It seems like an obvious question, but when you look at it on paper, a lot is the same about the Bengals’ offense this season as it was last season. The only major additions come in the form of left tackle Cordy Glenn and center Billy Price.
In fact, the major reason the question of whether the Bengals’ offense has improved this offseason seems so obvious is because of the changes that are taking place aside from player personnel. The Bengals kept their interim offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor, on from last season. He has created a new offense from scratch for the first time since Jay Gruden joined the Bengals staff. The team also brought in Frank Pollack to take over as the offensive line coach. His physical mentality and attention to detail has already been noticed by the players.
Again though, most of the players are the same. It is a matter of players returning healthy and taking on bigger roles. The biggest of which may be addition by subtraction. The Bengals allowed Jeremy Hill to walk this offseason, which has opened the door for Joe Mixon to permanently (as permanently as it gets in the NFL) become the lead back. It also eliminates the chance of the Bengals wasting drives by trying to get Hill going like we saw during Week 7 when Mixon had 68 total yards against the Steelers in the first half. However, the Bengals started off the second half with a poor drive that was headed by Hill. Then the Steelers increased their lead and long story short, Mixon never touched the ball again in that game.
Mixon won’t be receiving all the touches; we should expect a nice mix between Mixon and Giovani Bernard. Bernard is coming into the season at full health, which is a huge difference between last season when he had a miraculous recovery from an ACL tear that many expected would’ve landed him on the PUP list to begin the season. He avoided that fate, but you can tell later in the season he really got his groove back. A healthy Bernard and Mixon behind an improved offensive line should be fun to watch.
As far as receivers go, the Bengals added Auden Tate in the seventh round, but we shouldn’t expect much from him if anything at all. Instead, the Bengals are relying on guys like Tyler Boyd, Josh Malone and obviously John Ross to contribute more this year. Last year, the Bengals carried seven wide receivers on the roster in the hopes that they’d grow, mature and help the team in the long run.
Ross is the headline guy after failing to record even a catch during his rookie season, but Boyd and Malone need to step up, too. Boyd played a little more than 30 percent of the offensive snaps last season, and Malone played roughly 25 percent. Boyd ended up with 22 catches for 225 yards and a touchdown. Malone had six catches for 63 yards and a touchdown. For comparison’s sake, Alex Erickson played just under 20 percent of the offensive snaps last season and recorded 12 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown. These guys need to do more in 2018. If they don’t, it could be another long season of double and even triple teams for A.J. Green. The early reports from the Bengals’ OTAs are favorable for Ross, but we will have to wait and see if that translates to the field.
The Bengals are running the same tight end group from last season. Tyler Eifert spent most of last season catching up on surgeries to get back to 100 percent. Andy Dalton desperately needs his No. 1 tight end, who he didn’t have after Week 2 last season. Tyler Kroft proved to be a legitimate red zone threat with seven touchdowns as well and should take another step forward this season. There’s also C.J. Uzomah who had a poor season in 2017 and either needs to improve this offseason or could be on the chopping block.
Again the Bengals added offensive line help via Glenn and Price, but whether Pollack can put something productive together on the right side utilizing Christian Westerman, Alex Redmond, Trey Hopkins, Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher and Bobby Hart will determine just how much better this offensive line — and offense overall — is from last season.
Obviously Dalton isn’t going anywhere. The Bengals didn’t add any starter competition at the position after AJ McCarron left via free agency. Dalton has proven that when he has time he can be effective. He had a shaky start to last season, which is understandable given the state of the offensive line, but he needs to get back to his 2015 form this season. The team added Matt Barkley in free agency and Logan Woodside in the draft, but neither are starter material for this season.
Even with the Bengals relying on addition by subtraction, development and a scheme change, this year’s offense does seem better than last season’s. I think that says way more about last year’s offense than this year’s though.