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Cincy Jungle Mailbag: Gio Bernard At Wide Receiver And Issues With Leon Hall

We take a look at some of the burning questions on the minds of Bengals fans for the week.

Jared Wickerham

It wasn't the way it was supposed to be Sunday night. The perennial AFC powerhouse that is the New England Patriots were reeling, while the Bengals were puffing out their chests being labeled an elite team. Needless to say, it was a hard reality check for the young Queen City cats.

Now on to the Jekyll and Hyde Carolina Panthers, as the Bengals attempt to extend their impressive home winning streak. Given the amount of injuries, it's going to take all able hands on deck to pull out a win at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The Bengals will also need to summon a similar anger to that of New England's-- the one that they displayed in front of the entire nation a week ago.

Though both of these teams have combined for an impressive 6-3 record going into this match-up, the fanfare is dulled a bit because of the multitude of injuries to key players for both teams. The Bengals likely won't be seeing the two-headed rushing monster that is DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, while it seems likely that Carolina won't have to deal with Cincinnati's Pro Bowl wideout, A.J. Green.

It's on this front that the first question is born:

On this week's episode of "Inside The Jungle", I laid out a plan for the Bengals offense this week, which I feel could be quite effective. With Green being questionable and Marvin Jones looking like he'll be out again, the Bengals are desperate for wide receiver help. Mohamed Sanu has had a nice season so far, but he'll need help if the other two wideouts aren't in the lineup.

Our own Josh Kirkendall explored some possibilities on this subject earlier in the week and I agree with his assessments on it. However, the Giovani Bernard idea that I discussed on the podcast involves him being a primary option lining up as a receiver--particularly in the slot. So far this season, Bernard has been the target of over 20 percent of Andy Dalton's targets.

By moving Bernard into more of a receiver role this week, it accomplishes a couple of things. First of all, it gets a sure-handed, shifty, and Dalton-trusted player out in the receiving corps amidst the injuries. Secondly, it enables the Bengals to have both Bernard and Jeremy Hill on the field at the same time. That, my friends, is a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses.

I am of the opinion that Hill has been grossly under-utilized this season. It was well-known that Bernard was the "starter" at running back, but most assumed that Hill would still see his fair share of the ball. He hasn't. In fact, he's averaging just seven carries and 1.25 receptions per game. The game plan was supposed to look like a 50/50 or 60/40 split, probably favoring Bernard, but it hasn't come close--Bernard has 68 carries to Hill's 28 in four games.

The sickening thing about it is that he has been productive when given the chance. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson proclaimed that Hill would get more work after seeing just ten snaps in week one against the Ravens. It's gone up a little, but not all that much. That needs to change.

Shifting Bernard's role for a week or two could and should ignite the offense. Yes, they have been efficient for the most part on offense, but employing this scheme provides a new wrinkle. And, if we know anything about Jackson's offense this year, they aren't afraid to get a little wacky.


The final question of the week comes from Danne and it stems from some concerns with Bengals cornerback, Leon Hall.

Going into that Patriots game, I had been impressed with Hall's play. He has been physical and often makes plays, which is a welcomed sight after his bad Achilles injury last season. That being said, Sunday night was one of the worst games I've seen out of Hall in his eight years in Cincinnati.

He, like almost the entire team, looked tentative and sloppy. It was common to see him on his heels and miss a tackle on Sunday Night Football--two rarities from one of the most fundamentally-sound corners in the NFL. Hall has re-invented himself a bit over the past few seasons, becoming excellent against slot receivers, be they wideouts or tight ends. Both of those types of players torched him in New England.

To answer the first of the question, if it seemed like the Patriots were picking on Hall, it's probably because they were. Bill Belichick is the master of finding mismatches and exploiting them, so with a very motivated week he probably found a soft spot on tape reviews. And, if we know anything about Belichick and Tom Brady, if they see a weakness from the opposition, they'll keep picking at the scab.

It didn't help Hall any that pressure on Brady was almost non-existent last week, either. I'll be interested to see what Paul Guenther comes up with as a defensive game plan this week, as the Bengals face a completely different kind of quarterback in Cam Newton.

As for the second part of the game plan, no I don't see Hall getting victimized this week for a variety of reasons. Number one, Hall rarely has two poor games back-to-back, much less two in a season. Secondly, Kelvin Benjamin plays a bit more on the outside and Marvin Lewis has elected to trust Terence Newman and Adam Jones with the bulk of outside work.

I expect Hall to see a good mixture of wide receivers Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant in the slot, along with the ailing tight end Greg Olsen, who has been nursing an ankle issue. There is also a remote possibly that they rely on him in "spy" situations, in the event that Newton takes off running. He's not as big as a linebacker in that capacity, obviously, but he is one of the most sure tacklers on the unit--last week not withstanding.

As we inch closer to kickoff, a Bengals rebound seems attainable. I think that Hall will be a big part of that on Sunday.

(Send questions to us @CincyJungle or directly to Anthony's Twitter account, @CJAnthonyCUI every week!)