For this week’s edition of “Behind Enemy Lines,” we reached out to Joe Reedy, Bengals beat writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer. Here are five questions we posed to Reedy in advance of Sunday’s Vikings-Bengals game in the Jungle, Paul Brown Stadium.
1. The Bengals are 6-0 at home averaging 33 points a game. What has led to the consistency on offense at home?
JR: I think the last three games at home they’ve been balanced. When they’ve done well on the road too especially that October run (4-1), [quarterback] Andy Dalton balances it out and doesn’t solely rely on [wide receiver] A.J. Green, that’s when this offense is most effective. Marvin Jones is tied for the lead in touchdowns with A.J. (9). We’ve seen what [running back] Giovani Bernard can do not only as a runner but catching the ball out of the backfield. …When they’re balanced, it’s effective and it doesn’t put the pressure on Dalton and on Green. Andy is one of those guys who can be really good or really bad. There’s really not a middle ground with him and that’s, I think, been the one major criticism of him.
2. What does Dalton need to do to establish that middle ground?
JR: The one area he’s grown this year is he’s not taking sacks (Bengals 5th fewest in NFL with 27 sacks allowed), but I also think too maybe a little bit better on the deep ball, a little bit better on decision making. When he’s had some interceptions this year, they’ve been some bad interceptions where you go, ‘What the heck is he doing here?’ …I think also Andy has to learn who has the hot hand and maybe keep going to those guys. There’s sometimes when you have so many offensive weapons and these guys do that you maybe have a tendency to spread it around too much during games.
3. Vikings head coach eased in rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson over the year. Has Bengals head coach done the same thing with running back Giovani Bernard?
JR: I think so because Marvin has a alluded to it and I brought it up a couple times but the comparison to Giovani Bernard is Ray Rice. When you look at Ray Rice’s touches per game as a rookie (8.2), Gio’s averaging about four more touches a game than Ray Rice. Yes he is stout, and I think he’s built a little bit better than Ray Rice, but when you get a guy like Ray Rice you can’t rely everything on him. Most teams in the league can’t be a one-back team anymore. The Vikings are probably the one, two teams that can be a one-back team just because of Adrian Peterson. The plan all along was to have the two backs and then shift to Gio for most of the carries, but you’re still going to have BenJarvus Green-Ellis in short yardage. It’s kind of a perfect pairing.
4. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict leads the NFL with 151 tackles. How has the 2012 undrafted free agent gone from a player with character issues to a leader on defense?
JR: I think the fact that he’s a natural leader to begin with and I think that we all thought during the offseason when free agency started that [linebacker Rey] Maualuga wasn’t going to be back (he resigned with the Bengals). This is a kid that never played weakside linebacker until last year, and he just continues to grow and progress. What he can do sideline to sideline and when he got in shape and conditioned, it’s all come together. He’s a guy who wants to be a leader and is driven. …In the linebacker room, really the only drafted guy is Maualuga. So I think there’s that camaraderie, but I think the athleticism and extremely smart player in terms of learning things and picking up. The guy can play through a ton of injuries too because he’s had a couple this year where there’s no way he’s going to play or be out there the rest of the game, and he continues to show up.
5. Harrison suffered a concussion in Sunday’s loss to the Steelers. What’s his status for the Vikings game?
JR: He was doing some work on the side today with the concussion. That’ll be touch and go. The big one is Andrew Whitworth, the left guard and left tackle for most of the year who was a Pro Bowler. He got a concussion yesterday and is under the protocol. If he’s unable to play, Kevin Zeitler would probably return to his starting spot at left guard and Mike Pollak would be the left guard. This running game has thrived over the last two, three weeks with Whitworth at left guard and Anthony Collins at left tackle.