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.
An Open Letter to Marvin Lewis
Dear Mr. Lewis,
I have been contemplating sending you this letter for quite some time, and I hope it finds you well. You don’t know me, but I am a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Bengals. The second Super Bowl loss to the San Francisco 49ers remains as the first time I can remember experiencing heartbreak. I have, quite literally, hated Joe Montana for what he did to my then 12 year old self, for 30 years now. That said, my fandom has endured. Admittedly, as I was in college in the late 90’s, I was not as honed in on every move my Bengals made. So many losses, so little time. Sure, I loved Jeff Blake, Corey Dillon, and Takeo Spikes, but I had finals to take and parties from which to recover. But then something happened. Something unexpected. Mike Brown hired you as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003. Marvin Lewis – the legendary architect of one of the greatest defenses in the history of the league – was coming to be our coach! The excitement was palpable, and you were brimming with confidence. It was a swagger not seen around here since the days of Sam Wyche.
As the years passed, you began to place your stamp on the team and the city. The Marvin Lewis community fund is an outstanding work of art, and a tribute to your dedication to the people of Cincinnati. Kudos. On the field, the likes of Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, Rudi Johnson, Willie Anderson, and TJ Houshmandzadeh, made being a Bengals’ fan fun again. They became must see TV, if not in person appointment viewing. Cleveland was a guaranteed two wins. Baltimore was almost two. Pittsburgh was likely a couple of losses, but the wins were sweet, and the losses were respectable. I’d look forward to your post-game interviews, and your Monday press conferences. There was useful information to be gleaned from them. Things that the average fan would miss as they had long turned off the broadcast and moved on with their lives. Not me. I am a loyal fan, remember? I don’t break down tape or have some hot draft take, but I love my Bengals, and I follow them closely – you included.
I need to take a moment to give you some props on the transition from the Palmer-era to the Dalton-era. That entire thing was a mess, what with Carson forcing his way out, you hiring an unproven offensive coordinator in Jay Gruden, and then drafting/starting a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton. And all during an NFL lockout. I still remember predictions of the team going 0-16 that year. Somehow, some way, you guided this team, not only to a winning record, but to the playoffs. I am not sure if I have ever been more impressed by an NFL coach. You completely rebooted the franchise, and had a whole new cast of characters for us to get to know. Dalton, AJ Green, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Clint Boling, and Andrew Whitworth. Young talent, ready to take on the AFC North. Two wins versus Cleveland – check. Almost two wins versus Baltimore – check. Still two losses to Pittsburgh – yeah, most of the time, but division titles weren’t out of reach. The playoffs became an annual event. This is where I need to touch on the obvious…
I do not understand your philosophy when it comes to playoff games, and for that matter, night games, games against Pittsburgh, Monday Night Football games, and any other game not at 1 pm eastern. You seem to have think and preach that these games are just the same as any other. No need for extra emphasis. No need for extra hype. No need to bring an extra chin strap because it’s just another game. After watching 16 years of this approach from you, I humbly disagree. Your teams are consistently outplayed, out-coached, and seemingly unprepared for the spotlight of these match-ups. At some point, would it not make sense to try a different approach? Maybe call it Pittsburgh week? Maybe say this Sunday night game is going to be huge for us? Maybe say that your team is chomping at the bit to play on Monday Night Football? It’s got to be better than just another game – just another loss.
I know you love this city and this franchise. I genuinely believe you want to win – for Mike Brown, and for the fans. That said, I think that it is time to move on with your life’s work. You gave it your all. You got more out of Mr. Brown than anyone ever thought possible. You raised this franchise to a level of respectability that no one could have predicted. You have done good work. It’s just not enough. There is no shame in that. And if I am being honest, you just do not seem to enjoy this anymore. Your press conferences, that I used to look forward to hearing, are all the same. Short, full of disdain for the people asking questions, and random giggles that make no sense. The fire and energy after 16 years of being an NFL head coach have faded. Why not let someone else give it a shot? We both know Mike Brown isn’t going to fire you, so why not walk away? Do what’s best for the franchise, and make them look for a coach. Last time, it brought us you!
Thank you for reading, and I wish you all the best in your next adventure.
P. S. Please take Hue Jackson with you. Thanks
Blog of Football Sorrows: Week 13
Today I officially changed the name of this game recap blog. It just fits. To be positive about this iteration of the Bengals is to be a master of the mind that I cannot comprehend (aka delusional).
They’re done. I didn’t think they had much hope for the playoffs before the game, and they certainly don’t now. The injuries are a problem, but they aren’t the problem. The offense has been stale for weeks thriving on an identity-less scheme filled with dink and dunk passes and zero creativity. They now have four games left. The Raiders seem winnable, but with the hope of starting over, do we fans want that? Do we want there to be a glimmer of hope in management’s eyes? I don’t. I want change, and that doesn’t happen by winning any remaining games, this year. Lose em all, blow it up, let’s start fixing the problems that have been ignored for too long.
Jeff Driskel, to no fault of his own, was meh. Which is much the story of 2018. The game plan, in the beginning, seemed to be for him to get momentum built through screens and flat routes…but then they kept the training wheels on. Second quarter, third quarter…it kept going. The Bengals fell behind on the scoreboard and their answer was to run more crossing routes and short outs? Cincinnati ran RPO plays…and only passed. They asked an athletic quarterback who can move to stand tall in the pocket and fend off pressure from a defense with its ears pinned back matching up with a bad and battered offensive line. Kind of like James mentioned on the post-game pod, how bad is Cedric Ogbuehi that the answer to filling in for Cordy Glenn is the starting left guard and not your former first round pick, who is actually supposed to be a left tackle? So the coaching game plan was to tell Driskel to grin and bear it behind an uninspired line with uninspired play calling? But, you know, Marvin Lewis says “We’ve got to do our jobs better. The players have to execute the game plan the way it is coached.” What? The game plan hasn’t changed in 10 years! Different personnel, different opponents, different circumstances, same stale, boring, dull, lifeless, clueless plan. I get sick to my stomach when I listen to Marvin do a press conference.
The only thing left is the future, whatever may come. I know that is bleak. Not one of you reading these words can say, with a straight face, that you can see a different coach roaming the sidelines in 2019 who isn’t Marvin or Hue Jackson. We know. We know there isn’t going to be any change, and that’s why the stadium is empty. That’s why the orange in the stands at Paul Brown Stadium was Bronco orange and not Bengal orange. The sound at the end of the game? Cheers and applause, because anyone still there was a fan of the visiting victors. There’s no one left to boo because they’ve been booing for so long they’ve lost interest. It is understood that the most likely outcome this season, if change comes at all, is that Hue takes the reigns. We’ll go from a boring, uninspired, regularly out-maneuvered coach to a joke of a coach. So how can anyone care? I looked at tickets before the game. You could have sit 12 rows back in the endzone for $35…and I said no. Why? Because the joke that is the visual of the stands at PBS is the last thing we fans have left to tell ownership to get their rear in gear and fix this. Will they? You tell me…
Follow @jefffcarr and @lockedonBengals on Twitter for more angst Bengals content.
A lot of Bengals fans (myself included) wondered before the year why a young team with so much talent was pegged with worse Super Bowl odds than our in-state neighbors.
In the eyes of Las Vegas, it didn’t matter that the Bengals rallied to end last season at 7-9 with a signature victory over the Baltimore Ravens. It didn’t matter that the Bengals made legitimate offseason moves to sure up the offensive line. It didn’t matter that Bill Lazor was given a whole offseason to install his system or that Teryl Austin was bringing a turnovers-or-bust mentality with him from Detroit.
It. Didn’t. Matter.
The only thing that mattered was the face of the franchise returning for his 16th year. Marvin Lewis is and always will be the reason people around the NFL don’t take the Bengals seriously and it’s become both a blessing and a curse.
When Lewis arrived in 2003, he inherited what many considered to be one of the worst franchises in pro sports at the time. The players were using old jock straps, it was a dark time in Bengals history. Though to Lewis’ credit, he rebuilt this franchise into something fans could actually be proud of.
They became competitive, they got to the base of Championship Mountain, but that’s not good enough. Of the six coaches in the NFL who’ve been at the helm for at least a decade, Marvin Lewis is the only one without a Super Bowl trophy.
As of Nov. 28, Cincinnati has lost five of their past six games, their defense is the worst in the league, the offense can’t operate without A.J. Green, and they’ve fired one coach in waiting while rehiring another. That go-ahead score against Pittsburgh in mid-October feels like it happened in 2015.
The Bengals might not have moved on from Marvin, but I have, there’s nothing else I need to see following that 35-20 beatdown this past Sunday. ESPN has pegged Lewis with a 60 percent chance to be fired and though this might be for nothing, here are two head coaching paths the Bengals could choose to down in January.
Anyone But Hue Jackson
That’s really all that needs to be said. Hue Jackson is a great POSITION coach, but he has proved over a large sample size that he is inept as a HEAD coach. Jason La Canfora reported before the Browns game that Jackson has a real shot to replace Lewis if he steps down or takes a front office role.
Fans would be less excited about this than retaining Lewis, especially if he’s in the building overseeing nine of the 10 or 11 losses this team is headed for. Who are we kidding here, this is Lewis’ best friend and if anyone has shown the ability to persuade Mike Brown over the last 16 years, it’s Marvin Lewis.
Jackson is the clear frontrunner if a coaching change ends up happening.
A former Bengals player from 1995-98, This is the home run hire for Cincinnati. Bieniemy is in his first season as offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs and I don’t have to throw stats in here to prove why that’s been a success.
As a former player for the franchise, Bieniemy has that familiarity that Brown always looks for in new hires. He could come in and immediately offer a fresh perspective on this roster, answer the Andy Dalton question, and start to move this organization into a new era.
Bieniemy has primarily coached running backs before taking over for Matt Nagy this season and some great ones at that: Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Kareem Hunt have all learned and thrived under Bieniemy. Imagine his expertise paired with the talent of Joe Mixon.
Oh and for those concerned with the “lack of coaching experience” after just one season as an OC, just look at the past two guys to hold Bieniemy’s current spot. Doug Pederson went from Chiefs OC to winning a Super Bowl, Nagy has turned the Bears from a laughing stock to a contender in his first season. Those expectations might not be fair for Bieniemy, but the blueprint is out there for Mike Brown to make a championship hire.