A look at the Oakland Raiders matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals

A look at the Oakland Raiders matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals with the help of Bengals Insider's Marc Hardin.

1. A lot has been made in the offseason documenting
 quarterback Andy Dalton's struggles while the Raiders
 secondary has also struggled. What are Dalton's biggest
 deficiencies? Do you think the Raiders can find a way to
 force some turnovers?

 Marc Hardin: Dalton has become a polarizing figure even in Cincinnati.
 He's popular enough to be hailed as a locker room leader
 and an off-the-field gem with a generous philanthropic
 spirit in the community through charity and his own
 foundation. He's unpopular enough to be booed at Major
 League Baseball's All-Star Sunday Celebrity Softball
 Game at Great America Ballpark, home of the Reds. What this
 comes down to is Dalton's penchant for playing poorly in
 big games. That's his biggest knock. He has one
 touchdown and six interceptions in four postseason games
 with a career rating of 57.8.

 Dalton is 0-4 in the playoffs, which to some totally negates
 the fact he's the only QB in franchise history to lead
 the Bengals to four straight playoff berths, and one of five
 in NFL history to take his team to the playoffs his first
 four seasons. His toughest critics overlook his durability
 and solid second and third seasons in the league and all the
 bad quarterback play that came on all those bad non-playoff
 Bengals teams before Marvin Lewis arrived in 2003, and say
 he's not a finisher -- especially on a big stage. They
 say he's not an elite passer, he's mistake-prone and
 his arm isn't strong enough to stretch the field. He was
 interception-prone last season while throwing to a decimated
 receiver corps, totaling 17 with a handful of pick-sixes.

 Dalton is not as bad as he showed last season, but I think
 the Raiders have a decent chance to come up with some
 turnovers, via at least one Dalton pick and possibly a
 Jeremy Hill fumble (he fumbled five times last season, tied
 for most among 1,000-yard rushers.)

 2. Second-year linebacker Khalil Mack has been an absolute
 beast in the preseason and has looked unstoppable at times.
 Do you think the Raiders will be able to apply some pressure
 on Dalton? How has their offensive line looked?

 MH: Coach Lewis had some praise for Mack this week during his
 weekly news conference, calling him "impressive"
 and saying he showed up well on film. That being said, among
 league quarterbacks who threw for at least 2,200 yards in
 2014, Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco were the only ones who
 were sacked fewer than Dalton's 21 times. While I think
 that the Raiders will be able to get some pressure on
 Dalton, it will be tough to get him on the ground because of
 the Bengals' offensive line, regarded as one of the
 AFC's biggest and best. The first-team line generally
 looked good in preseason, with a sub-par performance against
 Tampa Bay (three Dalton sacks).

 3. Running back Giovani Bernard was all the craze heading
 into last season before Jeremy Hill came in and outperformed
 him. Now Hill is slated to have a big season. What is the
 best way to slow down the big back?

MH:  Once Hill is, ahem, running downhill, he is tough to stop.
 The best way to slow him is to hit him early in his carries,
 wrap up and gang-tackle. Hill, at 6 feet 1 and 235 pounds,
 is simply too big and powerful, especially in the legs, and
 shifty enough for his size to be stopped one-on-one by a
 player who doesn't have sound technique. He bounces off
 tackles well and he can drag a foot-tackler 10 yards. On top
 of it, when he turns the corner, he has a late finishing
 burst with the ability to outrun defenders. Causing Hill to
 fumble makes him somewhat tentative, but a tackler going for
 a ball-strip is more than likely going to be embarrassed by
 a long gainer.

 4. The firing of Hue Jackson in Oakland was a polarizing
 move to Raider Nation as many still believe he was the right
 man for the job. What have you seen from him since he got
 the OC job in Cincy?

 MH: Jackson is a talented, imaginative offensive coordinator
 with a riverboat gambler's moxie and a trick bag full of
 gadget plays who may yet receive another chance as a head
 coach. While he learned some tough lessons in his first
 season as Bengals OC and showed inconsistency in
 play-calling while sometimes going away from the run too
 early, he did put together some solid game plans. It was his
 decision last season to make Jeremy Hill the primary ball
 carrier in the middle of the schedule. Jackson wasn't
 playing with a full deck last season as injuries ravaged the
 receiver and tight end groups and claimed Giovani Bernard
 for three games, limiting Andy Dalton's effectiveness.
 During training camp, Jackson said he's going to
 'open Pandora's box.' This could mean anything
 from receiver Mohamed Sanu throwing passes, Dalton catching
 passes, running back Rex Burkhead lining up in the slot, and
 tackle-eligible linemen who get thrown to.

 5. Wide receiver A.J. Green has quickly emerged as one of
 the most talented wide receivers in the league. What must
 the Raiders do to try and stop him?

 MH: They need to get their best cover corner on him like a
 plastic wrap, and maybe someone else too, bump him at the
 line, hit his hands and give him the business so they can
 get in his head. Green is gifted and a catch machine capable
 of churning out yards. But he doesn't have a mean
 streak, he can be frustrated, and sometimes he loses his
 focus. He also can be his own worst enemy by cutting routes
 short, free-lancing routes to a degree but not all the time,
 and failing to contest certain 50-50 balls. He drives people
 mad by not doing enough to "defend" interceptions
 and would-be interceptions. Green is expected to be more
 focused this season as he plays for a new contract.


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