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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

Not Another Bengals, Chiefs Preview

Jeffery Carr

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© David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Week seven of the NFL regular season is upon us and the Cincinnati Bengals have a golden opportunity this Sunday on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs. Guessing that’s not where your mind went when you thought of this game?

The Basics

The Bengals and Chiefs have squared off 28 times, over the years, with the Bengals holding a slight 15-13 advantage. Cincinnati holds a four-game winning streak over Kansas City with the last loss coming at Arrowhead in 2007. Marvin Lewis is 6-2 against the Chiefs and 2-2 at Arrowhead. The Lewis-led Bengals have outscored the Chiefs 167 to 136, in their eight meetings.

The last game between these two teams was in week four of the 2015 season. The Bengals won in Paul Brown Stadium 36-21 with four of the touchdowns coming from running plays. Three TDs were scored by Jeremy Hill and the other came from Giovanni Bernard. The lone TD pass was a 55-yarder to Brandon Tate from Andy Dalton.

The Offense

This is a marvelous chance for Andy and the offense to get back on track. They managed just nine total yards in the third quarter against the Steelers, but will be facing a very pedestrian defensive squad, this coming Sunday night. In two games career games against the Chiefs, Dalton has completed 66% of his passes for 551 yards and three scores. He will face a Chiefs defense that ranks stone cold last in pass defense, allowing 340 yards per game, through the air.

Joe Mixon will be happy, though, as the Chiefs also allow an average of 127 rushing yards, per game. In fact, the Bengals offense, as a whole, should feast on Sunday. They’re averaging 29 points per game and the Chiefs allow 28.7 per game.

The Defense

They’re banged up, and they’re outgunned in this matchup. Statistically, Cincinnati’s defense has fared only slightly better than Kansas City’s. The Bengals are allowing just over 400 total yards, a game, and 26 points per game. Couple that with the high-flying offense of Patrick Mahomes, who averages 418 total yards and 35 points per game, and I’d say you should bet the over, whatever Vegas has it set as.

Nick Vigil and Darqueze Dennard have been ruled out and Shawn Williams is listed as questionable. Given that eight different defensive starters came off the field last Sunday, at different points in the game, and this coming game may be crazy, simply from a health standpoint.

The Skinny

This matchup has a real chance at being a playoff preview as well as a carbon copy of the Falcons game, a few weeks back. The Chiefs will be in a battle with the Chargers, all season, for the AFC West and the Bengals, though on top for the moment, have no room for comfort with the Ravens and Steelers knocking on the door. Whoever has the ball last in this pivotal game could very well end up the winner.

I’d expect to see a lot of William Jackson and Tyreek Hill matchups. Some have said Hill is the best receiver, in the game, this year so Jackson will need to be on his toes for all 60 minutes. Meanwhile, Kansas City receiving threat 1-B, Travis Kelce, will probably be Teryl Austin’s biggest headache. The Bengals, no matter the personnel or the coaching staff, have always struggled to cover the opposing tight end. Enter, arguably, the best tight end in the NFL with his 468 receiving yards and three TDs. I’m no expert fantasy football predictor, but I’d bet he is a top scorer, this week. And I haven’t even mentioned the Chiefs’ stud running back, Kareem Hunt. Dude is a threat to run all over the place (456 yds, 4th in NFL) and be a pain to the Bengals pass defense (17 yards per catch). Pray for Austin and the Bengals defense.

Bringing it Home

That being said, this is a winnable game for the Bengals. They have the firepower to hang with Kansas City. If you jumped off the wagon after the loss to the Steelers and think the Bengals are going to get absolutely crushed by the Chiefs, you won’t agree with me, so whatevs, but this game isn’t that big of a mismatch. John Ross will be on the field for Cincinnati, giving them their bonafide deep threat to contend with the Chiefs’ big play abilities. AJ Green has nobody to worry about on the Chiefs defense, and will be able to roam free, looking for holes in the coverage. Which just means Tyler Boyd will be able to give as much of his safety blanket-ness to Andy as he can. Should the line have a rough day protecting the pocket, Dalton will have plenty of chances to scramble and make something happen while extending the play. One of these two teams will begin the game hot only to try to slow it down with the rushing game, but I believe both defenses will be porous enough to allow some highlight reel plays deep. This is going to be an entertaining game to watch, if your pacemaker doesn’t give out in the first half. Call me crazy, call me a homer (whatevs, I’m no professional), but I say the Bengals win.

Prediction: Bengals 42, Chiefs 38

Follow @jefffcarr and @lockedonBengals for more Orange and Black content on Twitter

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Cincinnati Bengals

WATCH: Houshmandzadeh says the Bengals are going to beat the Chiefs

James Rapien

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Former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh says the Bengals are going to beat the Chiefs on Sunday night football. He also thinks Andy Dalton’s struggles in primetime games are just a ‘coincidence.’ He was a guest on ‘The Herd’ on Fox Sports One. Watch the video below.

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Cincinnati Bengals

‘Vontaze can be as great as he wants to be’

James Rapien

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Vontaze Burfict has been talked about a lot this week. Not for his dominant play, but for a questionable hit on Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.

This isn’t new for Burfict. His play has been discussed for years. He’s been fined or suspended 11 times in his career, which has cost him over $1 million in salary.

Some people believe Burfict should be suspended for the rest of the season. Others think he should be out of the NFL forever. There’s no denying that he’s earned his reputation.

Burfict doesn’t like how he’s viewed in the media. If he wants to change it, he can start by playing like an elite linebacker against Kansas City. He doesn’t look like the player he once was. It’s probably because he’s missed so much time over the past few years. Burfict has appeared in 11 games or fewer in his last four seasons due to suspensions and injuries. He hasn’t forced a turnover since 2016, which is the last time he was playing at an elite level.

That leads me to a question that has been asked a lot this week: Is Burfict worth the headache? His teammates certainly think so.

“Vontaze can be as great as he wants to be,” Carlos Dunlap said earlier this week. “And as you’ve seen up to this level he’s played as one of the best linebackers in the league. And I feel like he has the potential to be even better.”

Sunday is an opportunity for Burfict to put on a show. It’s a chance for him to remind people that he is one of the best linebackers in the league. If he goes out there, dominates and does it without any questionable hits, then the entire country will see why the Bengals signed him to two contract extensions. Leading a struggling defense into Kansas City and getting a win would be huge for how people view him. Fans and media could discuss his stellar play, instead of a late-hit or a PED suspension.

He needs to remind people, including fans, that he can be a great player. Burfict just turned 28-years-old. He signed a contract extension with the Bengals last season. There has been plenty of chatter about Burfict this week, but that isn’t bothering rookie safety Jessie Bates.

“He’s so smart and he makes things easier for me communication wise,” Bates said on Wednesday. “Obviously he’s been doing this for a long time. He plays very violent and some people don’t like that. I’m glad that he’s on our team.”

It’s hard to envision Burfict changing at this point, but he can use Sunday to his advantage. He can show a national television audience that he’s able to play the game at a high level and do so without getting fined, flagged or suspended for questionable play.

Once upon a time Burfict was an undrafted free agent who impressed coaches with his knowledge of the game. Fast forward to present day and he’s a ‘dirty player’ who should be suspended or worse. Burfict has a chance to remind everyone of how good he can be. Whether or not he takes advantage of it is up to him.

For more, listen to the latest Locked on Bengals podcast below.

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