Training Camp in the NFL is an optimistic time.
Every team across the league has high hopes for the year that haven’t been squashed by the trials of a regular season. In the case of the 2017 Cincinnati Bengals, optimism surrounded just about every aspect of the team except… the offensive line.
Arguably the worst group in the league and easily a bottom-five unit, last year’s offensive line made it nearly impossible for the team to score points. The group didn’t have one player graded average or better by Pro Football Focus. It wasn’t a surprise either, every fan and analyst that watched the team at camp prepared for a long year.
Fast forward 365 days and a lot has changed for this position group: Russell Bodine out, Billy Price in, Cedric Ogbuehi out, Cordy Glenn in. All while the right tackle position remains unclaimed. This is a group in flux and they’ve tasked the mastermind of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line to put it together. I made my way out to training camp on Monday to see what kind of effect the new faces and Frank Pollack’s coaching are having on this group.
I want to preface this less than ideal assessment with a positive, Carl Lawson, Geno Atkins, and the rest of the front seven are going to take a big leap in 2018. That being said, the offensive line struggled on Monday.
Of the roughly 20 passing plays the Bengals ran in 11-on-11, only five left the quarterback with a clean pocket. Now there were a handful of plays you can chalk up as coverage pressure but it still wasn’t pretty. Plus, you’ll be surprised to see one of these players starting: LT Cordy Glenn, LG Clint Boling, C Billy Price, RG Trey Hopkins, RT Bobby Hart.
That’s right, the guy cast aside by the New York Giants and one of the lowest graded tackles in the league last year was the Bengals starting right tackle on their tenth day of camp. He didn’t look the part either, giving up a sack and two pressures in 11-on-11. This tells me two things: Jake Fisher and Ogbuehi aren’t proving themselves and this team still has no clue who will start in Indianapolis. Despite not seeing Fisher take snaps with the first team, I still think he has a solid shot at the job, we haven’t seen him fully round into form following heart problems.
It’s only the tenth day of camp so Pollack and Co. still have some time to figure out the answer on that side. Plus, the only teams that have played a real football game this year are Baltimore and Chicago. Preseason performance will provide the bulk of the answers but nothing they showed me in pass protection makes me optimistic.
Be prepared for another season of gun-shy Andy Dalton.
Enough with the negatives, Pollack has brought a new mentality and nastiness to this crew. A lot of Paul Alexander’s techniques were reactionary, while Pollack has clearly been preaching aggression. It already seems to be helping what was the second-worst rushing attack in the league. Joe Mixon and Mark Walton got the majority of the reps on Monday and looked dynamic behind Pollack’s crew. Expect to see a lot of these same blocking concepts this season:
The line communicated well, blocked downhill, opened up some highways in the process, and there weren’t any fumbled snaps between Dalton and Price. With a dynamic backfield trio and a fresh blocking mentality, the Bengals should heed the advice of our fearless leader James Rapien and ride a smash-mouth identity into the playoffs.
This offensive line is definitely better than they were on August, 8th 2017 but they still have a long way to go if they want to contend for the Lombardi Trophy. The road starts Thursday against the Chicago Bears.
Blog of Football Sorrows: Week 13
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…
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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
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.
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.
A Sucker Until the Bitter End
Am I frustrated? Yes. Do I look back at week 5 when the Cincinnati Bengals sported a 4-1 record and feel as though that was a lifetime ago? Sure. Here’s the thing, Stephen A. Smith said, and I don’t remember word for word, but if you continue to support the Bengals who continue to refuse to put a competent product on the field then you are a sucker. I must confess, I am a sucker.
Sure, I am in the camp that is counting down the days until things change…even though I do not know when that countdown will end. You can check out my last post for reference. That being said, I am still going to be a fan. I’m still rooting for my team. That won’t change. Heck, I even mentioned that I might go to the game, this Sunday, if I can get a deal on some lower bowl tickets.
I had a buddy tell me he’d rather get hit by a car than go to the game, and I can’t blame him. Heck, there might be more value in staying away from the stadium, to get the point across to Mr. Brown. Here’s the thing, though, I am actually sort of looking forward to what will happen with Jeff Driskel. Now, I’m not saying I want him to be theguy, but entertain me for the rest of the season. When we think of football, that’s the basis of what we’re looking for, entertainment. I believe Driskel has the possibility to be entertaining. Urban Meyer once thought he could be the next Tim Tebow. What that tells me is he has heart and toughness. Joe Goodberry broke down a play in which Andy Dalton ran against the Browns and Driskel later ran, against the exact same defensive look. Andy threw a pick and Driskel threw a TD, so who knows? Maybe this won’t be that awful.
So what are you thinking about the Bengals? Are you burning jerseys? Are you cancelling season tickets? Are you switching allegiances? Hit me up on the Twitter (@jefffcarr), or here in the comments section, I want to get a gauge. I don’t blame you if you do any of that, by the way. I can see why you’d want to switch allegiances (just don’t be a Steelers’ fan, that would be messed up). Just know that I will be here, still. There’s something in my DNA that no matter what Mr. Brown and the gang try to do to my fan heart, I keep coming back. It might physically hurt me to no longer be a Bengals fan, I don’t know, but I’m not going to find out. I keep hanging on to that super-slim hope that one day there will be a Super Bowl ring. One day I’ll get to sing “We are the Champions” in regards to my Bengals, and that will be enough to erase all these years of wondering if I could have better used my time on Sunday.