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Ken Zampese poised to improve in second year as Bengals’ offensive coordinator

The Bengals’ young offensive coordinator has a lot to improve on after a rough 2016 season.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

2016 was a rough year for Cincinnati Bengals rookie offensive coordinator Ken Zampese. Although quarterback Andy Dalton did a fantastic job of throwing the ball down the field (364 completions on 563 attempt for 4,206 yards and only eight interceptions), the Bengals only scored the 24 most points in the NFL (325) and fielded a rushing attack that ranked 20th in the NFL in yards per run (4.0). In Zampese’s first season at the helm of the offense, the Bengals looked one-dimensional and ineffective.

To an extent, you can’t blame Zampese for every issue the Bengals’ offense faced in 2016. After all, injuries to key players like Tyler Eifert, A.J. Green, Clint Boling, and Giovani Bernard made it difficult for the Bengals to get on and stay on the same page. Not to mention, losing so many key pieces to the offense in the offseason like Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, then replacing them with talented but inexperienced youngsters like Tyler Boyd and Cody Core was quite the challenge.

The hope is, he will be set up for much more success in 2017. Bringing in talented pieces like John Ross, Joe Mixon, and Josh Malone to help the Bengals open up options on offense was just one part of the equation. Next is figuring out exactly how the Bengals will distribute the ball. Obviously, the passing game runs through Green. But, the Bengals have so many options behind Green, it would take a concerted effort for Zampese’s offense to look as predictable as it did last year.

A much more effective running game will be absolutely key in 2017. Bringing in a player like Mixon helps, but Zampese will need better production from his offensive line for that to happen. Reportedly, Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher have been making waves at the two tackle positions this offseason, but Zampese will need to ensure they stay on that track. With Andrew Whitworth no longer in Cincinnati, there is no safety valve on the outside if the two young tackles can not improve over their 2016 performances.

On that end, bringing Andre Smith back was a smart move. At right tackle, he was always known as a strong run blocker, helping Cedric Benson to a career year in 2009 and BenJarvus Green-Ellis when he led the league in third-and-one conversion percentage in 2012. Smith regularly helped the rushing game succeed during his time in Cincinnati and it’s no coincidence the Bengals’ running game performed poorly without him in 2016. In 2017, Smith will occupy the right guard position, which should help the Bengals develop more of a presence running up the middle.

It would be a shock to see the Bengals’ offense fail to improve under Zampese in his second season. Zampese must learn from last year’s successes and failures and take advantage of the multitude of new weapons at his disposal. A number of offensive coordinators around the NFL, particularly young and inexperienced ones, have made the mistake of relying too closely on star players. It can result in there being little strategy when something goes wrong—like that player getting injured or triple teamed. Hopefully, Zampese will learn from mistakes like that heading into his second season as a coordinator.

Zampese successfully led the Bengals’ quarterbacks for years but in year one as a coordinator the season was shaky. If he plays his cards right, Zampese should prove himself more than fit for the role in year wro. With so much talent at his disposal, all Zampese needs to do is put the pieces together. The Bengals have done a great job of loading the offense with an arsenal of weapons, so where Zampese goes from here will be entirely up to his ability to take advantage of the assets available.