Typically around this time each week, we ask five questions to a writer for the blog of the Cincinnati Bengals’ weekly opponent. This week the Bengals have a bye week, so there is no "enemy" for us to sneak behind the lines of and garner a peek. Therefore, we take a retrospective look inward and ask ourselves a few questions about the state of the Bengals after five weeks.
This week we speak with Cincy Jungle’s Anthony Cosenza, who hosts the weekly Orange & Black Insider podcast.
Scott Schulze: After the 0-3 start, this team looked like one that might be in contention with the likes of the Browns for a top draft pick in 2018. Now at 2-3 are they back in the playoff hunt, or are we playing with fools gold, considering that the two victories were against Cleveland, and against Buffalo in a torrential downpour?
AC: Honestly, it's hard to say. Right now, beating a then-3-1 Bills team seems like a great notch in their belt, but Buffalo might end up being a mediocre team at the end of the season. Still, in terrible weather and in a must-win situation, Marvin Lewis' team stepped up in a big way.
The next few games on the schedule present both great litmus tests, as well as contests that are winnable. Pittsburgh doesn't quite look the same right now, while the Jaguars are all defense and Tennessee has a tumultuous situation at quarterback. If Cincinnati can at least go 3-1 over the next four games (Steelers, Colts, Jaguars, Titans), preferably with one of those against Pittsburgh, I think we're looking at this Bengals team in a totally different light than we did just a couple of weeks ago.
Scott Schulze: The Bengals seem to be shuffling pieces around on the offensive line - especially at tackle, as they try to find a combination that can provide pass protection for Andy Dalton and running lanes for the running backs. Going forward, what do you think will be the best strategy for their offensive line in 2017.
AC: For now, the shuffling of the line is working to an extent--mostly thanks to Andre Smith stepping in at both tackle spots. This has masked some of the issues from Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher that we saw when they played whole games in 2016 and the early part of this year. Cincinnati only allowed one sack this week against a strong Bills defense, so that was nice to see.
Still, they're giving up an average of three sacks a game on the season, and that just can't continue to happen. They also aren't running the ball well at all, as evidenced by their No. 28 ranking in the NFL. While they've put a slight band-aid on things, for the time being, I worry about the sustainability of the carousel approach on the line.
Scott Schulze: After four weeks, Bengals rookie edge rusher Carl Lawson leads the entire 2017 draft class with 3.5 sacks, which is pretty impressive for a fourth-round pick who isn’t starting. What odds would you give him for winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, and do you see him becoming a starter for the Bengals at some point this season?
AC: Lawson has been awesome. When the Bengals labeled him as an outside linebacker after they drafted him, I was worried they were going to do their patented "square peg/round hole" deal and have Lawson do things he is accustomed to (i.e. play in space and not rush the passer). To Lewis and Paul Guenther's credit they have allowed him to do what he does best and it's been a big catalyst. Right now, he's getting more time, especially since they found a niche for Michael Johnson inside, which is also working very well, so I don't know if he'll be a "starter" by the end of the season, but if he continues this pace, you'll see him on the field more and more.
Myles Garrett just came back this week and had a sack, so if he keeps up his momentum, he might garner more talk because of his No. 1 overall draft status. But, if Lawson sniffs that double-digit sack number, which I expect him to, based on how he's played so far, he'll definitely be a finalist for DROY.
Scott Schulze: Speaking of draft picks, let me throw a couple over/under numbers at you with offensive rookies. First, will John Ross play in more or less than 7.5 games this season? Second, will Joe Mixon finish with more or less than 800 rushing yards this season?
AC: I'll take the over on John Ross, just sneaking past 7.5 with eight games played. It's a shame both he and Tyler Eifert haven't been healthy for Bill Lazor to open things up even more for Andy Dalton. I think they come back for the Steelers after the bye though.
For Mixon, I have to go under. Through five games, he has 187 yards on 67 carries, which is good (or bad) for a 2.8yards per carry average. I expect that to improve, but not by much because of the offensive line issues. Right now, it would be a feat if he were to finish with 800 combined yards from scrimmage.
Scott Schulze: Some will look at this team and argue that they are emerging, and point out that they barely lost in Green Bay, and have won two in a row. Others will argue they just aren’t that good, having only a 2-3 record after a stretch of games which could have seen them go 4-1. With 11 games to go, what do you predict for their final record, and more importantly, do they make the playoffs?
AC: Right now, there are 4-5 games that seem to be wins on paper--Colts, Bears, Browns, Vikings and maybe the Ravens. Some will disagree with me on those, given that a couple of those squads have better current records than the Bengals, but those five teams have not impressed me so far. The stretch of three straight away games in Weeks 9-11 against the Jaguars, Titans and Broncos, respectively, is brutal from both a travel and tough game perspective.
I said at the beginning of the season that I think this is an improved team from 2016 and they should hover around 8-10 wins. I think they're getting hot, but they need to get healthier and prove they can beat some of the big boys in Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Denver. I'll go 9-7 with a chance of sneaking into the Wild Card (heck, that may even win a weak AFC North this year), so that's them finishing out 7-4 for the rest of the season.
A mediocre finish like a Lewis trademark 8-8 wouldn't surprise me though, either. The real question is if they finish like that and barely miss the playoffs, is that enough for Mike Brown to re-sign Lewis?