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Bengals Talk: Geoff Hobson, senior writer

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) passes in the second half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)

JACKSONVILLE – senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2019 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.

Up this week: senior writer Geoff Hobson on the Bengals as they prepare to play the Jaguars Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Question: The Bengals are 0-6 in Head Coach Zac Taylor's first season with the team. How close has this team been to breaking through and winning?

Answer: In 16 times in the red zone, they have scored five touchdowns. They've been in close enough games where one or two scores there would have won it for them. That's been frustrating for them. They got beat by Seattle by one up there [in Week 1]; they should have won that game because they had a couple of tries in the red zone. They had a fourth-quarter lead in Buffalo [in Week 3] until about three minutes left. They tied Arizona [in Week 5] with two minutes left. It's weird because usually in a six-game stretch in this league, you fall into one or two wins like that. It's amazing they haven't done that yet, because they have been close enough to win some of these games. You can make the argument they could be 3-3. The problem is they can't stop anyone. They couldn't stop Buffalo to score a winning touchdown and they couldn't stop Arizona from kicking a field goal.

Q: This is a complete rebuild on a scale the Bengals haven't done on a long, long time. What was the thinking after parting ways with longtime Head Coach Marvin Lewis – and how has the process gone?

A: They made [former Los Angeles Rams quarterbacks coach] Zac Taylor their guy, they embraced him and they said, 'Whatever you need.' They ended up scrapping both their offensive and defensive schemes. They had used Mike Zimmer/Paul Guenther defenses for basically 10 years. We never could get a straight answer last year if the defense was the same as in the past or different – but it was really bad. They moved away from that style of defense – and offensively, they're basically the Rams. Before, they were a hybrid of West Coast, Coryell … they had so many different coordinators since [former coordinator Jay] Gruden came in 2011 and the thing kept evolving. But that's not the offense they have now. They hadn't had winning season since 2015 and I think they felt schematically like they were a step or two behind.

_Q:Is this a case where Taylor has to get his offense in, then get his pieces around it over the next couple of years? _

A:They have a lot of decisions to make. They have to make a decision on [quarterback] Andy [Dalton]. [Wide receiver A.J.] Green's in a contract year. They have the defending AFC rushing champion (running back Joe Mixon), and he can't get a stitch on the ground. You have to step back and look at it: The offensive line is the heart of your offense, and they don't have the offense they envisioned at the beginning of the year. They drafted left tackle Jonah Williams [in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and he hasn't played [because of a torn labrum]. They were going to move [tackle] Cody Glenn to guard, and he hasn't practiced since August. Now, you're down to your third left tackle —Andre Smith, who they got off the street just before training camp. He got hurt, so they're down to their fourth left tackle (John Jerry). They haven't really found a left guard. Eight plays into last week's game the right guard got hurt. It's not the offensive line they envisioned – and if you want to point to a lot of struggles on offense, you look at the line and you look at the fact you don't have two of your three starting receivers. I don't know what team survives that, frankly.

Q: And the defensive struggles …

A: It's a mystery. They started 10 guys Sunday [against the Baltimore Ravens] who were drafted in the fourth round or earlier. They gave up over 200 yards rushing. Of the nine biggest rushing games allowed in the last 20 years, five of them have been in the last 14 games. It's just a mystery – and when it rains it pours. [Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick] has a knee injury, and [nickel corner] Darqueze Denard has been on PUP (physically unable to perform with a knee injury); he's eligible to come back and they'll probably have to put him right in there. He'll be a slot corner. They've struggled at linebacker. If you can't stop the run, you can't rush the passer – and rushing the passer they felt like was a strength. But when you're second-and-two and third-and-three, you can't rush the passer.

Q: What's this team's formula for winning right now?

Q: They've got to get Mixon the ball; without A.J., he's their best player. They have to find a way to get their best players on the field. They're struggling with trying to get guys into the concept of the offense. If they're going to get back up and running and win a game, No. 28 (Mixon) is going to have to carry the bill. They have to get the ball in the hands of guys like [running back] Giovani Bernard and [tight end] Tyler Eifert. They haven't been able to do it. They also have to find a way to stop the run. It has been a three-year thing that has been trending and it culminated last week [when allowing 269 yards rushing in a loss to Baltimore].

Q: What do they have to get done in the last 10 games of this season? What's success look like for this team in the last two and a half months?

A:The next 10 games are about finding out what they have to do in the offseason. What's the next step in this process? What do they have to get done? Which players are going to step up? I don't think they're a "seller." They're not that kind of team. I don't see them doing that; that's not the way they operate. They save their work for the offseason, but the next 10 games dictate what you do and what you have to do. They've got to find an offensive identity; I hate to use a cliché, but they have to find out what they are.

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