When the Bengals lose, and look awful doing it, we just want to move on as quickly as possible.
The Bengals did just that following their 51-14 defeat to the Saints, as they moved on from their first-year defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. The Bengals’ defense was remarkably bad for the third week in a row, and in an effort to salvage the season, the Bengals decided to part ways with Austin after only nine games with the team.
Austin is not the only one whose job was not being done properly, which is how the season has spiraled out of control so quickly. Injuries are certainly not helping, but if the Bengals really want to make the playoffs this year, changes need to come.
So, what have we learned about this team after their ninth game of the season?
Joe Mixon needs more touches
With A.J. Green now out until December, this offense is going to need to find someone else to lean on.
Joe Mixon did well against the Saints, as he averaged 5.5 yards per rush and 12 yards per reception. However, since the Bengals were behind for most of the game, Mixon only carried the ball 11 times. Even though almost every team in the NFL will abandon the run game when trailing by multiple scores, the Bengals should figure out how to feature it.
Without Green, Mixon is the best player on the field and needs to receive touches accordingly, even when trailing.
Just look back at the Cowboys in Week 9 against the Titans. During a tied game in the second half, the Cowboys slowly stopped running the ball, removing Ezekiel Elliott, their best player, from their game.
This isn’t a perfect example because the Bengals still have a better passing offense than the Cowboys even without Green. But the Bengals would do well to keep their best playmaker in the game.
The Bengals don’t even have to run the ball the whole time. Mixon and Giovani Bernard combined for 4 catches and 54 yards through the air. The running backs could cause more damage in the passing game if they were featured more.
With Green missing, Tyler Boyd likely being double covered, and John Ross frequently on a different page than Andy Dalton, Mixon could step up if he was given more opportunities.
Keep delivering the Jeff Driskel packages
Let’s be totally honest, the offense is way behind where they should be right now, even without Green. They should have been able to muster up more than 14 points (with seven of them coming in garbage time) against a defense that ranks 23rd in yards and scoring. If the Bengals’ can’t score against the Saints, then why not steal from their playbook?
Their third-string quarterback, Taysom Hill, is commonly used in gadget plays on offense as a quarterback, running back and receiver, as well as a kick returner and a coverage man on all of their kickoffs and punts. The Bengals backup quarterback, Jeff Driskel, is also extremely athletic and should be able to operate in the offense like Hill.
One reason that the Saints are more willing to use Hill than the Bengals are to use Driskel is because they also have Teddy Bridgewater on the bench. Driskel is the only active backup quarterback on the Bengals’ roster, so if he is injured then the Bengals will be hurting at the position.
But the Bengals can afford to add some spice to the offense. On Driskel’s first snap of the game in the first quarter, he kept the ball and ran for eight yards. He didn’t reappear until the fourth quarter. Even though there was a little trickery involved when Driskel replaced Dalton as the signal-caller late in the game, he still had the team’s longest run of the day with a 27-yard score, showing off his athleticism by running faster than any other quarterback in the NFL this season.
So if the Bengals want to make more of a splash on the scoreboard, implementing more read-option plays for Driskel could add some razzle-dazzle to the vanilla Bengals’ offense. At the very least, the Bengals could do it more than once a game.
More receivers need to step up
A.J. Green is a future Hall of Famer, and naturally will be impossible to replace.
That being said, the offense should have had more than 198 yards through the air against the league’s second-worst passing defense.
Tyler Boyd has had an excellent year so far, but he is almost certainly going to be double covered from here on out until Green returns. He is currently the best receiver on the team, and should have been targeted more than four times nonetheless, but someone else on the team needs to step up and help him out.
John Ross is an excellent weapon as well, but he and Dalton are hardly ever on the same page. He is playing some really good football at times and has turned into a great red zone weapon, but Dalton just can’t seem to connect with him consistently enough.
Ross was open more often than not and Dalton just simply under threw him for most of his targets, including a blatant miss-fire on a fourth-down. The one time Ross went deep and was hit in stride, Driskel threw a great ball that Ross made a great play on. But that just shows that maybe Ross’ issues are stem from a lack of chemistry with Dalton. If the Bengals want to have any offense down the stretch, that is something Ross and Dalton should fix ASAP.
Other than Boyd or Ross, who is there next receiver? Cody Core? As bad as Core has been, Josh Malone or Alex Erickson still can’t find their way onto the field. Auden Tate is barely on the roster and couldn’t get on the field until the last drive for the offense. Someone in the group needs to step up.
Teryl Austin had to go
The Bengals’ defense has been statistically dreadful of late, but they reached a new historical low against the Saints — becoming the first team in NFL history to give up 500 yards in three straight games. Even though Austin tried to dismiss the Bengals defensive woes by pointing towards their winning record, losing three out of their last four games did not help his case.
You can look at the numbers any way you want, but this defense is bad. The Bengals did not record a single sack against the Saints and only registered one quarterback hit, even though the defensive line should be one of the best in the NFL. The Saints scored on every single possession, notching six touchdowns and three field goals. Running back Mark Ingram tallied over 160 total yards on the day despite playing second fiddle in the backfield. This defense is just plain awful.
What else is there to do with one of the worst defenses in NFL history? Sadly, the man in charge had to lose his job. The internal purge shouldn’t stop there, but that is a move that a team makes when they really want to win games. At least the Bengals still think they can win.
When Hue Jackson went 1-31 in Cleveland, the Browns held onto him because they were building. When the Browns actually felt they could win games, they let Jackson go because they didn’t want to wait for the team to come around. It’s the same thing now with the Bengals. If they wanted to wait until next season to start winning, they would just wait it out and wait for the players to catch onto the new system. But the Bengals want to make the playoffs this year, so they let Austin go and gave the reigns of the defense over to Marvin Lewis.
Whether or not that works is yet to be seen. But the defense should not be as bad as it is. There is much room for improvement, and the Bengals will try to milk as much improvement as they can.