Hue Jackson departed from Cincinnati this offseason and now calls Cleveland home. Meanwhile, the AFC North Champion Cincinnati Bengals are looking to get back to being the proficient touchdown machine they were before star quarterback Andy Dalton went down with a thumb injury in 2015. Can they get back on track under the guidance of a first year offensive coordinator, former quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese?
Let's be fair to Jackson. His creative play calling was fun at times. And he did seem to get Dalton to be more vocal. The fifth year signal caller's leadership came through in big comeback wins against the Baltimore Ravens, Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers.
But let's not forget Zampese was a part of that transformation as well. And if anyone's worried Dalton will somehow forget how to speak up and push his teammates, I suggest they look at what he's been saying so far this offseason. After Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu left for what they deemed better opportunities, instead of expressing concern Dalton was as confident as ever.
The Bengals' offense still features an unstoppable force in A.J. Green, a redzone machine in Tyler Eifert, and two dynamic running backs with a lot to prove-- Giovani Bernard is heading into a contract year, and Jeremy Hill knows he must earn back Cincinnati's trust.
Meanwhile, the Bengals brought in quality replacements. Brandon LaFell caught a touchdown in the Super Bowl just a little over a year ago, and Tyler Boyd was perhaps the most NFL-ready receiver in the draft.
The Bengals coaches have done what was needed this offseason to help ensure the team doesn't take a step back. But could the offense actually be significantly better without Jackson next year?
Here's why: Jackson said about Dalton, "There is no situation I won't trust him in," and that he gave Dalton the green light to do as he saw fit. And, without a doubt, good things happened last year when Dalton called his own plays. We all remember Dalton's changes on the game-winning drive in a thrilling win over the Ravens in Week 3 and when he called his own number on a quarterback sneak in an amazing comeback win against the Seahawks in Week 5. But some may not remember the game against the Buffalo Bills, when the Bengals quarterback set up a fantastic touchdown run by Giovani Bernard and a touchdown to Eifert with his pre-snap decisions. That was one of the rare highlights in the running game from last year. Jackson, who was ironically the Bengals' running backs coach in 2013, clearly failed to take advantage of Bernard (only 154 rush attempts) and Hill (3.6 yards per carry). The tandem of Dalton and Zampese might just be the breath of fresh air they need.
If the Bengals want a championship-caliber offense, they must trust Dalton with the team's fortunes. Just look at Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, who have their fingerprints all over the identity of the offenses of the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers respectively. And then there's Peyton Manning, perhaps the player Dalton resembles the most, who was famous for his audibles.
Dalton is a brainy quarterback. He's brilliant at reading coverage and putting the ball in his playmakers' hands before the pass rush arrives. That's why giving him more free reign (as you can imagine Zampese will do) will result in better adjustments on the field. So don't be surprised when the running game is better than ever and the Bengals are even more consistent on offense in 2016.