After months of recapping the last 20-something Bengals seasons, we’ve finally reached the most recent one… and unfortunately it’s far from the most interesting. Much like 2016, the 2017 season was something of a test for most Bengal fans to get through. An offense that only two years prior was one of the most talented units in the league was a shell of its former self. Receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones had departed following the 2015 season, and an already-deteriorating offensive line would lose left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler after the 2016 season. Why do I make that point? Well, it was the dismal offense that really defined the Bengals in 2017.
Before we dive into that, let’s re-visit the oh so long ago year 2017 and some fun facts about it. We are all witness to a total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, and it was the first time it had happened coast-to-coast in 99 years. Unbelievably, fidget spinners took the world by storm in 2017, and finally, the Star Wars franchise returns to theaters again to be the highest-grossing film of 2017 with Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Again, like 2016, the 2017 Draft didn’t yield much in the way of immediate results, but is going to really shape the 2018 squad. In their first four picks, the Bengals selected wide receiver John Ross, controversial running back Joe Mixon, and defensive ends Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson. All stand to have big roles as we approach the 2018 season.
The criticism of this draft was that the team made no real effort to address a mediocre-at-best offensive line. Their lone move was a fifth-round draft pick named J.J. Dielman, a center out of Utah. Outside of that, the Bengals re-signed Eric Winston and Andre Smith, veteran tackles whose best days were largely behind them.
The Bengals kicked off at home against a division foe, the Baltimore Ravens in front of an excited Cincinnati crowd, ready to watch some football again. What they got was not exactly football, at least not from the Bengals – they were dismantled 20-0, complete with five turnovers from Andy Dalton.
Game two wasn’t much different, as a second straight horrible offensive performance saw the Bengals defeated by the Texans, 13-9. After consecutive horrible performances that yielded zero touchdowns from the offense, offensive coordinator Ken Zampese was fired, with quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor stepping in as his replacement.
There were some immediate results, as the Bengals came out firing at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, taking a 21-7 lead into halftime. Ultimately, however, the considerably-better culture that was the Packers took over, and in what seems to be vintage Bengals, they coughed up the large lead and lost the game, 27-24 in overtime. This sent Cincinnati to their first 0-3 start since 2008.
The Bengals would score victories over the Browns and Bills to enter their bye week at 2-3, and at least gave fans some semblance of hope, even sitting a game under .500. However, the Bengals came out of the bye week flat, dropping three of their next four games, and six of their next nine overall. Following a Week 15 thumping in Minnesota that sent them to a 5-9 record, it seemed that there could be no doubt that this would be the final season of the Marvin Lewis regime. The city began to ponder who would be at the helm in 2018.
And then the next two weeks happened. The Bengals stunned two fringe playoff teams, the Lions and Ravens, respectively, to finish 7-9 behind a strong final two games. Much to the dismay of probably 75% or better of the fanbase, Marvin Lewis was re-signed following the end of the season. It’s this writer’s belief that Weeks 16 and 17 of 2017 saved his job.
Despite a rocky start and the overall lower-tier offense in general, Andy Dalton actually didn’t have too bad of a season. He threw for 3,320 yards, 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. A.J. Green, as usual, benefited from Andy’s relative success, posting 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns.
Amidst another injury to Tyler Eifert that ended his season after two games, an unlikely ‘hero’ emerged at the tight end position, that being Tyler Kroft. Kroft notched only 404 yards, but had a solid seven touchdowns, being one of Dalton’s go-to guys in the red zone.
The big headline – or lack thereof – of the receiving corps was rookie John Ross, who had himself a forgettable first run in the NFL. Ross did not catch a pass, but did have one rushing attempt… which he fumbled. He ended up appearing in only three games.
On the rushing side of things, it seemed the loyalty to Jeremy Hill was in full effect at the beginning of the season, as he started seven games, though he only ran the ball 37 times for 116 yards. He wound up on IR to end the season, handing duties over to Giovani Bernard and rookie Joe Mixon.
Bernard was his usual effective self, as he averaged 4.4 yards per carry, had 458 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and added to those numbers with 43 catches for 389 yards and two scores there. Mixon was pedestrian overall in 2017 – he ran for 626 yards and four scores, though his yards per carry left a lot to be desired at only 3.5. He did catch 30 passes for 287 yards on top of the running game.
On defense, this unit was actually pretty good, but is largely overlooked as people remember the offensive struggles. William Jackson III emerged as a potential star in the NFL, particularly in Week 3 when he picked off Aaron Rodgers and ran it back 75 yards to pay dirt. It was his only interception of the season, but he did have 13 passes defended and found himself usually containing key wideouts in the league.
Rookie Carl Lawson was very impressive as he stepped into the NFL with an 8.5 sack season. Veterans Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap (newly extended!) had 9 and 7.5 sacks respectively, and cornerback Darqueze Dennard led the team in tackles with 83.
And there you have it folks! The NFL season begins this week, which means our journey down memory lane has come to an end! Thank you all for enjoying the journey with me, re-living the lowest of lows in the 90’s (and the end of 2015), as well as enjoying the highest of highs (Palmer’s 2005).
Don’t worry, you can still catch me on Locked on Bengals, beginning later this week as I give you five bold predictions for the Bengals in 2018. See you then!
A prediction for Sunday, plus thoughts on Mayfield and the AFC North
I give a prediction for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, plus I react to the Browns’ win last night, discuss Baker Mayfield’s performance and more on today’s podcast. Listen and subscribe below.
Mark Walton is Ready for the Challenge
This Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals will look for production out of their rookie running back they selected in the fourth round. Some expressed concern over the pick, but make no mistake, Mark Walton is ready to showcase his talent.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you saw his performance in the preseason, and you may have had some questions. Let me enlighten you as to why I am looking forward to…no…excited to see Walton get some plays in.
Walton saw his junior season cut short due to an ankle injury, but before that happened, he compiled a pair of impressive games. He became just the fifth Miami Hurricane to ever rush for 200+ yards in a game, and he did it on 11 carries! Here are some highlights from that game:
His last full season of college football, 2016, he was the starter, as a sophomore, for the Hurricanes. He rushed for 1,117 yards and 14 touchdowns. He made it on to the third team, All-ACC, according to the ACSMA and ACC coaches, and that was in a year that guys like Dalvin Cook, James Conner, and Wayne Gallman all made All-Conference in the ACC. Here are a few highlights from his sophomore campaign:
Walton was touted as a steal by some national writers (the same who have dogged the Bengals this year). He’s got winning pedigree, because he won a state title with Booker T. Washington high school, in Miami, and he ran a 4.6 40-yd dash. He profiles, according to NFL.com, as a third-down back with speed on the outside and decent hands. Look for him to spell Gio on some passing downs and, maybe, even see them in, together, if Bill Lazor decides to get creative. I mean, come on, if he’s this good in shorts, he’s a shoe-in to turn some heads when he puts on the pads:
Make sure you’ve got your subscription to the podcast, you’ve rated it five stars, and you keep your Twitter feed tuned in to @lockedonBengals, @jamesrapien, and @jefffcarr for all your daily Bengals content, throughout the season.
The offense should survive without Price and Mixon
I discuss the Bengals’ offense, why they should survive without Billy Price and Joe Mixon, plus I chat with Darqueze Dennard on today’s podcast. Listen and subscribe below.
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