With the 2016 regular-season fast approaching, we spoke with Football Outsiders’ Robert Weintraub to get an analytical preview at how the Bengals will look in 2016. Weintraub answered a few questions we had about the Bengals in accordance with how Football Outsiders assesses the team heading into the 2016 season. You can read more about FO’s thoughts on the Bengals and the rest of the NFL in the 2016 Football Outsiders Almanac, which is on sale now. Thanks to Robert for taking a few minutes to talk Bengals.
Cincy Jungle: There has been a lot of debate about whether Andy Dalton’s 2015 success should be credited to himself or if it’s Hue Jackson, who is now gone for the Browns. What do you think? Will Dalton continue to thrive without Jackson?
Football Outsiders: Coaching can be overrated, but there’s no doubt Hue had a positive effect on Dalton and, more importantly, the offense as a whole. If the unit was coming back otherwise unchanged, the blow would be lessened. But losing so many targets (including no Eifert for what I think could be the first month) will have a greater drag on Dalton’s effectiveness.
CJ: The Bengals are down two of their top three receivers from 2015. How can they ensure there’s not a drop off in production among the group this year?
FO: It will take a major leap in production from Brandon LaFell and a rookie season from Tyler Boyd beyond anyone’s expectations. In other words, there will be a drop-off.
CJ: How much of Jeremy Hill's regression last year was solely on him and how much was other factors regarding the Bengals’ offense, play calling and offensive line?
FO: All of the above had a cumulative effect. The heavy slant to three-wide sets reduced Hill’s effectiveness, as did the emphasis on passing. But Hill in the end has to take responsibility for the fact he was more plodding and lacked the ability to shed tackles at the point of attack that he displayed in 2014.
CJ: Considering all of Football Outsiders data and stats on Dre Kirkpatrick's career, what kind of season are you expecting from Kirkpatrick? With Adam Jones aging, Leon Hall gone to the Giants, and William Jackson III tearing his pectoral muscle, Kirkpatrick will have a lot more pressure on him this coming season; do you think he'll shine under that pressure?
FO: Kirkpatrick was one of the most heavily targeted DBs in the NFL last season. He mostly held up well enough in coverage, but his tackling was atrocious. Generally speaking, tackling is the more fixable trait, even with the reduced emphasis on hitting in practice. There is a good deal of pressure on Kirkpatrick for sure -- the extreme depth it seemed would be on the roster has taken hits, as you noted. More importantly, he’s in a contract year. To cash in with Cincy or elsewhere, he needs to hold up his end.
CJ: How much of your anticipated 2016 regression from Andy Dalton stems from Hue Jackson's departure? Do you think the addition of quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor, who helped Nick Foles play at an MVP level in 2013, will compensate for Cincinnati's loss of Jackson?
FO: Coaching helps, and Lazor has a good track record. But I’m more concerned about the talent level, which isn’t close to where it was in 2015. Dalton is reliant on having good talent around him -- he’s best when there are multiple options to choose from, and he excels at quickly finding the right choice (no different in that respect from most of the league’s quarterbacks). Hue, Zampese, Lazor -- none are as important as having wideouts who can create mismatches and the big tight end to dominate the red zone.