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Bengals Mailbag: Erickson vs Tate, importance of the run game in 2016

We answer your Bengals questions regarding the run game and bubble wide receivers. Send us your questions via Twitter or Facebook to be answered next week.

NFL: Preseason-Cincinnati Bengals at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

As September creeps closer, hundreds of players currently on NFL teams are wondering what the future of their career holds with upcoming cuts. The third preseason game is the most important for a variety of reasons, and one of them is regarding fringe roster players trying to make what could be a final impression on the coaching staff.

Lately, we’ve been answering our reader questions on both The Orange and Black Insider, as well as in our Facebook live sessions. The bittersweet aspect is that we can’t get to all the good ones we receive in airing those video casts. But, we’re still using this longtime Cincy Jungle staple to make sure we address all of the interesting topics you ask us about.

Tweet your questions to the CJ Twitter account, @CincyJungle, to The Orange and Black Insider’s account, @BengalsOBI, or leave them in the comments of our Facebook live sessions to be answered weekly!

This is one of the bigger questions of the offseason revolves around the final receiver spots. For the sake of the argument, let’s say the Bengals keep six wideouts on the roster, as they have frequently done. Three of the spots are already sewn up with A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell, so that currently leaves 10 other guys vying for just three spots. One of them could come down to Alex Erickson and Brandon Tate, as was recently mentioned by editor, Geoff Hobson.

To directly answer the question, the odds are still in Tate’s favor to make the roster, given past history. In a group that is now riddled with inexperience, Tate is a veteran presence, even though his most productive days as a receiver came in New England. Tate has stuck with the Bengals because of the coaching staff’s special teams trust in him, as well as his constant high-quality play in the preseason.

Erickson became a fan favorite after the first week of the preseason, as he scored a touchdown on both a punt return and through the air. With fans clamoring for Tate to be shown the door during the past few seasons, Erickson’s performance in Week 1 of the preseason sparked more debate, as evidenced by Mr. Robinson’s tweet.

Unfortunately, the lofty expectations Erickson set for himself in the opener were far too high to meet in the second game against the Lions. He only recorded two catches for nine yards, but did have another nice 30-yard punt return.

So, do you go with the player you know, or the one you don’t?

I’m of this opinion: we already know what we get from Tate. While the coaches call it “steadiness” in the area of special teams, there is inconsistency—both in the positive and negative. He’ll also make the rare “wow” play on offense in the regular season, but the truth is, we’ve seen about as much as the Bengals are going to get out of him over the past five years.

Boyd looks to be a promising player and with LaFell suiting up for the Bengals on Sunday night, they are playing with a little bit of house money—even with the attrition at the position in free agency. It might be time to place a risky bet in an effort for big payoffs. If you remember in 2009 when the team was on “Hard Knocks” and recovering from a four-win 2008 campaign, the team took chances on preseason all-stars, Quan Cosby and Tom Nelson and they were contributors that same year.

Erickson is shaping up to be the 2016 form of Cosby. However, before I proclaim him the usurper of Tate’s long-tenured throne, I need to see a little bit more. I’d like to see Erickson work out of the slot and be able to translate those shifty punt return moves to yards-after-the-catch-type of plays. But, for now, I’ll continue to relish in him being one of camp’s most pleasant surprises, and am currently expecting him to be on the final roster, barring bad performances in the final two games.


In our most recent Facebook live session, we were asked about the Bengals’ need for a strong run game, akin to the one that propelled the team to a playoff berth in 2014.

Look, with so much turnover on offense, both in the coaching and player ranks, a steady run game would be great for Andy Dalton to lean on this year. It’s an odd proclamation to make, given Dalton’s MVP-like season in 2015, but with so much transition, taking some of the onus off of No. 14 seems to be a wise strategy.

In today’s NFL, being a “ground and pound” team seems to be, in a word, boring. And, for the large amount of Dalton critics, it plays into their mantra of him being nothing more than a game-manager. However, the Bengals have heavily-invested in the running back and offensive line recently, so imposing their will and controlling the clock might be the soundest strategy this year.

Recently, new offensive coordinator Ken Zampese said the team was going to be a run-oriented offensive this year. With Jeremy Hill on a path to redemption this season, Zampese’s vision coincides nicely with a renaissance for a guy who has the ability to be one of the best running backs in the league.

With Boyd and LaFell attempting to gain their footing with the Bengals’ playbook, and a new offensive coordinator taking control, I think getting back to basics is s sound approach. Hill and Giovani Bernard have well-rounded skill sets that make opposing defenses cringe, so leaning on them more this year isn’t a bad idea.

So, to the question, no, leaning on the run game isn’t a bad idea. Ryan Hewitt is back and healthy and as a remedy to the backfield issues, so Zampese will need to employ him in more packages than Hue Jackson did. There’s also a conundrum at right tackle, as Andre Smith left in free agency, but both Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher are nursing injuries.

While we’re on the topic of injuries, let’s not forget the tight end position. “The twin Tylers” are both on the mend, limiting Dalton’s passing options. Jackson made Tyler Eifert into a Pro Bowler last year, so the news of him potentially missing a handful of regular season games also plays into the hands of a power running game.

Look, I’m not a pro football coach, obviously, but teams that have a sound defense can still win the Super Bowl—heck, look at the Panthers and Broncos last year. A sound running game will help the Bengals in 2016, the pieces just need to come together.

One side note before I sign off: don’t discount Bernard as a power runner. He’s widely-viewed as a scat back and passing option, for good reason, but he can also put his head down and gain tough yards. This isn’t a call to fantasy football aficionados, but Bernard can pick up those difficult yards like Hill can. So, if the Bengals are going to rely on the run in 2016, they should be relatively well-prepared, given their personnel.