First of all, Who Dey!
When the Bengals are playing well and winning, food tastes better, work sucks less. It felt really good to come away with that win on Sunday. It helps that I had a pair of Franklins on the Bengals too. We saw encouraging performances from key players and possibly a new star emerging in the Hungarian Barbarian, Clayton Fejedelem. If you’re not pronouncing his name Fedg-ee-dell-um you’re not living right.
The talent of this team showed, however, the Bengals were significantly out coached, especially on defense. The defense was attacked the same way it has been for years, with RBs and TEs on short middle routes. This strategy exploits the lack of athleticism from the linebackers and negates the talented D line by getting the ball out before they can get to the QB. Luck was excellent at executing the gameplan. Not every QB will be able to do this but unless Austin and Marvin are willing to adjust, we’ll see every good QB do the same. Lets take a look at some specific areas and plays where the coaches need to adjust and improve.
1. The game winning play where Fejedelem forced the fumble
I literally said out loud to my girlfriend before the snap “Hardy Nickerson can’t cover Jack Doyle.” Hardy was lined up directly over him on 3rd and 12 with the game on the line. He got smoked in man coverage and had Fejedelem not popped the ball out it was another easy first down. I like Nickerson but having him cover a TE in that game situation is borderline malpractice. Here’s a list of available players that could have covered Doyle:
Clayton Fejedelem (put Wilson back at safety)
Vinny Rey (probably)
Nick Vigil was on Nyheim Hines which was fine and the other starting DBs were otherwise occupied. Nickerson is really low on my list of guys I want out there during the 2 minute drill trying to cover the TE that’s been eating your lunch all day. It seems that Teryl Austin may share the same allergy to Dime packages that Zimmer and Guenther had. It’s so frustrating to see these heavy footed linebackers get abused for 58 minutes with all that athleticism sitting on the bench. There’s no threat of run, safeties can blow up screens and blitz as well, I don’t understand why they feel the need to always have at least 2 linebackers on the field. I wonder if it’s a Marvin thing, not a D coordinator thing. Running dime packages would solve a lot of the Bengals defensive issues.
2. For Frank’s sake, have WJ3 shadow the opponent’s #1
Dre Kirkpatrick actually had a pretty good game. He was the same guy he’s always been. He got burned a few times by not getting his head around and playing the ball, had some nice pass breakups and dropped a few interceptions. But TY Hilton is not a good matchup for him. If WJ3 shut down Antonio Brown last year, TY Hilton isn’t going to be able to shake loose. If all you have to do to get your #1 receiver on Dre is move him to the right, you’re doing your defense a disservice.
I asked Erick Schlitt of Lions Wire (@ErikSchlitt on twitter, great follow if you like the Lions) if Teryl Austin with the Lions had their star corner Darius Slay shadow #1 receivers and he said yes, however it took him a while to trust Slay enough to do it. Hopefully it won’t take Austin long to figure out who his best corner is. If this trend keeps up I doubt we ever see AB line up in front of WJ3 again and we’ll see Dre continue to get abused.
3. The backup left side of the O line should be the starting right side
First of all, I thought Bill Lazor was excellent on Sunday. The formations were multiple and unique. The play calling stayed creative throughout the game, not just on the first 15 scripted play. My only qualm is they tried to run the to right side too much where the O line is just awful.
The failure came from the personnel. Bobby Hart was embarrassed twice by Margus Hunt. MARGUS HUNT! You remember Margus, right? The guy that was over-drafted and bad for 4 years here. Margus has been waiting 6 years to find a tackle he could beat twice in a game and he finally found Hart. I know Fisher has had his issues but there’s more hope there. Margus Hunt looks better than he was but he’s still not that good. If you get beat cleanly twice by Hunt in one game you’re not a starting NFL tackle. Fisher also gives you better run blocking. So if you’re going to have a turnstile at RT you might as well have one that can move people in the run game.
As much as I like the idea of Redmond, he’s not the 2nd best guard on the team. It’s Christian Westerman. I know it, you know it, even Alex Redmond’s mom knows it, but this coaching staff refuses to play him at RG for some reason. Redmond killed a few plays Bodine style and maybe he’ll be good eventually. But I don’t understand why we have to hope he figures it out when we have a good player sitting behind our best lineman.
All three of these issues are correctable. Easily correctable. And I think at least one of them probably will get fixed over the course of the season. The talent is there to carry the Bengals through these issues but if they really want to compete with the big boys, the coaches are going to have to figure out how to help their players instead of hindering them.
Agree? Disagree? Comments or criticisms? I’d love to hear from you on twitter @joelknowsbungs
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.