As we do every week when the Cowboys are getting set to play a game, we check in with the enemy. This week brings us Josh Kirkendall from the SB Nation Bengals blog, Cincy Jungle. I've know Josh for years and his Bengals blog is top-notch, so check it out to see what's going on in their world. For a quick summary, I sent over five questions for Josh.
Blogging The Boys: How has being on Hard Knocks affected the Bengals preseason? Has it affected the way you see and evaluate certain players?
Cincy Jungle: There is certainly a human element that changes things. When Larry Black suffered his dislocated ankle, it was a tweet and a posting and that was that. Then you watched the injury and his emotional reaction afterwards, and it becomes more than just writing a name in a story. There's a face to the name -- a connection from the player that fans can attach to. Now we're hoping that Black's recovery (which we normally would anyway) turns into a successful comeback story next year whereas without Hard Knocks, he'd have become a familiar story of a college free agent that didn't make the team for one reason or another.
More importantly, it's been about the insight into the relationships -- those little things that are otherwise unavailable to us. The jokes, pranks, ribbing between players and coaches and the overall camaraderie. We've known that this team is far more team-oriented with a superior chemistry from any iteration of Marvin Lewis' Bengals. These guys want to be here, have a desire to win, and I've never seen a Bengals squad where all of the players and coaches simply enjoy each other's company as much as they do. That's been pretty awesome.
BTB: For those who haven't watched Hard Knocks, give us your take on the biggest positives for the Bengals so far this offseason?
CJ: Keep in mind that this is mostly the same roster that the Bengals had last year, save for a handful of additions like tight end Tyler Eifert, running back Giovani Bernard, and linebacker James Harrison. That's not to mention second-year players like wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, safety George Iloka, and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick set to make their biggest impressions yet after injuries (or rookie struggles) impacted their respective seasons last year. Cohesion, continuity with the coaching staff, and players staying with the same team is probably the greatest overall development over the offseason.
BTB: Now, what are the biggest problem areas?
CJ: My comrades might disagree, but big games still worry me. Cincinnati lost the first six games against the Steelers and Ravens combined. Now, they made a huge leap beating the Steelers in week 16 last year, which clinched a postseason berth. The following week, Cincinnati beat the Ravens in a game that was more like a fourth preseason game (mostly all backups were playing by the second half) because neither team could move up or down in the playoff seeding. Furthermore, the Bengals have had first-round exists in each of the past two years. I believe in this team and what they're capable of. But it's the big division games that worry me the most.
BTB: Give us your scout's take on Andy Dalton's game.
CJ: Smart kid, great leader and excellent with all of the intangibles. He's very accurate, though the deep ball tends to be questionable. He's a good quarterback who may never reach levels of being elite, but he's 19-13 as a starting quarterback with postseason appearances during the only seasons he's been in the NFL.
BTB: Who are some players under-the-radar that we should look for in this game? Guys who could be surprise breakout players?
CJ: Excluding rookies (because who knows how any rookie will adapt to the NFL), look for their depth at wide receiver. A.J. Green is A.J. Green (everything you've heard is mostly true). But the team is deep at receiver on paper -- our question is that since the receivers are young, they're inexperienced, so how does that translate? Watch for Mohamed Sanu, who is an excellent red zone receiver and Marvin Jones, who can stretch the field deep -- they compliment each other as the No. 2 receiver. I really like guys like linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, second-year safety George Iloka (who you won't see this Saturday), and running back Dan Herron has come out of nowhere with an excellent pair of preseason games after a mediocre rookie season.
Thanks Josh! Be sure to check out Cincy Jungle for Bengals news.