This week I had the pleasure of posing a few questions regarding Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals to Connor Howe, a writer at our sister site, Cincy Jungle. Here is what Connor had to say.
Question: On the injury front Vontaze Burfict (suspension)and Tyler Eifert (injury) look like they will miss the game on Sunday. Who will their replacements be and how will the Bengals be impacted by their absence? Are there any other significant Bengals players who might miss Sunday's game?
Answer: The Bengals were one of the healthiest teams in 2015, so to me, it's no surprise they've been insanely unlucky so far in terms of injuries -- things are just balancing themselves out. Burfict (suspension), Eifert (ankle), rookie first-round corner William Jackson III (pec), special teams ace Cedric Peerman (arm) and rookie fourth-round defensive tackle Andrew Billings (mensicus) will all miss Sunday's action. First and second-round tackles from the 2015 Draft, Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, figure to be back in the lineup after dealing with injuries, and Ogbuehi will likely start at right tackle. 2014 first-round corner Darqueze Dennard could start in the slot after missing most of training camp with an injury of his own. And finally, Tyler Kroft -- Eifert's backup -- could finally come back onto the field after missing most of training camp as well. I don't even want to check the injury list, because it is honestly depressing to see so many guys hurt, so I'm sure I could've missed a guy or two.
Question: The Bengals like to run the ball, having ranked in the top 10 of NFL teams in rushing attempts four of the past five years. How do you think they will fare against what has been a very good Jets run defense? If the Jets succeed in shutting down the Bengals running game are you comfortable Andy Dalton can put the game on his shoulders and win it for the Bengals?
Answer: To answer the first part of your question, I'm very confident in Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard and the Bengals' offensive line to get the job done. Both running backs and the interior of Cincinnati's line looked fantastic on a snap-to-snap basis throughout the preseason. Hill looks much more decisive and confident than he did a year ago, while Bernard will continue to slash through opposing defenses, whether on the ground or in the passing game.
If, however, the Jets managed to clamp down on the Bengals' run game (which I think will be easier said than done without Sheldon Richardson), I'm still very confident in Dalton and his supporting cast. I have all the respect in the world for Darrelle Revis, but I think A.J. Green is completely capable of blazing right past him as he's done to so many quality corners throughout his career. The depth behind him at receiver is shaky, but fortunately Bernard will also play a huge factor in the passing game, and most Bengals fans are confident Dalton is a quality passer rather than a product of the weapons around him.
Question: There are a couple of new faces at wide receiver for the Bengals in rookie Tyler Boyd and veteran Brandon LaFell. How have they looked so far? How much of a factor do you expect Boyd to be early in the season? Do you view these two as upgrades or downgrades from Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu?
Answer: Boyd has surpassed all expectations, though it's worth noting said expectations were low. He figures to be the number three option in the passing game and probably won't be a downgrade or upgrade from Sanu. LaFell, on the other hand, is a different story. Battling through a hand injury, the receiver hasn't seen much action. He'll more than likely be a downgrade from Jones, but that's not to say he'll be bad. LaFell would've had a touchdown catch earlier in the preseason if not for a blatant pass interference in the end zone.
Long-term, Boyd looks promising. He's looked far better this year than Jones or Sanu looked as rookies, which is very encouraging, especially considering this is the one year the Bengals will actually need a rookie receiver to step up and make some plays.
Question: Darrelle Revis ranked third in the NFL in passer rating allowed against him in 2015. A.J. Green ranked second in the NFL in passer rating on balls targeted to him in 2015. Something's gotta give. How do you see the battle between these two stars playing out? Who gets the better of whom, and how much will this affect the outcome of the game?
Answer: This will definitely be the WR-CB matchup of the week, but it's hard to bet against Green here. While Revis has been excellent in coverage, he doesn't seem to have the speed to catch up with the wideout. I don't think Green will tear the veteran corner apart, but I think he'll be able to break free deep downfield at least once on Sunday. That being said, I wouldn't be surprised to see Revis make plays as well. I don't anticipate Dalton to test Revis very much, but if he does, it will likely be on a play deep downfield. Green's double-move is lethal, and Dalton's deep ball has tremendously improved -- that's a winning combination.
Question: Andy Dalton had a career year in 2015, registering a passer rating 18 points better than any prior year and registering career highs by wide margins in TD%, INT% and yards per attempt. For the first time in his career you could legitimately call Dalton elite in 2015. Is this the new normal for the quarterback in what should be his peak years, or do you expect substantial regression from Dalton in 2016?
Answer: Nothing I've seen so far has indicated Dalton will regress. The quarterback is masterful in several areas, specifically when it comes to recognizing defenses and changing plays at the line of scrimmage. Not only has his deep ball improved, as I previously mentioned, but his footwork, throwing mechanics and confidence were all noticeably better in 2015. People will call this the product of Hue Jackson, but I'd argue the quarterback is just finally getting it. That, coupled with a top-tier offensive line, an elite wide receiver, a tight end who is as reliable as it gets in the red zone and two fantastic running backs, indicates Dalton shouldn't take any sort of major step back in the upcoming season. In fact, I'd argue any anticipated regression simply comes from the narrative that Hue Jackson is some sort of quarterback whisperer. If that's the case, the same can be said about the Bengals' new quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor, who made Nick Foles and Ryan Tannehill look like quality passers under his tutelage. To me, Dalton is a top-10 quarterback, and people who shoot that down without even considering the possibility need to watch his tape instead of reading headlines.