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A Year in the Life of the Bengals – 2014

Andrew Dunn

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For most fanbases, three consecutive playoff appearances by their team would be viewed as a pretty good accomplishment that would merit some optimism.  However, with three straight losses under his belt and an overall 0-5 playoff record on the books, Marvin Lewis received a lot of heat by 2014.  Many were shocked he hadn’t been fired following an inexcusable blowout home playoff loss to the Chargers.  Many called for Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer to take over for Lewis, but he was not offered the job, so he left for Minnesota – go check out how it’s been working for him.  The same heat was starting to go towards quarterback Andy Dalton, as many fans started calling for his backup to be the starter – spoiler alert, 2014 is when AJ McCarron arrived.

Our fun facts for the week – American Sniper was the year’s highest grossing film, but I’m going to expand on that for a moment.  The film, arguably Bradley Cooper’s best, grossed just over $89 million in its opening weekend.  Let’s compare that to a film also released in 2015 called United Passions – this film, a French drama (though it’s an English-spoken film), grossed $918 during its first weekend.  No, that’s not a typo – I did not mean to type $918,000.  An astonishing $918 was grossed in its first weekend.

Also, this was the year the ice bucket challenge was popularized in an effort to raise awareness of ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  And finally, an incident occurred at a Kanye West concert where the artist stopped performing in the middle of the song Good Life as he noticed not everyone was standing.  The person he was stopping for, in particular, was in a wheelchair… because Kanye West.

Now then, onto the 2014 Bengals who finished a pretty solid 10-5-1, which wound up being good for second place in the AFC North and the fifth-seed in the AFC playoffs.  This was a pretty good record in general, but especially so when you consider this team wound up decimated by injuries, which played a part in an offense that was not as good as it was capable of being.

The year’s Draft has largely turned out to be a dud, though there is still hope for first round selection Darqueze Dennard, a cornerback out of Michigan State who most thought was a steal for the Bengals at 24th overall.  Other selections included running back Jeremy Hill, center Russell Bodine, quarterback AJ McCarron, and linebacker Marquis Flowers.

Hill – outstanding rookie season aside – was mostly a bust and no longer with the team, Bodine was a below average lineman who is now in Cleveland, and Flowers is actually managing to turn his career around.  Following very limited use in Cincinnati, he is now with the Patriots, set for a big role after collecting 32 tackles and 3.5 sacks in limited time last season.

As for McCarron, we will be referencing him a lot over the coming few weeks despite the fact he’s no longer with the Bengals.  For his rookie season, he was on the shelf with injuries for the entirety of it.

The 2014 campaign got off to a great start with a 23-16 home win over the Ravens.  This game didn’t come without cost – tight end Tyler Eifert, who had started to garner Gronk-level expectations (maybe not that high), endured a nasty elbow injury that ended his season.  He had three catches for 37 yards in the first half before his injuries, looking like a dominant force over the middle.

Victories over the Falcons and Titans took the Bengals into their Week 4 bye week feeling good at 3-0.  However, they’d come back out to go 0-2-1, including an ugly 43-17 loss to the Patriots on Sunday Night Football.  That was the game that featured the infamous “We’re onto Cincinnati” rant from Bill Belichick.  Leave it to the Bengals to assure everyone that the Patriots were, in fact, NOT past their time.

Skipping ahead, the Bengals walked into Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on a Sunday night in December of 2014 in what was the NFL’s regular season finale.  The game was going to decide the AFC North champion, as the Steelers entered the game 10-5, while the Bengals entered 10-4-1.  We know how this story ends – Steelers win, and take the division with them, as well as a home playoff game.

The Bengals, on the other hand, were set for a matchup with Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC’s Wild Card round.  I’ll preface this – this playoff team was unlike the teams that came before it.  This team entered Indy without AJ Green, Marvin Jones (who missed the whole season), Vontaze Burfict, and of course, Tyler Eifert, among others.  So depleted were they, the Bengals ended up using Rex Burkhead very heavily as a receiver in various formations throughout the game.

This may not seem so bad given where Burkhead stands in the league now, but at the time, he was, at best, the team’s third running back – say what you want about Marvin not recognizing talent, but the point is that they were forced to use him because they had so few options.

As we know, the game was never really close, as the Bengals lost to the Colts 26-10.  Another very pedestrian performance from Dalton did not help things – he went 18/35 on the day with 155 yards… no scores.

As had been the case in the seasons prior, many fans were just defeated after another playoff loss.  Sure, no one really had great expectations given the injury bug biting hard, but it didn’t change the fact that the Marvin Lewis era, now over 10 years, had no playoff wins on its resume.

One key factor to note in 2014 was the uncharacteristically average play of Andy Dalton – he threw for an okay 3,398 yards, but only had 19 touchdowns to 17 interceptions.  Again, part of this can be contributed to injury – he didn’t have Marvin Jones at all, he had Eifert for one half, and Green missed three regular season games, parts of two others, and the entire postseason game.

Speaking of Green, he still had a solid season, if a little underwhelming from an overall standpoint considering his talent – he caught 69 passes for 1,041 yards and six touchdowns.  It was up to Mohamed Sanu and Jermaine Gresham to pick up the slack.  Sanu caught 56 passes for 790 yards and five scores, while Gresham stepped back into the starting tight end role to the tune of 62 catches for 460 yards and five touchdowns.

It was the running game here in 2014 that carried this offense – rookie Jeremy Hill was outstanding, running for 1,124 yards on an amazing 5.1 yards per carry, and scored nine touchdowns.  It turned out to be, by far, Hill’s best season in Cincinnati.  Meanwhile, second-year man Gio Bernard ran for 680 yards on four yards per carry, scored five times, and he caught 43 passes with two touchdowns.

The defense, despite losing Mike Zimmer, was decent in general, though not one of the better units they had been in the past.  Linebacker Vincent Rey burst onto the scene with 133 tackles in Burfict’s absence, while Reggie Nelson registered 99 of his own, as well as four interceptions.  George Iloka and Adam Jones accounted for three picks apiece, and Carlos Dunlap notched eight sacks, continuing his trajectory up the defensive end ladder.

And next week, we have finally arrived at a season that is probably the top of the list in infamy.  A promising start to the season wound up getting derailed by an injury to Andy Dalton, and of course, we will be covering the playoff game we would all like to forget… a game that, after watching, forced me to stare blankly at me television for nearly an hour after it ended.

Tune in next week for the wildest season we will cover!

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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