As Cincinnati Bengals fans, we sometimes wear rose colored glasses when looking toward the future of the team. We can always aim to be unbiased, but at the same time, some bias is likely to show from time to time.
1. How do you see the Bengals’ wide receiver group improving this year after being so lackluster in the red zone in 2016?
Healthy A.J. Green means a lot. Healthy John Ross means a lot. I think the odds of Cincinnati getting better are tied directly to those two. While Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell are fine, NFL-caliber players, they aren’t major difference makers. They are the players that exploit teams paying attention to players like Green and Ross.
(Also: Why throw to wide receivers in the red zone at all when Tyler Eifert is healthy? He’s a beast.)
2. Last year, the offensive playcalling seemed weak and predictable. Should we expect a big improvement from Ken Zampese in his second year as the Bengals’ offensive coordinator?
One good rule of thumb is to never expect improvement from a coach, and be pleasantly surprised if it happens. To the extent that Zampese is better, I expect it will mostly be a result of having better talent to work with.
3. How can the Bengals navigate around an offensive line that’s expected to be the biggest weakness on the team? How do John Ross and Joe Mixon fit in there?
John Ross and Joe Mixon would be pretty underwhelming on the offensive line. I think they should try them at wide receiver and running back.
No, really, offensive line is not the worst problem to have. The Bengals should probably approach things a lot like they did with Hue Jackson: keep things based on short distance passes and runs for the most part, with play-action to keep the defense honest. I would also like to see some more reps for Tyler Kroft, though I think I may be the only one.
4. How do you see Kevin Minter fitting into the Bengals’ defense? Is he the athletic linebacker they need? Will he be reliable against tight ends, which was a major weakness for Bengals’ linebackers last year?
I think Nick Vigil is the best hope Cincinnati has for defending tight ends this year. Minter has always been more of a pure run-stuffer, and he’ll be fine in that role as long as the Bengals don’t expect him to do more than that.
5. 2016 was a surprisingly bad year for the Bengals’ pass rush? Do you see that changing this year? How can a defensive line with Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins rank among the worst in the league in sacks?
Well, when you surround Dunlap and Atkins with a bunch of Career Bengals without much burst at this point, you don’t really have the ability to punish double teams. Michael Johnson doesn’t cut it at this point. I like both of the rookies Cincinnati drafted, Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis, and if I were named defensive coordinator tomorrow they’d be the ones fighting on the edge.
Many thanks to Rivers for taking the time to answer our questions. If you’re interested in more from Football Outsiders, you can purchase the 2017 Football Outsiders Almanac, along with one of their premium subscriptions here.