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Dehner's Article this AM worth chewing over maybe

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https://theathletic.com/2917783/2021/10/28/dehner-jr-bengals-landed-on-right-side-of-every-offseason-debate-to-bust-open-playoff-window/

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Dehner Jr.: Bengals landed on right side of every offseason debate to bust open playoff window

The opportunity for victory laps inside Paul Brown Stadium is not in short supply these days as the national media reconnects with this franchise for the first time since they stopped calling on them to be disbanded for drafting Ja’Marr Chase and calling Cincinnati a quarterback wasteland.

As the Bengals have set themselves up not just to be in the thick of the AFC championship discussion this year, but also into the foreseeable future at the front of their rookie quarterback contract window, it’s important to pinpoint the decisions the front office made despite large swaths of folks — occasionally myself included — criticizing during this past offseason.

The Bengals have been proven correct across the board on the most fiercely debated decisions. Often overwhelmingly so. This goes well beyond Chase versus Penei Sewell.

There are six major decisions that have accelerated the advanced timeline and arrival of the Bengals out of the rebuild and into relevancy.

1. Patience with Zac Taylor and Lou Anarumo

Admit it, at one time or another you tweeted or posted on Facebook or just screamed into the universe to fire both of these guys. It’s OK, you can be honest here.

Owner Mike Brown and the Bengals front office, defined by patience and continuity over the years, leaned on their most valued characteristic once more. Rather than hitting the reset button after two abysmal years, they took a more nuanced view in assessing the situation. Accounting for injuries, another roster turnover and the incremental culture progress were the reasons to stay the course.

How many teams in the league would have bailed on one or both? I’ll answer because we’ve seen it happen: most. Yet, defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo and head coach Zac Taylor are paying off the patience in spades. Through seven games, Anarumo conducts the best defense seen in Cincinnati since Mike Zimmer departed for Minnesota, ranking in the top five in both Football Outsiders DVOA and points allowed per drive.

Continuity with the coordinator and system, plus understanding exactly what they were missing in this system from a personnel standpoint, made all the difference. That was made possible by Taylor and the front office not giving up on the vision despite the disappointments.

Brown stood by Taylor but didn’t mince words prior to the start of the year. Taylor had to prove himself with wins immediately. They believed in him, the offseason, the vision and the culture, but promises had run out.

“We have to win more,” Brown said in July. In October, they are doing just that and are set up to do so for a long time in large part because they didn’t give in to public pressure to fire everyone.

2. Chase over Sewell


While the debate must be acknowledged in this story, it hardly feels worth providing further detail. Going for Chase over Sewell was viewed as a philosophical shift in how the modern offense is assembled and also one without a totally wrong answer. There was merely an answer that fiit better for the Bengals.

As I dissected and reported in May, it wasn’t easy.

Betting on Chase, his connection with quarterback Joe Burrow and the ability to hit the Bengals offense in the exact way necessary to unlock everyone was their argument. There is no more arguing. Merely those on Team Sewell, who called for the Bengals to be kicked out of the league if they didn’t take the offensive linemen, admitting defeat.

3. Franchise tag or re-sign William Jackson III or Carl Lawson


The decision to use the franchise tag was hotly debated for weeks. The Bengals eventually opted not to use it, meaning they wouldn’t be bringing back either edge rusher Carl Lawson or cornerback William Jackson III for one more season.

There was blowback, most of it regarding Lawson. When they passed on bringing back Lawson and instead paid New Orleans edge Trey Hendrickson, the critics took shots. People pointed to how many of Hendrickson’s sacks during his breakout in New Orleans came by virtue of pressure from his teammates. Critics argued his 13.5 sacks were the product of circumstance rather than a true coming of age. The Bengals personnel staff didn’t buy it.

Nobody is taking those shots now. Hendrickson instantly became the driving force behind the Bengals’ revitalized pass rush. He ranks in the top six among all edge rushers in pass-rush productivity, win percentage, pressures and sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s unfortunate Lawson went down with a season-ending injury in New York this preseason. But the Hendrickson decision has been undeniably the correct move, and his energy in games and practices is a distinctive characteristic of the overachieving defense.

Jessie Bates joked last week about “Blackout Trey” because he figuratively blacks out when playing football and talks all kinds of trash in the process. The attitude plays perfectly along with the rest of a defense feeding off the no-name aspect to its rise.

As for Jackson, PFF graded the 2016 Bengals’ first-round pick 120 out of 132 qualifying cornerbacks in coverage grade this season. The Washington defense has been one of the biggest disappointments in all of the NFL. The Bengals essentially signed Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton for the same cost as Jackson.

Awuzie has been a revelation and ranks second on that same list of cornerback coverage qualifiers. He’s playing like one of the best corners in the NFL. Hilton brought his loaf chart, an attitude of accountability and physicality off the edge from the slot position over from Pittsburgh. Even Eli Apple, who brought an understandable amount of skepticism upon signing as a depth piece, has settled in as a solid secondary piece.

The Bengals have tried to fix the defense with free agency and trades over the course of the past two years by adding D.J. Reader, Trae Waynes, Larry Ogunjobi, B.J. Hill and Vonn Bell. The idea of using the available cap space on defense last year wasn’t just debated, it was trashed when originally reported. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine where this team would be had it gone any other way.

4. Gamble on linebacker development


The Bengals were supposed to be looking at veteran linebackers. They couldn’t possibly go forward just with the underperformance of Germaine Pratt, Akeem Davis-Gaither and the hope that Logan Wilson would ascend in a larger role.

The Bengals pointed to all the injuries on the defensive line as a bigger reason you didn’t see better play from the linebackers. They felt it would be unfair to bring in replacements or veterans to push players they still believed in.

Now, here we are with Logan Wilson emerging as one of the best young linebackers in football, having already picked off six passes in his first 19 games. Davis-Gaither progressed to an expanded role and a significant jump in level of play. Pratt hasn’t been perfect, but did force the game-deciding fumble in the opener against Minnesota and is fourth on the team in stops with only three missed tackles.

The Bengals have bet on linebacker development before, only for it to blow up in their face, but this group has made good on the faith.

5. Buying into Quinton Spain/Riley Reiff instead of Joe Thuney


How many times did Joe Thuney’s name get uttered on Cincinnati sports radio during the three-week period leading up to free agency? Dozens? Hundreds?

The idea of paying top dollar for the guard from the Patriots to help solve all the protection problems was offered as the clear solution and one the Bengals would be dumb to not pursue. When Cincinnati wasn’t willing to even enter the conversation for Thuney when he eventually signed for five years and $80 million, the thought was here we go again.

The Bengals instead saw reason to believe in Spain. They’d seen enough of his personality and potential during the half-season he joined the team to think he could be an answer to help solidify the interior when given a full camp and preseason to take on the starting role. Seven games into the season, Spain leads all guards in the NFL in pass-blocking efficiency having allowed just four pressures in 249 pass-blocking snaps. Overall, Spain grades out as the 13th-best guard by PFF, and Thuney allowed nine pressures and is ranked 20th for Kansas City.

Plus, Spain played a major role in bringing along second-round draft pick Jackson Carman after the rookie showed up overweight to training camp and played a role in the growth of chemistry among the offensive linemen, pushing his linemates to start hanging out more to build trust. He’s been motivated, productive and an integral part of the line solidifying.

Spain is making the veteran minimum of $1 million on a one-year prove-it deal.

Meanwhile, a steadying veteran like Riley Reiff landing in Cincinnati was an obvious move in replacing Bobby Hart. His veteran presence has improved the professionalism and served as the perfect example of how to play the position. He’s not a superstar but the Bengals weren’t pinpointing stars, they were pinpointing reliability. Few have provided that as much as Reiff.

6 Drafting Evan McPherson


How can you draft a kicker? And in the fifth round?

Those questions were asked loudly in the days after the draft.

Yet, special-teams coordinator Darrin Simmons saw something unique in Evan McPherson and argued for the Bengals to select him over other options available with the 149th overall pick.

He believed the kicker would end up winning more games for them than any position player would at that point in the draft.

Seven games in, McPherson has hit two game-winners and converted 3 of 4 attempts from 50-plus. He was nearly perfect throughout camp and preseason. Outside of the gust of wind over the south bank of Paul Brown Stadium against the Packers ruining an early celebration, he’s instantly upped the confidence level in scoring points the moment the ball crosses midfield. Nobody is bemoaning not taking running back Kenneth Gainwell or any of the other prospects available at that point. And the Bengals ended up hitting a running back home run in the sixth round anyway when they landed late-round steal Chris Evans.

...

All of these moves accelerated the Bengals’ timeline to contend. For a team that almost never participates in free agency, the Bengals have performed nearly flawlessly there the past two seasons. Add in back-to-back draft classes headed by Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates (Burrow would have landed at least in the top two had he stayed healthy in 2020) covered with mid-to-late round steals, and you have cornerstone draft classes stacked together to form the future. You can see the building blocks of these draft classes in the same way you saw the 2010-11 classes blast open the window to the five consecutive playoff appearances.

Each deft move put in place a roster built for the long haul with the franchise quarterback at the helm of a group that will grow together over the next few years. Nearly the entire defense will be under contract in 2022. The only free agents or potential departures are Trae Waynes (salary dump) and Larry Ogunjobi. It’s hard to imagine the Bengals not making a run to keep Ogunjobi. Plus, they will add a healthy Joseph Ossai back to the mix.

Offensively, Burrow, Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Chase and Jonah Williams are all locked in through at least 2023.

As great as the flashes of 2005 and 2015 were as the team’s best seasons of this century, neither owned the sustainability of this group. There were character concerns (2005) and limited quarterback play (2015) that hovered over the long run. It’s hard to see those asterisks on this latest group.

That’s all due to a front office that somehow played a series of challenging decisions to perfection. There’s a long way to go in this season. A fall from grace is always one snap away in the NFL, but the Bengals front office is watching a series of ideal offseasons blow the playoff window wide open before almost anyone imagined.

 

 

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From his list - I can immediately cop to being wrong about...

---LouA. I thought we should have moved on from him last off-season. Totally did not see this coming. Didn't think he was capable of it. As stunned as can be about the turnaround.

From the list of things I am most happy to have been right about...

That moving on from WJIII was the right move. After his initial splash his first year he was never really anything better than...average? At best? Letting him go for the coin he commanded and signing TWO d-backs with that money (Awuzie and Hilton) made a ton of sense to me at the time. That he is sucking for WFT isn't entirely surprising to me. That Awuzie has turned into a top 5 type CB is a surprise to me but I did think we had quietly made the right call there. 

And, obviously, as an early card-carrying member of team Chase...well. Yeah. 

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I would put it this way:  so far, it looks like the Bengals more or less ran the table last offseason. The typical team hits on some things, misses on others. The Bengals, well, usually everything they touch turns to shit. But not this year. This year they could do no wrong.

Every free agent decision has panned out, and a couple of them (Awuzie and Hendrickson) are going to be Pro Bowlers. Hell, even their last-minute scrap-heap acquisition of BJ Hill has paid handsome dividends. The draft class has produced three basically day 1 starters in Chase, Carman and McPherson, and while there have been the inevitable growing pains with Carman they all look like the belong there. Taylor is visibly growing into his role as playcaller and Lou is driving a truck around Cincinnati handing out free bowls of crow flakes to basically everyone.

If I'm Mike Brown, I'm checking the bowl every time I take a dump because I just might have shit a gold brick, that's how good things are going right now.

I know it can't last but I for one am going to enjoy the hell out of it while it does.

 

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This is what happens when a FO and a coaching staff are in lock-step.  They didn't bow to perception, I certainly would have signed Lawson at a minimum but look where we would be if they had....some of it is luck but most of it is about the entire organization working as a unit and I am not sure that has ever happened here before.

As another card-carrying member of Team Chase I am sorry but that one was obvious to me....all it took was a look at the RAS Scores of the receivers we had on roster to determine that we.did.not.have a guy on the roster that could take over a game.  How many games would we have won without the ability to stretch the field 1 maybe 2?  I am so glad that the FO saw things the same way.

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Since we're chewing over articles and talking about how things have gone right for once this year, this from Charlie Goldsmith has an interesting suggestion.

https://www.cincinnati.com/story/sports/nfl/bengals/2021/10/27/bengals-trade-rumors-who-cincinnati-could-trade-nfl-deadline/8572868002/

His subject is possible trades the Bengals could try to do to strengthen themselves as they make a run for the postseason. He hits the two most obvious spots, adding depth to the interior OL and at DE, and also notes they aren't likely to happen as the Bengals have players at those positions coming off IR soon. But he also hits one other position I think has a lot of merit:

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1. Punt returner

The Bengals haven’t been consistent at punt returner all season with Darius Phillips and Trenton Irwin splitting reps. Phillips was briefly benched in Week 6, and he ranks 15th out of 18 qualifying punt returners with just 7.2 yards per return. The Bengals have mostly used Irwin on returns inside their 20-yard line.

With the Bengals defense consistently getting stops early in drives, Cincinnati could benefit from an explosive punt returner more than almost any other team. And a team heading towards a top-10 draft pick doesn’t have the same need for a punt returner as the Bengals.

Denver Broncos punt returner Diontae Spencer ranks fourth in the NFL with 10.3 yards per return. He has been the Broncos punt returner since 2019, and last year he averaged 15.8 yards per return. Before he played in the NFL, Spencer was a wide receiver and a track athlete at McNeese State, and he was a two-time All-Star in the Canadian Football League.

Spencer's balance, elusiveness and quick twitch athleticism made him a near-lock to make the Broncos 2021 roster all offseason. He demonstrated his upside with an 83-yard touchdown run last year, but he still would have averaged 11.3 yards per return without that outlier in 2020. 

Spencer has had success ducking under blocks and cutting between defenders, and also been a contributor in other areas on special teams for his entire NFL career.

Around the rest of the NFL, Washington Football Team returner DeAndre Carter and New York Jets returner Braxton Berrios also have a track record as effective punt returners.

That is imo a genuinely good idea, and shouldn't be very costly in draft pick terms. If I were the FO I would make some calls.

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I like the article for the most part.  Then again, i'll read nearly anything about the Bengals these days.

That being said, Zac and Lou ??  I wouldn't have batted an eye had they been fired and guess the front office having patience paid off.
I guess for me i'm just glad to see the positive results on the field.  Coaches are a funny thing to me, in that I don't think about them much.
If there was one I was going to put thought into and his impact, it's Frank Pollack.  Outside of Bengals fans, no one talked about that hire much.

Chase over Sewell would have worked for me either way heading into the draft.  I wasn't deep on one side or the other.
Both had their upside and when all was said and done, I would have been happy with either pick.  Glad to see Chase working out so well.

I will be honest and tell you I had all but forgotten Jackson leaving the team for Washington.  I wasn't aware he was doing poorly either.
Whatever, i'm glad who we got in return is working out so well for the defense.  Good additions for sure.

I'm a big fan of Logan Wilson, simply because he seems to have that same mindset about working hard and winning.
The other guys are just that to me.  The other guys.  They are playing well enough to win, but the team still hasn't invested in that position.

I was wanting them to dive into the o-line FA pool pretty hard and didn't like when they didn't.  However, I liked the Reiff signing and it's coming along.
Carmen is developing and Spain has earned his pay day at this point for sure.  The direction of the 2022 draft will be interesting with this group.

I had and have zero issue with the McPherson pick.  I hope he just continues to work on what he does and get better.  We should have beat Green Bay.
Chris Evans is considered a "Home Run" pick ?? Seems kind of odd to call a rookie RB with 4 carries through 7 games a home run, but I like the kid.

This team has work to do with contracts to keep everything as is, but I now feel them seeing results might keep them on this path.
I'm more than willing to give them all the credit in the world for these moves.  God knows I've blasted them when they got it wrong.

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I was definitely anti-Anarumo this offseason and said repeatedly that after two years of big FA hauls that any defensive disappointments would reflect horribly upon him. Well so far he’s gone the opposite direction much to my delight, and I hope he continues to shut me up.

Another offseason move that’s working out which most of us generally anticipated: replacing Turner with Pollack has been excellent. I really believe that if they hadn’t dumped Turner that our current vibe would be decidedly worse. Credit to Zac for moving on from that mistake, even if a year late.

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The Bengals also have a metric ton of contracts expiring at the end of the season and will certainly have decisions to make.

Uzomah, Reiff, Ogunjobi, Bates, Huber, and Spain are all starters.
The rest include the likes of Hill, Flowers, Phillips, Tupou, Tate, Morgan, both Allen's, Apple, Harris and more.

I think the draft will allow them to get cheaper at some of these positions, but it will be interesting for sure.

I also like the thought of the return game.  If we could find a way to make that part of the game more dynamic, it would be huge for the team.
You know it's getting interesting with your roster when you start thinking about the so called "luxury" of a returner being added.

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40 minutes ago, ArmyBengal said:

The Bengals also have a metric ton of contracts expiring at the end of the season and will certainly have decisions to make.

Uzomah, Reiff, Ogunjobi, Bates, Huber, and Spain are all starters.
The rest include the likes of Hill, Flowers, Phillips, Tupou, Tate, Morgan, both Allen's, Apple, Harris and more.

I think the draft will allow them to get cheaper at some of these positions, but it will be interesting for sure.

I also like the thought of the return game.  If we could find a way to make that part of the game more dynamic, it would be huge for the team.
You know it's getting interesting with your roster when you start thinking about the so called "luxury" of a returner being added.

Yup. Gone from rags to riches (and of course if they aren't careful it will be right back to rags next year).

I think it's likely that Crisman replaces Huber in 2022.

As I've said before I'm not at all confident they will re-sign Bates but we will see.

Spain they need to get a deal done there. I know he turns 31 next August but now that the line is something resembling average let's not immediately blow it up again.

Reiff was clearly a one-year rental and they may have been thinking about sliding Carman over next season. But Riley turns 33 in December, can't imagine there will be a huge market for him. If he ends the season healthy I'd consider bringing him back. Basically put the same deal he had this year, maybe with a little sweetener, on the table and tell him if he doesn't find a better one in FA to come on back.

Uzomah would be hard to let go because they don't have another TE worth mentioning.

ETA: forgot Ogun. Yes, if at all possible keep him. He's playing well and age-wise is in his prime tho so might end up too expensive, and there is Tupou.

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I'm going to guess nothing has happened with this, but was thinking about the punt return aspect of things a little more.

We currently have Pooka Williams on the practice squad and he was being given punt return reps during camps and the preseason.
I'm just curious if that was something they continued having him work on since his return to the practice squad?

If so, he's now being carried as a WR instead of a RB and makes any possible move a little more feasible.
Not sure they are activating many WR's on game day, but they aren't utilizing much more than Chase, Boyd and Higgins on Sundays.
With that being the case and if they were working on punts with him, there would seem to be an opportunity.

With what else we've seen to this point, I would be excited to see them taking a shot with something new there.
Like I said, just thinking out loud more than anything and could certainly say, "why bother"?

Anyway......

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My only beef with the article there still seems to be an overall assumption that Chase and Sewell were equal in terms of prospect.   That is a false narrative.

Sewell received December comparisons to Munoz and then only graded out to be a top 10 prospect but wasn't even the clear cut choice as Slater received whispers of being better.   I've not kept up with their progressions but Slater was impressive early on and Sewell has not been.

Chase was the Chase Young of this draft class.  The clear best Non-QB talent only to be challenged by Kyle Pitts. 

I think that reality is what drove the decision over his relationship with Burrow and modern offense.  If the tables were flipped, tackle probably would have been the choice.

After that media/fans underrated or ignored any OL upgrades acquired . 

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I will also say we are only a bad week of football away from getting complete opposite articles.   The roller coaster of thoughts from the media on this team is idiocy.

 

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The converse is also true in that we are two field goals from being undefeated.
Anyone (see me) thinking the coverage is crazy now, a 7-0 Bengals team would have heads exploding everywhere.

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Bengals have somewhere around $60-$80 million in cap space for this upcoming off-season. They have plenty available to retain who they want to retain. They really are remarkably well positioned to open a contention window for the foreseeable future...

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55 minutes ago, membengal said:

Bengals have somewhere around $60-$80 million in cap space for this upcoming off-season.

The rookie pool lurks.

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We never learn do we ??

The first rule about rookie pool is, we do not talk about rookie pool.
The second rule about rookie pool is, WE DO NOT TALK ABOUT ROOKIE POOL.

Better check the back seat of your car when you head home today...

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Rookie Pool wields less power for contracts pertaining to the 32nd pick of every round.

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They can cover Rookie Pool as well as his no-account buddy Injury Pad just by cutting the cord on Waynes. He's due to count $16 million (!!!) against the cap next year, versus just $5 million in dead money if he's cut. That's an easy call for me.

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