I love Thursdays. Why, you ask? Well, it's a love that I've developed over the last month or so - more specifically, since Week 5 of the NFL's regular season came to a close. Thursday has become the day of the week where I finally feel I can stop talking about quarterbacks. So, enjoy this Thursday - we're Edwards/Losman free today.
So today we start our Bengals prep. Rather than give you my usual Thursday breakdown, I thought we'd switch things up a bit - today we've got a lengthy, ultra-informative interview with Josh Kirkendall, author of Cincy Jungle. Kirkendall runs a great ship at his blog, and few are as dialed into Cincinnati's team. What follows are the questions I asked (in bold), and the analysis he provided for each. Take it away, Josh...
What's the latest on Rudi Johnson? What happens to a productive Kenny Watson when RJ returns?
CJ: No word yet. He's missed a lot of action and even if he does return, I really don't anticipate he'll get much work in against Buffalo. But once Rudi does return full time, I'm just not sure what's going to happen with Watson. He's played the blocking back that flares out of the backfield on third down all season. Once Rudi went down, Watson vastly upgraded the performance of the rush offense.
There are two schools of thought here. Do you leave the guy that's been most productive in the lineup or do you play the "you don't lose your starting job because of injury" card. Honestly, I'm not sure which direction the Bengals are leaning towards. As it is, against Pittsburgh, Watson suffered a concussion after Levi Jones accidentally (I hope) ripped his knee through Watson's helmet. However, Lewis said in his latest conference that he should be fine.
Like the Bills, the Bengals have lost a lot of defenders to injury. Talk about the effects of those losses, and how soon will some of those players be returning?
CJ: Let me provide a quick history about our linebackers. The Bengals drafted David Pollack and Odell Thurman as the future's foundation on defense. Both played linebacker their rookie seasons (2005) and Thurman was even nominated for NFL Rookie of the Year with defensive rookies like Shawne Merriman, Lofa Tatupu and DeMarcus Ware. He had a great season and quickly he was given the title as the "future Ray Lewis". It was earned and the comparisons were justified. Then the troubles came and Thurman hasn't played a down since 2005; many project he won't even play again. And I admit, what NFL Chancellor did suspending Thurman for what will be 32 games was shocking when you compare his offenses to others. David Pollack suffered a neck injury in the second game of 2006. It's still in the air whether he'll ever play football again.
Right there, we lost two tremendously talented linebackers that the team is holding hope will return.. Ahmad Brooks (starting middle linebacker) has sat since the loss to Cleveland (week #2) with an injury that's suspected -- though not confirmed -- to be a sports hernia. Caleb Miller (backup middle linebacker) suffered a back injury in Seattle (week #3) and hasn't returned since. Lemar Marshall (starting outside linebacker) suffered a season-ending knee injury against New England on Monday Night Football (week #4). Rashad Jeanty, the projected strong-side outside linebacker, is just now returning to the lineup.
Now we're up to six linebackers that have missed significant playing time. With Landon Johnson the only regular linebacker playing, the team went out and signed guys like Dhani Jones and Anthony Schelegel -- guys that other teams didn't want. They've played as well as expected of them, but there's a reason why we were able to pick them up so late. That's not to discredit what they've done. Only to really promote what we're dealing with.
At wits end, they moved a defensive end out of position to a spot he's never played before. Robert Geathers, three weeks ago, was introduced to outside linebacker against the Hall of Fame tight end, Tony Gonzalez. Talk about class, children.
What are your thoughts on the controversy surrounding Chad Johnson? Will he be a Bengal next year?
CJ: No doubt. A lot of what's surrounding Chad Johnson is a fabrication of the media needing someone to blame. The fans tire of his antics because fans demand that the players care. And if it seems that they are having fun, while losing, then they don't care.
There are two schools of thought on what to do with Chad. Pronounce your intentions early. If the team rebuilds in 2008 then trading Chad would be the logical move. You receive a good draft pick to make that talent transition. Hold to status quo believing the team is still a few good breaks away from making the playoffs, then you have to keep him. T.J. Houshmandzadeh is a talented receiver -- I've even called him the best receiver in the NFL. But he won't survive the constant attention that Chad now receives vertically. Chris Henry has Randy Moss-like talent. But he's not dependable. There's no telling if he'll keep his nose clean. Because if he doesn't, there's a chance he could be banned from the NFL.
What's your opinion on Marvin Lewis' tenure in Cincinnati, particularly the last two years? Is he the right coach for this team?
CJ: Last season the coach was left off the hot-seat chat. It wasn't expected Palmer would come back after tearing his ACL and MCL so quickly. Then injuries paralyzed this team and the arrests were an awful distraction. With all that said, there was a "get out of jail free" card with Lewis last season. Not so much this year. His game management is awful. He hasn't won a challenge since President Bush's first term. And there's question if he even has the team under control. Fans are quickly begging the Brown family to fire Lewis and the media is "no holds barred" mode. Basically Cincinnati is in complete meltdown mode.
Like the question above, if the team decides to rebuild, then Marvin Lewis is the man. He has the experience of doing it once. He made mistakes along the way and he's learned from them. We have to remember that a rookie head coach is learning on the fly like Trent Edwards or any rookie. He made his mistakes and he'll learn from them.
With that said, if the team chooses to go after another playoff run in 2008, with a majority of the roster intact, then no, Lewis isn't the man. There's too much disruption with this roster and the sad truth is that many suspect, although none of the players have come out and said anything, that he's lost the team.
What this team lacks right now is short-term and long-term clarity. And on that, I blame Lewis. If he reinvents his vision, the team's future, then I have no doubt Lewis will be ten-times better this go around.
Prediction time: who wins the Bengals/Bills game, and what's the final score?
CJ: The Bengals haven't beaten Buffalo since November 27, 1988. They haven't won in Buffalo since November 3, 1985 - I was eight years old. The way the Bengals are playing right now, combined with that little historical fact, I'm not sure the Bengals will pull it out. With the pessimism broadcasted here likely to hit my blog, I will plead the fifth on the score.
Many thanks to Kirkendall for taking the time to get us up to speed on his Bengals. For further, more intricate Bengals analysis, as well as a chat between the two of us, be sure to stop by Cincy Jungle this week.