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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 and Cincinnati Reds 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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Cincinnati Bengals

Gerald McCoy in stripes makes plenty of sense

Russell Heltman

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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.

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.

Sep 24, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) reacts during the first half against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

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.

 

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Cincinnati Bengals

The AFC North Power Vacuum

Russell Heltman

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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.

Dec 10, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (26) celebrates with wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) after scoring a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals fans guide to Super Bowl LIII

Russell Heltman

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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

Dec 3, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Rams assistant wide receivers coach Zac Taylor against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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

Jan 20, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) audibles during the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

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

Jan 20, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley (30) is tackled by New Orleans Saints middle linebacker Alex Anzalone (47) during the fourth quarter in the NFC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

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

Sep 27, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth (77) and offensive guard Rodger Saffold (76) during the game against the Minnesota Vikingsat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Rams defeated the Vikings 38-31. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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