Bengals, Lewis seem comfortable on hot seat

The Sports Xchange

September 01, 2017 at 2:34 pm.

Aug 19, 2017; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis works the sideline against the Kansas City Chiefs in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Photo Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 19, 2017; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis works the sideline against the Kansas City Chiefs in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Photo Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

CINCINNATI — For the first time in six seasons, the Cincinnati Bengals aren’t coming off a playoff appearance. And, for the first time since 2010, head coach Marvin Lewis wasn’t awarded a contract extension during the offseason. The offensive line will have three new starters and no Andrew Whitworth.

Cincinnati finished 6-9-1 last season, but it feels like this team could pull a surprise, reach the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons and, perhaps, win a game for the first time in 26 years.

This is quarterback Andy Dalton’s team. With Whitworth gone, Dalton, in his seventh season, will take over the leadership burden that Dalton insists he’s already doing.

“Going into year seven now, I’m really comfortable with everything we have going here,” Dalton said.

Despite being sacked 41 times last year, Dalton still passed for more than 4,200 yards and 18 TDs. He has more weapons this year with rookies John Ross and Joe Mixon in the mix.

Mixon’s controversial selection in the second round earned the Bengals some heat, but the versatile running back showed an ability in the preseason to elude tacklers in the open field and be an adept receiver out of the backfield. With Jeremy Hill coming off a couple subpar seasons and Gio Bernard coming off an ACL injury, Mixon could be a formidable option for Dalton both in the rushing attack and passing game.

Five-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green is healthy and the Bengals are hoping the same for tight end Tyler Eifert. If the offensive line holds up, the Bengals could have one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses. Green is poised for a big year after falling 36 yards short of joining Randy Moss as the only two NFL receivers to reach the 1,000-yard mark in their first six seasons.

The offensive line is a major question mark, although new starters Cedric Ogbuehi, Trey Hopkins, and Jake Fisher had a strong finish to the preseason. Veteran Andre Smith was signed to take over at right guard, but Hopkins vaulted him in the preseason.

The defense is looking to regain some ferociousness, but again will be without top linebacker Vontaze Burfict who’s suspended for the first three games for yet another violation of player safety rules.

Rookie defensive end Jordan Willis out of Kansas State could help energize the Bengals’ pass rush that still features Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. Willis had four sacks in the preseason. The secondary took a hit when safety Shawn Williams was injured in the preseason but there’s a solid mix of youth and experience in this group with Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick back.

The field-goal kicking situation will work its self out one way or another with both Randy Bullock and rookie Jake Elliott having strong preseasons.

Cincinnati opens its season on Sept. 10 against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium. The Ravens are coming off an 8-8 season and are a team in transition. Joe Flacco is 32 and in his 10th season as Ravens quarterback. The Bengals have won six of the past seven meetings.

Looking around the roster:

–Quarterback Jeff Driskel had played well enough in the preseason that the Bengals were likely to keep three quarterbacks on the roster at the expense of other key position spots. That could have changed Thursday night when Driskel left the preseason game against the Colts after fracturing two fingers. He was seen on the sideline with a cast on his hand and a fracture is feared. Reports indicate surgery is not needed, so he’s still in the mix to make the 53-man roster. Driskel was 14 of 21 passing for 164 yards and a touchdown in the preseason. He also rushed for 63 yards and a TD.

–Wide receiver John Ross, the Bengals’ first-round draft choice, saw his first extended action in the preseason on Thursday at Indianapolis but left with a left knee sprain, according to reports. Ross, who delayed arrival to training camp while rehabbing a shoulder injury, had one reception in the preseason and two rushes for 33 yards. His status for the season opener is not yet known.

–Defensive end Jordan Willis capped an impressive preseason with a sack on Thursday night in Indianapolis. Willis finished the preseason with eight tackles and four sacks, living up to the hype as a “steal” after he was drafted in the third round out of Kansas State. He is tied for seventh in Big 12 Conference history with 26 sacks.