2020 is the third-straight year that the Cincinnati Bengals have had their bye week in Week 9 of the regular season. If they had a Week 9 bye in 2017, this would’ve been their fifth-straight bye week right in the middle of the season.
Having a week off at the exact midseason point is not only ideal for rest purposes, it’s also great for the evaluation process. Last year, the Bengals used their Week 9 bye to prepare backup quarterback Ryan Finley to play the remainder of the season after Andy Dalton disappointed during the first half of the year. That plan was cut short after three weeks, but the intent was clear and had reasonability behind it.
The Bengals have 2.5 more wins to their name now compared to where they were last year at this time. They may not be competing for the AFC North crown, but they surely aren’t throwing in the towel. It’s in their best interest to field the most competitive team possible, and in order to do that, important decisions need to be all over the depth chart.
As Zac Taylor’s resurgent squad begins its preparations to face the 7-0 Steelers and seven more games after that, here are four positions that could benefit from a change at starter.
Current starter: Michael Jordan
The consensus from inside the organization was that Jordan would make the a big leap in his second season. There have been some bright moments, and Pro Football Focus has not blamed a sack on him thus far, but he’s been far from impressive in pass protection. Jordan has allowed the fourth-most pressures and has the eighth-worst pass blocking out of 57 qualifying guards.
Right before last Sunday’s victory over the Tennessee Titans, Jordan was sent home with an illness and missed his first game since Week 7 of last season. This opened the door for Shaq Calhoun to get the start at left guard and then for Quinton Spain to finish the game due to how well he played after subbing in for Calhoun.
Spain has spent his entire six-year career playing left guard and his resume is one that can easily bump Jordan out of his incumbency. Even though it’s far from a certainty, the timing of Spain’s arrival may have been perfect for him and terrible for Jordan.
Current starter: Alex Redmond
The good news for Jordan is that another spot may be opening up to the right of him. Redmond is only starting at right guard because Xavier Su’a-Filo has been out since Week 1 and neither Fred Johnson or Billy Price could secure the job in the two weeks after Su’a-Filo landed on Injured Reserve.
In fairness to Redmond, he’s played as well as you can expect from him. He’s been a solid run blocker, but his penalties and subpar technique in pass protection continue to make him just a temporary fix at the position.
As soon as Su’a-Filo is ready to play again, the safe bet is on him to return to his Week 1 starting spot. Things could get interesting if either Jordan or Spain are riding the bench at that point as one of them could supplant Su’a-Filo if he doesn’t prove to be effective soon after he returns.
Current starter: Germaine Pratt
This is a bit tricky. The end goal here should be to get Logan Wilson on the field more. A simple solution would be to replace Pratt with the rookie, but from a long-term perspective, it might be better for Wilson to cut into Josh Bynes’ snaps. Neither Pratt or Bynes are playing at a level that makes them immune from playing less.
Wilson has impressed more than fellow first-year linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither and deserves a shot at getting an increase in playing time. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s plan of using Wilson and Davis-Gaither together on passing downs has been fine, but giving Wilson more snaps on base downs could benefit the defense. Whether he plays for Bynes or Pratt, it might not matter, but Pratt has been the worse of the two. The second-year player owns PFF’s fifth-worst run defense grade out of 54 qualifying linebackers.
Current starter: Darius Phillips
The biggest benefactor of Trae Waynes’ training camp injury was Phillips, who has played the second-most snaps at cornerback this season. Phillips has a case for being the biggest disappointment out of the players that have played in every game this season. Outside of a productive day blitzing against the Baltimore Ravens and an interception against the Cleveland Browns, it’s been a mostly down year for the third-year cornerback. A nagging knee injury isn’t making things any better for him, either.
Over the last few weeks, Anarumo has essentially rotated Phillips and LeShaun Sims at the left cornerback spot to get the most out of both players. As Matt Minich said in our roundtable podcast this week, if they can’t get a solid full game out of either of them, limiting both of their reps could theoretically get the most out of both of them.
Waynes isn’t expected to be back until around Thanksgiving, so the defense has a few weeks to decide if they want to ride with a rotation of Phillips and LeShaun Sims, or exhaust the rest of their options. That includes Tony Brown, who has been a special teams player up to this point, and Winston Rose, who has been on the practice squad for every week aside from Week 7 when he was active but never stepped onto the field.
Riding out Phillips may be the best of a bunch of unflattering options.