While there wasn’t a complete cleaning of the house for the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason, many changes were made in an effort to get back to the top of the AFC North. Whether it was in deciding to rely on different personnel, or the ushering in of new coaches, there is an air of difference as OTAs have kicked off.
For various reasons though, the national media just isn’t buying into the Bengals making a rebound in 2018. We can question the validity of those reasons, but there is little doubt that a lot of things have to right for the club to get back to the postseason.
We were recently asked about this on a recent episode of The Orange and Black Insider and it piqued our interest. Basically, a lot of things need to fall into place if the team is to make another run into January.
In fact, one can call this season “The Big If” for the Bengals.
If Tyler Eifert and John Ross can stay healthy, we could be looking at another 2015-type of season from Andy Dalton. Eifert will solidify red zone efficiency, while Ross will be able to take the top off of defenses and open things up for A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd and Co.
If the offensive can even play somewhere in between an average to above-average level, the team should sniff the playoffs again. Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard and Mark Walton will find more running room, while Dalton won’t be running for his life this year.
If Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap can stave off Father Time as the reach the dreaded 30-year old mark and the mixture of Nick Vigil, Malik Jefferson and Jordan Evans can play well during Vontaze Burfict’s suspension, the team should be fine. Oh, and if Carl Lawson can prove he’s more than a one-year wonder, the defense should be a formidable group again in 2018.
(By the way, have you seen Lawson’s transformation after his intense offseason workouts? Geez Louise.)
So... Carl Lawson has been working out. pic.twitter.com/jV8P3eje62— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) May 23, 2018
But, the biggest question is if the coaching changes can spark the necessary steps to a comeback, and, dare I even say, a march through the postseason. The two biggest names in the possible changes within the Bengals’ locker room reside in offensive line coach Frank Pollack and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.
Really, Pollack has been one of the biggest headline-grabbers in Cincinnati so far this offseason. His group has been giving accolades to their new coach, as the approach is more aggressive, and, in some ways, simpler.
He also seems to be keeping his options open for some of the entrenched veterans on the roster, as evidenced by his willingness to play Cedric Ogbuehi at guard and his eliminating of preconceived notions with some of these guys. Add in two quality additions in Billy Price and Cordy Glenn as starters and this group should be improved to a relatively-high degree.
Then, there’s Austin. There were a number of facets Paul Guenther did well with the unit, but he never lived up to his own predecessor in Mike Zimmer.
Guenther’s unit did like to get after the passer, attempt to stop the run and get off of the field on third down. Unfortunately, last year, his unit was deplorable in those last two items on the usual checklist.
Obviously, these are all areas in which Austin wants his unit to excel in, but he also has some other ideas. Big, game-changing plays are what he’s wanting out of his unit, hence the additions of Jessie Bates III, Sam Hubbard, Malik Jeffferson, Darius Phillips and Davontae Harris in this year’s draft. Picks, pick-sixes, strip-sacks and other opportunities to create huge plays will be emphasized.
But, there’s also offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor. Though he isn’t a new face on the team’s coaching staff, he is entering his first full year as the team’s coordinator.
Aside from rebuilding the playbook and looking for ways to effectively re-implement Ross and Eifert in 2018, he’s got his own views on the postseason.
“We might need to change some things,” Lazor recently told Jim Owczarski of The Cincinnati Enquirer. “Even though something got us to five straight playoffs, if it was preventing us from going further, maybe there’s something that can get us a little further. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to let go what has gotten you so far, because it is pretty good, but we‘ve got to make sure pretty good isn’t good enough.”
You have to love that approach during a year one could call a “rebuild” or “retooling” campaign. Still, words are just that and we are sitting in the optimistic part of the offseason for any franchise.
So, while it seems that the arrow should be pointing up for the Bengals because of these changes and in spite of the somber national media perspective of the club, those “if’s” will need to come to fruition to prove pundits wrong.
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