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The 5 O'Clock Club: Cincinnati Bengals edition

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere...

The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

THE COACH

The Redskins have a home game against Jay Gruden’s former team, the Bengals, on Sunday. One potential season-long story line for the Bengals in 2017 is that of head coach, Marvin Lewis. For years the team has been a model of consistency, playing well in the regular season, then getting ousted in the first game of the playoffs. That streak ended last year when Marvin’s team, like Jay’s team, didn’t make it into the playoff race. While Mike Brown, the owner of the Cincinnati Bengals, has always supported Marvin Lewis, the 2nd longest-tenured NFL head coach behind Bill Belichick, Lewis’s 7 playoff losses are the most in NFL history for a head coach who has never won a playoff game. It’s easy to wonder out loud if it isn’t time for a new voice in Paul Brown Stadium.

THE TEAMS

Following a 6-9-1 record and a 3rd place finish in 2016, Bengals fans — like Redskins fans — are looking for more in a tough division. For what it’s worth, EPSN’s pre-season Power Rankings have the Redskins at #20 and the Bengals at #22. The Bengals are hoping to prove that they are much better than that (and so are the Redskins, I guess).

This matchup, as you know, is the all-important 3rd pre-season game, where the starters typically get to play for an extended period of time.

A CHALLENGE FOR THE ‘SKINS DEFENSE

Redskin fans should get the opportunity to find out if the defense can tackle. The reason for that is named Joe Mixon.

Here's what the Bengals fans are saying about their new running back:

Corey Dillon.

Yeah, that's right. I went there.

That's the last time I was this excited about a rookie running back. And that wasn't until he ran for a then rookie record 246 yards against the Houston Oilers.

And I'm not the only one giddy over Mixon's potential.

Joe Mixon

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 228 pounds

College: Oklahoma

Hometown: Oakley, CA

Experience: Rookie

Cap Status

Mixon signed a four-year, $5,450,174 contract after being drafted in the second round of the 2017 draft. His cap hit this year will be $990,940, according to Spotrac.

Background

The Bengals were able to get Mixon in the second round even though he clearly had first-round talent. If you need to know why his stock fell, just tune into ESPN for about five minutes.

Mixon was a dynamic playmaker in college, averaging a robust 6.8 yards per carry and 13.8 yards per reception while scoring a combined 28 touchdowns (17 rushing, 9 receiving, 1 returning a kick, and 1 passing). But more important than the college stats (which can be deceiving), Mixon's size, patience, burst in the open field and soft hands made him a great fit in the NFL. His ability to move and cut like a smaller back despite being the size of a lot of power backs means we should see him break off a lot of big plays.

Roster Odds

Mixon is an obvious lock. The bigger question is, when will he get the bulk of the carries? It'll probably happen eventually. But a lot of fans want to see it sooner rather than later, so that another season is not lost feeding Jeremy Hill.

So, Mixon is a lock to make the roster, but will be looking to impress the coaches when he’s on the field against the Redskins, which means he’ll be running hard.

CINCY’S O--LINE

The success of the Bengals running attack will, of course, be tied to their Offensive Line play, but the last couple of seasons have been an adventure in Cincy where the OL is concerned:

With a very deep roster, the Bengals face tough questions at almost every position. There are many young guys worth a spot on the roster and only 53 can be picked.

One of those players is second-year lineman Christian Westerman, who had a solid performance in the first game of preseason against the Buccaneers on Friday night. Usually somebody like him would have his job guaranteed throughout his rookie deal, but the emergence of Trey Hopkins and the presence of first-year guard/center J.J. Dielman has made for a very crowded unit. The solution to keeping Westerman and Dielman is easy, though. Part ways with veteran Eric Winston.

Last offseason the Bengals opened up a hole on their offensive line when they let right tackle Andre Smith go. It was the right decision to make at the time. He was inconsistent and it didn’t make sense to offer him what he could have had commanded on the market after drafting two tackles with their two first picks in 2015. With Russell Bodine already manning the center position the contending Bengals couldn’t afford a blow anywhere else on the line, but neither Cedric Ogbuehi nor Jake Fisher impressed, to put it nicely.

And not only did Cincinnati not address those needs at the line, they somehow made it worse after kissing Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler goodbye, their two best linemen and top performers at their positions respectively. I’m not going to talk about the decision process, we’ve already written endless amount of words about that. The thing is, the Bengals managed to turn a strength into a glaring weakness in two offseasons.

While their tackles are still struggling, the collection of youngsters inside are performing well in August and that depth could push Smith outside again, after being brought back from the Vikings to play right guard and replace Zeitler. The presence of Smith along with the need to keep giving opportunities to Ogbuehi means the Bengals don’t need a fourth tackle and can keep all their interior guys, like the aforementioned Westerman, Hopkins, Dielman or T.J. Johnson, who also had a good showing against Tampa Bay.

FIVE BENGALS PLAYERS TO WATCH

Cincy Jungle, the Bengals SB Nation fan site, published an article on 25 August titled: 5 players to watch during Bengals’ dress rehearsal vs Redskins:

  1. John Ross

We received some exciting news when A.J. Green basically confirmed Ross will be making his debut on Sunday. Marvin Lewis won’t say as much, but it seems likely Ross will suit up on Sunday. Assuming he does, it will be our first look at Ross in game action after he was selected with the ninth overall pick in this years draft.

Ross broke the 40-yard dash record with a 4.22 second time at the Combine, but following that, he had shoulder surgery and hasn’t played in a game since. After the combine, he underwent surgery on his shoulder and has spent the offseason recovering from it, up until training camp. Ross was cleared for full contact the first week of the preseason, but obviously the team is being cautious with their most recent first round pick.

2. Tyler Kroft

Kroft is entering his third season as a backup tight end for the Bengals, but this could be the year he shows something new. During Kroft’s career he has never really been involved in the passing attack. Obviously, the Bengals have Tyler Eifert, and when he was injured C.J. Uzomah seemed to fill the receiving role at tight end.

the team will likely be cautious with Eifert in the remaining preseason contests in order to preserve him for the regular season, and Uzomah is currently recovering from an ankle sprain. That leaves Kroft to step up as a receiving role, and he has seemed to do well so far there this offseason.

3. Andrew Billings

One of the most anticipated picks from last year’s draft will have a chance to earn significant playing time, and potentially a starting role, this season. After missing all of last season, Billings has done well so far this preseason, doing what he was drafted to do, which is push opposing linemen back and take up space. He has also shown some hustle, too. It is easy to see why fans want to see as much of him as possible next to Geno Atkins.

4. William Jackson

Jackson seems to be the favorite to start opposite Dre Kirkpatrick during Week 1 while Adam Jones serves his suspension. Jackson missed all of last season after getting injured during the first week of training camp, but so far he has done a pretty good job showing why he was selected in the first round. It will be a good test for the young corner going up against a guy like Terrelle Pryor, who had a breakout season last year.

5. Chris Smith

Smith has easily been the most impressive Bengals player to watch this preseason. The team traded for him during the offseason, but they then drafted two rookie pass rushers. It looked like Smith would have to earn his way onto the 53-man roster, and so far he has done just that. During the first preseason game, he seemed to constantly be in the quarterback’s comfort zone, and last week he finally managed to hit home and get a sack. He has also been getting a ton of praise from Pro Football Focus.

THE POLL

Poll

Will Marvin Lewis still be the coach of the Bengals in 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    Yes
    (87 votes)
  • 37%
    No
    (53 votes)
140 votes total Vote Now