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Bengals vs Texans: Five Questions With Cincy Jungle

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Scott Bantel of our sister site, Cincy Jungle, takes some time to answer all of our questions on his favorite team, the Cincinnati Bengals in advance of Sunday's Texans-Bengals game.

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1. Andy Dalton has been wildly inconsistent this season. What gives? What do Bengals fans think of his future as the leader of this team?

This is the question I get more than any other when it comes to this Bengals team and it is a tough one.

Andy Dalton is a lightning rod amongst Bengals fans and media alike. He has his supporters and he has a very loud group of detractors. I am in the middle, however, I often find myself defending him against the crazy detractors.

Prior to the Bengals' Thursday night debacle against Cleveland, I would have said this has been Dalton's best and most consistent season thus far. Prior to that game, Dalton was on pace for career highs in completion percentage, YPA, QBR and passer rating, along with a career low in interceptions. Given the fact that he has been without his number two receiver (Marvin Jones) all year, without his receiving tight end (Tyler Eifert) all but five minutes of 2014, without A.J. Green for three games and without his receiving running back (Giovani Bernard) for two games, he had been pretty impressive. However, that game was so historically bad that it caused my support of Dalton to waiver just a little bit.

Prior to the Cleveland game, Dalton had looked much more confident and accurate in 2014.  Though the Bengals were beat soundly in New England on Sunday Night Football in Week Four, Dalton actually played well and looked confident for the first time in a prime time game.  Against the Browns, Dalton reverted back to the Andy we have seen far too often in big games - or "Bad Andy," as most fans refer to him.

While there was plenty of blame to go around for the Browns game, Dalton was the most glaring culprit. His performance that night was not just a game of "Bad Andy." That was an abysmal display of historical proportions, and as a Bengals fan, I sincerely apologize to the rest of the nation.

How historically bad, you ask? It was only the fifth time since 1960 that a quarterback threw more than 30 passes and had a quarterback rating of 2.0 or below. While I do believe that was a perfect storm of "team suckage" (if that is a phrase), I do not believe Andy Dalton will ever be a quarterback that can carry a team by his lonesome like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, etc. I do, however, believe that with the right coaching staff he can take a talented team to (and even win) a Super Bowl - much like a Joe Flacco or Trent Dilfer did with the Ravens. Will he? Only time will tell.

His ability to bounce back last week (143.9 rating) and dominate the Saints in the Superdome, one of the toughest places to play in the NFL, shows that the Cleveland game was more of anomaly. In 10 games this season, Dalton has been solid or very good in eight of them and brutal in two. However, the two brutal games (Indianapolis and Cleveland) were not just a result of his own poor play; they were a combination of drops by receivers, poor line protection, poor play calling and injuries.

All in all, I think Dalton is an above average quarterback that cannot carry a team all by lonesome but is certainly good enough to win with.

2. Marvin Lewis has been to the playoffs every year for three straight seasons, but his team still hasn’t been able to get over that hump. If Lewis doesn’t get a win in the playoffs for the fourth straight season, is he done in Cincinnati?

Should he be? Yes. Will he be? Doubtful.

The fans have wanted Lewis gone for a long time now because of his inability to win in the playoffs.  While Lewis has to be given credit for turning this franchise around, I believe they need a new voice in the locker room to get them over the hump. For whatever reason, under Lewis, the Bengals have been awful in big/prime time games, not just the playoffs. His teams have been too talented over the years to be 0-5 in the playoffs.

However, saying that Bengals' management is opposed to change would be an understatement. This is a management team that allowed Dave Shula to stick around for 71 games (despite a 19-52 record) and still has tube TVs in the stadium concourses! To show how much support Lewis has in this organization, Bengals owner Mike Brown brought Lewis back in 2011 despite a 4-12 campaign in 2010. No Bengals coach has led the Bengals to more playoff seasons than Lewis and as much as I disagree with it, I don’t believe Mike Brown will ever fire Marvin Lewis. Until Lewis resigns, quits, or retires, I would be shocked if he isn’t the Bengals' head coach.

3. What is the Bengals’ biggest weakness on offense? How about on defense?

The Bengals' biggest weakness on offense is right tackle. Andre Smith has been a Pro Bowl caliber right tackle since the Bengals took him in the 2009 NFL Draft, but he is having a down year that has been made worse by injury. Smith will likely play this week, but has spent the last two weeks in a walking boot after spraining his ankle in the Jaguars game in Week 9. A rusty and less than 100% Andre Smith against J.J. Watt is a scary thought, and I would expect to see the Bengals use a tight end or running back to help him out. If Smith can’t go, his backup, Marshall Newhouse, is a turnstile dressed up as a Bengals lineman. If Newhouse is forced to play, Watt may have 18 sacks, four forced fumbles and three touchdowns.

On defense, the Bengals' biggest weakness is up the middle against the run. Geno Atkins is playing much better, but is still not 100% from his mid-season ACL tear in 2013. Brandon Thompson is a solid run-stuffer but has been bothered by a knee injury most of the year. Domata Peko is on the backside of his career, and as great of a story as Devon Still has been, he is not a starting NFL tackle at this point in his career (though I think he will be at some point). The Bengals did get Rey Maualuga back last week at middle linebacker and that helped a lot, but they will be without star linebacker Vontaze Burfict yet again.

4. Honest question…if Jameis Winston falls to Cincinnati’s first round pick in the draft next year, would you want the Bengals to take him despite his laundry list of character concerns? Is your answer is more because of your current confidence level in Dalton, whether high or low, or because you do not like Winston as a prospect?

I would stay as far away from Winston as possible, and it has nothing to do with my confidence or lack thereof in Dalton. Dalton is not the type of quarterback that is ever going to "wow" you, but he is solid, and with the right supporting cast and right coaches, he can win a Super Bowl – see Trent Dilfer and Joe Flacco. Even if they were to give up on Dalton after this season – something that won’t happen – Winston is the one guy I would not entertain to replace him.

Winston certainly has the athletic gifts to be a great quarterback, but I don’t believe he has the maturity and work ethic to be great. Like it or not, the quarterback has to be the face of the franchise, and they have to be trustworthy on and off the field. On the field, Winston is great. Off the field, he is a train wreck with a disturbing pattern of not just immature, but possibly felonious behavior. I can’t have that – or anything close to that – out of my franchise quarterback.

It will be interesting to see how front offices deal with Winston because from a talent level, he is a top pick. From an off the field standpoint, he is a huge risk – especially with the current climate of the NFL. Can you imagine finding out a few days before a game that your starting quarterback has been suspended for a game or two for some idiotic off field behavior? He is a big risk for any NFL franchise.

The Bengals have a reputation for taking troubled players.  While that was true in the ‘90s and early 2000s, that is simply not accurate anymore. In fact, thanks in large part to Marvin Lewis, the Bengals have gone the complete opposite direction and stayed pretty far away from troubled players in the last five or so years. Ever since the death of Chris Henry in 2009, the Bengals have changed their philosophy on troubled players and it has benefited them big time.

5. What are your predictions for this Sunday?

Before the season, I predicted this as a win for the Bengals and I am going to stick with that. However, the Texans are a dangerous team and this game concerns me. The Bengals have not played well in recent trips to Houston  - Dalton in particular - and Arian Foster and J.J. Watt have the ability to make this prediction blow up in my face.

However, I believe the Bengals are the more balanced team and with the experience they have at the quarterback position, I give the Bengals the advantage. I think it is a close, one possession game all day before the Bengals pull away with a late touchdown.

Bengals 31, Texans 17.

A big thanks to Scott for stopping by this week. Check out all of his excellent work on all things Bengals over at Cincy Jungle.

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