INDIANAPOLIS —We've got the Cincinnati Bengals and the Indianapolis Colts matching up on Sunday afternoon in their 2017 Week 8 showdown at Paul Brown Stadium.
With an inside scoop on the opposition heading into the game, we check in with Geoff Hobson, writer and editor for the Bengals and their website, Bengals.com (follow Geoff on Twitter @GeoffHobsonCin).
Walker:OK, Geoff, it's Colts and Bengals on Sunday in Cincinnati. The Bengals come in at 2-4 after a 29-14 loss to the Steelers last Sunday in Pittsburgh; now, coming into the season, I think a lot of people, including me, would've looked at the Bengals as a definite contender there in the AFC North, and I know there's still a lot of season left, but what's happened in these first six games that hasn't gone the Bengals' way?
Hobson: **"Well, you know, they changed their offensive coordinator four days and two games into the season, and anytime that happens, obviously it's problems. And they've never really (gotten) in-sync offensively. Bill Lazor, who replaced Ken Zampese, the quarterbacks coach, has done a nice job, you know, trying to get things back on track — they backpedaled a little bit against Pittsburgh — but they've basically got a new offensive line, two new tackles, they've got a rookie running back, Tyler Eifert, their big tight end out of Indiana, is on IR again, and Jon Ross, their rookie wide receiver, first-round pick, he's played but five snaps. So they're struggling, as far as trying to get any kind of semblance of continuity."
Walker:One thing the Bengals have done well this season is play defense — they come into Sunday's game ranked fifth in the league in yards allowed, and I look across their front and see several guys with 4, 3 and a half, 3 sacks. What has been working so far this season for the Bengals' defense?
Hobson:"Well they've really gotten a lift from their young pass rushers that they drafted. They drafted Carl Lawson in the fourth round; they drafted Jordan Willis in the third round — two edge guys that have really complimented Pro Bowler Geno Adkins in the middle and Carlos Dunlap on the left end. And Chris Smith, a guy who the Colts know from the days of playing the Jaguars, they picked him up in a trade; he's been effective going in and out, and they've moved Michael Johnson from end to inside on passing downs — he's been effective in there. So they weren't real effective, obviously, in the pass rush last week; they had their NFL-best streak of 34 straight games with a sack, that got snapped, probably because Ben (Roethelisberger) only threw it it 24 times and they ran it 40, and that will break your sack streak pretty quick. So I think they want to make sure that Frank Gore doesn't go off; I think that's probably their main deal — I think that's going to be their main deal, I think, defensively this week."
Walker:The Colts, obviously, have had their struggles on defense this season, and now they face a guy like A.J. Green, who is having another great year — second in the league with 545 receiving yards, has three touchdowns, including a 77-yarder. Now, I know you've been covering this team for a while, and have seen some really talented guys — particularly on offense — come through Cincinnati, but what makes A.J. Green so special?
Hobson:"He's just so long and he's just got great hands. Great hand-eye coordination. I mean, this was a kid who was a great juggler — he was a great juggler growing up, you know? And you can see it on some of the plays that he makes; he's got marvelous concentration. And, like you said, they've had some great receivers here: Chad Johnson, Carl Pickens; you know, go all the way back to the great Isaac Curtis before there was a team in Indianapolis, who did his damage against the Baltimore Colts. But A.J.'s got all that stuff — he's got speed, he's got the hands, he runs great routes. And, plus, just as a guy — the great receivers are supposed to be divas, right? And, you know, he's not. He's not. He won't cry for the ball, that's for sure, and I think when you have a player that great in that position, that's so helpful, because we've seen it the other way, how it can really hurt clubs, you know?"
Walker:Finally, think we see a lot of Joe Mixon on Sunday? Maybe a little bit too much was made out of his comments about wanting the ball more this week — head coach Marvin Lewis expressed his rookie running back should show more maturity when discussing those types of matters — but some think Mixon has a point; that he should get the ball more. Think he gets what he wants on Sunday?
Hobson:"Well there's no way he can only have seven carries for 48 yards. You're not going to beat the Steelers — I mean, I understand what Marvin's saying. But Joe comes in a long line of running backs who are always — I think the great ones always gripe about their carries, you know? I've heard Corey Dillon, Rudy Johnson, Cedric Benson, you know? When you're a hell of a player and you know it, you want the ball? And of course, obviously, I mean, Marvin's right — and Joe's a smart guy. He gets it. He's a competitor. But they have got to run the ball. If they're not going to run the ball, I mean, (Andy) Dalton and Green and these guys in the passing game, they're going to be useless if they don't run the ball. So I think they're at home, I think they've got a club coming in that's struggled against the run — they've gotta run the ball. I would expect to see Joe Mixon — I would hope he would have his first 20-carry game. But I get ripped around here for liking the run too much, so maybe I'm a bad guy to ask about the run, because I would like to seem them run it 60 times and throw it eight. But, to me, that's the best way, when you're having trouble, the best thing you can do is run the ball. It takes heat off your quarterback, it takes heat off your line, it takes heat off your defense — it makes everybody better, you know? And at this point, at 2-4, trying to get back on the track, probably not a bad idea to run the ball a little bit."