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Cowboys vs. Bengals: “Marvin Lewis inherited pot of raw sewage, tasked with turning it into award winning pot of chili”

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We get five answers to our questions!

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

With another preseason game on the horizon, this one against the Cincinnati Bengals, we turn to Five Questions. Today's edition is with our good friends over at Cincy Jungle.

Blogging The Boys: From the outside, many of us wonder how Marvin Lewis has survived this long as the Bengals coach. How does the Bengals fanbase feel about him still being coach, and are there signs he may shake things up this year?

Cincy Jungle: From the inside, many of us wonder the same thing. He’s been the Bengals head coach since 2003 and has zero post season victories to his credit. That combination doesn’t really seem to work with 31 other NFL teams. His record against teams in primetime, against teams with winning records, and his record against playoff teams is rather abysmal.

To Lewis’ credit, he has changed the culture in the Bengals organization, and has SLOWLY gained control from the Bengals owner, who pretty much ran the team into the ground during the 1990’s with awful coaching hires, bad drafts, and a cheap-o philosophy on training facilities and the like.

To give a poor analogy, Lewis inherited a pot of raw sewage, and was tasked with turning it into an award winning pot of chili. But it seems as if ownership only allowed him to scoop out a few spoonful’s of the sewage each year, and only slowly add actual chili ingredients in their place. So after 15 years we just have a stinky pot of chili that still doesn’t taste quite right. Fans have been waiting for that bowl of chili for so long, they just want to dump the whole pot and start over. Although the guy who owns the pot doesn’t want to do that. So we keep waiting, and hoping that this is finally the year Lewis shows us he can win meaningful games and deliver the Bengals first post season victory since 1990.

BTB: With back-to-back losing seasons, what’s the fanbase’s confidence in Andy Dalton? Is this a make-or-break year?

CJ: I think by and large the fanbase doesn’t really hold Dalton too accountable for the recent losing seasons. Similarly, we generally don’t put all the praise on him for the 5 consecutive playoff seasons that preceded the 2 losing seasons. We saw in 2015 that if you put him behind a good O-Line and give him good receivers, he can work his way into the discussion as an MVP candidate. But he’s not Aaron Rodgers type who can make something out of nothing and carry a bad roster. Over the past two seasons the Bengals offensive line has gone from bad to awful, and the team struggled to get him a #2 receiver with Marvin Jones leaving for the Lions, and Pro-Bowl TE Tyler Eifert failing to stay healthy.

That being said, I think fans are pretty much ready to move on, or at least develop a guy who can take over in a year or two. Dalton is a good game manager who doesn’t turn the ball over much, is fairly accurate with his short & intermediate placement, and makes good pre-snap reads. But, like Marvin Lewis, has failed to lead the team over the hump. Many fans have pined during draft time for the Bengals to draft guys like Bridgewater, Carr, Watson, and Lamar Jackson, who were all available when the Bengals were on the clock. But Dalton & Lewis are tied at the hip, and as long as Marvin Lewis is the head coach, Dalton will be this team’s quarterback.

BTB: How much do you expect the starters to play in the upcoming game? Any notable players that might play extended time, or players who might be held out totally?

CJ: The starters played more than I expected last week, going several series into the game. Based on that, I’m going to guess they may play past the first quarter. Probably at least 2 series for the offense and defense, if not more.

As far as individual starters going deeper into the game, I’d look for John Ross (WR) and Billy Price (Center) to get an extended look. Ross missed all of last season (his rookie year) with an injury, so both are essentially rookies who will be starters in 2018 and will likely get as many reps as the team feels they need to be ready for Week 1. Actually, the Bengals don’t have a starter at RG or RT yet, as those positions are up for grabs. So, the “starters” at those two spots may be in for a while, as the team tries to figure out who the best two guys are.

As far as starters being held out, Tyler Eifert (TE) and Vontaze Burfict (LB) really have no reason to play in the pre-season. Eifert, because he’s an injury ready to happen, and Burfict because his baggage doesn’t give him much leeway as far as ‘aggressive’ play goes, and he is only one “close to the line” hit away from a multiple-game suspension. Last year Burfict got suspended a few games for a hit on the Chiefs fullback in a preseason game so there is no reason to risk that again.

BTB: Talk about the Bengals draft class. How have they performed in camp and in the first preseason game?

CJ: The Bengals first round pick was center Billy Price from The Ohio State University. He had some struggles with snaps a week ago, but seems to have cleaned that up. He hasn’t looked like an All-Pro, but looks like he will at least be an average center, which is lightyears ahead of what they have had at that position for the past four seasons. He doesn’t get pushed into the backfield on every play, and that’s something that we just aren’t used to seeing on offense.

We haven’t heard much about their 2nd round pick Jessie Bates, who is a pure free safety, which the Bengals haven’t had for a while. They have been rolling with a pair of guys better suited as strong safeties, and in theory Bates provides them that “center field” presence who can play the ball in the air. But so far we’ve not seen much of him. Hopefully that changes this weekend.

Third round pick Sam Hubbard (DE also from The Ohio State) has been very impressive in camp. Although it’s hard to say if that’s because the Bengals tackles aren’t that good, or if Hubbard is better than we thought. It’s probably somewhere in the middle. He didn’t really “wow” in the first game.

One guy who has “wowed” us is wide receiver Auden Tate. He was selected 253rd out of 256 picks in the draft this year. He’s a big-bodied receiver who keeps making plays in camp and had a great catch for a TD in the first game (against backups). At this point, the late 7th rounder has all but assured himself of a roster spot.

BTB: What’s your overall expectation for the Bengals 2018 season?

CJ: I expect them to be in the wild card playoff hunt this year. They addressed the biggest holes (LT, MLB, C) from last year’s 7-win team, and didn’t really lose anything in free agency other than a backup QB. So I think 8 to 10 wins is within reach for them.

Their offense was absolutely dreadful last year which got their off-coord fired early in the season, forcing them to learn a new offense on the fly, all behind what was probably the worst line in the league. The offense should have 4 new starters on the line this year, and a year to learn the offense that was installed during the regular season last year. Assuming the offensive line plays better, and assuming Tyler Eifert stays healthy, and assuming one of their young WR’s turns into a solid 2nd receiver behind A.J. Green, the offense should be at least league-average. Even if all those assumptions don’t pan out, they should be improved from last year, especially with Joe Mixon taking over the lead running back duties from Jeremy Hill.

The defense was ok, but not great. Their numbers defensively were inflated because the offense had so many 3-and-outs, forcing the defense to play extensively each week. They have some good pieces, and a new defensive coordinator, so the defense should hopefully return to their top-10 status. I guess time will tell.

Thanks for the knowledge, Cincy Jungle.