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Bengals mailbag: Boling’s flexibility, sharp edges and Canton for Ken Anderson

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We received a number of different questions this week, as fans are beginning to wonder just who the Bengals team is so far.

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The most important preseason game of the summer is on the horizon, and many questions have yet to be answered by this enigmatic 2018 Cincinnati Bengals team. The hope is that they will show marked improvement this week against the Bills, but we’ll see if they can produce tangible results.

Fans are wondering what the ingredients of “the secret sauce” are this year, as this team shows both great promise and scary weaknesses at the moment. We’ve been receiving a number of questions lately, both via Twitter (@BengalsOBI, @CJAnthonyCUI, @CincyJungle) and on our Orange and Black Insider podcast about various topics.

Here are some of the more intriguing ones this week:

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For now, I’m just going to address the Clint Boling part of Carlos’ question.

As we all know by now, the offensive line for the 2018 Cincinnati Bengals is undergoing massive change. It’s easily the biggest question mark of the season, even though the team will have at least three new starters up front.

Youth, acclimation to the scheme under new coach Frank Pollack, and questions on overall talent in the group linger. In the preseason opener, we saw flashes of what could be a decent line, only to see some issues pop up against the Cowboys a week later.

Yes, Boling did fill in at left tackle last year when the line was a mess. Injuries and ineffectiveness were two trademarks of the group, and Boling played admirably in those final couple of contests on the left side.

And, part of what drew the Bengals to him back in the 2011 draft, aside from his collegiate lineage, was his ability to shift around the line. At Georgia, he played every position up front for the Bulldogs except for center, and that has paid dividends for him in the NFL.

But, there are two things stopping me from wanting him to be pushed over to right tackle.

The first is that he’s never done it in the NFL before. That’s not to say with certainty that he can’t do it, but how much better will he be at a somewhat-foreign position than Bobby Hart, Jake Fisher and/or Cedric Ogbuehi?

And, this ties into my second concern. Andy Dalton is already facing two major changes (and probable upgrades) at the two most important positions on the line: center and left tackle. With a carousel happening on the right side and everyone trying to gel, why would you want to move the only guy in his normal position—one he’s played nearly his entire career at with Dalton—just to shake things up even more?

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Aside from talent and both rapid mental and physical growth spurts, continuity in the group is key this year. And, like it or not, Boling at left guard is the person Dalton is most comfortable with at this point.

I’d say that if right tackle is just a total mess and there’s no one available on the free agent market after final cuts, etc., then maybe it’s time to put Boling over there and perhaps Christian Westerman at left guard—especially if the team is winning games and/or in the hunt.

Leave Boling there for now and let Pollack try and work his magic with a bunch of reclamation projects on the right side.

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To address the first question, the duo of Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson on the edge of the Bengals’ defense has been together for seven years. Dunlap was drafted in the second round of 2010, while Johnson was in the third round of 2009.

Johnson left for Tampa Bay in free agency after 2013, only to return a year later. And though they haven’t always totally blown up the sack stat columns, they’ve brought a lot to the table.

Yes, both players have had double-digit sack seasons with Cincinnati, but they also contribute heavily against the run. Johnson has been particularly valuable in this regard, while both he and Dunlap also excel at batting down passes at the line because of their immense size.

Most of the time, when one speaks about defensive end performance, the stat column that is largely-scrutinized is in quarterback sacks. In this regard, the duo of Johnson and Dunlap should be viewed as a solid coupling, but not a truly dominant one.

In their seven years together, Dunlap and Johnson have combined for 98.5 sacks (58.5 for Dunlap, 40 for Johnson from 2010-2013 and 2015-2017). If you’re discounting the fact that quarterback sacks weren’t an official NFL statistical category until 1983, Dunlap has both the most career sacks (64.5) and single-season high (13.5) in team history. Johnson currently has the sixth most sacks in Bengals history.

In terms of their best season, that’s debatable. The great season of 2015 immediately comes to mind, as that’s when Dunlap had those 13.5 sacks, coupled with five from Johnson. In 2012, Johnson grabbed 11.5 sacks en route to a big payday in the form of the franchise tag, while Dunlap added six of his own.

In 2016, a season not known for its greatness, the two only combined for 11.5 sacks (eight by Dunlap, 3.5 by Johnson), but they had an insane 18 passes defended between them (15 by Dunlap, three by Johnson).

Similarly, in 2013, the two had just 11 total sacks (3.5 by Johnson, 7.5 by Dunlap), but 16 passes defended (10 by Johnson, six by Dunlap). Last year, the two combined for 12.5 sacks (7.5 by Dunlap, five by Johnson) and eight passes defended (seven by Dunlap, one by Johnson).

I guess you can narrow things down to 2012, 2013, 2015 and even 2016 as their best years together. Couple the stats of Johnson and Dunlap in those seasons with the defense’s overall finish and you might get a formula to find their best season(s).

In 2012, they were 6th in overall defense, while going No. 3 overall in 2013, No. 11 in 2015 and then No. 17 two seasons ago.

By the metrics of the above-mentioned combined stats and the defensive unit’s performance, I’d say the order of best seasons by the two, in order, are: 2013, 2012, 2015 and then 2016.

And, just a side note, I know many people have soured on Johnson in recent years and question his worth in 2018, but can we at least agree he’s been a solid player for the team in his past eight seasons in Cincy?

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On this week’s episode of the Orange and Black Insider, we also received a number of interesting questions. Of course, Marvin Lewis’ status with a potential 2018 struggle was one of the topics, while another revolved around the topic of the team needing to look at tackle in the early rounds of the 2019 draft.

But, perhaps the most intriguing discussion came with the debate of Ken Anderson versus Ken Riley being more deserving of NFL Hall of Fame status. John Sheeran, Scott Schulze and I all had our respective thoughts on these two Cincinnati legends, as both have great cases to make for Canton.

You can get the more in-depth versions of our takes in the above-embedded video, or in the audio file below.

However, the one point that I did want to reiterate from the show is that these debates bring about the lingering need for the Bengals franchise to properly honor their past greats.

Yes, their 50th anniversary celebrations last season and the honoring of the 30th anniversary Super Bowl squad this year are great P.R. moves, but a true Ring of Honor for the franchise has to be on the docket for development.

If guys like Anderson, Riley and even current players like A.J. Green and Geno Atkins continue to get snubbed for the Hall of Fame, their team should make it a point to honor them properly in their own way.

If you’re unable to join us live here at Cincy Jungle or YouTube every episode, all Orange and Black Insider content is available here on CJ, as well as on our SoundCloud, Stitcher, through the Google Play app and YouTube channels, as well as on iTunes! You can tweet us @BengalsOBI or get in touch with us via email at theobinsider@gmail.com. Thanks for listening and go subscribe to our channels!