Pro Football Focus has announced its first ever NFL Positional Coaches Of The Year Awards, and three Bengals coaches were among the runners-up, including two that have since left for greener pastures. Hue Jackson, now head coach of the Cleveland Browns, placed third at offensive coordinator, the same rank as Jay Hayes, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in the defensive line coaching position. His brother, Jonathan Hayes got the second place nod among the tight ends coaches.
Jackson was in his second stint with the Bengals after becoming their wide receivers coach in 2004. He then went on to become the Oakland Raiders' head coach, but lasted only one season in the job. He reunited with Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati and after Jay Gruden's departure, he took on the Bengals' offense in 2014. While Jackson had arguably a great personnel at his disposal, it is fair to say he did a good job in Cincinnati, or at least good enough that he was highly coveted as a head coach candidate before accepting Cleveland's offer. With Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert back from season-long injuries, Jackson was able to switch from a power running offense he was forced to utilize in 2014 and gave quarterback Andy Dalton free reign. Dalton was on pace for his best season as a pro before getting injured in Week 14, with 25 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions and 3,250 passing yards on a career high 66.1% completion rate and a career-high 8.4 yards average. His progress was especially noticeable when throwing deep balls, which Cincinnati ranked fourth in, with 63 completions of over 20 yards; the team also tied for fifth with 13 passing plays of over 40 yards.
The former Bengals offensive coordinator was also a headache to opposing defensive coordinators because of all his unbalanced formations, trick plays and alignment shifts. He may have gotten a bit too cute sometimes, but Cincy's offense was clearly very productive in 2015. They ranked seventh in points scored, ninth in yards per play, third in net yards gained per pass attempt, tied for fifth in interceptions with only 9 and ranked sixth in percentage of their drives that ended in a score. Jackson was an obvious key to the Bengals' franchise's regular season success, with a 12-4 year that gave them another AFC North crown.
The coaches ahead of Jackson on PFF's list were Mike Shula of the Carolina Panthers and Harold Goodwin of the Arizona Cardinals. Both coaches had arguably two of the best offenses in the NFL this season and benefited from MVP-caliber years from their quarterbacks.
Jay Hayes, one of Marvin Lewis' original hires in 2003, left the team earlier this month to go after a lateral move in Tampa Bay. This season, Hayes did a great job with a Bengals' defensive line that saw a bounce back season from star tackle Geno Atkins and a career-year from star defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Both have been selected for the Pro Bowl after recording 11 and a franchise record 13.5 sacks in 2015 respectfully. While those two got all the headlines, veteran nose tackle Domata Peko had a good season as well, after failing greatly in 2014.
The Bengals were tied for ninth in sacks with 42, more than double from the previous season, where they ranked the worst in the NFL with only 20. This is more important considering Cincinnati's scheme, which features heavy zone coverage usage and trusts the front four to get home and put pressure on the opposing quarterbacks.
Jay's brother, Jonathan, enjoyed a great year with the return of standout tight end Tyler Eifert and the drafting of Tyler Kroft in the third round and C.J. Uzomah in the fifth. Despite Eifert's injuries, the unit was able to stay alive late in the season, helping backup quarterback AJ McCarron, playing in relief of Andy Dalton.
Had Eifert played more than 12 games his stats would have looked even better. He had 13 touchdown, only one fewer than the NFL lead, but the best mark at his position. Kroft added one score and looked good as a rookie. But besides numbers, the presence of a big target down the middle of the field provided Dalton with another red zone target and that resulted in a much more explosive offense and was huge for the team success in the regular season.
Jonathan, the younger of the two brothers, was also one of Lewis' original hires in 2003. He only ranked behind Arthur Smith of the Tennessee Titans on PFF's list. Smith has been great the past few years with Delanie Walker posting huge stats despite the quarterback and heach coach carousel.