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Cincinnati Bengals

A Year in the Life of the Bengals – 2013

Andrew Dunn

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The 2013 season is one of those seasons I’ve been both looking forward to examining, as well as dreading it.  While the fairly recent 2008 and 2010 seasons were torture to sit through as fans, the 2013 Bengals brought on a new kind of pain – after four playoff losses had already dragged Marvin Lewis’ reign as head coach through the mud, it was this fifth one that really put a lot of fans over the top.  This team was brilliant and fun to watch for the entire regular season, only to have the biggest gut punch of a playoff loss (until this point, at least…. We’ll get there) crush the remaining optimism in the hearts of a good chunk of the fan base.

This week’s fun facts are a little different than usual – you won’t be finding any music chart toppers or highest grossing movies this week.  No, 2013 had some incredibly obscure facts/occurrences for our entertainment.  First, 2013 marked the first year since 1933 that no Loch Ness Monster sightings were reported… which came as a highly disappointing finding for the conspiracy enthusiast in me.  Next, the Google site went down for roughly a five-minute period in August of 2013 – it took roughly 40% of internet traffic with it, an astounding number for just one site, no matter how gargantuan said site is.

And of course, a little hiccup from PayPal that most of us would like to have been on the receiving end of.  The company – erroneously, of course – deposited $92.2 quadrillion into a user’s account.  I’m not entirely sure what happened next, but I would assume that the man/woman in this case instantly woke up from their dream.

Now then, onto one of the more impressive teams of the Marvin Lewis era.  This team went 11-5, including 8-0 at Paul Brown Stadium, and came out of the regular season as AFC North Champions.

They were mostly quiet during free agency, as per usual, but they did make something of a splash by signing longtime Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison.  The 2013 Draft wound up turning out some good players for the Bengals, even if one in particular realized his potential after leaving the team.  Much to my chagrin at the time, the team grabbed Tyler Eifert 21st overall, adding him to a corps that already included Jermaine Gresham.

They also used another one of the Raiders selections they received as part of the Palmer deal to draft Giovanni Bernard 37th overall, giving some lightning to BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ thunder.  Safety Shawn Williams joined the Bengals in round three, while running back Rex Burkhead was drafted 190th overall.  As most of us have realized, he’s done more in New England in one season than he ever did with the Bengals – a large fan contingent blames that on the coaching, not on Burkhead himself.

Cincinnati, despite an opening weekend loss to the Bears at Soldier Field, came out of the gate pretty hot, starting the season 6-2.  Those six wins included victories over some strong teams, including the Patriots, Steelers, and Packers.  Two consecutive overtime losses – one of which came via a safety on Halloween in Miami (only the Bengals, folks) – halted the momentum a touch, but not for long.  The Bengals’ lone blemish in the final six games of the season came at Heinz Field, culminating in the aforementioned 11-5 record.

The division title set the Bengals up with the AFC’s third seed in the playoffs, meaning they would host the sixth-seeded San Diego Chargers – a team they had defeated in San Diego only a handful of weeks prior.  Going into the January 5 showdown, even the experts were finally showing the Bengals some respect, as most of them predicted a Bengals victory.

Before we get into the game and the stats on the season, I feel compelled to tell a small anecdote.  Once the Bengals reached the 5-0 mark at home that season, I recall looking at my dad and saying, “They’re going to go unbeaten at home and drop the opener in the playoffs… I can feel it.”  The sad part of being a fan in Cincinnati is that I know I’m not the only one who had that thought during the season.

Stories aside, we all know how that cold, snowy day in Cincinnati ended – the Chargers, fresh out of their warm weather environment, dismantled the Bengals in every sense of the word, crushing the dreams of the team and fans, 27-10.  Another mediocre-to-subpar performance in the playoffs by Andy Dalton took on the brunt of the punishment from fans, but the fact is I recall one thing about this game very vividly – the Bengals were destroyed in the trenches.

The offensive line was constantly overpowered by the Chargers’ front four, while the Bengals’ star-studded front four on defense was no match for the Chargers’ offensive line.  Ronnie Brown, long past his prime with Miami, ran for 77 yards on just eight carries, while he and Danny Woodhead each scored a touchdown.  The loss really cemented the sour taste of the Marvin Lewis era in most fans’ mouths, while this was what really fueled the fire directed at Dalton.

But, there will be more on both of those fronts as we move down the line.  Dalton – say what you want about him during the postseason – was very good in 2013, throwing for 4,296 yards, 33 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.  That’s definitely more picks than you want to see, but a 4,000+ yard season and 30+ touchdowns blew a lot of critics away.

Veteran running back Green-Ellis was largely disappointing in year two as a Bengal, going for a modest 756 yards on a very disappointing 3.4 yards per carry, but he did score seven times.  The rookie Bernard racked up 695 yards on 4.1 yards per carry, scoring five touchdowns of his own.  Bernard also caught 56 passes, second most on the team, for 514 yards and three scores.

The receiving corps really had two stars, one of which was, of course, star receiver A.J. Green.  He caught 98 passes for 1,426 yards and 11 touchdowns, arguably his best season in orange and black.  Second-year wide out Marvin Jones only caught 35 passes, but 10 of which went for touchdowns – the sixth-round receiver managed to catch four in one game against the Jets in 2013.  This began his ascent up the NFL ranks, which has now landed him with a lucrative contract in Detroit.

The rookie, Eifert was fairly underwhelming in his 15 appearances, only catching two touchdowns.  While he was a rookie, his red zone effectiveness was largely considered his strength, and it was never really on display.

Mike Zimmer continued to put himself on the map as a head coach target by throwing out one of the league’s better defenses week in and week out.  Vontaze Burfict made a team-high 131 tackles, while Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick each collected three interceptions.  Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry each had solid seasons along the front four, making 7.5 sacks apiece, while star pass-rusher Geno Atkins had six of his own before a major injury ended his 2013 season on Halloween.

Sadly, this marked the beginning of what some may view as a revolt against the Bengals in general.  The playoff struggles had now dragged on for 20+ years, and with Marvin Lewis being one of the longest-tenured coaches in the league, it was a constant belief that his hot seat should’ve been on fire.

Next week brings a new issue to Cincinnati – sure, the playoffs will be on the agenda, but an injury-riddled team will at least give Marvin an excuse.

Andrew graduated from the University of Kentucky (direct your hate tweets to @atdu222) with a degree in Business Management and minor in Communications. You can find some of his previous works on Bleacher Report. Andrew is a lifelong fan of the Cincinnati Bengals and Reds... he was born in 1990, so his life as a sports fan has been pretty crappy until you extend the boundaries to Lexington. Andrew works full time for Western & Southern Financial Group and is married with a 1 year old daughter.

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Podcast

Austin, Bates and Kirkpatrick discuss George Iloka’s release

James Rapien

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I discuss the Bengals’ decision to release George Iloka on today’s podcast. Plus, hear from defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and the man who’s expected to replace Iloka in the starting lineup – Jessie Bates. Hear that and more on today’s Locked on Bengals podcast.

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Cincinnati Bengals

Grading the Bengals victory in Dallas

Russell Heltman

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The Cincinnati Bengals are undefeated halfway through the 2018 preseason slate but if the 2017 Browns taught us anything it’s that victories before September matter a lot less than the performances that go into them. With that being said it was a victorious night for the orange and black but it was rarely pretty, time to assess their performance in each phase of the game.

Offense: C-

It was an ugly night on offense for Cincinnati, The starters basically no-showed in the first half and here’s how each drive looked before they headed to the locker room: Punt, Punt, Punt, Fumble, Punt, Interception.

All in all the first-team offense put together two drives with no first downs and 10 total yards.

That’s enough to put any team down three scores early in a regular season game and plenty of those struggles were linked to the offensive line. The left side looked decent with Clint Boling and Cordy Glenn proving they can be trusted with backside pressure. Outside of that, it was pretty rough, Bobby Hart started the game at right tackle and was shredded by Pro Bowl end Demarcus Lawrence. Cedric Ogbuehi was even worse as his replacement, allowing a sack to Taco Charlton even though he was called for a hold on the play.

As for right guard and center, Trey Hopkins didn’t make any egregious mistakes and contributed as the center on a 14-play, 92-yard TD drive in the third quarter. The argument could be made for him to be the backup center over T.J. Johnson.

Rookie center Billy Price on the other hand still has a lot of work to do, some of it looks like rookie mistakes but that is now two games into his career where he’s looked a little lost. The former Buckeye isn’t quite where we need him to be three weeks from Indianapolis. Right now Joe Mixon is averaging 2.4 yards per carry in the preseason, don’t expect that to get much better without improvement up front.

On a positive note, Jeff Driskel looked competent and collected in the second half. The Florida product went 10-of-16, for 116 yards and 1 interception but he led the Bengals longest drive of the night highlighted by this gem to John Ross.

The Bengals got the win and scored 21 points but still have a long, long way to go on the offensive line.

Defense: A

I fully expect this group to be the heart and soul of the 2018 Cincinnati Bengals.

They were absolutely dominant in Dallas, especially on the defensive line where they picked up five sacks including this power rush from Jordan Willis.

Sam Hubbard, Nick Vigil, and Carl Lawson tallied a sack and highlighted this crew’s biggest strengths: depth and versatility. Teryl Austin has the luxury of a talented front seven that isn’t reliant on one or two players but on the machine as a whole. The Cowboys could never get into a rhythm offensively because Cincinnati consistently won the first two seconds of each play. Andrew Billings was a big part of that equation, he got pressure on the inside all night and all but cemented a starting spot alongside Geno Atkins.

Pair this group with another deep crew in the cornerback room and all of those issues I mentioned above might not matter if the defense only allows 13 points on a regular basis.

As for the last line of defense, rookie Jessie Bates III got some first-team reps in place of George Iloka and looked the part, Austin has talked about running more three-safety looks all offseason and Bates III is making that game plan look more likely each week.

The offense might not be ready but this defense, despite missing Vontaze Burfict, looks ready to pounce on Andrew Luck in week one.

Special Teams: B+

This was arguably the Jonathan Brown game.

The soccer convert out of Louisville had never kicked a field goal at any level before coming to the NFL and now he has put the pressure on incumbent kicker Randy Bullock. Brown went 2-for-2 on field goal tries including a 55-yard field in the third quarter, that would have tied the Bengals regular season record set by Mike Nugent.

Marvin Lewis came out after the game and said Bullock is still the guy, which isn’t big news, he did go 18-of-20 for the Bengals last season, but keep an eye on Brown over the last two preseason games. Cincinnati let a young kicker go last year who is shaping up to be pretty special.

As far as the return game goes, Darius Phillips will be returning his fair share of kicks for the Bengals this season. he flashed serious game-breaking ability last night, finishing with three returns for 96 total yards. Making it pretty clear how he left Western Michigan as the NCAA’s all-time leader in return touchdowns.

Phillips can slide in alongside Alex Erickson this season and form one of the most dynamic return duos in the NFL. The Cowboys put together a couple of nice kickoff returns but Cincinnati’s unit won the night in the end.

The Bengals were edged out in one phase while dominating the other two and that often leads to victories in the NFL. We will see if they can link all three together next week in Buffalo.

 

For more quick-hit thoughts on the Bengals follow me on Twitter: @russheltman11

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Cincinnati Bengals

Players are buying into Bill Lazor’s offense

James Rapien

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The Bengals finished dead last in total offense last season. Yes, the 0-16 Browns finished ahead of them. So did the Colts, who played all 16 games without quarterback Andrew Luck. If you love offense, then you probably didn’t enjoy watching the Bengals last season. They scored less than 10 points in five games and didn’t reach the end zone until week three.

The offense hit rock bottom in 2017, but they don’t expect that trend to continue. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor led a complete overhaul of an offensive that had been in place since Andy Dalton and A.J. Green were drafted in 2011. Sure, they made some tweaks over the past seven seasons, but nothing like this. Lazor rebuilt an offense that needed it desperately and the players are buying in.

“I like it. It’s different terminology, numbers and stuff like that,” Alex Erickson said. “It’s obviously challenging in the beginning, but we’ve had minicamp and OTA’s to really learn it. It’s allowed us to really progress this training camp.”

Erickson hasn’t played on a winning Bengals team. He beat out Brandon Tate for a roster spot in 2016, after going undrafted. The former Wisconsin Badger is one of the many weapons that Lazor has in his arsenal. Did he design a system that will put the skill players in the best position to succeed? That’s a question that cannot be answered until actual games start, but it’s been asked since Lazor was named offensive coordinator.

The Bengals used high draft picks on skill players over the past three seasons. They drafted a wide receiver in the top ten, a running back in the second round and multiple wide receivers in rounds two through four. They have former pro bowler Tyler Eifert, a talented running back like Giovani Bernard and a top five wide receiver in Green. Did Lazor design a system that will get the most out of a young, but talented offense? Third-year wide receiver Tyler Boyd loves the depth this team has.

“We got fresh guys out there. Guys that are hungry,” Boyd said. “Guys that are willing and dying to get out there on the field and make plays. Every guy wants the best out of each other. We do a great job of motivating each other, grinding hard and competing with one another. We all have a great friendship. We’re all cool and we’re all real tight. We all want everyone to play a part. We don’t want it to just be me and A.J. all of the time. We are able to get me and A.J. a break or get two fresh guys in there and continue what we were doing. It makes it a lot easier for the offense to improve from last year.”

That unselfishness is important to have, even on a team that finished dead last in total offense last season. There are a lot of mouths to feed. From Joe Mixon and Bernard, to Eifert and Tyler Kroft, who are both in contract years. Boyd is eager to prove last year was a mere speed bump, in what will be a successful career in Cincinnati. Former ninth overall pick John Ross not only wants to move past last season, he wants to show people that the Bengals made the right decision when they drafted him in 2017. Instead of worrying about their own touches, it seems like the offense is more worried about being successful.

Fans got their first glimpse of Lazor’s new offense last Thursday at Paul Brown Stadium. The first-team offense scored two touchdowns on three drives. Dalton completed six passes to five different players. They were nearly perfect, outside of an interception that occurred when Ross fell down on a route. The Bengals are buying into Lazor’s system and the skill players are excited about their potential.

“You look at the depth at each and every position. To me, it’s absolutely insane,” tight end C.J. Uzomah said. “It’s not fair – how much skill we have. The offensive line is protecting well. When we’re able to establish the run early, I think that opens everything else up.”

The Bengals will need to be better on the ground this season. They averaged 3.6 yards-per-carry last year and finished next to last in the NFL in total rushing yards with 1,366. Detroit was last with 1,221. If this team is going to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015, they’re going to need their rushing attack to take a significant step forward. The offensive line is expected to be better with the additions of Cordy Glenn, Billy Price and Bobby Hart. Improvement up front will give Lazor a chance to show he can properly utilize two dynamic and versatile running backs in Mixon and Bernard.

And while the Bengals offense may begin with the ground game, it certainly won’t end there. They have made a concerted effort to throw the ball downfield in training camp. That makes sense when you have Green, Ross and other young players who are capable of making huge plays. Rookie Auden Tate has been impressive and so has second-year wide receiver Josh Malone.

They have shown their potential throughout training camp. Don’t look now, but this offense may complete a 180-degree turnaround from where they were a year ago.

 

For more on Bengals training camp, listen to today’s Locked on Bengals podcast:

 

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