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Bengals mailbag: Roster resetting, Lazor-hot seats and Pacman’s possible return

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This week, our CJ readers and OBI listeners wanted to know if another familiar face would be retuning to Cincinnati, as well as the job security of another one of the top assistant coaches and when it may be time to rebuild the roster from scratch.

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It’s an interesting point in time for the Cincinnati Bengals. The high wire act they were toeing at the beginning of the year has proven to be unsustainable, as a 4-1 start has quickly turned into a deflating 5-5 record with the postseason bracket looming.

Injuries have played a major factor in the recent downfall, but poor coaching, execution and overall effort have also highlighted their fall from grace. Because of that, the decision-making process and those who are pulling the trigger on that front have come under heavy scrutiny.

Here are some of the questions we received this week. Be sure to send yours to us on Twitter @CJAnthonyCUI or @CincyJungle, or join us for every live episode of The Orange and Black Insider to have your queries answered on the air!

*****

With the current state of the Bengals and their lost grip on the final playoff seed in the AFC, the questions of blowing up the staff and roster have come. We received this very question right before Thanksgiving.

In the post-Carson Palmer era, Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton have been joined at the hip. The relationship has been fruitful, culminating in five postseason berths, two division titles and a number of franchise records being set/broken.

Yet, through it all, the duo has yet to win a playoff game and is sniffing their third straight losing season. Is it time to look at finally moving on from these two after the conclusion of the season?

Of course, for many folks, the answer to this question will come in the early months of 2019. But, as we sit here today, there are reasons to point to a “yes” conclusion.

This team feels totally stale and one can often see it from the body language of the players. Furthermore, the brand of football we have seen from Cincinnati over the past few weeks has been light years behind that of the Saints, Chiefs, Steelers and Rams.

Did we mention that Cincinnati has lost to three of those teams this season and all during this 1-4 stretch?

From a coaching standpoint, the Bengals would have to feel confident in being able to find the next Sean McVay, or perhaps luck into getting one of the Harbaugh brothers (slim chance), etc. But, with the loyalty shown to Lewis, which is a hint that they don’t trust themselves in the coach-vetting process, it seems they will stick with him until his contract runs out in 2020.

And that is likely the route they will and should take.

From a quarterback perspective, the 2019 draft class is very weak, and top prospect Justin Herbert suffered a recent shoulder injury.

Additionally, this current iteration of the Bengals has largely been built upon their 2010 and 2011 draft classes. The team can still get a couple more solid seasons from Dalton, A.J. Green, Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and Clint Boling as they begin to enter their mid-30s.

But, these guys should all approach retirement or decline in play right around the time Lewis’ contract is up with the team. In that regard, it makes sense for the team to hit the imaginary reset button and truly start over from the ground up.

Unfortunately, if this is what ends up transpiring and the Bengals fail to go on a postseason run with this crew, it will be a massive disappointment. As a fan, you’d have to feel for these guys not tasting the success they so richly deserve.

At any rate, change won’t be coming until Lewis’ contract expires at the earliest and, for now, that’s the sagest of strategies. Maybe the team can reload Dalton with surrounding talent once again next year and make a final push with this group before a new era is ushered in—whether that’s in 2020 or beyond.

*****

On this week’s OBI episode, more questions surfaced on what the Bengals need to do in an effort to right the ship in this recent skid. In case you’ve been living in a bomb shelter, Cincinnati has just one win against the below-average Tampa Bay Buccaneers since starting the season 4-1.

Now that Teryl Austin is no longer heading the team’s defense, focus has shifted to other areas of the team. Since few facets are showing a lack of struggle of the past month and a half, Who Dey Nation has begun to examine the offense.

In what’s becoming a favorite tidbit of information to throw around in this 1-4 skid by the Bengals, the offense is quietly hurting the team to a degree rivaling their defense.

To add to Jay Morrison’s snapshot, Cincinnati’s defense is also last in third down conversion percentage and have earned a dubious distinction of giving up points before halftime in most of their recent contests. However, a good chunk of those issues are a by-product of the offense failing to sustain drives and get points of late.

For instance, last week against Baltimore, the Bengals punted on five of their six first half possessions. Three of those possessions were three-and-outs and two of the punts directly followed scoring drives by the Ravens.

Unfortunately, these dry spells have been a theme all season long, with or without A.J. Green and regardless of if they had mounted a dramatic comeback. While Austin was rightfully relieved of his duties, should we also start looking at offensive coordinator Bill Lazor as being on the hot seat?

Aside from the dry spells and above-mentioned rankings, there are another couple of damning issues with Lazor and his offense. Joe Mixon is averaging 4.6 yards per carry this year, yet Lazor routinely abandons him during games—particularly recently when the team has seemingly needed to lean on Mixon with Green out of the lineup.

There’s also a major player development issue. Lewis, Lazor, Cody Core and Andy Dalton have all been called out on the carpet this past week after the team failed to convert a 4th-and-3 on what could have been a game-winning drive in a critical divisional game.

Even before his hamstring injury that has kept him out of the past handful of games, Josh Malone has seemed to have taken a big step back this year. Additionally, Core has multiple huge drops this year after grabbing a somewhat-promising 17 catches as a rookie in 2016.

Is Lazor properly doing his job in developing the young guys behind Green? Some signs definitely point to yes, given Tyler Boyd’s big jump, as well as John Ross’ four touchdowns this year, but the lack of aid from Malone, Core and Auden Tate (whether or not that’s actually on Lewis) is troubling.

Even though Cincinnati made two in-season coordinator changes the past two seasons, we are pretty sure they will be sticking with Lazor for the rest of 2018. But, if the struggles continue through the rest of the year and the Bengals miss out on the postseason, Lazor’s seat will definitely heat up this winter.

Regardless, Lewis can keep firing assistants if he wants, but there are only so many sacrificial lambs left before the masses come for the long-tenured head coach with their pitchforks and torches.

*****

The 2018 season was once labeled as one of change. The positive connotation to it came with an overhaul of the coaching staff in the winter months, as well as the releasing of certain veterans they deemed expendable.

One of those examples was in cornerback Adam Jones. After spending eight seasons with the Bengals and making a Pro Bowl representing the team, “Pacman” was let go in the spring before seeing his contract through.

Like many veteran cast-offs the team has rolled the dice on over the years, Jones’ tenure was marked with many ups and downs. In his first year with the team, he was placed on I.R. with a neck injury.

He then slowly climbed his way into being a starting cornerback for the team, as well as an explosive return man. Unfortunately, what was also explosive was that trademark temper that got him into legal trouble and kicked out of the league for an extended period of time.

While Jones avoided the kind of trouble he found himself associated with in Las Vegas back in February of 2007 as a Bengal, he still had a few legal run-ins. They ranged from punching a woman at a bar, to a New Year’s Eve breakdown of sorts inside of the Millennium Hotel in Downtown Cincinnati.

After being released by the Bengals, Jones landed in Denver with Vance Joseph, who was his position coach in Cincinnati. The veteran corner didn’t last the entire year with the Broncos, netting just one interception and three passes defended.

With his release came inevitable questions about his return to Cincinnati. Normally, this would be a laughable proposition, but with the Bengals’ defense ranking dead-last in both overall and pass defense, adding a guy who is familiar with the unit and the culture actually makes sense.

Even with the familiarity, it’s best that the Bengals leave the past where it belongs in this situation. Aside from his powder keg personality, Jones just turned 35 years old and Cincinnati just got Darqueze Dennard back from injury.

While Jones did some good things in his time from Cincinnati and became the poster boy for successful reclamation projects by Mike Brown, it’s just not enough of a pressing need.

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