As NFL fanatics go to bed tonight, we dream of the picks our team will make. We dream that they will make an immediate impact and will be the next Kareem Hunt. The next Cam Newton. The next Odell Beckham Jr.
We dream that our team is going to make the pick that changes the direction of our franchise. But before commissioner Goodell walks to the podium on Thursday night in Dallas to announce the first rounders, let’s take a look at where the Bengals stand before they add their new brothers in stripes.
On offense, let’s start with the most pressing position group, the offensive line. The left side looks to be locked up and solid. Clint Boling returns for his eighth season at guard after another solid season. Cordy Glenn joins the team in a trade from Buffalo. He hopes to return to his 2016 pre-injury form which saw him as one of the top left tackles in the league.
On the right side, Trey Hopkins played well at left guard, and started 12 games. After an illness affected and shortened Jake Fisher’s season, look for him to be the top choice at right tackle, especially after Andre Smith moved on in free agency.
But don’t be surprised if the right name falls to them at 21 and they use that on a top rookie tackle. At center, a new face will be taking over, as the Bengals will almost certainly use an early round draft pick to fill the hole left by four year starter Russell Bodine heading to Buffalo.
Anyone who pays any small bit of attention to the Bengals knows that, barring catastrophe, Andy Dalton will be taking the snaps in 2018. Entering his eighth season with the franchise since being picked in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft, Dalton ranks first in winning percentage.
He ranks second in wins (62, 12th among active quarterbacks), passing yards, completions and completion percentage. He ranks third in TD passes. He has been a solid quarterback, but one that has not been able to take them to the next level, going 0-4 as a starter in playoff games.
After losing AJ McCarron to Buffalo this offseason, former USC quarterback Matt Barkley has been brought on to battle Jeff Driskel for the backup spot. Since being taken by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, Barkley has had minimal playing time.
In 18 games, he has thrown 8 touchdown passes against 18 interceptions. While Driskel showed some promise in the 2017 preseason, he has yet to appear in a regular season NFL game. He is also coming off of an off season injury. The Bengals have had the luxury of McCarron the last few seasons.
With that gone, if Dalton goes down. the Bengals are left with very little experience, and little hope for success. Looking at the depth at the QB position, I, and most, anticipate the Bengals to pick up a QB in the draft for the future.
Running back is one of the positions that the Bengals seem to look pretty good. Though they did lose Jeremy Hill, they return Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon, a two headed monster of speed and strength.
Gio’s presence has spoken for itself. In his four seasons with the Bengals, he has averaged over 4 yards a carry and has averaged almost 50 catches a season out of the backfield.
All you need to do is watch his play on Halloween night in Miami in 2013 to know what he brings to this team. And while Mixon got off to a slow start in his rookie 2017 season, he finished strong as the workhorse and looks to build on that this season.
Behind Bernard and Mixon is a whopping 11 2017 carries from Brian Hill. Expect the Bengals to look to add some depth at the position on day 3.
At wide receiver, I would not expect the Bengals to be overly active, though a late round pick wouldn’t shock me. Currently, and for the forseeable future, the #1 spot belongs to perennial baller AJ Green.
On the other side, Brandon Lafell would seem to be the early front runner, though his 2017 season consisted of only 548 yards and 3 touchdowns. A healthy John Ross will undoubtedly be a difference maker in 2018, and I would expect will overtake Lafell as Dalton’s second choice on the outside.
After a solid final two games, including the dagger to the Ravens playoff hopes, Tyler Boyd will hope to slide into the slot and give the Bengals another speedy option of the middle. But after a down sophomore year that saw his receiving yard total drop by almost 400 yards, 2nd year receiver Josh Malone will most certainly challenge Boyd for playing time.
At tight end, Tyler Eifert is back for another year after signing a new deal. Eifert is a top tight end in the league when healthy, and if he stays that way, I expect the Bengals passing attack to be much improved. Tyler Kroft stepped up big time in Eifert’s absence.
He logged 404 yards and 7 touchdowns, and had a catch in all but one game in 2017. He proved effective and reliable, and the two should help make Dalton’s life easier on third down, and in the red zone.
Add CJ Uzomah into the mix, and you have a solid trio of tight ends.
Moving on to the defense, there is room for upgrade at every position, but let’s look at the secondary first. At corner, it appears the top three are set. Dre Kirkpatrick looks to have a comeback year after a down 2017. William Jackson stormed onto the scene and ranked as one of the top corners in the league, yielding a 31.1 quarterback rating when throwing his way.
After early career injuries, Darqueze Dennard is healthy and making a difference, and will certainly battle for playing time along with the other two. Beyond the three former 1st round draft picks, depth is needed. After a subpar season by Josh Shaw and Adam Jones being released, expect them to use a day two or three pick to add another young, talented body to the mix.
Big plays were also missing from the corner position, as they totaled only five interceptions all of 2017.
The safety position is another one that will most certainly be addressed in the draft. After Eric Reid came and left without a deal, the Bengals continue to have famili ar faces at the position.
After a solid 2016 season after signing a new deal, George Iloka was underwhelming in 2017 at strong safety, and always seemed to be a step behind a big play. At free safety, the story was similar with Shawn Williams, as he played in 11 games and totaled only 49 tackles.
Clayton Fejedelem played some useful snaps as well, and totaled 8 more tackles than Williams on the season. But a depth and talent upgrade is necessary.
The front seven will also need to see some improvement if they are to have more success in 2018. With Geno Atkins coming off another dominant season at defensive tackle that had him rack up nine sacks, there is no reason to think that he would fall of in 2018.
With veteran Pat Sims returning, along with youngsters Andrew Billings and Ryan Glasgow, they look to be in pretty good shape on the line. This looks to be an important season for Billings, as he missed his rookie season with an injury and had an average 2017. I would expect them to address the position on the 2nd or 3rd day.
On the ends, Carlos Dunlap still looks like he can be a top end in the league, though his numbers have been down the last few years. After recording 13.5 sacks in 2015, his numbers has dropped to 8 and 7.5 the last two seasons.
Michael Johnson is far from the player that earned him a big contract from Tampa Bay in 2014. He did contribute 5 sacks last season, but I would anticipate that second year player Jordan Willis will push Johnson for the starting spot.
After losing Chris Smith to the Browns in free agency, and missing at this position in some previous drafts, this is a position that badly needs depth, which will be addressed this weekend.
At linebacker, there are some holes that will have to be filled if the group is to improve upon a season that saw tight ends wide open over the middle in 2017 all too frequently.
Vontaze Burfict is out for the first four games due to a PED suspension, so the Bengals will again start the season with their field general on the sideline. Until he returns, newly converted DE Carl Lawson and Jordan Evans look to have the leg up on the outside linebacker spots to start the season.
And while Vinny Rey has been a reliable mainstay for the last eight seasons, his issues in coverage are glaring and were a big problem last year. A big upgrade has arrived at middle linebacker with the signing of Cincinnati native Preston Brown in free agency.
In his four seasons in Buffalo, he never had less than 109 tackles, and led the NFL in tackles in 2017. Hardy Nickerson should also contribute, but this is another position that will be tackled early, and don’t be surprised if the Bengals use the 21st pick on it, if the right player is there.
As has been evidenced by the past two seasons, the Bengals have some holes that have to be filled. While they improved the line by trading for Glenn and improved the linebacker corps by signing Brown, the Bengals can not afford another mediocre draft, and my cautious optimism leads me to believe that will not happen this weekend in Dallas.
After the dust has settled, I will be back to reassess where the Bengals stand, and hope to do so with great excitement for the 2018 season to begin.
Grading the Bengals victory in Dallas
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.
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.
It might be https://t.co/x8mE9eFL9E
— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) August 19, 2018
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.
Stunt picked up by Hopkins (66) and he dumps the DE. pic.twitter.com/dGW0nwoEXT
— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) August 19, 2018
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.
And that's why they practice it. pic.twitter.com/QyO88LjFa4
— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) August 19, 2018
The Bengals got the win and scored 21 points but still have a long, long way to go on the offensive line.
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.
— KAKE Chris Lilly (@Chris_LillyTV) August 19, 2018
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.
— Dadio McDuck (@dadiodefacto) August 19, 2018
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
Players are buying into Bill Lazor’s offense
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.”
— James Rapien (@JamesRapien) August 9, 2018
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:
A Year in the Life of the Bengals – 2015
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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