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The one thing I would change about the Bengals’ 2017 season

This season has been full of disappointment for the Bengals, but there is one thing that could’ve changed everything for this team.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

It is no secret that this season isn’t what Bengals’ fans were hoping for when imaging the possibilities of 2017.

We were fooled by a draft of bringing in what seemed like a change of philosophy, and we all fell in love with the possibilities that John Ross and Joe Mixon brought to the offense. Then we saw reports of Carl Lawson being unblockable in camp and Jordan Willis being a force, too.

There were many reasons to be excited.

The Bengals started the season using none of their new young players. They relied on essentially a hollowed out version of last year’s squad to try and win. It did not go well. If I could change one thing it would be to infuse the youth of this roster into the starting lineup sooner and have prepared them better to succeed.

Ken Zampese was the sacrificial goat for that failure. The team failed to score a touchdown on offense the first two weeks, and his game plan was a huge part of that. There was zero imagination, and it seemed like he expected his players to just be better and try harder than the defense to make his plays work.

Mixon got 17 carries over the first two games, while the team was still appeasing Jeremy Hill at the time. It wasn’t until Week 3 that Mixon became the unofficial starting running back for the Bengals. Even so, Cincinnati would still break up Mixon’s rhythm by throwing Hill out there to start the game and the second half.

The most egregious time they did this was against the Steelers in Week 7. Mixon had 11 touches for 68 yards in the first half. He was a huge reason the Bengals were in that game. He never touched the ball in the second half. Instead the Bengals opted to open up the half with Hill who had predictably bad results for his attempts. Mixon didn’t officially start until the Bengals placed Hill on Injured Reserve. There is no valid reason a team that struggled as much as the Bengals this season should’ve been throwing away possessions on Hill.

Then on the defensive side of the ball, Cincinnati opted not to play William Jackson or Carl Lawson that much until they were already 0-2. To be fair, the defense wasn’t the real issue. Although, opting to throw an injured Adam Jones one on one with DeAndre Hopkins late in the Texans game instead of trotting Jackson out there obviously wasn’t a great idea in hindsight.

The Texans had a few big first downs that went Hopkins way on the drive that allowed them to make it 13-9, which ultimately changed the complexion of what the Bengals needed to do on their final drive.

Jackson showing out the rest of the season makes you wonder why it took so long to get him on the field. He had the pick six against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. He also shut down Antonio Brown twice this season, and if he keeps this up next season, it will leave everyone wondering what were the Bengals thinking this season.

Then came Lawson. He hardly played the first two games. That changed in Week 3 when he got a sack, so the team kept him out there. He finished the game with 2.5 sacks(the third full one was called back).

From then on, the Bengals have thrown him out there in pass-rushing situations. He now has 7.5 sacks on the season, and he has two games to record two more sacks to break Carlos Dunlap’s rookie record of nine. Lawson also leads all rookies in sacks this season.

The most frustrating thing from this season, and the one fans will likely remember for years to come, is how this team messed up with Ross. He was injured Week 1, but Ross returned to play against the Texans on Thursday night football. He fumbled the ball on a reverse, so the team decided to bench him.

They ignored the fact that Ross had the ball in the correct arm, and the defender just made an incredible play on the ball. This was also the same week the Bengals made Tyler Boyd a healthy scratch. The team that went on to struggle their way to nine total points essentially handicapped themselves to make a point to their rookie.

Ross was injured for a few weeks after that, but between making him a healthy scratch and not having him on the field when he was active, the Bengals failed to give him any kind of confidence or connection with Andy Dalton.

It isn’t like the players ahead of him have lit it up this season. Boyd and Josh Malone have struggled, and Cody Core is just a special teamer at this point.

Ross being placed on injured reserve after revealing a shoulder injury he had been hiding to try and actually play was heartbreaking. It was the moment we were forced to realize this coaching staff wasted a season that was full of promise by trying to teach these young players lessons rather than play them.

Going back and playing these young players sooner may have resulted in the Bengals still actually having something to play for. Instead, the team fell into an 0-3 hole that they could never quite get out of.