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Cincinnati Bengals

The offense looks good on paper, will it be good on the field?

James Rapien

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The Bengals offense has been tough to watch over the past two seasons. They didn’t score a touchdown until Week 3 in 2017 and finished last in the NFL in total offense.

The struggles came after a successful 2015 season. They were seventh in points scored and finished with a 12-4 record. They’ve won 13 games total over the past two seasons and the offense is a big reason why. There are plenty of reasons why their play has dropped off.

They’ve lost veterans in free agency like Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. The Bengals also lost offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and Andy Dalton’s play has dropped off.

Instead of blowing things up this offseason and moving on from Marvin Lewis or Dalton, owner Mike Brown decided to bring Lewis back. The organization did hit the ‘reset’ button by parting ways with offensive line coach Paul Alexander. He joined the Bengals in 1994 and was their offensive line coach from 1995-2017. Frank Pollack replaces Alexander and the organization believes it will help turn around an offensive line that has allowed 80 sacks over the past two seasons.

They officially named Bill Lazor offensive coordinator after he replaced Ken Zampese two games into the 2017 season. Can Lazor do what Zampese couldn’t? The Bengals averaged 20 points-per-game with Lazor at the helm last year. Will an entire offseason with this group change things for the better? The Bengals believe Lazor is the right man for the job. They were also excited to bring in Bob Bicknell to coach the wide receivers and Alex Van Pelt to be the quarterbacks coach. It may just be OTA’s, but wide receiver Tyler Boyd says things have been different.

“They’re giving us a lot more freedom to do us.” Boyd told me earlier this week. “Not over-coaching us. Whatever situation it is, it could be different looks every time. I think the coaches do a great job of letting us feel free, relax and just play.”

Boyd had 54 receptions for 603 yards and one touchdown as a rookie. He took a step back last season, hauling in 22 receptions for 225 yards and two touchdowns. Ten of those receptions came in the final two games of the year. There were questions about his knowledge of the playbook. It sounds like he’s more comfortable in Lazor’s system.

So they have new coordinators and position coaches – will it translate to success on offense in 2018?

On paper this team has a great group of skill players. Most NFL teams would love to start with A.J. Green, Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert. Throw in a speedy first-round pick in John Ross, a savvy veteran like Brandon LaFell, the aforementioned Boyd and you have a good group of skill players.

The Bengals didn’t wait around to see if Pollack could make Cedric Ogbuehi better. Instead, they turned the 12th pick in the NFL Draft into Cordy Glenn and Billy Price. Both should be significant upgrades at the left tackle and center positions. Now we have an offense with a new scheme, led by a franchise quarterback in his prime, a very good group of skill players and an improved offensive line. This unit will be much better than it was a year ago, right?

“I’ve been feeling this way since we drafted Ross – dynamic, explosive, deep threats, short, anything,” Boyd said. “You look at it and it’s like ‘how do you stop them? How do you stop that group of people?’ Guys should be open all over the place. Mixon should be able to hit any hole at any time. It’s hard to defend.”

The Bengals offense should be much improved in 2018. Boyd will likely face a lot of single coverage with Green, Eifert and Ross commanding more attention. The offensive line should be able to hold its’ own. If they can do that, then Mixon and Bernard will have plenty of running lanes. This offense has the potential to be better than it was in 2015. Will it reach that potential?

Health is a big concern. The Bengals are relying on players who missed most of last season. Glenn, Ross and Eifert played in 11 out of a possible 48 games. Glenn told me he’s healthy and is all set for training camp. Eifert was limited in OTA’s, but is expected to be full go when camp starts. Ross says his shoulder is “fine” and he’s 100 percent healthy. Will it stay that way?

It may sound crazy, but Eifert is the third most important player out of the three. The Bengals have a capable backup tight end in Tyler Kroft. Does anyone think Ogbuehi can be a competent starting left tackle? Does this team have another wide receiver that can have the impact Ross can on the other side of Green? The answer to both of those questions is probably no. This offense is relying on multiple players who dealt with injuries in recent seasons. Even Price, who the Bengals drafted 21st overall in April’s draft, is dealing with a torn pectoral muscle. He was Mr. Durable at Ohio State, making a school record 55 starts in a row at both guard and center. This offense needs him to be healthy and effective right away.

The right side of the offensive line is as big of a concern as any. I can buy into the idea of Christian Westerman, Trey Hopkins or Alex Redmond starting at right guard, but who’s going to play right tackle? Will New York Giants castoff Bobby Hart win the job? Can Jake Fisher overcome heart surgery and show he can be a competent NFL lineman?

The Bengals also have questions at the quarterback position. They feel comfortable with Dalton leading this team, but they need him to stay healthy. Does anyone think Matt Barkley, Jeff Driskel or Logan Woodside can lead this team if Dalton gets injured? AJ McCarron was a known commodity and a reliable backup. They have to cross their fingers and hope that Dalton can stay injury free this season.

There are so many questions surrounding this offense. Yes, the Bengals improved this offseason. Will they be good enough to get to the playoffs for the first time since 2015? No one knows the answer. Most of the players on this roster, especially at the skill positions, were here last season. Eifert and Ross didn’t have an impact due to injury. If that’s the case in 2018, then we’re looking at another bad season for the Bengals’ offense.

“That’s heartbreaking to all of us,” Boyd told me when I asked him about finishing last in the NFL in total offense last season. “I know a lot of the blame went to the linemen, but we all felt some type of way about how we played last year. We all felt like we could’ve done things to help the team win or create ways to win in the games that were close. I think we all want to prepare and get better and show everybody that we’re not just people who look good on paper.”

Right now they look great on paper. Can they reach their full potential in 2018?

James covers the Cincinnati Bengals for ESPN 1530 and 700 WLW in Cincinnati. He hosts shows on both stations, including Cincy 3:60 from 12pm-1pm daily on ESPN 1530. He is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati. Feel free to email him your ideas, fantasy football questions and hot takes.

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