Scouting report: Cincinnati Bengals

With the season about to kick off, Bengals fan Paul Hiron previews the week one game from a Cincinnati perspective.

How did you become a Bengals fan?
I became a Bengals fan 30 years ago, when the first wave of NFL popularity was surging in the UK, thanks to William Perry et al. My new friends at secondary school were all NFL fans, and followed teams like the Dolphins, 49ers and Raiders. I started to tune into Channel 4’s highlights show and tried to pick a team. I saw this blonde bombshell of a quarterback dressed in tiger stripes, flinging it all over the place. I was smitten. We got to the Super Bowl a couple of years later. Then the 90s happened.

Since our Super Bowl win, we’re 2-6 against you guys. How do Bengals fans feel about the Ravens these days?
I think we respect them. The real hatred and rivalry is reserved for the Steelers, (something I’m sure you can empathise with!) and the Browns because of historical connections and proximity. I think most Bengals fans see the Ravens as a doughty, tough team who we seem to do well against.

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What games between our teams stick in your memory?
There have been some good, close ones recently. The 2014 win at your place, and AJ’s 77-yard winner sticks in the mind, as does the overtime loss M&T the year before, if only for that last-minute hail mary [see picture above] that tied the game up as time ran out. That was hilarious (the hail mary, not the defeat).

Which Ravens player do Bengals fans dislike the most? And if you had to pick a favourite Raven, who would it be?
I don’t think there’s any real hatred there for any of your players. Steve Smith was a chippy sod, but a good player, so we’re pleased to see the back of him. Suggs, too, is a bit gobby. I guess we find Flacco slightly pitiful – he’s had some real stinkers against us recently. Long may that continue on Sunday.

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How was your offseason and how do you feel about the season ahead?
Although we finished 1-3 in preseason, our off-season was ok. We’re in full rejuvenation mode after last year’s disappointing, inconsistent season. We needed to get younger and quicker in skill positions and beef up the pass rush, which was beginning to look non-existent outside of Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. We seemed to have drafted well, addressing key needs and getting good value on players like Jordan Willis at DE, Carl Lawson at LB, Joe Mixon at RB, Jordan Evans at LB and John Ross at WR (all of whom flashed during the pre-season).

If these players can bed in quickly and turn promise into immediate impact – and second-year players like LB Nick Vigil and CB William Jackson continue their development – then we’ll have a real team on our hands.

The big worry is the offensive line. All Pro left tackle and team captain, Andrew Whitworth, left for the Californian sunshine in the off-season after a decade in stripes, and guard, Kevin Zeitler, was lured by big money from the Browns, which has left our OL looking shaky to say the least. It’s a huge year for third-year, former first-round pick, Cedric Ogbuehi at left tackle, and former second-rounder, Jake Fisher, at right tackle. Ogbuehi has been truly awful and will fall over if you blow on him. However, they haven’t been awful in pre-season, and Fisher will be fine. For us to win games, though, and to make go of it, we need an at least competent offensive line.

What would you say are the key areas of this Sunday’s game?
The trenches. You have an excellent defensive front, and, with our OL woes, that worries me. If we can keep Suggs, Williams et al at arm’s length then I expect to move the ball. We have to rattle Flacco a bit, who we hear is less than 100 per cent coming into Sunday.

I think you’ve made some handy signings in Maclin and Woodhead, but they don’t scare me. The defence, however, does – it could turn out to be the league’s best (Jefferson at safety to compliment Weddle was good business). But we have weapons – it’s just a case of which Andy Dalton turns up and whether we can execute. A cliche, but one that’s made for a team as inconsistent as the Bengals.

Also, we’ll be without Burfict (whatever you think of him, he galvanises our defence and is a special player) and Adam Jones, which is not ideal. I expect another close game on Sunday, but I’ll go for a slim home victory.

Paul Hiron runs Bengals UK.
Photo: GManViz.

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