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Bengals Mailbag: Impressive wins, Alex Van Pelt’s impact and Jessie Bates for Rookie of the Year

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Listeners of The Orange and Black Insider and readers of Cincy Jungle have spoken up about a number of issues on their minds during “Steelers Week”.

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It’s that time of year again — “Steelers Week.” There is an ensuing debate among Bengals fans about Week 6 being a “must win”. Regardless of your current stance, it’s a huge game for the AFC North implications down the road.

We received a number of interesting questions this week—primarily through The Orange and Black Insider podcast. However, they weren’t so Steelers-driven as one may expect during this time of year.


One of our listeners called in and didn’t really have a question as much as a comment about the 2018 Bengals. He essentially said that he was very impressed with the ways this team has gone about winning their four games so far this season.

Pretty much every Bengals fan has to be in agreement on that one. A duo of frenzied comebacks, a game-winning touchdown with six seconds left and a primetime win against a quality divisional opponent have to bring smiles to Who Dey Nation.

The good news here is that is has bred confidence in the team that they can come back from any deficit in almost any situation. And, when you get a young team believing in something early on, it’s usually a bit of momentum that carries throughout a year.

However, as we’ve said a number of times and seemingly after each of these thrilling wins, one has to wonder about the sustainability of their style of winning. 27-point second half wins don’t grow on trees in the NFL, so the Bengals should be searching for any kind of semblance of consistency.

If the offense can perform at or near what they’ve done for the first five games, the defense can be middle-of-the-pack and Darrin Simmons’ unit stops allowing these ridiculous back-breaking plays on special teams, this team can go far.

“If” being the operative word...


On this week’s show, we received a text message from a fan in Hawaii asking about the impact of a certain assistant coach. However, it wasn’t about Teryl Austin, Bob Bicknell or Frank Pollack.

Andy Dalton looks like a different quarterback this season. Many facets to his game resemble the magical things he did in his final year with Hue Jackson back in 2015, but there are noticeable differences.

For instance, in Jackson’s offense, trickery, odd formations and the usage of numerous weapons were all part and parcel of his weekly game plans. Jackson and Dalton also had a pretty stellar line in front of them that season.

Bill Lazor has adopted some of these same concepts, but has also put his own stamp on things. Instead of splitting out two offensive linemen in the slots as Jackson did somewhat frequently, he’s using more roll-out passes and misdirection plays.

It’s led to Dalton being in a tie for third in the NFL with 12 touchdown passes through five games. Jared Goff, Tom Brady and Andrew Luck are his contemporaries in the category—not bad, No. 14.

The other facet going into Dalton’s early success aside from his own maturity and comfort level within Lazor’s scheme is the re-stocking of offensive weapons. There are essentially four new starters on the offensive line, John Ross appears to be growing up and the two tight ends behind the now-injured Tyler Eifert are definitely capable.

In short, with the Bengals’ defense suffering a bit of an identity crisis throughout much of the first part of the schedule, Lazor and Dalton deserve heaps of credit for the team being 4-1.

But, there’s a hidden face behind Cincinnati’s offensive success this year. Quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt arrived this offseason with a slew of other assistant coaches and they have all made a difference.

Apparently, Van Pelt was critical to many facets of Aaron Rodgers’ game in Green Bay—so much so that there have been rumblings about the Packers’ signal-caller being upset about his departure.

“I thought that was an interesting change, really without consulting me,” Rodgers said of the decision to let Van Pelt walk back in February, per ESPN and SB Nation’s Acme Packing Co. “There’s a close connection between quarterback and quarterback coach, and that was an interesting decision.”

His loss is Dalton’s gain. Where the changes seem to be most apparent this year is Dalton’s ability to rise above pressure and not get as skittish as he’s been in recent seasons. This offensive line is improved from 2017, no doubt, but they still have had their issues.

Dalton has made many more quality throws under pressure and/or on the run this year. Take this one (a wobbly one, to be sure) from Sunday—right on the money.

These extensions of plays and maneuvering in the pocket have been trademarks of Rodgers’ game for years—especially under Van Pelt’s tutelage. We’re not saying Dalton is Rodgers, as No. 12 can do things many other players can’t, but there is a semblance of similar play this year.

Another facet that has seemingly been added to Dalton’s game, and, subsequently, the rest of the Bengals team, is confidence. Dalton doesn’t seem to be as easily rattled this year—especially after a turnover. He believes he can make any throw on the field, and by and large, he’s shown it this year.

Quite seriously, if you’re asking me who’s an early front-runner for Bengals coach of the year, it’s Van Pelt. Sure, Lazor has more overall responsibility in his lap, but you have to love what we’ve seen from the most important position on the team.


Recently, the chatter on Jessie Bates III has picked up a bit. After nabbing an interception in Week 2 on national T.V. this year’s second round pick got a P.R. boost. Add in the game-sealing interception last week against the Dolphins and he’s emerging as that turnover machine coaches saw at Wake Forest.

On this week’s OBI episode, one of our callers started talking about Bates and asked if he should be in NFL Rookie of the Year consideration. After all, those two interceptions have him tied for second-highest in the league, albeit with a bunch of other players.

The short answer to the question is “yes, he should be in consideration”. However, there’s a long “but” to the tail end of that supposition.

Let’s start with the bad news. Oftentimes, these awards given out by the league hinge on popularity contests. Cincinnati hasn’t had postseason success recently, and they are a small-to-mid market team, in terms of NFL landscape.

The Watt brothers, J.J. and T.J., co-lead the league in sacks with six this season. Would you like to know who’s currently part of that three-way tie for the league-lead?

Geno Atkins. But, is he getting the fanfare and Defensive Player of the Year run that the beloved boys from Wisconsin receive?


Bates not only has to fight for national attention as a Bengals player, but also in his second round draft status. Some national writers and the powers-that-be who nominate awardees tend to “surface fish” to get their haul, so to speak.

Derwin James has been a hot name this year—and for good reason. He was regarded as a top-10 talent who slipped further than most thought, but has been a very nice get for the Chargers, racking up 31 tackles, three sacks and an interception.

For reasons mentioned above and others, James appears to be one of the front-runners for the award. Did I mention that he plays in Los Angeles?

Second, we can’t just use the above-mentioned excuses as to the only reasons why Bates isn’t getting more national run. The Bengals’ defense is ranked 25th overall and 22nd against the pass through five games this year.

That doesn’t exactly scream “elite”. Plus, we have seen a couple of perceived miscommunications involving No. 30, as he quickly grows into a professional starting safety.

As far as things going in his favor this year towards a possible ROY award? The stats and metrics point to a nomination.

Compared to James, Bates has one more tackle (32) and one more interception (two) than his counterpart at this point. Damontae Kazee is the only rookie who has as many picks as he does, while Denzel Ward (another viable candidate for this award) is the only 2018 draftee who has more with three so far.

As far as Pro Football Focus goes, I personally like their metrics, but don’t use them as absolute NFL Scripture. Even so, they have an impressive rating on Bates so far this year:

At 83.9 through five games, Bates is their No. 5 safety in the NFL and resides in their second of nine tiered ranking categories. He’s “high quality” by their standards and that is making folks quickly forget about his predecessor, George Iloka.

If he stays healthy and remains productive, he’ll be in the mix for DPOY. I don’t necessarily expect him to win it, but he should most definitely be on the All-Rookie Team, at the very least.

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