The Cincinnati Bengals received an early bye this season, but after three weeks of seeing Bill Lazor’s offense, and five weeks of Paul Guenther putting together arguably his best defense in his tenure, there are plenty of observations to be made.
The NFL season is long, and we’re not even halfway to the finish line. If the Bengals want to be the last team standing at the end of the season, these are a few changes I’d like to see from them across the board that will help them win in Pittsburgh and make a real run at the playoffs.
Get William Jackson more snaps
The breakout season (even though you may not know it) of Darqueze Dennard in 2017 is great news for the team long-term, and they look really smart for exercising Dennard’s fifth-year option in April.
However, William Jackson has shown he has what it takes to play boundary corner in the NFL. He still has some growing pains to get through, but that’s true for any player with limited experience, and his upside (see his pick 6 in Green Bay) is worth it.
With Adam Jones dealing with injuries I think it’s time to slowly turn the reigns over to Jackson full time opposite of Dre Kirkpatrick. Jackson has been hovering between 25 and 40 percent of defensive snaps this season, and he’s only going to get better with more experience.
It’s not even like he’s a liability in his current role. Aside from some questionable pass interference calls against him, he really hasn’t made many mistakes. It’s an investment in the future, and he’s ready to shine right now.
Utilize C.J. Uzomah more as the H-back, even if Hewitt is healthy
Ryan Hewitt has been the defacto H-back for the Bengals for years now, and he’s done a great job at what he does. Whether in the backfield or aligned as wing/tight end he’s done his job. So by now means am I suggesting a replacement in the same vein as I am with Jones and Jackson in my first point. I just really like what Uzomah brings to the table.
Hewitt is a pretty balanced player who I would say is certainly a better blocker than Uzomah, but I wholeheartedly believe Uzomah is a much better receiving threat. Lazor got creative with CJ as a fullback in Hewitt’s absence. This included some play action to fake an iso run before hitting Uzomah in stride over the linebackers on a seam.
There are scenarios and matchups that both players can succeed at, and there’s no such thing as too many playmakers. I think it’s in the team best interest to work Uzomah into the offense more in the H-back role, even in a limited capacity.
Uzomah already sees a higher snap count percentage than Hewitt, but I think he’s a better playmaker than he’s been given credit for so far.
Run more play action
Right now, the Bengals major weakness is the inability to run the football, so you might not think it’s good to run more play action when there’s not an established run threat. It’s sound reasoning - that you must first be able to run before you can threaten someone with it.
However, the inverse is also true. You can, believe it or not, use play action to open up your running game if you’re able to throw the ball well. The Bengals used play action effectively against Buffalo, and it paid off via A.J. Green scoring his long touchdown in that game.
If you can pass run your play action well, your opposing defense is just going to get out of the box and become more lax naturally, since the main threat is the pass. This moves bodies into situations more easy for offensive lines to block.
Use your strength to assist your weaknesses. True balance should be the goal of any offense, but how you get there is irrelevant. For this Bengals team, we need the pass to open up the run.