I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a professional offensive coordinator, nor do I play one on television.
But sometimes, you don’t have to be a paid professional to notice that something isn’t right. You don’t need to be a structural engineer to discern that the tower in Pisa, Italy is leaning.
And you don’t need to be an expert to figure out that something is awry with the Bengals offense in 2017. After seven weeks they are ranked 29th in scoring offense as only one of four teams to score less than 17 points per game, and are also ranked 29th in offensive yardage per game.
There are many culprits at fault with the horrendous offensive showing thru the first part of the NFL season. One of the primary problems is the offensive line. The Bengals let their two best offensive linemen leave via free agency and seemingly made no effort to retain them, or replace them.
For a team who builds via the draft, their struggles drafting offensive linemen has finally reared its ugly head. Over the past five NFL Drafts, the team has failed to draft a single offensive lineman who is currently a productive player for them (JJ Dielman, Christian Westerman, Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher, Russell Bodine, Tanner Hawkinson, Reid Fragel, and TJ Johnson).
Only Kevin Zeitler (now in Cleveland), Clint Boling and Andre Smith have had any level of success for the Bengals, of the last 16 linemen they have drafted, dating back to the 2007 NFL Draft, over a decade ago. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander’s inability to select good prospects outside of the first round and develop them into starters has been glaringly evident over this span.
Another problem is the play of quarterback Andy Dalton. His inability to make a play under pressure, and tendency to give up when facing a pass rush have plagued him since his rookie season, seven seasons ago. Another trait which has hindered him throughout his career is his lack of consistent accuracy on deep routes, routinely under-throwing his receivers.
They are forced to make contested catches on plays that should frequently go for long gains. He is a decent quarterback, but these issues, plus tendencies to make poor post-snap adjustments limit his performance, and his team’s success. After seven seasons, the quarterback coach has failed to get Dalton past these limitations.
Despite these issues, the team still found a way to succeed offensively. They still had Andrew Whitworth, drafted eons ago, to protect Dalton’s blindside, and Kevin Zeitler, offering their quarterback some time to throw the ball.
They had a healthy dose of A.J. Green in the game plan, with his uncanny ability to adjust to Dalton’s bad throws, and make amazing catches. They also had good offensive coordinators putting their players in the best situation to execute offensively. Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson led the Bengals to an average finish as a top-10 scoring offense from 2012~2015.
Unfortunately for the Bengals, both Gruden and Jackson left the team to pursue opportunities to become head coaches elsewhere. Their replacements, Ken Zampese and Bill Lazor, have struggled mightily to repeat their predecessor’s success.
Under Zampese and Lazor, the Bengals offense finished 24th in scoring in 2016 and ranks 29th in 2017. In 2017 the Bengals have played six games. In two of those games, the offense scored zero touchdowns. In another two of those games, the offense only scored two touchdowns, and in those two games those touchdowns came early in the game, and were following by 40 minutes of offensive futility by a team unable or unwilling to adjust, and counter what the defense was doing against them.
In a microcosm of the offensive struggles under the new offensive coordinators, one only need to look at the Bengals most recent game, against divisional foe Pittsburgh Steelers. Halfway thru the third quarter, the Bengals had called 21 passing plays which had resulted in 115 yards, for only 5.5 yards per passing play called.
Meanwhile, they had called 13 running plays, resulting in 62 yards, for a respectable 4.8 yards per carry. For a team who has struggled all season to run the football, generating 4.8 yards per rush was a positive sign that the running game was working, and seemed like something that the team may want to build upon. But the offensive coaches had other plans.
Down by only nine points with about 40 percent of the game remaining, the Bengals abandoned the running game. It was an odd decision for a team who was running the ball well and struggling to throw the ball. But it was the decision they made, and the results were nothing short of disastrous, all but ensuring the Bengals defeat.
From the midpoint of the third quarter, the Bengals attempted 15 passes, which resulted in a total of 2 yards, good for 0.1 yards per passing play. The 15 passes also resulted in a pair of Andy Dalton interceptions.
Why the team would totally abandon the only offensive plays that had worked for them is beyond anybody’s guess, and seemingly as absurd as trying to dig in rocky soil with your bare hands, all the while eschewing the shovel at your side.
The Bengals steadfast adherence to such an ineffective strategy was frustrating for fans to watch, and clearly was just as frustrating for the players, as they sat helplessly with the coaches doing everything in their power to ensure defeat would not elude them.
Until the team can find an offensive coordinator who is willing to implement, and stick with, a successful offensive game plan, the Bengals will continue to struggle to score points.
And until the team is willing to look themselves in the face and admit this, instead of chastising their own players who need to point this out for them (ala A.J. Green after Week 2, and Joe Mixon most recently), it is abundantly clear that the Bengals have no intention of making such a change, and are not ready to pursue success over stubbornness, and focus on points over ego.