Despite a 6-9-1 season in 2016, the Bengals still have a lot of talent on their roster and the team could be in line for a bounce back year with some tweaks in 2017.
As there won’t be change among the coaching staff, Cincinnati fans will have to do with the draft picks and low key free agents that won’t cost the team a compensatory pick. Despite Marvin Lewis claiming the Bengals will be “vastly different” in 2017, I’d expect more of the same, based on what we’ve experienced throughout the Lewis regime in Cincinnati.
We’ve been and will keep addressing what the team’s main needs are, or we feel they are, but I think we can agree both the offense and the defense need some refurbishment. Both units had their flaws in 2016, which made the Bengals decline from the stellar division-clinging season the year prior. Whether it was injuries, key players departing in free agency or position coaches leaving for greener pastures, just about every aspect of the team lost personnel for the worse. There were some bright spots, such as the returning game, but nothing stellar.
With that being said I think the offense will be easier to fix than the defense and this is why:
Andy Dalton and Ken Zampese in year two
After seeing the results in year one, Zampese’s promotion from quarterback coach was not a widely popular one and he certainly didn’t make us forget about Hue Jackson’s departure. But Zampese’s offense was hit with many injuries and the losses of Marvin Jones Jr. and Mohamed Sanu. Will the team add another dynamic playmaker this offseason and return healthy (an automatic improvement) in 2017?
Tyler Boyd, Cody Core and Alex Erickson are tools to develop and the latter could be a deep threat in the making. Tyler Eifert should be healthy and playing for a contract, and, of course, A.J. Green will continue to be one of the premier weapons in the league. Also, Zampese appears to have realized Jeremy Hill no longer should be the team’s featured running back, and if the Bengals can either make Rex Burkhead the starter or draft a rookie who can make an immediate impact, it would improve the entire offense.
The past shows a second year under the same coordinator could help, and providing Dalton with more playmakers did wonders for him in 2015.
But did they improve in their second year? In almost every category. pic.twitter.com/9c1uTzqtUK— Joe Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) January 13, 2017
He’s also willing to push Dalton even harder, the same way Jackson did when Jay Gruden left for Washington.
A new kicker... and hopefully one with a powerful leg.
The Bengals suffered from a deep lack of consistency from their kickers in 2016, but they will have an open competition for the job this offseason, which sounds great.
We’ve said this before: a better kicker, with more range, not only helps the team to score points by making the actual field goals. But, the entire offense would benefit knowing when they cross midfield, they have a great chance to score. Ask the Ravens how they feel about Justin Tucker, or the middling Lions about Matt Prater.
Re-sign Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler
The offensive line can be pretty good again, should the Bengals sign the top two free agents on the roster. But, that’s easier said than done. News about the guard market and certain social media interactions don’t speak greatly to the Bengals’ chances at getting back both Whitworth and Zeitler next season.
The Bengals have money to pay both of their free agent-to-be linemen and they’ve seen how bad that line can be without their top guys. If the duo stays put, the offensive line should improve in 2017, despite starting one of the worst centers in the league and whoever they play at right tackle. Clint Boling getting healthy alone will improve the line.
Why will the defense will be harder, in theory, to fix? Well, there are more holes and apparently little to no willingness to address some of them as Bengals.com is reporting the Bengals want to re-sign Domata Peko.
The pass rush this season was nearly nonexistent, but with Michael Johnson on board, it is hard to think they will play somebody else at right end with the amount of money Johnson is getting paid. I mean, it took a few years to reduce Rey Maualuga’s role. Will Clarke would get the first opportunity, and we’ve seen already what he can, or can’t, do. Bringing Peko back plus recovering Andrew Billings (who spent all year on Injured Reserve) could mean no interior rusher would be added in the draft.
Vontaze Burfict will, hopefully, play the entire season and that would be a tremendous help for the entire defense, but swinging and missing with P.J. Dawson can make the Bengals retain Karlos Dansby and stick with Maualuga. Though, the hope is that 2016 third round pick Nick Vigil could take on a predominant role with the team in 2017.
The secondary is in better shape but there are some concerns with Adam Jones and if the team is not willing to pay top money for Zeitler, they then likely can pay to extend Dre Kirkpatrick, unless somebody else offers him crazy money.
Obviously the Bengals can go and take a great pass rusher and another speedy linebacker in the draft, while also cutting their losses by releasing Maualuga, but that is betting on a bigger uncertainty than the offense.
The offense, if the Bengals retain their impending free agent linemen, will be ready to roll with some added pieces in the draft. The offense will benefit from another season of Zampese learning the ropes, and hopefully Jake Fisher becomes at least an average starter at right tackle. That’s why the offense should be closer to returning to a top ranked unit than the defense and why it can happen as soon as 2017.