It's a pretty fun time in Bengals Land right now. The team is off to their best start since 2006 and their two straight wins have come against quality opponents. Pundits are putting Cincinnati up in the top-three in most of the arbitrary "Power Rankings", and none of the slew of bad news surrounding NFL players involves anyone wearing the orange and black.
It's not all sunshine and sweet-smelling roses, though. A parade of injuries have hit the Bengals' high-profile players in just two weeks of football. Their starting right guard, "starting" tight end, top two wide receivers and other valuable backups have missed time and/or will continue to miss it in the foreseeable future. Aside from that, the team, which seems to be one of the best the Bengals have assembled in recent memory, is having trouble selling out home games.
We touch on both of these topics in this week's mailbag. The first question comes from Eric (@slicksickle), who asks what is going on with Cincinnati's continuous struggle to sell out a game, though they barely got through it this week.
It's a great question and one that has been surrounding the Bengals for years. Cincinnati has made the playoffs in four out of the last five years and many of the home games have had trouble selling out--the worst example being last year's playoff game against the Chargers.
There are a number of reasons to point at as to why this keeps happening. Though Bengals fans are a loyal bunch, they also continually await the other shoe to drop and expect a game or season to spiral out of control at any moment. It's hard to argue with it in some respects, given that the team is 0-5 (three of those losses at Paul Brown Stadium) in the renaissance era overseen by Marvin Lewis. I expect that this has to play some sort of role in the obvious indifference in fan attendance.
The reasons that any fan could use are plentiful, though: the in-home experience nowadays, expense of a day at the stadium, and/or the usage of an entire Sunday are all heard often. Some decide to stay away because of the goon-ish like behavior of fans that have had too much alcohol. For those debating bringing their families and young children to games, it's understandable why they would like to avoid those types.
If there is one contingent of non-ticket buyers that I don't understand and if they still exist, it's the "I'm not giving Mike Brown any of my money" chorus line. It's old rhetoric, that really shouldn't be in play anymore. This group had to have been pleased to hear from Brown's mouth that he has given power off to others in the franchise, not coincidentally resulting in a run of successful seasons. While it's admirable for people to stick to their guns on a principle, this one is passe.
I will say though, that I might be jaded because I cover the Bengals, but this epidemic seems to be most visible in The Queen City. Sure, other teams have issues, but this almost seems to be a weekly case, save for the three divisional games they host per year (and many of those who attend seem to cheer for the opposition). It's not clear what will change this from here out. Maybe it's a playoff win that will cure the issue, though I'm still not convinced that it would change overnight.
There are many reasons, some legitimate, some not so much, but it seems like this will continue to be an issue for the foreseeable future.
The next question for this week's mailbag centers around Bengals issues on the football field. As I mentioned earlier, the injuries have been piling up on this team--especially on offense. Fortunately, few have been season-ending, though many seem to be in the "multiple weeks" category, which has to be concerning.
One position group that has been hit extremely hard by the injury bug is tight end. Tyler Eifert suffered a dislocated elbow in week one, landing him on IR-Return and Alex Smith was put on season-ending IR this week with a bicep injury. That leaves "the villain", Jermaine Gresham, the newly-signed Kevin Brock and H-Back Ryan Hewitt as the players left standing.
People are assuming that with Eifert out, Gresham will start to see his stat lines rise. He will definitely get more looks, but I still don't think we'll be looking at Pro Bowl numbers. Why? The Bengals are relying on his blocking quite a bit in this offense. With a re-emphasis on the running game and an injury to Kevin Zeitler, expect to see No.84 blocking quite a bit.
What will be interesting is to see if/how Hewitt steps up in the passing game. He has done well lining up as a fullback, but he might need to pick up some slack on shorter routes. Truthfully, I don't see much coming out of Brock, in terms of offensive production, and expect him to be relegated to special teams duty.
I think the Bengals will limp through this week at the position against the Titans and really examine the waiver wire over the bye week to add some additional depth, until Eifert can return. The names out there on the veteran market are few and far between and many are damaged goods themselves. They could also scour some guys who went undrafted and didn't latch on to a team this year.
They have to be hoping that Gresham can be productive and stay healthy at this point. If something were to happen to him, we could be looking at a 2009 redux at the position, where the Bengals boasted such names like J.P. Foschi, Daniel Coats, Darius Hill and Chase Coffman. Yikes.