Question 1: Do the Bengals have any shot at the playoffs, or is this team irrelevant until Joe Burrow returns?
Going into last week, I think the answer to this would have been “yes”. Even though the Bengals’ defense wasn’t performing up to the 2021-22 levels, they’ve proven to be opportunistic and have largely kept them in games.
And, while Burrow is one of the best in the game, you had to figure the Bengals could muster at least some offensive output with their myriad of weapons—even with a backup quarterback. Throw in that the best teams in the AFC (a Burrow-occupied Cincinnati team included) have shown more obvious vulnerabilities than in the past and a sneaky-looking route seemed available.
Then, after allowing Jake Browning to have a week and a half to digest things as the starter after playing against Baltimore, any semblance of a lethal attack vanished. Now, Pittsburgh’s defense is notoriously tough, but the Bengals had ample opportunities to make a run at winning that game. The defense held the Steelers to just 16 points, which is key to a home victory, while Browning also threw the dreaded pick in the red zone.
All in all, the Bengals were in it towards the end, but consistency, big plays and a running game all lacked last week. It is going to take a major turn of events for the Bengals to get into the postseason this year.
Q2: What have you seen from Burrow’s replacement, Jake Browning?
The coaching staff (as obvious as it seems) talked up Browning all of last week. They didn’t water down the playbook (so they say), as they like Browning’s accuracy and ability to move in and out of the pocket. And, to be fair, Browning outplayed veteran Trevor Siemian (who was the favorite for the backup job) this summer and outright won the competition.
One other thing they like about Browning is his demeanor. He’s pretty even-keeled and doesn’t appear to get rattled easily, which was evident in his being thrown into the Thursday night game against Baltimore and following it up with his first pro start against Pittsburgh in a pivotal game.
There have been those Burrow-esque sparkles, wherein Browning fits a tight window throw into a receiver and/or makes a play off-script, but they are just so much fewer and farther between from what Burrow gives them, it’s a tough pill to swallow. And while he threw just the one pick last week and seemingly kept the Bengals in the game, there were about 3-4 other potentially-disastrous throws (most were tipped) that ended up luckily falling into waiting Bengals receivers’ arms.
He will get better as the games and experience pile up, but the bumps will be prevalent.
Q3: Lou Anarumo is known as one of the best coordinators in the league, yet his Bengals defense ranks dead last in yards per play allowed (6.2) and explosive plays allowed per game (7.7). What gives?
This is a great question that has both solidified and unknown answers. For starters (pun not intended), Cincinnati unexpectedly lost both of their top safeties this past spring in Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell. The former is playing at an All-Pro level with the Falcons this year after five solid seasons with Cincinnati, while they thought they could keep the latter, but didn’t. They lost a crushing blend of leadership, talent, versatility, football IQ and tackling ability with those two.
Those five above-mentioned traits have been the descriptors for Anarumo’s defense he ast two years and a few of them have been lacking in 2023. What has been prevalent though are forced turnovers, more “wow” plays and other elements pointing to the bright futures of a few players on that side of the ball.
Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard create one of the better edge duos in the game, while Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson are quiet stars at linebacker. But, it’s Cam Taylor-Britt and DJ Turner who appear to be the next solid Cincinnati cornerback duo, drafted in the second round of the last wow drafts.
Still, it’s inexperience blending with the absence of some of those all-important traits that is killing the Bengals’ usually-stout defense right now.
Q4: How would you power rank the AFC North for the next three years?
As long as both Burrow and Lamar Jackson are healthy, it’s going to be the Bengals and Ravens until I see otherwise. Cincinnati was 2-1 (including a Wild Card win) against the Ravens last year, and 4-1 the past two seasons. However, Jackson, who has missed a few of those games, has just one loss against Cincinnati in his six-year career.
I have the utmost respect for how the Steelers conduct business, because even when their roster isn’t very good (2021-current) they’re in the thick of it. They’ll always be that way, but unless Kenny Pickett turns a corner and/or they pivot from him to a more-talented guy, they’ll be waiting in the wings for Cincinnati and/or Baltimore to stumble.
Cleveland is a complete mystery to me. They have an outstanding defense and Deshaun Watson has flashed, but it’s looking like that albatross of a contract is biting them. They’ll be interesting, but they’re too chaotic at too many important franchise figurehead spots to be reliable, long-term.
Q5: The Jaguars are 9-point favorites according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Which side of the spread are you taking, and do any player/game props fancy your interest?
A bit of a non-sequitur to start here: I really wanted to see Burrow vs Lawrence.
But, I mean, this makes sense. It’s a road game and the Bengals scored just 10 points at home last week. Browning is still the guy this week so….
Still, a start under his belt, another week of practice, Tee Higgins seeming like a go…we’ll see.
I’m inclined to take the Jaguars and the spread here, but bettor beware because Zac Taylor has an immensely better primetime record than his predecessor, Marvin Lewis. And, that includes a crazy MNF win over the Steelers in Burrow’s rookie year with Ryan Finley at the helm.
Thanks again to Anthony for taking the time to answer our questions!
What are your thoughts on this week’s matchup, Jaguars fans? Let us know in the comments!