JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2017 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
Geoff Hobson – Bengals.com writer since 2000 – on the Bengals as they enter Sunday's game against the Jaguars at EverBank Field in Jacksonville:
Question: The Bengals (3-4) beat the Indianapolis Colts, 24-23, in Cincinnati. That was their third victory in four games, so where are the Bengals as they enter Sunday's game in Jacksonville?
Answer: They really don't know yet. They're still trying to get a foothold, I think. They think they're really good defensively; they probably have a near-Top 5 defense. They're hoping in the second half of the year the offense kicks in and they can ride the defense and special teams. They hope they can get just enough from their offense, which is reeling a little bit.
Q: Why is the offense reeling? Is it as simple as the offensive line struggling?
A: They made a change at offensive coordinator four days into the season (firing Ken Zampese and promoting quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor). They played Sunday [in Week 1), then they played Thursday [in Week 2] then they whacked the guy (Zampese). That's kind of tough. I think he (Lazor) has done a pretty good job trying to get squared away, but they don't have [tight end Tyler] Eifert, and that hurts not having that Pro Bowl tight end. And the offensive line obviously is a factor. They've had [rookie wide receiver] John Ross for 11 snaps; he was a guy who was supposed to be a factor. You could have won a lot of money if you had said on draft day, "[rookie wide receiver] Josh Malone is going to get the first touchdown between him and Ross." They've had to mix and match their weapons without Eifert, then you throw in an offensive line that is struggling to protect [quarterback Andy] Dalton … you've got a world of problems.
Q: Can the offensive line turn it around? Can they win with this bunch?
A: They think it's salvageable. They have a first-round pick at left tackle (Cedric Ogbuehi) and a second-round pick at right tackle (Jake Fisher). You'd like to think they're better than they've played [on the offensive line]. They certainly think it's good enough to win this year; they'll find out. The next two weeks they're in an AFC South meat-grinder [with games at Jacksonville and Tennessee]. The Bengals in 2014 beat Tennessee and Jacksonville; now, those teams are threatening to go by them and what have they done? Both clubs have helped their quarterbacks by running the ball. That might be an object lesson for this club.
Q: It's always about the quarterback. How is Dalton playing?
A: I think he's playing with a lot of guts. He isn't getting a lot of help and he's getting hit. Go back last week to the touchdown he threw to put them ahead, 17-13. He's getting blown up [when he threw]. Dalton is like 98 percent of the quarterbacks in the league; you have to give them a little help. If you give him some help, he's pretty good. I think he's playing pretty well for a guy with no running game and no pass protection. What do you want him to do, you know?
Q: The Bengals' defense on paper is good. Does what you see match that?
A: The interesting thing is there are 17 guys who have played at least 35 percent of the snaps; on the defensive line, seven of them have played a third of the snaps. That includes [former Jaguars defensive end] Chris Smith, who has really helped and who has been a rotating guy. He has done a lot of damage inside. They've moved him inside at times. They have two exciting young pass rushers in Carl Watson and Jordan Willis. [Linebacker] Vontaze Burfict is about as good as he has been; he's super. They're deep on the defensive line and they have improved the pass rush, which they had to do because they struggled there last year. They have what I call the Four Corners defense: Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick are the starters, and Kirkpatrick plays most of the snaps, but Jones has been in the rotation with ['16 first-round selection] William Jackson, who has really had a breakout couple of weeks. He did a great job on Antonio Brown and T.Y. Hilton. Plus, Darqueze Dennard – their first-round pick from '14 – is playing well in the slot. They've shutdown two really good receivers in the last two weeks in Brown and Hilton.
Q: Final question: What do the Bengals need to do the rest of the way to get where they want to go? There's talent on this team. They're still in it …
A: They have to have some guys step up. Their young receivers have to step up to give [wide receiver Brandon] LaFell help to offset the coverage on Green. Whether it's Cody Core, Malone or Ross – one of those guys has to emerge to be a consistent factor. Then, they have to run the ball better than three yards a carry. They have to give [rookie running back] Joe Mixon some room. If they can get a middling running game going, they're defense is good enough that they can win some games. But they have to score some points. To me, Jacksonville is a formidable opponent; if the Bengals don't get first downs, [Jaguars Head Coach] Doug Marrone and Co. are going to pound that thing. If these guys can't get a first down, no defense is good enough to withstand that. They've got to get first downs. The offense has to take heat off the defense.