We have officially reached the halfway point of the the Bengals’ season. After the first eight games, the home team stands at a very respectable 5-3. Had I taken a poll of the average fan, before the season began, I am pretty sure the vast majority would have been on board with this result, including yours truly. The first half of the year has seen plenty of ups and downs, so let’s take a look at what has made this one of the more interesting seasons for our Cincinnati Bengals thus far.
Tyler Boyd – The third year wide receiver has truly come into his own following a tumultuous second season. After eight games this year, Boyd is on pace for 98 catches, 1,240 yards, and 10 TDs. That is an amazing stat line given his second year production – 22 rec., 225 yds., and two TDs. Since the departure of Mohammed Sanu and Marvin Jones, the Bengals have been searching for a complimentary piece to AJ Green. Boyd has been that and more for the Bengals, seemingly converting every critical third down, and beating single coverage all over the field. Given the injuries and ineptitude of John Ross, Tyler Boyd deserves to be in the conversation for offensive player of the year on this team.
Tyler Boyd bringing back the Bernie?
— Bleacher Report NFL (@BR_NFL) September 14, 2018
Jesse Bates – With their second round pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals selected Bates out of Wake Forest. Most expected Bates to be worked in as the third safety either behind, or in combination with George Iloka and Shawn Williams. To the surprise of many, Iloka was cut in the preseason, and Bates was thrust into the starting safety role for week one. He has done nothing but be impressive, while rewarding the Bengals for their confidence in him with three interceptions. According to Pro Football Focus, Bates is the third highest rated safety in all of football – not just for a rookie, but every safety in the game. That is pretty darn impressive for the 46th pick in the draft.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) October 28, 2018
The Defense – This could have very easily been put into the ugly category, as this defensive unit has been ghastly, to say the least. After eight games, this defense ranks 29th out of 32 teams in points allowed, according to Pro Football reference. For those keeping track at home… that is not good. The main culprit seems to be the linebacking corp. Once Nick Vigil went down with an injury, the ability for the linebackers to cover either a running back or a tight end, has seemingly disappeared. Vontaze Burfict is a shell of his former self, Preston Brown has been hampered by injury and is slow of foot, while Hardy Nickerson Jr. may not be able to cover me coming out of the backfield. The pass rush has also been very inconsistent. While the Bengals had six sacks versus Tampa Bay, they registered exactly ONE hit on Ben Roethlisberger, in 40+ drop backs. That is not going to cut it. Teryl Austin’s unit has looked abysmal. Hopefully the bye week has provided time for reflection, healing, and better game planning – for all of our sakes.
James Conner making @leVeonBell proud ✊
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 14, 2018
Injuries – The Bengals escaped the preseason relatively healthy. All of the offensive weapons Andy Dalton could have asked for, where at his finger tips. After eight games, that arsenal has turned into a MASH unit. Super star tight end, Tyler Eifert, has been lost for the year. So has backup Mason Schreck. Other players lost for extended periods of time have included Joe Mixon, Giovanni Bernard, Tyler Kroft, Billy Price, and Ross. That does not even take into account the latest breaking news – no pun intended. AJ Green is going to see a specialist this week about his foot that he injured in the Tampa Bay game. According to reports, AJ will miss a “couple of weeks,” at minimum, and is attempting to determine if surgery is necessary. If there was one player this offense could ill-afford to lose, we all know his name is Adriel Jeremiah Green.
On defense, things have looked just as bleak. Injuries to players such as Carl Lawson, Vigil, Darqueze Dennard, Ryan Glasgow, and Burfict, have decimated a once-proud defensive unit. Lawson and Glasgow will not return this year, and Dennard has some mysterious (looks at notes) “sternoclavicular” injury that only a magic eight ball can truly tell when he will play – “ask again later.”
Tyler Eifert injury video: hit initially above the waist forces momentum and hips back towards the left. Defender drops down to planted foot that is externally rotated. Trapping foot while rest of body rotates causing dislocated and fractured ankle pic.twitter.com/EM0X6ZDNZf
— #ReiffReport (@ReiffReport) October 1, 2018
The second half of the season begins with a home game versus Drew Brees, and the vaunted New Orleans Saints. After watching them take down the previously undefeated LA Rams, one can understand the overwhelming feeling of pessimism that has set in over Bengaldom. Take heart though, my fellow supporters. There are still games remaining versus the Browns (two of them), the Raiders, the Broncos, and the Ravens. Winning at least four of these games puts our Bengals at 9-7, with a very legitimate shot at making the playoffs. And once that happens, who knows… oh wait. Never mind. So… anyone got some insight on linebackers and tight ends in the 2019 draft class?
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Gerald McCoy in stripes makes plenty of sense
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.
— Dianna (@diannaESPN) May 22, 2019
As for Gerald McCoy and the Bengals — @diannaESPN was first on Marvin's departure, Burfict's release, and then Webb and Dennard's signings.
— JG (@JoeGoodberry) May 22, 2019
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.
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.
The AFC North Power Vacuum
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.
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.
The Bengals fans guide to Super Bowl LIII
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
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
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
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
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.