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Bills vs. Bengals: five questions with Cincy Jungle

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Get the scoop on the Bengals before the preseason match up.

On Friday, the Buffalo Bills will play host to the Cincinnati Bengals for the their third game of the preseason. This should be a fun contest after the Bengals made it possible for the Bills to break their 17-year playoff drought last season. We spoke to Scott Schulze of Cincy Jungle about the team and what we can expect from this upcoming matchup.

1) Which former Bill and new Bengal are you more excited about, Cordy Glenn or Preston Brown?

That’s like asking me if I am more excited about a Dairy Queen Blizzard, or a Culvers Concrete Mixer. My answer is both. But if I have to pick one, I’ll opt for the chocolate blizzard with peanut butter cups... I mean I’ll opt for Cordy Glenn.

Preston Brown looks like a clear upgrade over what the Bengals have had at the middle linebacker position with Rey Maualuga & Kevin Minter, and should be their best player at that spot since Dhani Jones was in that role back in 2010. He also provides needed stability at the position with Vontaze Burfict often suspended out of game action. But the Bengals’ left tackle position was a more pressing need, as it was an unmitigated disaster last year following the Bengals questionable decision to let All-Pro Andrew Whitworth walk in free agency.

The Bengals burned their first two picks in the 2015 draft on a pair of left tackles, Cedric Ogbuehi in round 1 and Jake Fisher in round 2. The fact that the Bengals let go of long-time offensive line coach Paul Alexander and just traded for Glenn should tell you how awful those picks turned out. As of today, both players are still on the Bengals’ roster, although neither is in line to start. If Glenn can at least be league-average, that will be a huge step forward for this offense, which was frequently sabotaged by awful offensive line play in 2017. If Glenn can be better than league average (which is what we hope), then that makes the offense even better, and allows Andy Dalton time to get the ball to our playmakers like A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert, and should provide running lanes for Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard.

2) Marvin Lewis is back again at the helm after another questionable year for the team. How do fans feel about having him back?

Interestingly, I was asked a very similar question last week. My reply was a little too blunt and direct for some readers whose sensitive ears took offense to a candid evaluation of Lewis’ tenure in Cincinnati. So I’ll try to give an honest evaluation while softening the edges a bit.

By and large, fans were beyond disappointed to see Lewis return after the 2017 season. When he took over in 2003, the Bengals had just gone through about an awful decade with zero winning seasons and multiple bad drafts, leading to a sub-par roster. Lewis turned things around and brought them a playoff trip in 2005 and again in 2009. He then saw his teams make 5-consecutive playoff trips from 2011 to 2015. So that was clearly a good step for this team, looking at where they were before Lewis arrived.

But despite all those playoff appearances, his teams continually failed to win when it mattered most, going 0-7 in the playoffs, going 8-31 in primetime games, and going 2-4 in late-season games when victories would have meant first-round byes.

Lewis was able to transform the team and its organization from awful to good, and he deserves credit for that. But he has continually failed to generate the culture that takes a team from good to great. That fact, coupled with recent back-to-back losing seasons, including what appeared to be a loss of the locker room in 2017, seemed to be what would finally get Lewis relieved of his coaching duties for the 2018 season. Instead, Bengals ownership rewarded Lewis with a 2-year extension.

The mood among fans was understandably a mix of angst and confusion. But after that initial reaction, many fell into varying degrees of reluctant acceptance, hoping that in his 16th season as head coach, he can finally move the needle from “good” to “great.”

3) AJ Green said that he was a guarantee to make the Hall of Fame. Has he looked good enough to have another breakout season?

A.J. Green has been nothing short of excellent since arriving in Cincinnati in 2011. He is a good route runner with an almost effortless knack for getting open and making impossible catches. Now in his 8th year in the league, he looks poised again for another great season as one of the league’s premier wide receivers. He has shown no signs of slowing down, and hopefully will continue to build on a resume that certainly should garner Hall of Fame consideration. The Bengals made an effort to improve parts of their offensive line this offseason (addressed LT and C, but ignored RT), which should give Dalton more time to throw the ball, which should only help Green’s production on the field.

Green comes across as a very humble, down-to-earth guy, which is rare of today’s elite WRs, and as a result, he doesn’t seem to get the national recognition that players like Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, or Julio Jones receive. It’s unfortunate, but since the Hall of Fame is something of a popularity contest, his lack of a diva attitude probably hurts his chances of enshrinement, at least a little bit. But when his career is over, I think the numbers will speak for themselves, and at the very least, should put him in strong consideration for the Hall of Fame.

4) Which pick or picks are fans most excited about from this year’s draft class?

Heading into camp, the biggest buzz had to be first round pick Billy Price. Partly because there are a number of Ohio State fans who also follow the Bengals, and partly because the Bengals have suffered thru some awful play from the center position (cough, cough, Russell Bodine) and are hopeful for some sort of upgrade at the position. So far, Price has looked the part. Not only does he not get driven into the backfield on every play, but he even gets forward push sometimes – that’s going to take some getting used to.

But now that we are two weeks into the preseason, a few more names are emerging which are drawing interest from fans. The Bengals just cut long-tenured starting safety George Iloka, so that is suddenly placing a focus on second round pick Jessie Bates III, who presumably will take over the Bengals’ starting role at free safety. Bates has been flying under the radar at camp, but apparently did enough to let them get rid of a solid veteran at a position that is woefully thin as far as depth goes, although the assumption is that the move was also made to free up money to get Geno Atkins and/or Carlos Dunlap extensions.

Another pick of note is Billy Price’s Ohio State teammate Sam Hubbard, who has had a very good camp and fought his way into a spot as a rotational defensive end. The Bengals’ defensive line looks to have a good rotation emerging for this season, and should give Josh Allen and the Bills’ offensive line a good battle to prepare for the regular season.

5) If the Bengals have the same result this season as the past couple, are we going to see a full out rebuild?

The Bengals gave Lewis a 2-year extension following last year’s 7-9 season. Given the Bengals’ patience with Lewis, it would probably take a total disaster of a season (and then some) for the Bengals to consider a total rebuild. Given Mike Brown’s loyalty to his coaches (that is a long story just by itself), I wouldn’t expect Lewis to be gone after this season.

The Bengals have a number of good veteran players (A.J. Green, Geno Atkins, Andy Dalton, Carlos Dunlap, Tyler Eifert, Vontaze Burfitc, etc… ) all hitting that point in their careers where the team can reasonably expect to make a push with them for another year or two before considering any sort of overhaul.