The Cincinnati Bengals looked like a completely different team Sunday. While it ended in defeat, it did offer a wealth of promise and hope going forward, especially on offense.
With Bill Lazor now calling the offensive coordinator, Cincinnati’s offense was vastly improved over the unit that scored nine points over the first two games.
So, what exactly changed? Here is a look at the four biggest differences we saw from the offense in Green Bay.
Joe Mixon had some nice moments over his first two games, but not enough to feel great about him this year, nor was there much hope that this offense would actually use him in a featured role.
That’s exactly what Lazor did Sunday. By the time the Bengals went up 14-7, Mixon already had nine touches after averaging 10.5 per game over the first two weeks. The Packers did bottle him up on the ground early on, as he just seven runs for 19 yards at that point, but his two receptions for 18 yards were critical on the second touchdown drive.
Mixon finished the day with 18 runs for 62 yards. He also caught all three of his targets for an additional 39 yards. He was a big reason why the Bengals scored 24 points and were in great position to win this game.
Brandon LaFell was a great asset to the Bengals in 2016. However, he’s looked like a shell of that through the first three weeks as he’s finding it harder to get separation and make tough catches that might be off target or contested. Coming into Week 2, LaFell ranked 97th out of 107 eligible players in Pro Football Focus’ ranking of wide receivers. Even so, LaFell was still targeted 12 times over the first two games as the Bengals scored a combined nine points.
But in Green Bay, LaFell was targeted just twice as the Bengals racked up 24 points. It’s clear that LaFell isn’t as good as he was last year, nor is he as in-sync with Andy Dalton. Whatever is wrong there, the Bengals were right to go away from LaFell, and it helped the offense find more success.
After the Bengals lost in gut-wrenching fashion to the Texans, A.J. Green made a heartfelt plea for the Bengals to get their stars more involved. That was an indirect way of saying ‘get me the damn ball,’ and the Bengals made sure to do so in Week 3.
Against the Packers, Green was targeted a season-high 13 times. He finished the game with 10 catches, the combined number he had in his first two games. Green also racked up 111 yards and his first touchdown of the season.
Unfortunately, getting Green more involved was not enough to avoid another gut-wrenching defeat.
The Bengals absolutely had to change something with their offensive line this week. That unit was a complete and utter disaster over the first two games, so something had to change this week.
As it turned out, the Bengals opted to bring in Andre Smith off the bench to play both left tackle and right tackle in this game. Smith ended up spending more time at right tackle to replace Jake Fisher, who struggled mightily in this game and could be heading to the bench going forward.
But Cedric Ogbuehi has had plenty of struggles, which led to Smith playing both spots throughout the second half. Smith was clearly an upgrade at both spots, both in pass protection and on the ground, as well as bringing in a little extra attitude, something these big uglies need more of.
After the game, Bengals coaches said the rotating linemen was due to the heat, as they wanted to keep their tackles fresh for four quarters. Even so, I expect to see more of this going forward with Smith being the primary benefactor.
Overall, I’d give Lazor an A- grade for his first game as Bengals offensive coordinator. You could certainly argue he wasn’t aggressive enough in the second half, but really, if not for that 3rd-and-2 run where Mixon slipped and caused Cincinnati to settle for a field goal, this game probably ends in a Bengals win.