The Cincinnati Bengals made a concerted effort to improve their offense this offseason. After recording the ninth lowest points per game in 2016 (20.3), it was clear something needed to change. They still managed to field the 13th best offense in the NFL in terms of yards per game (356.9), but all the offensive firepower in the world won’t matter if the team cannot punch the ball into the endzone. For that reason, the Bengals selected wide receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon with their first and second picks of the 2017 NFL Draft to pair with an already potent set of weapons.
That’s why the Bengals were ranked the 6th best offense heading into 2017 by ESPN, a result of the team’s ability to add home run talent to an already loaded arsenal.
6. Cincinnati Bengals
RB Giovani Bernard, WR John Ross, WR A.J. Green
Another set of talents sapped by injury a year ago, the Bengals got to see Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green line up together for only three full games in 2016. They averaged 26 points in those three games and 19 points per contest during the other 13. Giovani Bernard also tore his ACL, and Jeremy Hill suffered a late-season knee injury. By the end of the season, Andy Dalton was throwing the ball to Brandon LaFell and Cody Core.
The Bengals never spend money in free agency, but they've drafted reinforcements. After re-signing LaFell, Cincy used its first-round pick on Washington speedster John Ross before taking disgraced Oklahoma back Joe Mixon in the second round. Last year's second-round pick Tyler Boyd should also be better, leaving the Bengals with four viable starting wideouts, three useful running backs and a star tight end in a contract year. If Ross (who has missed the entire offseason after undergoing shoulder surgery) and Mixon make an immediate impact, the Bengals could be close to unstoppable on offense.
Injuries were a problem for the Bengals in 2016, but their offensive arsenal was so loaded, it didn’t seem to matter in the 100 yards between end zones. Quarterback Andy Dalton recorded his second season with more than 4,000 passing yards (4,206), and it helped he recorded the lowest completion-to-interception ratio of his career (45.5:1).
Weapons like A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard, and Jeremy Hill were not available all season, but the Bengals’ reserves were stacked enough to keep the engine turning, more or less, at full speed. Those players returning healthy, combined with the impact Ross and Mixon can bring, should allow the team to field an offense opposing defenses will truly fear.
It isn’t difficult to see what Ross and Mixon bring to the table. Ross, in particular, possesses an elite speed-based skill set, allowing him to easily take the top off the defense on any given play. Mixon is simply a wild card, with elite ball-carrying skills and the ability to utilize those skills from anywhere on the field. He can manipulate a defense enough to take advantage of the Bengals’ already-established ability to move the ball down the field. Inserting those two as potential scoring options gives the Bengals virtually no excuse to not terrorize opponents.
Ultimately, the Bengals’ ability to field an effective offense comes down to whether second-year offensive coordinator Ken Zampese’s can properly utilize all the talent at his disposal. I would argue he did a solid job in 2016, considering the setbacks his unit faced in his first season ever running an offense at the NFL level.
You are free to draw your own conclusions. But, if he can replicate a fraction of the ingenuity we saw, helping a crippled unit with a malfunctioning offensive line (seventh most sacks in the NFL - 41) and find ways to move the ball down the field, there is no reason to think the Bengals’ offense won’t shine in 2017. These are exciting times, indeed.