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Plan for Bengals to bounce-back in 2017

It’s easy to say and much harder to do. Cincinnati seems to have taken a few steps back in just a couple of weeks, but we came up with a plan full of what ifs for how the team can rebound and have a 2015-like season.

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals
Here, an elite quarterback and Ravens’ Joe Flacco talking about Cabo San Lucas
Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

Free agency has been tough on Bengals fans. Not only did the team lose two key offensive linemen, but, the only reinforcement brought in was a player the team was supposedly moving on from just a year ago. How can a team that went 6-9-1 in 2016 expect to bounce back in 2017 after willingly losing talent in free agency?

It’s a good question. The Bengals are not as good right now as the team was in 2016, a season in which the club won a measly six games. The youngsters on the offensive line are nowhere near playing at the level expected of them (or the level of their predecessors) and other than a deep secondary, the defense is in desperate need of speed on the edges and at the second level. Rex Burkhead, who made the offense look good in the last third of last season is also gone, and the Bengals seem ready to continue trusting Jeremy Hill. Instead of addressing the team’s shortcomings with big free agent moves, the club is again going all or nothing in the upcoming draft, which is risky. But, enough has been said already about the team’s plan in free agency, and today I want to take a look at what the Bengals need to make happen in order to get back on track after a disappointing year. Spoiler alert: there’s a ton of what ifs.

What if Cedric Ogbuehi looks competent at left tackle after struggling mightily at right? I mean, it can happen. The team keeps talking about him finally having a full offseason to get better and maybe Paul Alexander can help Ogbuehi to refine his technique. If the former Texas A&M stud can be at least average, we might see him impact the running game with his athleticism and that could boost Hill and Giovani Bernard’s production, as well as the production of a potential rookie running back. It would help Andy Dalton, so he doesn’t have to throw 35+ passes per game.

What if Andre Smith is as good as Kevin Zeitler at right guard? The Bengals believe they can find interior linemen on the cheap so they let others overpay for guards, and brought in a known commodity, even if he’s never played the position. Shocking, I know. But Smith can be again an asset for the running game and at least he is a veteran who can ease the burden for Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher.

What if the Bengals draft a good running back and actually play him in his rookie year? Marvin Lewis is all about Hill, but there’s been a lot of noise about the Bengals being interested in a runner early in the draft. With Burkhead gone and Bernard recovering from injury, it makes sense. So what if the Bengals get somebody who can do what the now-Patriot (Burkhead) did late in 2016 for Cincinnati? It would help the offense and Dalton, get back to playing at a high level. A lot was said about the offensive line struggling to open holes last season, but Hill, banged up or not, was equally at fault for the putrid results. This only applies if the Bengals give a rookie running back a chance, which is often not the case in Cincy.

What if the Bengals get a real deep threat in the draft to complement A.J. Green? You know why the Buccaneers signed DeSean Jackson, they were tired of seeing poor Mike Evans being double-teamed and their vertical game struggling because of a lack of secondary targets. The Bengals went through this in 2014, but Marvin Jones Jr.’s return from injury took them to another level the following season. The Bengals re-signed Brandon LaFell and Cody Core is entering his second year, but an ability to stretch the field has yet to be proven possible by either. A true deep threat would not only make Green happy, but would also open up tons of one-on-one matchups, which made Dalton look like an MVP contender back in 2015.

What if Tyler Eifert is healthy for the entire season? Oh boy, did the Bengals miss him early on last year. You never have enough big targets in the red zone, but Eifert’s catching radius is such a mismatch for every defense in the NFL. You’re not replacing him with Tyler Kroft or C.J. Uzomah.

What if the Bengals trade A.J. McCarron for Sheldon Richardson? It’s not likely to happen after the Jets signed four-time All-Pro Josh McCown, but Richardson could be a force inside for the Bengals defense. Pair him with Geno Atkins on passing downs and no opposing quarterback would be safe. He is still young, and if the Bengals don’t have a problem with Adam Jones’ baggage, why would they care about Richardson’s. After years of witnessing mediocre talent at defensive tackle alongside Atkins, Richardson could make the defense elite.

What if the Bengals draft one or even two standout pass rushers? It’s very hard to nail an entire draft, but, the Bengals have 11 picks. Come on, it’s their plan. One edge rusher to play opposite of Carlos Dunlap would be fantastic, but having a deep rotation would be the ideal scenario. The Broncos not only had DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, but also Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett in 2016.

What if the team’s kicker doesn’t cost them so many games? It might look like a cheap shot at Mike Nugent, but it’s not. It’s a blow to Lewis’ inability to bring in competition at the position, while letting Nugent get away with mistake after mistake. Ignoring problems does not make them go away, and now that the Bengals have parted ways with their long-time kicker for good, the team can start from scratch and allow others to fight for the job.

There’s a ton of things that could go wrong and a ton of things that would have to go right for the Bengals to be contenders again, but anything can happen in 16 games. After all, the close games against bad teams the Bengals won to make it to the playoffs in 2014, were the same types of games the team dropped last season. Luck is definitely a big factor in the NFL.

Now you can go on to criticize me in the comments section.