It never fails. When you’re winning, everything you do seems great and you will receive very little criticism. But, when you start the season 2-2 after finishing the previous season with a franchise best 12-4 record, there are bound to be fans looking for someone’s head.
So far in 2016, one of the biggest scapegoat candidates seems to be new offensive coordinator Ken Zampese. With his offense struggling to run the ball and put the ball in the endzone after the first four weeks, the early complaints and knee-jerk reactions are in full swing.
PLEASE FIRE KEN ZAMPESE IM BEGGING YOU BENGALS— i quit (@DaveyyDizzle) September 30, 2016
Play calling for Bengals is brutal...week 3 Ken Zampese. Wake up! #Bengals#runtherock— Louis Linnemann (@louislfh) September 30, 2016
Ken Zampese, wtf are you doing!???— Andrew Stephens (@AStephensGolf) September 30, 2016
Ken zampese can't call plays to save his life— Chris Schaefer (@chrisschaefer39) September 30, 2016
Three weeks in a row of bad play-calling by Ken Zampese. We're either too pass heavy or too run heavy.— Jared Hale (@JHale42) September 25, 2016
Ken Zampese's offense has been less than impressive, no imagination, no effort to push pressure on the defense— David Simone (@DavidNSimone) September 25, 2016
It isn’t exactly tough to understand how Bengals fans watching the 2016 product feel. We are all watching an offense with so many talented weapons; the team ranks fourth in passing yards per game (291.0), third in passing yards (1,164), despite only attempting the 13th most passes (146). On the flip side, they are allowing the second most sacks so far this season (13), rank 28th in rushing yards per game (80.8), and 22nd in offensive points (78). With so much talent on the team, it has to be the offensive coordinator calling bad plays, right?
To an extent, that is a reasonable conclusion to come to. The Bengals have the second worst third down conversion rate in the NFL (28 percent). That has a lot to do with the fact that the Bengals are running quite a bit on second down. Given the currently ineffective state of the running game, that almost always leads to a third down situation where you can’t necessarily run the ball again based on the poor execution of the previous running play.
That said, Zampese does not deserve as much blame as he is receiving. With certain members of the offensive line playing as poorly as they have, not opening up holes in the running game, there aren’t a whole lot of strategies that will work. The Bengals are putting up an abysmal 3.1 yards per run so far this season, so most strategies are going to end up breaking down.
It’s bad enough when the Bengals’ offense becomes one-dimensional due to a lack of execution on one side of the ball. But, it becomes so much worse when the Bengals are missing one of their proven pass catching options in Tyler Eifert. After the exit of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu this offseason, as well as the departures of Brandon Tate and Mario Alford, there is a striking lack of experience for everyone not named A.J. Green.
Guys like Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, Cody Core, and Alex Erickson are in their first year with the team. Both Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah have very little playing experience as they have been overshadowed by Eifert for their careers, which are each in their second year. James Wright is the only other receiver on the team with some experience to speak of, and he has only played 11 games in his rookie season due to injury, which was 20+ months separated from this season’s start.
While there have been problems so far with the Bengals’ play calling, the primary issue seems to be the execution of those plays in the first place. It’s hard to be a masterful play-caller when your unit is simply not able to master fundamental aspects of the game like blocking and scoring. That dropped pass by Boyd from the win over the Dolphins comes to mind as one example of a touchdown that slipped away.
Ultimately, Zampese could stand to improve his play calling. But, it is also true that he only has four regular season games of experience as an offensive coordinator. Given all of the other issues with the Bengals’ offense, it is a much better idea to give him some time to work out the kinks while the players work on their own issues. Of course, Zampese will play a hand in fixing those issues, too. The Bengals experienced significant turnover this season, so let’s give the new guys some time to adjust before we add more turnover to the equation.