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Which Bengals coach must step up most in 2017?

Coming off a six win season, there is plenty of blame to go around among the coaching staff. Which Bengals coach should have the “hottest” seat this year?

Cincinnati Bengals 2010 Headshots Photo by NFL via Getty Images

As the former jedi master Yoda said to Luke Skywalker, ‘do or do not, there is no try’. Yoda was trying to show the young Skywalker that it’s not good enough just to go through the motions, but you need to set out with the full intent of achieving your goal.

This applies to winning football games as well as lifting X-Wing fighters out of a swampy muck on the planet of Dagobah. Fresh off a failed 6-9-1 season, and extending their lack of a playoff victory by yet another season, the 2016 season was more of a ‘try’ than a ‘do’ for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Yoda would have been disappointed by the Bengals’ season, as were fans, who had higher expectations thanks to five consecutive playoff appearances. But the team failed to do what many hoped and anticipated. So that leaves one wondering, what went wrong? To be blunt, many things went wrong. You don’t win six out of 16 games because many things are going right. One of the things that went wrong was the coaching. So this brings us to the question of which coach on the Bengals’ staff needs to step it up and show the most improvement this year, for the Bengals to have a successful 2017 season?

Marvin Lewis (Head Coach)

We’ll start with the obvious - the head coach. Despite Lewis’ good 118-103-3 regular season career mark, which includes seven playoff appearances, and five in the past six seasons, Lewis is 0-6 all-time in the playoffs. Even if two of those losses are to be dismissed due to injuries to quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton, it doesn’t excuse how his teams look wholly unprepared to take their play up a notch when it matters most - such as the playoffs, primetime games, and against teams with winning records.

One can also point to his confusing in-game management, such as his sub 0.500 mark in coaching challenges (winning 37 of 83), and often puzzling clock management, as issues to be corrected. There is also that self-diagnosed fear of playing defensive rookies, and holding onto under-performing veterans too long, which have both worked as a detriment to the team. It would seem that Lewis needs to step it up in 2017 and finally grab that elusive playoff victory. If he doesn’t, his job may truly be on the line for the first time during his 15 year tenure in Cincinnati.

Paul Alexander (Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line)

The inclusion of Alexander on this list is not isolated to the 2016 season, but is more in evaluation of his career. In more than 20 years serving the Bengals as offensive line coach, Alexander has coached some great seasons and some terrible ones. On the plus side, the team has seen very good play from their offensive tackles — who are often among the top 10 players selected in the NFL Draft (Willie Anderson, Levi Jones, and Andre Smith) — and the offensive guards drafted with a high pick turned out to be very good, too (Eric Steinbach and Kevin Zeitler).

On the negative side of the ledger, one sees his inability to develop offensive linemen not drafted in the top two rounds of the NFL Draft. Of the 21 offensive linemen drafted during the past two decades who were selected in the third round or later, only three of them (14%) ever became somewhat productive NFL starters (Stacey Andrews, Mike Goff and Clint Boling). One also sees his failed attempt to draft at least one good center in more than two decades, with Rod Payne, Jonathan Luigs, Eric Ghiaciuc and Russell Bodine all exemplifying that.

In 2015, the team spent its top two picks on offensive tackles (Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher) who have yet to look anything like NFL caliber starters. With Andrew Whitworth now playing for the Rams, and Eric Winston attempting to push a twelfth season out of his body, there will be no margin for error on the Bengals’ offensive line. The Bengals’ offense will be highly dependent on Ogbuehi, Fisher, and Bodine being as good as Alexander claimed they would be when the team drafted them.

Ken Zampese (Offensive Coordinator)

Unlike Lewis and Alexander, Zampese is listed here solely for the team’s production last season. After averaging more than 400 points scored in the previous four seasons, Zampese’s offense only managed to score 325 points with what was essentially the same offensive unit. That 20 percent drop in scoring was the lowest offensive output in the Andy Dalton-A.J. Green era. The team did lose Green for the final third of the season and Tyler Eifert missed eight games, too, but that doesn’t alone explain how Dalton had his lowest touchdown rate (3.2%) in his career, which was less than half as high as it was just one season prior. The offense seemed out of sync all season, with predictable play calling, and scored more than 20 points in less than half of their games. If Zampese can’t get an offense with Dalton, Green, Eifert, and a slew of other weapons (John Ross, Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, Tyler Boyd, Brandon LaFell) out of the bottom third of the NFL in scoring, it could mean the Bengals need to find somebody who can to lead the offense.

Jacob Burney (Defensive Line)

Despite having two of the best pass rushers in the NFL in Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, the Bengals’ sack totals dropped 25 percent from 2015, down to a mere 32 sacks in 2016. The Bengals added a pair of good pass rushers in the draft, in Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson, and have Andrew Billings ready to replace Domata Peko on the defensive line. This is certainly a year for one to expect Burney’s unit to step up the production, especially after last year was his first year back in Cincinnati after a hiatus. If the 2017 Bengals can’t improve their pass rush, Burney’s seat could be a hot one in 2017.

Poll

Which Bengals coach needs to step up most in 2017?

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    Marvin Lewis (Head Coach)
    (130 votes)
  • 32%
    Paul Alexander (Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line)
    (146 votes)
  • 35%
    Ken Zampese (Offensive Coordinator)
    (161 votes)
  • 1%
    Jacob Burney (Defensive Line)
    (8 votes)
  • 1%
    Other (explain in comments)
    (9 votes)
454 votes total Vote Now