The Cincinnati Bengals are riding high on a two-game road winning streak and the sour taste that lingered just a couple of weeks ago has dissipated. Unfortunately, some of the issues that have popped up from time to time in 2014 and other questions are still on the minds of fans. We address some of these in this week's mailbag. You can submit questions to be featured in this weekly post on Twitter to @CJAnthonyCUI or @CincyJungle.
When you look at the tape and the situations, blame could be shared on the poor plays that have occurred this year. There are so many instances where Jackson does a great job protecting his quarterback and attempts to limit the mistakes as much as possible--the quick passing scheme against Houston is a prime example. Jackson, unlike Jay Gruden in past games against Houston during the playoffs, knew that J.J. Watt would be a terror if they continually used deep drops. Hence why you saw very few deep shots and why almost every one of A.J. Green's catches were in the 10-15 yard range.
There are other instances where Jackson was very Gruden-like and didn't have a plan in place to properly suit Dalton's strengths. In the early stages of the Thursday Night game versus the Cleveland Browns, longer developing routes and deep balls were called when it was obvious that the conditions were having their effect on Dalton (i.e. the fluttered pass to an open Mohamed Sanu in the end zone that ended up being incomplete). Furthermore, Jackson refused to believe that Dalton couldn't get out of that funk without help and abandoned the running game midway through the second quarter after Jeremy Hill fumbled, down only 14-3. Hill was the only thing working to that point that evening.
Dalton isn't without his share of blame either, though. In that Browns game, Dalton missed wide open receiving targets to the tune of a 2.0 quarterback rating, the worst in the Bengals' history. He also suffered some of the same issues a couple weeks prior against the Colts, though poor blocking and drops didn't help either.
There is a good and bad with the quick passing scheme that Jackson is employing with Dalton, favoring the positive. A three or five step drop, as opposed to seven, allows Dalton to have a clean pocket with a quick release in a high-percentage route. These quick passes make Dalton confident with his decisions and get him in his needed rhythm.
Conversely, the routes can become predictable for defensive backs and linebackers to jump, as Karlos Dansby said about that Thursday Night debacle. Big plays are limited, as evidenced by the downturn in passing yards and touchdowns by Dalton this year, and if the primary target isn't open, the play usually breaks down causing Dalton to scramble as opposed to going through progressions. A combination of keeping the status quo with some other wrinkles will be needed against the good teams down the stretch and potentially into the playoffs.
Why, thank you. I'm going to focus on the first question for the sake of the length of this post. Those who listen to me on the Inside The Jungle podcast and read my work know that I can be critical of Jermaine Gresham. It stems from high expectations from being a high draft pick and the build/athleticism of the guy. He's also the type of player who makes you say "wow" because of plays that fall on both ends of the positive/negative spectrum.
Through 11 games, Gresham only has two touchdowns and 322 yards receiving and that's with Tyler Eifert out injured and not cutting into his stats. Still, Gresham could sniff his career-high in catches (64 in 2012) and that would say a lot going forward.
Here's one thing that really plays into Gresham's favor when talking about re-signing him: his improvement as a blocker. There were many instances in the Houston game where Gresham chipped Watt, as well as sealed the edge on some of the better runs of the day. Over the past couple of seasons, Gresham has improved this aspect of the game and it will be relied on heavily for additional help for Marshall Newhouse now that Andre Smith is out for the season.
There is one other facet that fans need to realize: the Bengals have only one true tight end under contract in 2015 and it's Eifert, who has missed 10.5 games with an injury this year. Alex Smith likely won't be back (also injured, approaching 33-years-old and on a one-year deal), nor will Kevin Brock, who is a special teamer on a rookie minimum-type deal, up after 2014. Signing a guy familiar with the team and the system would free up the draft and free agency to boost other areas of their roster. The Bengals need able bodies and Gresham is a guy who can catch and block.
What will be interesting is to see if Gresham will even want to be back in Cincinnati, if offered a fair deal. He has taken to Twitter over the past couple of months calling himself a "villain" and painting a picture that he isn't enamored with the treatment he has received from fans. Then again, for a lot of people, money speaks louder than some of that stuff, so maybe Gresham will take a solid contract for himself to continue to be the villain of The Queen City.
Lastly, my Cincy Jungle colleague, Scott Bantel (@ScottBantel), asked me about a recap breakdown of Andy Dalton's deal that he received this off-season, as the team moves forward. We went through it shortly after it was inked, which might be helpful. There is also a helpful tidbit from Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio to break it down:
Dalton receives a signing bonus of $12 million and a roster bonus in three days of $5 million. That’s a total of $17 million out of the gates. Coupled with his $986,000 base salary (which isn’t guaranteed as a legal matter but it is as a practical matter), Dalton will make $18 million in the first year of the deal.
Then, on the third day of the 2015 league year in March, Dalton earns a $4 million roster bonus. He also has a $3 million non-guaranteed base salary in 2015. That’s $25 million over two years.
The rest of the base deal is simple. In addition to annual workout bonuses of $200,000, Dalton has base salaries of $10.5 million in 2016, $13.1 million in 2017, $13.7 million in 2018, $16 million in 2019, and $17.5 million in 2020.
If in any year he participates in 80-percent of the regular-season snaps and the Bengals get to the divisional round of the playoffs (via wild-card win or bye), he gets another $1 million in each additional year of the deal.
If he qualifies at any point for the conference title game (with 80-percent playing time in the regular season), another $500,000 flows into the base value of the deal, for each additional year.
If he wins a Super Bowl he won’t be driving off in a Hyundai; Dalton will get another $1.5 million per year for each remaining year of the deal.
So if the Bengals win the next Super Bowl this year and if Dalton participates in 80 percent of the regular-season snaps in 2014, he’ll get another $18 million over the life of the deal, pushing the new-money average from $16 million per year to $19 million. Getting to the divisional round this year pushes the new-money average to $17 million.
Additionally, spotrac has a pretty easy breakdown to look at as well. The deal is quite manageable for the Bengals in 2014 and 2015, who most consider to be the "prove it years" on the contract. There is just under a $9.1 million cap hit this year and a $9.4 million next, though that cap hit jumps to $13.1 million in 2016 and all the way through and up to $17.7 million in 2020. You'll also notice that the casual fan calls this deal a $115 million deal, when in actuality it is a $96 million deal that can jump to $115 million if every incentive is hit and he lives out the entire deal.
Obviously, if Dalton does hit all of the $115 million in the deal, fans will be happy, as that means he has had immense postseason success. Though signing Dalton long-term was a polarizing topic amongst the media and fans, kudos should be given to the Bengals organization for getting creative with this contract and the incentives within it.