15 tackles against the Steelers, it's hard not to throw him in the conversation as well. He is perhaps who I am excited about the most.
JOSH: What about Michael Johnson? Already tied a career high in quarterback sacks, on pace for nearly 14, has an interception, handful of passes defensed, 11 quarterback hurries (second to only Geno Atkins), six hits on the quarterback (second to only Carlos Dunlap) and yet the second-best run defender on the team according to Pro Football Focus. He's quietly having a career year by far.
JASON: Johnson is in a contract year and it's clear that he's playing for some big money this year. If he keeps up this pace, he'll have a comparative argument among the defensive ends in the league, deserving of a nice contract next year. It's about time too, because I felt that he was always capable of this but couldn't quite get to the level the Bengals wanted him at until this year. Hopefully he keeps it up.
JOSH: Another consideration could be Mike "The Franchise" Nugent. He's converted 11 of 12 field goals, a 91.7 percent conversion with a career-high average of 68.6 yards per kickoff. Though despite nailing two field goals in the first quarter against the Dolphins, his one miss this year could have reduced a four-point deficit with over three minutes against Miami -- allowing for the Bengals one last possession requiring only a game-winning field goal. Other than that, he's automatic.
JASON: Nuuuuuuuuuuuge has done well this year and there's no real reason to worry if he's in a situation where he needs to kick a game-winning field goal. With Shayne Graham, there was, especially in the last couple years in Cincinnati. Nugent is one of the more accurate kickers in the league right now and the Bengals should be happy to have him. Kicker is so often a position that gets overlooked, especially when it's not something to worry about.
JOSH: Where should we put Andy Dalton on this nominations list? He's on pace to generate over 4,000 yards passing, and that includes his 105-yard performance last weekend against Pittsburgh -- his lowest since 81 yards in the first half against the Cleveland Browns during the regular season opener of his rookie season (was pulled at half time). He's also on pace for nearly 30 touchdowns, a career-high average and passer rating.
JASON: Obviously he's high on the list because he's the most important player on the field. However, he has thrown 10 interceptions through seven games in 2011 and that compares to only 13 interceptions throughout the entire season last year. Dalton looks like he's going to avoid a sophomore slump in 2012, but he has had his bad moments along with the good ones. Having said that, there isn't anyone on the team that I would rather have behind center at all and I still think Dalton has the potential to lead the Bengals deep into the post season.
JOSH: Yea, but it's not like you can blame Dalton for passes that deflect off offensive linemen either -- though he's had some bad ones too, forcing into multiple-DB coverages.