It has been a rough season for Bengals fans. Even with the team sitting at 5-6 with a shot at the playoffs, we have endured a season’s worth of frustrations so far. Starting the season off 0-3 in the most heart breaking of fashions really brought the entire hype coming into the season to a crashing haul. There is one thing that surprised me coming into this season the pretty much covers all the disappointments of the season into one.
How unprepared the Bengals were coming into the season
The Bengals past two offseasons were rough. They saw Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler all walk away via free agency. Last season we saw what the lack of talent in the skill positions did to the offense, and a line that was bad in 2016 got even worse in 2017. It really doesn’t help that the Bengals filled all those spots with essentially bargain bin substitutes or draft picks who have failed to live up to expectations.
The easiest place is to start with the offensive line. EVERYONE knew this offensive line was going to take a step back, and most people thought with an entire offseason that the Bengals could alter their offense to make it work. Nope. Instead the offense looked bland, play calling was predictable and it looked more like the plan was to have our guys just go out there and try hard. No adjustments were made, and it led to Zampese being relieved of his duties after there Week 2 loss to the Texans.
The team's failure to bring in any sort of a backup plan behind Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher after they both struggled in 2016 was baffling as well.
The team also wasn’t playing much of Joe Mixon at the time. This also meant the team wasn’t running their optimal offense. Their best running back wasn’t seeing the field enough because they decided to stroke Jeremy Hill’s ego. Also it isn’t that I don’t like Hill, but he does not fit with this offense is built to do. Hill is an I-formation back who needs to pound the rock early and often.
Mixon is a shotgun running back, who is use to running the ball from that formation. That means even having Mixon out there gives the threat of a running play, where as teams knew if it was a shotgun formation with Hill as the running back, there was probably going to be a pass coming. This changed in Week 3 with Bill Lazor, but it has taken them most of the season to really figure out that they don’t need to treat Mixon like Hill. They can run shotgun almost exclusively. You saw a lot of that last Sunday in Cleveland.
Then there are the receivers not named A.J. Green. Brandon LaFell has started to sprinkle in a good game here or there, but he isn’t the ideal second receiver for an NFL team. Tyler Boyd was a healthy scratch Week 2, and he had an injury fairly early in the season, but even with Tyler Eifert being out for the season he has struggled to produce for how often he is on the field. In fact Tyler Kroft in the only receiving player who has really stepped up this season. After making his mark as a blocker, he has shown Andy Dalton that he is a very good redzone target.
Most of the team defenses are taking away Green and daring anyone else to beat them, and the sad fact is most of these receivers are failing to do that.
This brings us probably to the most frustrating thing. John Ross. Even saying the name frustrates Bengals fans. To be fair to the coaching staff and Ross, he had a slow start to this season. Between the University of Washington ran on quarters so he missed OTAs and rehabbing a shoulder injury, Ross didn’t finally play until the third preseason game. Then various other injuries caused him to miss practices and a few games, but the past few weeks the ninth overall pick has been a healthy scratch.
At this point in the season. If a player has been with the team this long, has practiced for several straight weeks and he still can’t even be on the active roster than that is on the coaching staff. It’s also infuriating how they benched him in Week 2 after a fumble in a game the Bengals lost 6-13. Then Marvin Lewis laid into him after a mix up on third down play. If he doesn’t play it is impossible for him to grow the way you expect him to. It is like Lewis expects Ross to be like Green when he came into the NFL, but the sad truth is Green was an exception to the rule. Rookie don’t come into the NFL and play at Pro Bowl levels instantly.
In fact that is the common denominator with all these issues. Coaching and not knowing their own rosters strengths and weaknesses. Seriously though, it is like these coaches came out the first few weeks and were shocked by the outcome after having a full offseason of seeing all of this unfold.
That is the big reason you are seeing this slow turnaround. They are slowly but surely playing the players they need to play, and putting in the play that optimize what they do best. A competent coaching staff wouldn’t have a 5-6 record with this roster. It will be a shame if we end up with more of the same next season.