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Cincinnati Bengals

Why the last two weeks of 2017 should make us all Bill Lazor believers

Russell Heltman

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Let’s not sugarcoat things, the 2017 Cincinnati Bengals were a disgrace on the offensive side of the football.

Channeling some of the nightmarish results of teams from the late-1990s, the Bengals finished 26th in points, dead last in yards, 27th in passing yards, and one spot ahead of the Detroit Lions (who haven’t produced a 100-yard rusher since Thanksgiving 2013) in rushing yards per game.

That last number I mentioned isn’t an anomaly for recent Bengals rushing attacks. Cincinnati averaged 3.6 yards per carry last season for the fourth time in the past decade and have eclipsed 4.0 yards per carry just four times in that span. Watch a few highlights of Joe Mixon, and you’ll be scratching your head wondering why it all doesn’t add up.

The Bengals are trusting one guy to turn those numbers around: offensive coordinator Bill Lazor

After pulling the plug on Ken Zampese a couple months too late, Lazor was tasked with the nearly impossible challenge of implementing a new offensive system two weeks into the regular season. The results and the subsequent record were mixed, but a 7-7 finish while implementing a new system on the fly shouldn’t be completely brushed aside.

Lazor is as focused as his namesake would suggest and that’s been clear with the changes he is making to his coaching group. The former Dolphins play caller has brought in three new coaches to his staff: wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell, offensive line coach Frank Pollack, and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt. All three are proven commodities with excellent track records, Bicknell coached multiple receivers to career seasons with the Eagles, while Van Pelt was beloved by his former quarterback and Pollack helped establish the Cowboys as one of the most dominant offensive line groups in the NFL.

These coaching additions paired with the return of Tyler Eifert, a remade offensive line, and a healthy, motivated John Ross give Bengals fans plenty of hope that this offense can return to its 2015 heights, where Andy Dalton helmed the seventh-best scoring offense in the league.

These expectations haven’t just formulated out of smoke and mirrors, a lot of what’s expected this season played out in the final two weeks of December when Bill Lazor’s system took hold just in time to extend the Marvin Lewis-Era for at least one more campaign.

Lions vs. Bengals

At this point in the season, faith in Bill Lazor was hard to find amongst Bengals fans.

Cincinnati was fresh off of two absolute stinkers that followed another (!) heartbreaking loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, combining for 14 total points in back-to-back blowout losses against the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings. Marvin was all but gone and seemingly on his way to taking Bill Lazor and his up-tempo style with him.

Then all of a sudden everything clicked.

The Bengals beat Detroit 26-17 on the strength of their 2nd-highest total yardage of the season. Andy Dalton wasn’t spectacular but he was on target throughout (65.9 completion percentage) the game and didn’t get in the way of a monstrous outing from Giovani Bernard despite throwing an ugly interception off of his back foot early in the contest. Bernard ran for 116 yards on 23 carries (5.04 yards per carry) and anchored the third-largest rushing total the Bengals produced all season.

Just by watching the highlights above you’ll notice how much success the Bengals had when operating out of the shotgun. Bernard was able to run to the outside much more effectively than any Bengal had earlier in the year and it also opened up opportunities for the Bengals backfield to rack up 106 yards through the air.

These formations allowed Dalton and the offense to get into the kind of tempo the Red Rifle operates in best, all while getting the entire set of offensive weapons involved. Lazor took what worked against new co-worker Teryl Austin and used it to exact revenge on the Ravens in the final week of the season.

Bengals vs. Ravens

It’s far from a hot take to say this was the most complete offensive performance the Bengals put together against a (non-Browns) team all season. The 31-27 victory was the only time Cincinnati scored 30-plus points against a team not coached by Hue Jackson and they did so by picking up right where they left off against the Lions.

Dalton was a little less efficient in this contest, completing 23-of-44 attempts but he made up for it with three touchdowns, including the 49-yard game winner to Tyler Boyd. Just like the week prior, a lot of his success, especially in that two-minute drill, came out of shotgun formations. Dalton was in rhythm throughout the contest and wasn’t forced to make a lot of quick transitions between progressions. We all know Dalton is at his best when he has a clean pocket (crazy I know) and these formations allowed him enough time to make decisions without worrying about the shoddy offensive line group in front of him.

These shotgun sets would’ve been useless without the combination of Bernard and Mixon who ran hard and hit holes that weren’t open in the first 15 weeks of the season. The duo combined for 148 yards on 28 carries (5.29 YPC) eclipsing the rushing production from the week before. As a running back, it has to be taxing on your confidence when you’re not only failing to produce but also aren’t being given the opportunity to showcase your skills. The offensive line reconciled that a bit in these final two weeks and the Bengals backs were eager to take advantage.

Bill Lazor and Co. have a lot to improve on this Fall, but judging by the end of last year and his one full season as the Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator (4.7 YPC in 2014, 2nd in the NFL) expectations in the jungle have rightfully been raised for 2018.

A Cincinnati sports fan since before he could walk, Russ grew up in Anderson Township and currently attends Ohio University where he is pursuing a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Aside from cheering on all of the lovable losers in Cincinnati, Russ is an avid golfer and diehard Charlotte Hornets fan. When he's not breaking down the Bengals on 97 WATH you can find his analysis and thoughts on everything Orange and Black right here.

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Cincinnati Bengals

An Open Letter to Marvin Lewis

Andre Edwards

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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.

 

Sincerely,

Andre

 

P. S. Please take Hue Jackson with you.  Thanks

 

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Cincinnati Bengals

Blog of Football Sorrows: Week 13

Jeffery Carr

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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.

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Cincinnati Bengals

Replacing Marvin

Russell Heltman

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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

Aug 29, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson against the Chicago Bears in a preseason NFL football game at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 21-10. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

11-44-1

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.

Eric Bieniemy

Dec 7, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running backs coach Eric Bieniemy against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Chiefs 17-14. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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