John Gennaro: I thought the Bengals were, quietly, one of the best teams in the AFC North a few weeks ago. Then they lost Geno Atkins and dropped games to the Dolphins and Ravens. How good is this team now?
Mickey Mentzer: Very inconsistent. The Bengals beat the Packers when Rodgers was still healthy, shut down and beat Tom Brady and the Patriots and crushed the Steelers. Then they lose to the Browns, Dolphins and Ravens. If they could continue the success they have had against the top teams, they would be pretty unstoppable. The Geno Atkins loss is big, but his very large shoes are being filled by Brandon Thompson and we have not missed him too terribly bad.
However, there are injuries and inconsistent play from a few of the key starting positions that have hurt the Bengals. I think the Bengals have the potential to be very good. They currently hold a two game lead in their division and have shown they have the talent to beat anyone. They just need to do it. They have a huge test on Sunday against a very good offense in the Chargers.
JG: I've always compared Andy Dalton to Joe Flacco. To an outsider, they both seem like slightly above-average QBs that have the ability to get hot at any time (like when Flacco got hot in the playoffs last year). Do Bengals fans believe in Dalton as their long-term, franchise QB?
MM: Everyone will tell you that Dalton does not have the arm of Flacco. It is true, Andy struggles with the deep ball but has above average accuracy in the shorter game. The observation of being streaky is spot on. At times, Andy can't miss and seems to find every open receiver. Other times he throws back to back interceptions to Joe Haden. The Bengals need a little more of the first and less of the last if they hope to make a post season run.
JG: Is there any concern that this season might be the last chance the Bengals have with the Lewis / Gruden / Zimmer / Jackson coaching staff?
MM: We have had the concern for several years. I don't see Marvin going anywhere for a while. However, there has been a lot of interest around offensive coordinator Jay Gruden since he has been in stripes. Gruden even seems to get more inquiries than Mike Zimmer. Zimmer has tuned the Bengals defense into a next man up unit that has been highly ranked since he has been here. However, Zimmer never really gets serious consideration for a head coaching position.
With a successful post season, I could see one of the Bengals coordinators being plucked away.
JG: Obviously, Giovani Bernard has been a great pick and I expect him to be the Bengals starting running back to start 2014, but how effective has Tyler Eifert been? If you could re-do that pick, who would you take for the Bengals?
MM: I still go with Eifert I think. The potential of the kid is through the roof. Eventually he will take over for the talented Jermaine Gresham. Eifert may not have had the immediate impact that many Bengals fans wanted when he was drafted, but there have been some big moments in this rookie season that show what he brings to the table.
JG: If you were Mike Zimmer, how would you plan to stop the Chargers offense?
MM: I think the key is pressure. I watched much of the game last week when the Chargers knocked off the Chiefs and Rivers had too much time. Philip Rivers will destroy any team if he has time in the pocket. In order for the Bengals secondary to have a chance, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson need to create havoc in the back field. If the game turns into a shootout, I don't have the confidence that the Bengals offense can keep pace with the Chargers.
JG: Thanks for stopping by, Mickey. Best of luck to the Cincinnati Bengals this season...in all of the games in which they are not playing against the Chargers.