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Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals Are Making A Familiar Mistake At Wide Receiver

Joe Goodberry

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN - AUGUST 31: Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross (15) on the field before the NFL preseason game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts on August 31, 2017, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

Start making a list of issues that have plagued the Cincinnati Bengals offense this season and eventually you’ll get to wide receiver.
Even as the offense has started to gain steam under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, the wide receiver unit is still struggling to get open, get deep and win one on one matchups. This isn’t a new issue; this was a deficiency last season also as the Bengals transitioned from veterans Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu to newcomers Brandon Lafell and Tyler Boyd as the compliments to star receiver AJ Green.
After realizing the replacements were missing a key attribute, Cincinnati drafted two speedy receivers in Josh Malone and the fastest combine participant of all-time John Ross. They doubled-up at the position of need to ensure this unit would be talented, deep and fast.
This year reminded me of the 2012 draft when they also double-dipped in picking Sanu (3rd round) and Jones (5th round). That year, Cincinnati was looking to replace Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell and potentially strengthen the receiver depth chart. The rookies didn’t step directly into starting roles; they came in behind names like Andrew Hawkins, Armon Binns, Brandon Tate and Jordan Shipley.
This left an open competition for the starting outside receiver opposite AJ Green. Surprisingly (not an actual surprise), the rookies (Jones and Sanu) couldn’t secure that job as the Bengals felt more comfortable with a veteran that spent a year in the offense (Tate) and their “most-improved player” (Binns).

“He’s done nothing but impress me since he got here. Armon’s a better player when there is a defense than he is just one-on-ones or routes versus air. In the team setting he runs all the routes the right way and makes good, strong catches.” — Marvin Lewis

Cincinnati entered the regular season with Armon Binns taking most of the snaps as the number two receiver with Brandon Tate spelling him as the deep/speed receiver. Meanwhile, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu saw limited-to-no-action on the field. Sure, they dealt with some injuries early on, but it quickly became clear that the combination of Binns and Tate weren’t good enough. Through four weeks and 238 combined snaps, this combo caught 22 receptions for 284 yards (12.9 ypc) and two touchdowns. The production wasn’t terrible, but they failed to separate, get deep and make the contested catches. The offense hadn’t completely stalled as AJ Green and Andrew Hawkins started off hot, but it quickly became apparent to everyone that if this offense was going to improve, they needed to try something else at wide receiver.


After six weeks, a change was made. Cincinnati began benching Armon Binns and continued to reduce the role of Brandon Tate. They inserted Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu and didn’t look back.
(Armon Binns was waived after eight games.)
Why did we have to take this trip down memory lane? The current team’s way of taking it slow with the rookie receivers was familiar. It reminded me of something. Something from the past… (Shredder voice)


While the 2017 offense seems to be improving, they’re getting almost no production from the receiver unit outside of AJ Green. The Bengals say they’re comfortable with a veteran that’s now been in the offense for a year (Brandon Lafell) and their most-improved player (Cody Core) as their starting outside receiver combination. Lafell offers veteran… stuff and Core has the ability to run downfield. Through four games, this dynamic duo has combined for 10 receptions and 76 yards. That’s 7.6 yards per catch.


 
These numbers wouldn’t be so bad if they had an electric Andrew Hawkins inside. Instead, they have second-year slot man Tyler Boyd and his four receptions for 37 yards. Boyd has already been benched for a game and didn’t look better in his return. He’s also dealing with an offseason arrest and potential suspension on the horizon. I still have hopes for Boyd as a solid contributor from the slot, but right now, this unit is collectively lacking talent and speed.
And before we go too far, yes, John Ross has been hurt, but it didn’t seem like they had much of a plan for him before he “tweaked” his knee again. He might not be ready to go until week 6 and at that point, I expect Ross to see a good chunk of the rotation. The offense needs Ross’s speed. Defenses are laughing at Lafell and Boyd as they shade their one deep safety over to Green’s side and dare the other Bengals receivers to win against man coverage.


 
*Spoiler Alert* They’re not beating man coverage.
Let’s use Ross as the comparison to Marvin Jones, who also injured his knee as a rookie (MCL Sprain) and we didn’t get to see him until early November. He didn’t get his first official start until December as he finished his rookie season with 15 receptions, 175 yards and a touchdown in 355 snaps. Jones’s impact was immediately felt once he was able to step foot on the field and I expect the same for Ross.
It may not be long until we see the other rookie receiver Josh Malone either. At the very least, he can do exactly what the Bengals ask of Cody Core — run deep. Malone has the size, speed and ball skills required to be an NFL deep threat, but the difference between Malone and Core? The rookie is a natural receiver. He knows when to use his body to shield defenders, when to attack the ball or when to run under it. At most, I think Malone can be more of a threat than Brandon Lafell. Sure, the veteran knows what to do in this offense, but he’s not effective doing it. It’s not just the lack of speed and separation, Lafell’s blocking will make you cringe. Actually, I’m not sure what he offers that Josh Malone doesn’t and this is where they’re making the same mistakes again — trusting veterans to do nothing instead of letting the rookies do something.


 
That’s how 2012 rookie Mohamed Sanu got on the field. He wasn’t athletically that dissimilar to Armon Binns on the surface, but he was an upgrade even as a rookie. He finished his rookie campaign with 9 receptions, 98 yards and 4 touchdowns in only 204 snaps. His production came in a three-week span (weeks 9-11) as Sanu also struggled to stay healthy for the entire year.
The 2012 Bengals ended up getting very little production from anyone outside of AJ Green as Jones, Sanu, Tate and Binns each had less than 220 receiving yards. The bright spot was in figuring out that the rookies could play and be important parts of a very good offense in 2013 and beyond.
Fast forward to 2017 and as we enter week five, the Cincinnati Bengals are in a similar situation. As the offense struggles to find a second option at receiver, now is time to start using the backups (Core and Erickson) and I fully expect the rookies (Ross and Malone) to show their worth when healthy and activated. In all likelihood, they’re auditioning for roles on the 2018 team already.

Joe Goodberry is a Bengals fan from Buffalo, NY. He's been studying, analyzing and criticizing Bengals football to produce content for the last 10 years. Like you, he hates and loves this team at the same time and let's his steam off on Twitter @JoeGoodberry.

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Cincinnati Bengals

Gerald McCoy in stripes makes plenty of sense

Russell Heltman

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved on from star defensive tackle Gerald McCoy earlier this week after failing to find a suitable trade partner for his $13 million salary and the Cincinnati Bengals have taken notice.

Russini is clearly qualified and plugged in when it comes to breaking Bengals related news and this seems like a step in the right direction for fans who want this “New Dey” for the Bengals to start going after top tier talent with minimal long term risk. It’s clear that no team around the league wanted to give up draft picks while taking on McCoy at such a high cap number.

The Bengals should roll the dice here and take a calculated chance on a guy like McCoy who could turn this entire defense into the group most Bengals fans had high expectations for last season but ultimately finished as a bottom-three unit. McCoy and Geno Atkins would make up arguably the best interior line combination in the league. One that would rival the duo of Ndamokung Suh and Aaron Donald that the Rams rode to the Super Bowl.

After missing the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2012 last season, McCoy still notched six sacks and more importantly a team-high 21 pressures for the Buccaneers. Over his highly productive career, the former Oklahoma Sooner has tallied 393 pressures, good for sixth among interior linemen since 2010. McCoy is a stud who was the best defensive player on his team and a wrecker who has never been surrounded by much talent in the trenches.

Despite a rough year across the board for this Bengals defense, Atkins clearly showed he is still at the top of his game after tallying double-digit sacks for the first time since 2010 and creating 64 pressures, which ranked fourth among all interior linemen. Joe and Jake brought up a great point on Wednesday’s podcast, McCoy would be the best inside partner that Atkins has ever played with and would not only help open up more playmaking opportunities for him but also spell players across the line more rest after it was ravaged by injury in 2018.

Sep 24, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) reacts during the first half against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals have roughly $23 million in cap room as we head into the summer months and despite a clear goal of extending Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green, signing McCoy to a one or two year deal worth $10-12 million annually is more than doable. Green already accounts for $15 million against the cap this year and most estimates have his new deal reaching around $18 million per year, while Boyd has gone on record this week with expectations of a deal similar to Sterling Shepard’s four year/$41 million contract.

That leaves Cincinnati with just enough room to sign McCoy to a deal he’d be happy with.

The bottom line is players like this don’t come around very often, and during the Marvin Lewis Era, they were almost never targeted by the front office. McCoy could turn this swiss cheese-defense into a formidable force overnight while helping Bengals fans see the light of a New Dey at Paul Brown Stadium.

 

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Cincinnati Bengals

The AFC North Power Vacuum

Russell Heltman

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The AB shoe has dropped.

After a drama-filled start to the offseason, Antonio Brown got his wish: A new home and contract in the Bay Area. The Pittsburgh Steelers shipped their disgruntled star to the Oakland Raiders for a pair of third and sixth round picks in this year’s draft.

The Killer-B Era in the Steel City is over.

Le’veon Bell called the organizations bluff last year and sat the entire season after he was offered $14.5 million on another franchise tag. That decision left the Steelers with the fifth most unused cap space in the NFL last season and now the loss of Brown hamstrings them even more. The Steelers must now eat $21 million in dead cap money with Brown in the Silver and Black, ostensibly the largest hit of its kind in league history.

Dec 10, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (26) celebrates with wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) after scoring a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Sweet, sweet music for the rest of the AFC North.

While Pittsburgh holds on to a fading era the other three teams in the division have kickstarted themselves with new coaches, quarterbacks, and in the Cleveland Browns case, both.

Baker Mayfield‘s talents are now fully paired with Freddie Kitchens, the duo led Cleveland to a 5-2 record down the stretch and has injected a breadth of confidence the franchise hasn’t felt since returning to the shores of Lake Erie in 1999. The Lamar Jackson Era is in full swing after the Baltimore Ravens shipped Joe Flacco to Denver for a fourth-round pick. Jackson is a dynamic playmaker but struggled as a passer in year one, despite aerial issues the former Heisman winner notched six wins in seven starts with a 27-24 loss to Kansas City mixed in.

In Cincinnati all of the eggs now lie in the Zac Taylor basket, The entire coaching staff has been overhauled outside of special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons and after 16 seasons of Marvin Lewis, there is tepid optimism surrounding this young coaching staff.

For the first time since Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie season, the Steelers don’t seem like the go-to favorite to win the AFC North and stomp on another Marvin Lewis team. Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan are bringing fresh eyes and concepts to this roster and ideally Bengals fans will experience the 2018 LA Rams Offense: Midwest Edition when they roll into Paul Brown Stadium this Fall.

On the defensive side things can’t get much worse than last season with new coordinator Lou Anarumo taking the reins of a unit that ranked 32nd in total defense (413.6 yards allowed per game), 32nd against the pass (275.9 per game), 30th in points allowed (28.4 per game) and 29th against the run (137.8 yards per game).

Meanwhile, many of the draft experts have the Bengals selecting do-it-all LSU linebacker Devin White with the 11th pick. A massive value at that spot, White is as durable a player you’ll find at the linebacker position and is graded by Scouts Inc. as the fourth best prospect available in April. He would be a welcome addition to a defense that was the worst in the NFL defending tight ends last season.

A New Dey has arrived not only in Cincinnati but throughout the rest of the AFC North and with the Killer-B’s done in Pittsburgh the Bengals have their chance to fill the power void.

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Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals fans guide to Super Bowl LIII

Russell Heltman

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It’s been 30 years since the Cincinnati Bengals last played in a Super Bowl. A heartbreaking 20-16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers was the Bengals most recent shot at glory, and while Sunday’s matchup between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams showcases how far Cincinnati is to breaking that drought, there are plenty of things for Bengals fans to focus on inside of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

 

Keep an Eye on the Incoming Head Coach

Dec 3, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Rams assistant wide receivers coach Zac Taylor against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Zac Taylor is taking the reins from Marvin Lewis in what will be the first head coaching change since I started watching Bengals games during that magical 2005 season. The 35-year old Rams QB coach joins six other “young, offensive-minded” hires from this years coaching carousel. For Bengals fans, they are hoping he’s a cut above the rest, despite being the last to ink a deal. Bengals faithful should pay close attention any and every time the CBS production crew decides to show him in action on Sunday.

This is the biggest game Taylor has been a part of since entering the NFL coaching ranks with the Dolphins back in 2012 and it will be really interesting to see him handle a moment all Bengals fans hope he can relive sooner rather than later in Cincinnati. No one on the outside of the Rams organization really knows how involved Taylor is with setting up the gameplan, but he has clearly had a very positive effect on Jared Goff since taking over his tutelage in 2017.

How he interacts with Goff in between plays and coaches him through mistakes could go a long way in determining how he will help Andy Dalton (or Ryan Tannehill?) return to his 2015 form. Zac Taylor might not be the most experienced coach getting a chance this year but the results with Goff prove he deserves this opportunity.

 

Pre-snap and Play-Action

Jan 20, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) audibles during the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

There are still questions as to who will call plays and control the 2019 Bengals offense, but in saying that fans should expect a lot of carryover from this Rams system that has willed their way to Atlanta with pre-snap communication and play-action passing. It’s no secret that Goff and Rams head coach Sean McVay communicate right up to the 15-second cutoff during every play.

McVay can read the defense, then call something to match their formation and he often times uses motion to accomplish that. Former Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was allergic to this kind of communication and the offense ranked 32nd and 26th in his two seasons because of it. Expect Taylor to have his voice in the Red Rifle’s ear plenty on Sundays.

In terms of play-action passing the Rams used these plays as the cornerstone of their offense, calling them 34 percent of the time with devastating effect. LA’s 9.0 yards per play on these calls ranked third in the NFL and they averaged 1.9 yards per play more than regular calls. On the flip side, Cincinnati ranked 13th in the league calling play-action on 24 percent for 1.5 yards per play more than all other calls. It’s not rocket science, play-action works wonders in today’s NFL and Taylor is expected to bring that mindset with him to the Queen City.

 

Todd Gurley: The Receiver

Jan 20, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley (30) is tackled by New Orleans Saints middle linebacker Alex Anzalone (47) during the fourth quarter in the NFC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Player A: 55 targets, 43 receptions, 296 yards, 6.9 yards per catch, 1 TD

Player B: 81 targets, 59 receptions, 580 yards, 9.8 yards per catch, 4 TD

Yes, I know Joe Mixon had a stellar year running the ball (1,168 yards, 4.9 yards per carry) but he was totally mismanaged in the passing game and his Player A numbers reflect that. Player B, well I’d say he was used correctly and will continue to be used that way on Sunday. Despite his two costly drops in the NFC Championship Game, Todd Gurley is still one of the best receiving backs in the NFL.

A big reason why he’s so productive is the way LA puts him in an ideal position to make big plays, whether it’s a wheel route down the sideline or a throwback screen off of…. play action, this coaching staff does all they can to help him gash defenses. So far in Mixon’s career, I’ve barely seen any of that, it’s similar to putting a governor on a 66′ Cobra. Keep an eye on how the Rams use Gurley’s receiving skills to their advantage and imagine Mixon on the other end of those throws.

This One’s For Whit

Sep 27, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth (77) and offensive guard Rodger Saffold (76) during the game against the Minnesota Vikingsat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Rams defeated the Vikings 38-31. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Every Bengals fan should be rooting for the new head coach to bring a Super Bowl winning pedigree with him to his new digs in Cincinnati, but if that wasn’t enough, we should all be rooting for Andrew Whitworth.

Likely on his way to back-to-back All-Pro selections Whitworth is one of the best players to ever play the tackle position and was a consummate professional during his 11-year stint in a Bengals uniform. He notched his first playoff win 13 years into his career and why not knock down all of the playoff milestones in one run. I know who I’m rooting for come Super Bowl Sunday.

Enjoy the holiday.

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