Now that the NFL season is here, I’m putting a twist on my weekly Blogger on Blogger series. Each week, I will enlist a blogger who regularly writes about the Ravens’ opponent to help me break down the game. This week, I exchanged emails with Lindsay Patterson, who covers the Bengals for ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati.
MV: Outside of that dud against the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks ago, the Bengals have been on a roll since their overtime loss to the Ravens in Week 10. What clicked for the new AFC North champs?
LP: I think what has happened since the loss in Baltimore is that this team has added the run game in. We have seen on offense more of a 50/50 split with Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Andy Dalton is getting more comfortable with his weapons and again the defense is stepping up despite the injuries.
MV: Speaking of those injuries on defense, most notably Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins and cornerback Leon Hall, the Bengals still rank in the top 10 in the NFL in run defense, pass defense and takeaways and they are 11th in sacks. How has the defense been able to not only survive, but thrive down the stretch?
LP: That locker room has been confident all along since Leon and Geno went down. Defensive end Michael Johnson was asked about it as soon as Atkins went down and he said "next man up, that's what we do." That's what this team has done. The defense despite injuries has kept them in a lot of games. Key stops and timely turnovers are helpful too. Defensive end Wallace Gilberry has also done a great job stepping up. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been really good and leads the NFL in tackles. He continues to impress in his second year. The locker room calls him the leader on the team. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer deserves just as must credit, keeping the defense together and putting the best 11 men out there despite the changes. This team benefits from depth they have on defense.
MV: Quarterback Andy Dalton is coming off a career day and is third in the NFL with 31 touchdown passes. But despite leading the Bengals to the playoffs for the third time in three seasons, the jury is still out on him in the court of public perception. But how much confidence do his Bengals teammates have in him?
LP: A lot. His locker room is filled with his biggest supporters and cheerleaders. After a bad game, wide receiver A.J. Green is the first to take fault for a bad Andy throw or interception. Offensive linemen Kyle Cook and Andrew Whitworth say it all the time: "Keep doubting Andy, we believe in him." At the end of the day, they believe if they support him that's all that matters.
MV: The Bengals have moved left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who has stymied Terrell Suggs over the years, inside to left guard. How has that transition gone?
LP: Some say this has been the best Andrew has played in his whole career. Moving him over, people get to see a more athletic side of Andrew Whitworth. It has also helped the run game.
MV: The Bengals have an outside shot at securing a first-round bye if they beat the Ravens and the New England Patriots somehow lose to the Buffalo Bills, but some are suggesting the Bengals should rest their starters Sunday. What will head coach Marvin Lewis do in that regard and what do you think he should do?
LP: I think if we were to ask Marvin he would play the starters. For how long, I'm not sure. I say you start them. This team plays well at home -- they’re 7-0 there -- and as we getting that No. 1 seed would help this team get through the first round, because a spot in the second round would be guaranteed. So I wouldn't be surprised if the starters play most of the game on Sunday.
If you are a blogger who is interested in participating in this feature, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.