The Bengals righted the ship in Week 12 against the St. Louis Rams with a convincing 31-7 home victory after two heartbreaking losses. The Bengals are in good shape in the AFC playoff picture, fighting for that ever-elusive first round bye and some form of home-field advantage.
This week, readers and listeners are feeling pretty confident about things with questions about Pro Bowl nominations, what it would take to beat New England in the postseason and the time it's going to take to see Cincinnati's backup quarterback in potential upcoming blowouts. Submit your questions to us at Cincy Jungle every week to be featured in this weekly post!
Hi Keith--great question. The Pro Bowl is always a tricky thing, given its reputation for being more of a popularity contest and needing players who are willing and available when it's played. Cincinnati is a smaller market, whose team tends to stumble on the national stage, marring some big-time contributors' resumes.
At 9-2, plenty of nominations could go around in all three phases of the team. Many agree that the 2015 Bengals are the best squad from player 1-53, but we all know Pro Bowl squads need to be evenly distributed. One way the NFL has recently made it a bit less of a ridiculous nomination process is a middle school P.E. class-like process where former NFL greats act as team captains. Even though the effort level has ramped up over the past one or two games, it still doesn't have the luster of a regular or postseason game.
All of that being said, here are some of my top players and their stats showing their deserving nature of Pro Bowl nominations:
QB Andy Dalton: In by far his best season as a pro, Dalton has 25 total touchdowns (23 passing, two rushing), against just eight turnovers (six interceptions, two fumbles), and has racked up a 105.3 rating through 11 games. He's at least in the top-ten in every major statistical category for a quarterback who has taken significant stats and has basically been the second or third best quarterback in the AFC this season. If he's made it as an alternate in far less lackluster years, he should in 2015, right?
WR A.J. Green: Some of the reasoning in Green getting to the Pro Bowl has to do with his reputation, but Green again is on pace for about 1,325 receiving yards, nine touchdowns and 105 catches, roughly speaking. DeAndre Hopkins, Brandon Marshall, DeMaryius Thomas and even Jacksonville's Allen Robinson rank ahead of Green in certain categories, but he's been a big key to their offensive success, even with the return of a couple of offensive weapons.
TE Tyler Eifert: I mean, the guy leads the league in touchdown receptions in his first full-year as a starter with 12 through 11 games. He doesn't have the chunk yardage that Rob Gronkowski has, but this should largely be a no-brainer here. Eifert is averaging a touchdown grab every 3.5 catches he makes.
CB/KR Adam Jones: Hurting Jones' Pro Bowl chances and ironically helping it is his versatility. He's a very good corner, but not a shut down one, and though he's a dominant return man, he doesn't take the vast majority of returns on special teams because of his value on defense. Brandon Tate has stepped up the past two weeks on returns, but Jones is a catalyst. He has two interceptions and an 11.7 average on punt returns, and while he may not jump off the stat sheet to some, he is invaluable to what the Bengals are doing in 2015 and that might be his best shot at making the NFL's All-Star game.
P Kevin Huber: Truly well-rounded rosters recognize the value of a punter and know how to utilize him as a weapon. Huber is No. 28 in number of punts on the year, with just 45, but consistently ranks much higher than he should in net yards and punts inside the opposition's 20-yard line for how few of punts he's had. He'll likely get overlooked, but he's been a good player this year.
DE Carlos Dunlap: The veteran defensive end has had a good season with 8.5 sacks with a couple of others negated by penalties. What makes him a particularly effective player is his versatility, given his ability to stop the run and bat down passes. He has benefited from the full return of Geno Atkins and the team's springing for Michael Johnson in free agency, and we fully expect his 8.5 sacks through 11 games to get well within the double-digit mark by season's end.
DT Geno Atkins: At the risk of sounding both repetitive and cheesy, "He's baaaaaack!" Atkins has eight sacks on the season, good for No.5 in the league, making him the only defensive end in the top-five in the NFL. Beyond that, he's applied multiple more pressure and continues to stop the run on a consistent basis. There were worries he wouldn't return to the 2011-2013 form after the knee injury, but he's returned with a fire and tenacity we've seen make him a Pro Bowler before.
S Reggie Nelson: The veteran safety fell out of favor with Jacksonville and the Bengals stopped him up for an incredible deal before the 2010 season. Nelson has a league-leading six interceptions, a career-high, and has 21 since joining the Bengals in five-plus seasons. He's picked up the slack with the lack on forced turnovers from the rest of the defense and is truly an all-around enforcer at the back-end of the defense. Three of his six interceptions have come against quality quarterbacks in Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer.
Arguments could also be made for guys like Mike Nugent, Giovani Bernard and others, but we have to be realistic here. Depending on how the rest of the year plays out, we're expecting about 3-4 players on this list to make it.
@CincyJungle when should we expect to see McCarron this Sunday?— Brendan (9-2) (#17) (@FantasyRam) December 2, 2015
We probably won't be seeing McCarron again any time soon, unless the Bengals grab a big lead like they did last Sunday against the Rams. Perhaps Dalton's best attribute is his durability, providing continuity to a team that has seen so many others around the NFL utilize a quarterback carousel.
If the Bengals do get out to a big lead, we assume Marvin Lewis will bring in McCarron to throw a few high-percentage passes and mostly hand the ball off to the talented running back crew. It's a nice feeling to have to ask this question as a Bengals fan, especially against a heated rival, but let's see how things play out on a week-to-week basis.
Even if Brendan may have been a bit tongue-in-cheek with this question, he brings up an interesting topic. Last season, health was a major issue for Cincinnati, even though they scraped together 10 and a half wins in 2014. With the Bengals fighting for another AFC crown and high playoff seeding, the minute they sense they're in control of the game, the higher the probability (and hope) they will rest some of these valuable players. Keeping guys like Dalton, Eifert, Marvin Jones, Atkins, Vontaze Burfict and others healthy as the important stretch comes will be critical.
There's a fine line to walk between resting guys too early in a game that isn't quite under control and keeping guys out there who shouldn't be playing is hard to determine, but if Lewis truly is a good coach, he'll find it. This will be critical with January around the corner.
On this week's Inside the Jungle podcast, reader and listener, Ryan West, asked me a question about the New England Patriots. He, like many other Bengals fans, are confident about the Bengals' outlook in 2015, pointing to a possible AFC Championship matchup against Bill Belichick's bullies. Given both teams' regular seasons, it's not a far-fetched idea.
If you missed the podcast, my answer pointed to both the Broncos' Sunday night win against the Patriots, as well as Cincinnati's 2013 win against Tom Brady and Co. The Patriots are going to make plays in a variety of ways--opportunistic defense, Brady hitting whoever his receiving options are and Belichick coming up with a frustrating game plan. But, as elementary as it sounds, pressuring Brady is the key.
Belichick and Brady utilize a versatile game plan that mostly includes quick-hit passes, and opportune pass protection on longer routes. When he isn't getting the ball out quickly to gain positive yardage, Brady dissects a defense to hit the occasional big play to pull away from an opponent.
However invulnerable the Patriots seem to be though, the times they have struggled are against teams who bring pressure. The Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, New York Giants and Denver Broncos all sacked and/or hit Brady often leading to games too close for comfort. The former three teams all provided one-possession games against New England, while the former put the first notch in the 2015 loss column.
All four teams also have talent in the secondary, as the Bengals have as well, making pressure more effective by clamping down on his receiving options. It doesn't show on the stat sheet with Brady having 11 touchdowns against two interceptions, but he was also sacked 12 times in those five games against those opponents.
Should the Bengals get (un)fortunate enough to face New England in the playoffs, pressure will be key, as will the Cincinnati offense's ability to come back from deficit they showed against Seattle, Baltimore, and Arizona. The big key with the pressure on Brady is a bit more specific, though. If the Bengals, or anyone else for that matter, is able to get pressure with just the defensive front without blitzing, that will allow the back seven to cover up Brady's weapons who are good at moving the sticks and gaining yards after the catch.