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Bengals mailbag: Knocking out stereotypes and getting it from Ross

What should we expect from third-year receiver, John Ross? Does it seem like the team is responding to the new coach and is happy they won’t be on this year’s version of “Hard Knocks”? And, why are the Bengals always overlooked by the national media?

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A major part of The Orange and Black Insider Bengals podcast here on Cincy Jungle is a listener question segment. It’s received so much traction lately that we have now opted to have a standalone episode for the listeners!

We kicked off our inaugural episode late last week and the engagement was awesome! There were other questions we couldn’t get to on the air, though, so we’re grabbing those in this mailbag post.

During the live Q & A portion, we answered questions ranging from doubts on Lou Anarumo as a first-time defensive coordinator in the NFL, as well as our favorite rookies, and even a discussion on Andy Dalton being the catalyst for some fans potentially jumping on the Browns bandwagon.

Have a listen at the audio below, or check out the video above!


We received this in the live Q & A comment section from reader/listener “let14inhofnow”:

What are your personal expectations for John Ross? Have you seen anything that tells you it’s a breakout year?

There hasn’t been a ton of news regarding Ross dominating practices, but the biggest takeaway seems to be his positive mindset. And, for many professional football players, that’s a huge deal.

The answer to this question also centers around what one’s definition of “a breakout year” is in their mind. I think most would take a bridging of Ross’ team co-lead of seven touchdowns in 2018 with more consistency in receptions, yards and even as a decoy to open things up for others.

If we want to use the 2018 Rams’ offense as the barometer, they had three receivers set to have at least 80 catches and 1,000 yards, had Cooper Kupp not go down with a knee injury in Week 8. Still, there are reasons to not immediately expect Ross to be on that pace in year one of the Zac Taylor era.

Aside from some likely growing pains in the new system, the Bengals have a plethora of weapons at Andy Dalton’s disposal. And, you can’t blame him for it, but not only No. 14 likes to hone in on A.J. Green for the bulk of his pass attempts, but he also seeks out Tyler Eifert in the red zone.

Where I expect him to improve the most, and is the area in which he needs to show the most improvement, would be in catch percentage. This is something that is both the fault of scheme and Ross’ own drops, but his receiving of only 35% of passes thrown his way the past two seasons is a back-breaker.

This should improve because of two aforementioned facets: his own comfortability with the new staff and in Taylor’s new scheme. We should expect more jet sweeps, as well as screens and routes to utilize his immense speed on easy yards-after-the-catch opportunities.

Basically, the things the team should have been doing with him from the minute they called his name with the 2017 No. 9 pick.

The other issue to note is Ross’ inability to stay fully healthy (an issue that plagued Dalton last year as well), so that could ding his 2019 numbers. But, if you’re forcing my hand right now, I’ll go with roughly 55 catches, 700 receiving yards and another year of seven combined rushing/receiving touchdowns.


This email was a good one from Thomas:

The commitment you have to daily stories and reviews is admirable. My question relates to how our veterans have grown from HBO Hard Knocks. THE affect (correct spelling?) it has with new prospects, perspectives and a new head coach and coordinators. Having Jay Gruden and mike Zimmer; Previous “fan approved” head coaches for the bengals, left for a HC position.

Could HBO focus on stories through the offseason, multiple conferences. Making hard knocks an anonymous popularity among football, 22 weeks (less than half the year). Reduce team operation strategy on screen. Revealing personal relationships, HBO crew making relationships with players, 32 teams. Players traded or released pro bowlers. Gerald McCoy and Suh, great examples. Become a great trial or triumph.

Are we embracing a change of coaching? Or a new heritage? Taylor should be here for years. At least I believe so.

Thanks for the kind words—we appreciate your readership and listenership. “Hard Knocks” is interesting because the common perception is that the players relish the spotlight of the cameras, but the coaches’ hesitate to commit to the program because of the potential leaking of team schemes and the like.

But, as Thomas notes (and in a way I haven’t thought about previously), it also gives some enigmatic assistant coaches a platform to promote themselves, so to speak. Hue Jackson was one of the more popular figures in the Bengals’ 2012 foray on the documentary and it may have helped him parlay that popularity into a Browns head coaching job.

It’s hard to say exactly the mindset of the players when it comes to doing the program. For instance, a guy like Chad Ochocinco loved being in the limelight, while the media-adverse Geno Atkins is relieved that he probably won’t have to appear on it again in his NFL career.

With Taylor touting the “It’s About Us” team motto this year, as well as his emphasizing character right away, it’s likely that the prevailing opinion within the Paul Brown Stadium walls is satisfaction in not being the main attraction of what can sometimes be HBO’s version of a circus. The quasi-introverted credo also points to the team looking forward to potentially taking the league by surprise this year, after so many outlets have doled out low expectations.

Still, doesn’t this 2019 team and its low expectations seem like some sort of blend of those 2009 and 2012 Bengals squads? The most obvious being some of the same figureheads featured on that iteration from eight years ago.

There aren’t necessarily the same characters on the roster as there were over a decade ago, but it was a team that was coming off of an injury-plagued and miserable 2008 campaign. Those 2009 Bengals were on a mission to redemption and ended up writing a pretty nice story for themselves, albeit not a fairy tale one.

At any rate, news out of OTAs has the Bengals players enamored with Taylor’s approach. And while the team may not be choosing not to be on the program, per se, they are following Taylor’s lead for the time being.


Finally, we also received this text message from another listener:

Does the fact that we are a small market team have a lot to do with why the media undervalues the team? If we had the type of money and marketability that the Steelers or Patriots have, do you think the media would view us in a different light?

Yes, and no.

Boston is obviously a major market and gets a lot of attention—rightfully so, given the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era. But, this was a team that had only two championship appearances (1963 AFL Championship and Super Bowl XX) in its first 36 years in existence. They had one other Super Bowl appearance thanks to Drew Bledsoe and Bill Parcells following the 1996 season, but the Pats were Lombardi-less until that fateful winter of 2001-2002.

They’ve become the media’s darling after constructing the NFL’s version of The Infinity Gauntlet.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, isn’t a major media market—at least not to the level of Boston, Los Angeles, or New York. But, like it or not, it’s a sports town filled with teams that know how to win.

The Penguins are a hockey dynasty, while the Pirates were baseball royalty in the Roberto Clemente-Willie Stargell days. But, the Steelers arguably rule the town with their brash style of play and their six Super Bowl victories.

It isn’t just the success that endears the Steelers to the national media. Hate them if you will, but also envy them for their management style and the way they run their football operations.

Like the Bengals, Pittsburgh is run by a longtime football family in the Rooney’s. And, while their team has been a bit of a circus lately with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, their knack for tightly-run organizational management and consistently finding generational talents to shape the franchise has to be admired.

Recently, we debated the notion if the Bengals’ lack of success was deliberate, or just a series of mistakes that were bred out of good intentions. While a little bit of bad luck is also to blame, the point is that this just isn’t a discussion that is had in The Steel City. The conversation around Three Rivers is more about how to get back to winning ways, which is their annual benchmark.

It also helps that the Rooney’s have done some solid P.R. work over the years. Dan Rooney was named a liaison to Ireland by former U.S. President, Barack Obama, while also spearheading “The Rooney Rule” to promote opportunities for minorities in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the Brown family is painted as a family cooped up in their ivory tower, occasionally being alone on voting islands during the annual owner’s meetings. They don’t address the media often, do not honor their past greats in a way that nearly all other NFL franchises do, and largely run the team in an outdated manner.

So, basically one of a few things will need to happen for the Bengals to get into the good graces of news outlets. The first and most obvious is to obtain generational talents. This doesn’t have to come with No. 1 overall picks, but they need to get their hands on players who can rise above the shortcomings of the franchise.

The dominoes to fall after that would be better operational practices and increased P.R. measures. Obviously, the hope is that they’ve solved the coaching woes with Taylor and his staff.

For now, Bengals fans will have to deal with being on the outside looking in, so to speak.

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