The Bengals fell to 3-7-1 on Sunday against the Ravens and questionable coaching decisions by Marvin Lewis and his staff littered the game. While play-by-play decisions in the game and throughout the 2016 season need to be scrutinized, one particular personnel decision continues to be a head-scratcher.
The offensive line has been one of the major issues for the Bengals in their disappointing 2016 campaign, even though just one position was replaced this offseason. Last year, the Bengals invested their two tops picks in athletic offensive tackles as an investment in the future.
With Andre Smith’s departure this offseason, the Bengals put their faith in first round pick, Cedric Ogbuehi. He has not lived up to expectations through 12 games this year and Eric Winston has come in to relieve him on a weekly basis. Given some of the decisions the team has made regarding both personnel and the game plans, it’s pretty obvious the Bengals have been trying to get immediate results from all positions.
However, given Ogbuehi’s struggles and his draft projection of being a better fit at guard or left tackle, one has to wonder why 2015 second round pick Jake Fisher isn’t getting a shot at right tackle. It’s especially puzzling that he hasn’t had a shot in an all-but-lost season as he has taken a backseat to Winston, an 11-year veteran, whose ceiling is far inferior to that of Fisher.
Instead, Lewis and Co. have opted to use Fisher in “jumbo packages” where he has been nothing more than an extra lineman in run-heavy formations. Given the line’s 32 sacks given up following Sunday’s matchup against the Ravens, why does Fisher continue to watch games from the sidelines instead of getting in on the action to see if he can make an impact?
The polarizing issue with Fisher became startlingly clear at the end of Cincinnati’s Week 12 loss to the Ravens. The Bengals had the football three times in the fourth quarter and only came away with three points. In their last possession, Winston was beat by Terrell Suggs off the edge to force a killer fumble on a sack of Andy Dalton. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only issue from the position on the afternoon.
Ogbuehi was also beat by Suggs earlier in the game to force another fumble only to be recovered by Lawrence Gay. That’s what prompted Winston to enter the game. Unfortunately, the Bengals now officially are in “see what we have for the future” mode, so the spotlight on younger players is shining brighter than in past years.
Given what is already known from Winston’s extensive NFL career and the 12-game sample size of Ogbuehi’s struggles on the right side, why not try the athletic Fisher on the right side?
Marvin Lewis has done a number of positive things to turn around the Bengals since 2003, but his reliance on veterans over unproven young players has continued to hinder the team. The issues at right tackle and Fisher sitting on the sidelines are just one of many examples of this.
During the past few weeks, the Bengals have walked a fine line between playing their vested veterans to remain competitive and getting their recent draft picks quality playing time. Because of both respects, why wouldn’t the team want to try Fisher at right tackle?
Now that the Bengals are all but eliminated from playoff contention this year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Fisher play more at right tackle. For now, it’s just a question of it’s too little, too late.