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Previewing The Cincinnati Bengals: Interview With Football Outsiders

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Most of you know me well enough to point out that I have an affinity for detailed analysis when it comes to football. Mainstream statistics like yards, points, quarterback sacks are nice to make quick points about the individual prowess of one's value on the field. But they never truly detail the picture of a game or the configuration of an entire team. In the past few years organizations and websites have surfaced, providing a more articulate interpretation of the game using advanced statistics that paints the picture that was once black and white into a fireworks display of awesome.

Football Outsiders is one of those sites, releasing an annual Football Outsiders Almanac that provides a more detailed and objective analysis that greatly encapsulates our analytical perspective of the game.

You can purchase their latest, the Football Outsiders Almanac 2011 in PDF version or hard copy. One of their creators, Aaron Schatz joined us for a few minutes to talk about this year's Cincinnati Bengals.

1) You wrote that the 2009 Cincinnati Bengals were essentially the same team in 2010, even though there was a six-win discrepancy. Explain to our readers how you came to that conclusion, along with your points about the close scoring and stronger strength of schedule.

The 2009 and 2010 Bengals both finished 19th in our DVOA ratings despite radically different records. Why? The 2009 Bengals were 6-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less. The 2010 Bengals were 2-7. The 2009 Bengals had an average schedule. The 2010 Bengals had the second-hardest schedule in the league according to average DVOA of opponent.

2) The Bengals put together what’s written as “a Football Outsiders dream draft”. Talk about the conclusion made about the team’s first three selections this year with A.J. Green, Andy Dalton and Dontay Moch.

We have a variety of different formulas that we use to project incoming rookies. For wide receivers, we use Playmaker Score, which accounts for things like college touchdowns and yards per reception. Green was the clear highest prospect by that metric. For edge rushers, we use something called SackSEER, which incorporates some combine drills along with collegiate sack production. Moch does very well in that. And for quarterbacks, we have the Lewin Career Forecast, which looks at a number of variables including college starts and completion percentage. Dalton is number one in that metric this year, primarily because he was a four-year starter in college. His high LCF score is not a guarantee of success, however. We definitely have some scouting-related questions about Dalton's ability to adapt to the NFL.

3) What’s the impact of Johnathan Joseph’s departure for Houston and how much will Nate Clements limit that impact?

Joseph actually didn't come out that well in our game charting coverage metrics last year, more like league-average, but he was very good in 2009, 24th in adjusted yards allowed per pass. Clements's game charting stats haven't been that good, but they've been about as good as Joseph's were in 2010. It's definitely a downgrade, although it may not be quite as big a downgrade as you might think (though it doesn't help that Joseph is just entering his prime and Clements is past his).

4) The team’s projected lineup of defensive linebackers includes Rey Maualuga in the middle, Thomas Howard on the weakside and Manny Lawson on the strongside. Is that lineup an upgrade or downgrade from last year’s group of Maualuga, Keith Rivers and Dhani Jones?

A lot depends on how well Maualuga plays against the pass. Dhani Jones wasn't very good. Howard actually was pretty good in pass coverage in Oakland, although he's not that strong against the run.  Rivers is better, and he'll be back at midseason. It will be interesting to see what happens with Lawson, who never quite fit the mold of a 3-4 pass-rushing outside linebacker in San Francisco and should be better as a more conventional 4-3 linebacker.

5) Explain to our readers how you believe that Bengals offensive line improved from 2009 to 2010 and the biggest issues that faced the offensive line last season.

We have two main stats for offensive lines: Adjusted Line Yards, which breaks runs at various distances to try to measure blocking in the first few yards, and Adjusted Sack Rate, which is sacks per pass play adjusted for situation and opponent. Cincinnati actually improved in both stats in 2010. The problem was blocking up the middle; ALY declined on runs up the middle and the Bengals were 28th in run success in power situations (1-2 yards to go on third down, fourth down, or the goal line).

6) Cedric Benson largely declined last year, mostly as a result from a changed philosophy. How was his overall production, comparatively speaking from 2009 and 2010, in regards to DVOA?

He was 39th in DVOA among running backs, -13.1%. To be honest, he's never really been that good. He's been below average in 2007, 2008, and 2010. 2009 was the aberration, and even then he was just 21st among running backs at 3.7%. That was the only year he had more than four yards per carry.

7) Wide receiver Jerome Simpson simply cruised with an impressive two-game stretch to end the season last year. Just how dominating was he in regards to DVOA?

Oh, he was pretty awesome. 44.1% DVOA. But you're talking about a guy who couldn't learn the offense for two years before that, and now he has to learn a brand new offense. I'm honestly not expecting him to blossom into a star or anything like that this year.

We want to thank Aaron for his time and he'd like to thank you purchasing The Football Outsiders Almanac 2011.

The essential guide to the 2011 season, the book that correctly predicted 9 of 12 playoff teams last year, fully updated with post-lockout free agency and trades.