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Cincinnati Bengals

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

James Rapien



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

Grading the Bengals victory in Dallas

Russell Heltman



The Cincinnati Bengals are undefeated halfway through the 2018 preseason slate but if the 2017 Browns taught us anything it’s that victories before September matter a lot less than the performances that go into them. With that being said it was a victorious night for the orange and black but it was rarely pretty, time to assess their performance in each phase of the game.

Offense: C-

It was an ugly night on offense for Cincinnati, The starters basically no-showed in the first half and here’s how each drive looked before they headed to the locker room: Punt, Punt, Punt, Fumble, Punt, Interception.

All in all the first-team offense put together two drives with no first downs and 10 total yards.

That’s enough to put any team down three scores early in a regular season game and plenty of those struggles were linked to the offensive line. The left side looked decent with Clint Boling and Cordy Glenn proving they can be trusted with backside pressure. Outside of that, it was pretty rough, Bobby Hart started the game at right tackle and was shredded by Pro Bowl end Demarcus Lawrence. Cedric Ogbuehi was even worse as his replacement, allowing a sack to Taco Charlton even though he was called for a hold on the play.

As for right guard and center, Trey Hopkins didn’t make any egregious mistakes and contributed as the center on a 14-play, 92-yard TD drive in the third quarter. The argument could be made for him to be the backup center over T.J. Johnson.

Rookie center Billy Price on the other hand still has a lot of work to do, some of it looks like rookie mistakes but that is now two games into his career where he’s looked a little lost. The former Buckeye isn’t quite where we need him to be three weeks from Indianapolis. Right now Joe Mixon is averaging 2.4 yards per carry in the preseason, don’t expect that to get much better without improvement up front.

On a positive note, Jeff Driskel looked competent and collected in the second half. The Florida product went 10-of-16, for 116 yards and 1 interception but he led the Bengals longest drive of the night highlighted by this gem to John Ross.

The Bengals got the win and scored 21 points but still have a long, long way to go on the offensive line.

Defense: A

I fully expect this group to be the heart and soul of the 2018 Cincinnati Bengals.

They were absolutely dominant in Dallas, especially on the defensive line where they picked up five sacks including this power rush from Jordan Willis.

Sam Hubbard, Nick Vigil, and Carl Lawson tallied a sack and highlighted this crew’s biggest strengths: depth and versatility. Teryl Austin has the luxury of a talented front seven that isn’t reliant on one or two players but on the machine as a whole. The Cowboys could never get into a rhythm offensively because Cincinnati consistently won the first two seconds of each play. Andrew Billings was a big part of that equation, he got pressure on the inside all night and all but cemented a starting spot alongside Geno Atkins.

Pair this group with another deep crew in the cornerback room and all of those issues I mentioned above might not matter if the defense only allows 13 points on a regular basis.

As for the last line of defense, rookie Jessie Bates III got some first-team reps in place of George Iloka and looked the part, Austin has talked about running more three-safety looks all offseason and Bates III is making that game plan look more likely each week.

The offense might not be ready but this defense, despite missing Vontaze Burfict, looks ready to pounce on Andrew Luck in week one.

Special Teams: B+

This was arguably the Jonathan Brown game.

The soccer convert out of Louisville had never kicked a field goal at any level before coming to the NFL and now he has put the pressure on incumbent kicker Randy Bullock. Brown went 2-for-2 on field goal tries including a 55-yard field in the third quarter, that would have tied the Bengals regular season record set by Mike Nugent.

Marvin Lewis came out after the game and said Bullock is still the guy, which isn’t big news, he did go 18-of-20 for the Bengals last season, but keep an eye on Brown over the last two preseason games. Cincinnati let a young kicker go last year who is shaping up to be pretty special.

As far as the return game goes, Darius Phillips will be returning his fair share of kicks for the Bengals this season. he flashed serious game-breaking ability last night, finishing with three returns for 96 total yards. Making it pretty clear how he left Western Michigan as the NCAA’s all-time leader in return touchdowns.

Phillips can slide in alongside Alex Erickson this season and form one of the most dynamic return duos in the NFL. The Cowboys put together a couple of nice kickoff returns but Cincinnati’s unit won the night in the end.

The Bengals were edged out in one phase while dominating the other two and that often leads to victories in the NFL. We will see if they can link all three together next week in Buffalo.


For more quick-hit thoughts on the Bengals follow me on Twitter: @russheltman11

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Cincinnati Bengals

Players are buying into Bill Lazor’s offense

James Rapien



The Bengals finished dead last in total offense last season. Yes, the 0-16 Browns finished ahead of them. So did the Colts, who played all 16 games without quarterback Andrew Luck. If you love offense, then you probably didn’t enjoy watching the Bengals last season. They scored less than 10 points in five games and didn’t reach the end zone until week three.

The offense hit rock bottom in 2017, but they don’t expect that trend to continue. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor led a complete overhaul of an offensive that had been in place since Andy Dalton and A.J. Green were drafted in 2011. Sure, they made some tweaks over the past seven seasons, but nothing like this. Lazor rebuilt an offense that needed it desperately and the players are buying in.

“I like it. It’s different terminology, numbers and stuff like that,” Alex Erickson said. “It’s obviously challenging in the beginning, but we’ve had minicamp and OTA’s to really learn it. It’s allowed us to really progress this training camp.”

Erickson hasn’t played on a winning Bengals team. He beat out Brandon Tate for a roster spot in 2016, after going undrafted. The former Wisconsin Badger is one of the many weapons that Lazor has in his arsenal. Did he design a system that will put the skill players in the best position to succeed? That’s a question that cannot be answered until actual games start, but it’s been asked since Lazor was named offensive coordinator.

The Bengals used high draft picks on skill players over the past three seasons. They drafted a wide receiver in the top ten, a running back in the second round and multiple wide receivers in rounds two through four. They have former pro bowler Tyler Eifert, a talented running back like Giovani Bernard and a top five wide receiver in Green. Did Lazor design a system that will get the most out of a young, but talented offense? Third-year wide receiver Tyler Boyd loves the depth this team has.

“We got fresh guys out there. Guys that are hungry,” Boyd said. “Guys that are willing and dying to get out there on the field and make plays. Every guy wants the best out of each other. We do a great job of motivating each other, grinding hard and competing with one another. We all have a great friendship. We’re all cool and we’re all real tight. We all want everyone to play a part. We don’t want it to just be me and A.J. all of the time. We are able to get me and A.J. a break or get two fresh guys in there and continue what we were doing. It makes it a lot easier for the offense to improve from last year.”

That unselfishness is important to have, even on a team that finished dead last in total offense last season. There are a lot of mouths to feed. From Joe Mixon and Bernard, to Eifert and Tyler Kroft, who are both in contract years. Boyd is eager to prove last year was a mere speed bump, in what will be a successful career in Cincinnati. Former ninth overall pick John Ross not only wants to move past last season, he wants to show people that the Bengals made the right decision when they drafted him in 2017. Instead of worrying about their own touches, it seems like the offense is more worried about being successful.

Fans got their first glimpse of Lazor’s new offense last Thursday at Paul Brown Stadium. The first-team offense scored two touchdowns on three drives. Dalton completed six passes to five different players. They were nearly perfect, outside of an interception that occurred when Ross fell down on a route. The Bengals are buying into Lazor’s system and the skill players are excited about their potential.

“You look at the depth at each and every position. To me, it’s absolutely insane,” tight end C.J. Uzomah said. “It’s not fair – how much skill we have. The offensive line is protecting well. When we’re able to establish the run early, I think that opens everything else up.”

The Bengals will need to be better on the ground this season. They averaged 3.6 yards-per-carry last year and finished next to last in the NFL in total rushing yards with 1,366. Detroit was last with 1,221. If this team is going to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015, they’re going to need their rushing attack to take a significant step forward. The offensive line is expected to be better with the additions of Cordy Glenn, Billy Price and Bobby Hart. Improvement up front will give Lazor a chance to show he can properly utilize two dynamic and versatile running backs in Mixon and Bernard.

And while the Bengals offense may begin with the ground game, it certainly won’t end there. They have made a concerted effort to throw the ball downfield in training camp. That makes sense when you have Green, Ross and other young players who are capable of making huge plays. Rookie Auden Tate has been impressive and so has second-year wide receiver Josh Malone.

They have shown their potential throughout training camp. Don’t look now, but this offense may complete a 180-degree turnaround from where they were a year ago.


For more on Bengals training camp, listen to today’s Locked on Bengals podcast:


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Cincinnati Bengals

A Year in the Life of the Bengals – 2015

Andrew Dunn



When I started this journey through time six months ago, this was the season I was most looking forward to talking about – as well as the one I most dreaded.  The 2015 Bengals are to the city of Cincinnati’s football dreams what the 2012 Reds are to their baseball dreams… a huge blown opportunity.  In 2015, Tyler Eifert managed to stay healthy for most of the season and proved how dominant he could be, the AFC North was down overall, the defense had some truly remarkable studs, and Andy Dalton was well on his way to being in the MVP conversation.  This piece will feature more than you’ve gotten before – and by that, I mean I’ve got some hot takes and insights I’ve been waiting a long time to get off my chest.

But before we get into the good stuff (plus my thoughts that I’m sure you’re not caring about), we flash back just three short years ago to when American Pharaoh became the first race horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win the Triple Crown.  Jurassic World would have been the leader atop movie boards had the Star Wars brand not been re-launched with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  And this also was the year when Disney banned all selfie sticks from their parks, thus preventing the younger generation from taking selfies from slightly higher angles.

And here we go — let’s dive right in here.  The 2015 NFL Draft was not one that had a great impact on this particular version of the Bengals, but had lasting effects the team is still recovering from even here in 2018.  Cincinnati took offensive tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher in the first two rounds as left tackle Andrew Whitworth’s contract began to come upon its expiration date.  Other notable picks include Tyler Kroft in round three and Josh Shaw in round four.  So, yeah, when Kroft is the star of that group, you know it wasn’t a great draft.

No offense to Kroft, who was great as a filler for Eifert last season, but that’s just the problem.  You drafted two guys meant to sure up the offensive line, only to find that your only mild hit from the draft was your backup tight end.

This aside, the Bengals got off to a hot start to the season with a dominating 33-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders, complete with two scores each for Jeremy Hill and Tyler Eifert.  This trend would continue for the team, as they rolled to an 8-0 start — a streak that included wins over the mighty Seahawks and in Pittsburgh.

And on a weird Thursday night in November – the only game I attended in 2015 – the Bengals stopped clicking for a night.  The offense struggled and wound up losing a battle to TJ Yates and the Houston Texans, 10-6, furthering the belief that this version of the Bengals can’t get it done in primetime.

Let’s jump ahead four weeks to December 13 – the Bengals were 10-2 and quarterback Andy Dalton was having, by far, his best season in stripes, even being included in MVP conversations.  And just like that, the season as this team knew it began to crumble.  Andy threw an interception to Steelers’ defensive end Stephon Tuitt to end the Bengals first offensive drive, and ended up breaking his thumb in his effort to tackle the big man.  That prompted second-year quarterback A.J. McCarron to enter the game – he was basically a rookie after being shelved for the entirety of his rookie season in 2014.

The Bengals did lose, 33-20, despite a valiant effort from McCarron, who threw for 280 yards and two scores.  Two weeks later, Cincinnati found themselves at Mile High Stadium in Denver to face the Broncos on Monday Night Football in a game that would see the winner clinch a first round bye in the playoffs.  The battle was a good one, as the Bengals took the Von Miller-led Broncos to overtime, but lost 20-17.  They ended the season 12-4, winning the AFC North and earning the AFC’s third-seed – this setup a battle with the rival Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium.

January 9, 2016 marks the worst day in Cincinnati sports – and it my mind, it isn’t close.  Sure, the aforementioned collapse of the 2012 Reds was horrible, the recent shortcomings of Cincinnati and Xavier basketball was disheartening, and the many losses of the Marvin Lewis era had their letdowns.  But how this game played out and ended is a situation that will forever live in infamy.

I’ll run through the first three quarters, as there isn’t much to discuss – the Steelers ended the third quarter with a 15-0 lead, the result of three field goals from Chris Boswell and a Martavis Bryant touchdown (failed two-pointer, if you’re doing the math at home, made the score 15-0).

But, early in the fourth, Jeremy Hill scored from one-yard out, and with 5:12 left on the clock, kicker Mike Nugent hit a 36-yarder to pull within five.  And finally, after three quarters of offensive mediocrity, the offense scored again with 1:50 left in the game behind a 25-yard touchdown toss from McCarron to AJ Green.  Finally, with just 1:30 remaining, deep in his own territory, Steelers’ backup quarterback Landry Jones threw an interception into the waiting arms of Vontaze Burfict, which should’ve ended the drought in Cincinnati.

And my, oh my, how quickly things can turn.

Jeremy Hill turned right around and allowed himself to be stripped of the ball on the first play from scrimmage of the drive, turning the ball back into the Steelers’ hands.  Injured Ben Roethlisberger re-entered the game, his shoulder really not allowing him to do nearly what he would normally be capable of.  He managed to get the team to midfield before chaos ensued.  Burfict lost his cool, and on a pass across the middle to star receiver Antonio Brown, lowered his head in an effort to ram Brown.  That drew a 15-yard flag.  Arguments between Burfict and Steelers’ linebackers coach Joey Porter ensued, which caused Adam Jones to charge in and bump a referee… 15 more yards.

And of course, the fourth of the Steelers’ killer B’s put the nail in the Bengals coffin with a chip shot field goal with 14 seconds left.  The Bengals lost 18-16.

Alright, here goes a little personal venting and I’ll get pack to professionalism.  The Martavis Bryant somersaulting touchdown in the third quarter was one of the most egregious calls I remember seeing.  The ball was clearly moving around as he pinned it to his thigh, and I’ll forever make the argument that not only did he not get two feet down, he didn’t get even one down with full control.  The Shazier hit that sent Giovani Bernard to the sidelines in the third quarter was also a joke – he clearly lowered the crown of his helmet and jolted Bernard upwards.  Where was the penalty on Porter for entering the field of play?  Where is the criticism of Mike Munchak yanking Reggie Nelson’s hair?  And finally, I recall the entire Jim Nantz-led broadcast seeming to be very pro-Steelers, reaching to tear down the Bengals at every turn.  It’s all irritating, to say the least.  I recall staring dumbfounded at my television screen without blinking for the next 30-40 minutes following the game’s conclusion, unable to force myself to go to bed.

Now then, two things I’ll never understand about this game.  On that ill-fated final drive, why would you not force Big Ben to throw deep?  Let him do it, his arm was at half strength at best.  And of course, how… how… HOW do you fumble the ball with under two minutes left deep in opponent’s territory?  I would have been more satisfied with Hill laying down at the line if he wasn’t going to wrap both arms around the rock like it was his child.

Well, sadly, it all happened, the game was lost, and here we are.  Onto our stats portion of the piece…

Just how good was Andy this season?  He had thrown (through 12 games) for 3,250 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions before his injury.  McCarron was no slouch, as he collected 854 yards and six touchdowns with just two interceptions in his three starts (plus three quarters in the game in which Dalton was hurt).

The running game proved to be something of a struggle, at least as it came to Jeremy Hill.  He continued his downward spiral, only managing 794 yards on the ground with a subpar 3.6 yards per carry, but he did score 11 times as the team’s goalline back.  Gio Bernard touted a much more impressive 4.7 yards per carry, racking up 730 yards on the ground and 472 receiving yards – unfortunately, scoring was a struggle for him, as he only found the endzone twice.

Of course, the receiving game had a few beneficiaries of Andy’s success – star wideout A.J. Green caught 86 passes for 1,297 yards and 10 touchdowns.  Tight end Tyler Eifert had an incredible bounceback season after missing basically all of 2014 – he reeled in a league-leading 13 touchdowns, even having missed three games.  Marvin Jones also had himself an impressive bounceback season with 65 catches for 816 yards and four touchdowns.

On the surface, the defense seemed to struggle as they allowed some high scoring games, but there were some serious stars on this unit.  Linebacker Vincent Rey recorded 95 tackles, a sack and a pick, while Burfict – having only been in 10 games – notched 74 tackles, a sack and two interceptions.  Reggie Nelson was a stud in the secondary as he had eight interceptions and two fumble recoveries.  And finally, the Bengals were a terror on the front four, as Carlos Dunlap recorded 13.5 sacks, with Geno Atkins adding 11 more of his own.

Here’s what the worst part of this season was – we went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, and unfortunately, we’re still sort of in the doldrums of the lows.  We’ve got two weeks left of our journey and they will ultimately be recaps of a team we’re about to see kick off in a few short weeks.  We’ll be seeing the formation of this Bengals unit and explore what will be coming this season.


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