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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

An Open Letter to Marvin Lewis

Andre Edwards

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Dear Mr. Lewis,

I have been contemplating sending you this letter for quite some time, and I hope it finds you well.   You don’t know me, but I am a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Bengals.  The second Super Bowl loss to the San Francisco 49ers remains as the first time I can remember experiencing heartbreak.  I have, quite literally, hated Joe Montana for what he did to my then 12 year old self, for 30 years now.  That said, my fandom has endured.  Admittedly, as I was in college in the late 90’s, I was not as honed in on every move my Bengals made.  So many losses, so little time.  Sure, I loved Jeff Blake, Corey Dillon, and Takeo Spikes, but I had finals to take and parties from which to recover.  But then something happened.  Something unexpected.  Mike Brown hired you as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003.  Marvin Lewis – the legendary architect of one of the greatest defenses in the history of the league – was coming to be our coach!  The excitement was palpable, and you were brimming with confidence.  It was a swagger not seen around here since the days of Sam Wyche.

As the years passed, you began to place your stamp on the team and the city.  The Marvin Lewis community fund is an outstanding work of art, and a tribute to your dedication to the people of Cincinnati.  Kudos.  On the field, the likes of Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, Rudi Johnson, Willie Anderson, and TJ Houshmandzadeh, made being a Bengals’ fan fun again.  They became must see TV, if not in person appointment viewing.  Cleveland was a guaranteed two wins.  Baltimore was almost two.  Pittsburgh was likely a couple of losses, but the wins were sweet, and the losses were respectable.  I’d look forward to your post-game interviews, and your Monday press conferences.  There was useful information to be gleaned from them.  Things that the average fan would miss as they had long turned off the broadcast and moved on with their lives.  Not me.  I am a loyal fan, remember?  I don’t break down tape or have some hot draft take, but I love my Bengals, and I follow them closely – you included.

I need to take a moment to give you some props on the transition from the Palmer-era to the Dalton-era.  That entire thing was a mess, what with Carson forcing his way out, you hiring an unproven offensive coordinator in Jay Gruden, and then drafting/starting a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton.  And all during an NFL lockout.  I still remember predictions of the team going 0-16 that year.  Somehow, some way, you guided this team, not only to a winning record, but to the playoffs.  I am not sure if I have ever been more impressed by an NFL coach.  You completely rebooted the franchise, and had a whole new cast of characters for us to get to know.  Dalton, AJ Green, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Clint Boling, and Andrew Whitworth.  Young talent, ready to take on the AFC North.  Two wins versus Cleveland – check.  Almost two wins versus Baltimore – check.  Still two losses to Pittsburgh – yeah, most of the time, but division titles weren’t out of reach.  The playoffs became an annual event.  This is where I need to touch on the obvious…

I do not understand your philosophy when it comes to playoff games, and for that matter, night games, games against Pittsburgh, Monday Night Football games, and any other game not at 1 pm eastern.  You seem to have think and preach that these games are just the same as any other.  No need for extra emphasis.  No need for extra hype.  No need to bring an extra chin strap because it’s just another game.  After watching 16 years of this approach from you, I humbly disagree.  Your teams are consistently outplayed, out-coached, and seemingly unprepared for the spotlight of these match-ups.  At some point, would it not make sense to try a different approach?  Maybe call it Pittsburgh week?  Maybe say this Sunday night game is going to be huge for us?  Maybe say that your team is chomping at the bit to play on Monday Night Football?  It’s got to be better than just another game – just another loss.

I know you love this city and this franchise.  I genuinely believe you want to win – for Mike Brown, and for the fans.  That said, I think that it is time to move on with your life’s work.  You gave it your all.  You got more out of Mr. Brown than anyone ever thought possible.  You raised this franchise to a level of respectability that no one could have predicted.  You have done good work.  It’s just not enough.  There is no shame in that.  And if I am being honest, you just do not seem to enjoy this anymore.  Your press conferences, that I used to look forward to hearing, are all the same.  Short, full of disdain for the people asking questions, and random giggles that make no sense.  The fire and energy after 16 years of being an NFL head coach have faded.  Why not let someone else give it a shot?  We both know Mike Brown isn’t going to fire you, so why not walk away?  Do what’s best for the franchise, and make them look for a coach.  Last time, it brought us you!

 

Thank you for reading, and I wish you all the best in your next adventure.

 

Sincerely,

Andre

 

P. S. Please take Hue Jackson with you.  Thanks

 

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Cincinnati Bengals

Blog of Football Sorrows: Week 13

Jeffery Carr

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Today I officially changed the name of this game recap blog. It just fits. To be positive about this iteration of the Bengals is to be a master of the mind that I cannot comprehend (aka delusional).

They’re done. I didn’t think they had much hope for the playoffs before the game, and they certainly don’t now. The injuries are a problem, but they aren’t the problem. The offense has been stale for weeks thriving on an identity-less scheme filled with dink and dunk passes and zero creativity. They now have four games left. The Raiders seem winnable, but with the hope of starting over, do we fans want that? Do we want there to be a glimmer of hope in management’s eyes? I don’t. I want change, and that doesn’t happen by winning any remaining games, this year. Lose em all, blow it up, let’s start fixing the problems that have been ignored for too long.

Jeff Driskel, to no fault of his own, was meh. Which is much the story of 2018. The game plan, in the beginning, seemed to be for him to get momentum built through screens and flat routes…but then they kept the training wheels on. Second quarter, third quarter…it kept going. The Bengals fell behind on the scoreboard and their answer was to run more crossing routes and short outs? Cincinnati ran RPO plays…and only passed. They asked an athletic quarterback who can move to stand tall in the pocket and fend off pressure from a defense with its ears pinned back matching up with a bad and battered offensive line. Kind of like James mentioned on the post-game pod, how bad is Cedric Ogbuehi that the answer to filling in for Cordy Glenn is the starting left guard and not your former first round pick, who is actually supposed to be a left tackle? So the coaching game plan was to tell Driskel to grin and bear it behind an uninspired line with uninspired play calling? But, you know, Marvin Lewis says “We’ve got to do our jobs better. The players have to execute the game plan the way it is coached.” What? The game plan hasn’t changed in 10 years! Different personnel, different opponents, different circumstances, same stale, boring, dull, lifeless, clueless plan. I get sick to my stomach when I listen to Marvin do a press conference.

The only thing left is the future, whatever may come. I know that is bleak. Not one of you reading these words can say, with a straight face, that you can see a different coach roaming the sidelines in 2019 who isn’t Marvin or Hue Jackson. We know. We know there isn’t going to be any change, and that’s why the stadium is empty. That’s why the orange in the stands at Paul Brown Stadium was Bronco orange and not Bengal orange. The sound at the end of the game? Cheers and applause, because anyone still there was a fan of the visiting victors. There’s no one left to boo because they’ve been booing for so long they’ve lost interest. It is understood that the most likely outcome this season, if change comes at all, is that Hue takes the reigns. We’ll go from a boring, uninspired, regularly out-maneuvered coach to a joke of a coach. So how can anyone care? I looked at tickets before the game. You could have sit 12 rows back in the endzone for $35…and I said no. Why? Because the joke that is the visual of the stands at PBS is the last thing we fans have left to tell ownership to get their rear in gear and fix this. Will they? You tell me…

Follow @jefffcarr and @lockedonBengals on Twitter for more angst Bengals content.

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Cincinnati Bengals

Replacing Marvin

Russell Heltman

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A lot of Bengals fans (myself included) wondered before the year why a young team with so much talent was pegged with worse Super Bowl odds than our in-state neighbors.

In the eyes of Las Vegas, it didn’t matter that the Bengals rallied to end last season at 7-9 with a signature victory over the Baltimore Ravens. It didn’t matter that the Bengals made legitimate offseason moves to sure up the offensive line. It didn’t matter that Bill Lazor was given a whole offseason to install his system or that Teryl Austin was bringing a turnovers-or-bust mentality with him from Detroit.

It. Didn’t. Matter.

The only thing that mattered was the face of the franchise returning for his 16th year. Marvin Lewis is and always will be the reason people around the NFL don’t take the Bengals seriously and it’s become both a blessing and a curse.

When Lewis arrived in 2003, he inherited what many considered to be one of the worst franchises in pro sports at the time. The players were using old jock straps, it was a dark time in Bengals history. Though to Lewis’ credit, he rebuilt this franchise into something fans could actually be proud of.

They became competitive, they got to the base of Championship Mountain, but that’s not good enough. Of the six coaches in the NFL who’ve been at the helm for at least a decade, Marvin Lewis is the only one without a Super Bowl trophy.

As of Nov. 28, Cincinnati has lost five of their past six games, their defense is the worst in the league, the offense can’t operate without A.J. Green, and they’ve fired one coach in waiting while rehiring another. That go-ahead score against Pittsburgh in mid-October feels like it happened in 2015.

The Bengals might not have moved on from Marvin, but I have, there’s nothing else I need to see following that 35-20 beatdown this past Sunday. ESPN has pegged Lewis with a 60 percent chance to be fired and though this might be for nothing, here are two head coaching paths the Bengals could choose to down in January.

Anyone But Hue Jackson

Aug 29, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson against the Chicago Bears in a preseason NFL football game at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 21-10. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

11-44-1

That’s really all that needs to be said. Hue Jackson is a great POSITION coach, but he has proved over a large sample size that he is inept as a HEAD coach. Jason La Canfora reported before the Browns game that Jackson has a real shot to replace Lewis if he steps down or takes a front office role.

Fans would be less excited about this than retaining Lewis, especially if he’s in the building overseeing nine of the 10 or 11 losses this team is headed for. Who are we kidding here, this is Lewis’ best friend and if anyone has shown the ability to persuade Mike Brown over the last 16 years, it’s Marvin Lewis.

Jackson is the clear frontrunner if a coaching change ends up happening.

Eric Bieniemy

Dec 7, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running backs coach Eric Bieniemy against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Chiefs 17-14. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A former Bengals player from 1995-98, This is the home run hire for Cincinnati. Bieniemy is in his first season as offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs and I don’t have to throw stats in here to prove why that’s been a success.

As a former player for the franchise, Bieniemy has that familiarity that Brown always looks for in new hires. He could come in and immediately offer a fresh perspective on this roster, answer the Andy Dalton question, and start to move this organization into a new era.

Bieniemy has primarily coached running backs before taking over for Matt Nagy this season and some great ones at that: Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Kareem Hunt have all learned and thrived under Bieniemy. Imagine his expertise paired with the talent of Joe Mixon.

Oh and for those concerned with the “lack of coaching experience” after just one season as an OC, just look at the past two guys to hold Bieniemy’s current spot. Doug Pederson went from Chiefs OC to winning a Super Bowl, Nagy has turned the Bears from a laughing stock to a contender in his first season. Those expectations might not be fair for Bieniemy, but the blueprint is out there for Mike Brown to make a championship hire.

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