There’s a lot to like about the Cincinnati Bengals and their potential to do big things in 2018, but there are also some major question marks with the regular season drawing closer.
The offensive line is still a work in progress, though it’s already looking like a significantly improved unit from the one we saw in 2017, which was a trainwreck more often than not. If they can get it in gear, this offense is loaded with playmakers that can carry this team to a winning record.
However, the defense also has some big questions that can’t really be answered until the regular season, most notably the impact of Teryl Austin. The new defensive coordinator isn’t going to show much in the preseason, but he’ll still likely be a big change of pace from what Paul Guenther brought to the table.
To help get ready for the new season, Robert Weintraub of Football Outsiders spoke with Cincy Jungle to answer some of our burning questions about the 2018 Bengals.
Q: What can Bengals fans expect from Teryl Austin and how his coaching style will differ from that of Paul Guenther?
RW: Austin hasn’t tipped his hand particularly as yet, and there is always the reality that Marvin Lewis will sway whatever his natural tendencies might be. But if we look at Detroit’s defense last season, which was coordinated by Austin, a couple of things stand out.
Guenther was a major believer in having his corners play on predetermined sides — 94% of all defensive snaps, easily tops in the NFL. By contrast, Detroit’s corners played specific sides only 59% of the time, 30th most in the league.
This could well mean that William Jackson III will be moving around with the top enemy wideouts much more often than he did/would under Guenther, which seems like a net positive.
Austin also sent “big blitzes” — six or more pass rushers — far more often than Guenther, who is religious about rushing only four down linemen. In part, Detroit did that because it had to, and achieving pressure with just four, as Cincy was able to do regularly last season, is always preferable, of course.
But sowing doubt in the opposing QB’s mind about what he is facing is a facet of the game the Bengals seldom did under Guenther, who believed in sticking to his scheme. A little diversity would be welcome.
Q: How much did the Bengals’ offensive line hold back Joe Mixon last season and what should we expect in the running back’s second year?
RW: The offensive line held back the entire offense last season, and Mixon fell right into that mix. He still managed to be our 17th-ranked back by total DYAR, despite the chaos up front. He also got notably stronger as the season went on, and with a full offseason under Bill Lazor, who has placed RB1 responsibility on Mixon, the pieces are in place for a breakout year.
More action out of shotgun sets would help. Mixon averaged a full yard per carry more when Andy Dalton lined up deep rather than under center.
Q: Cordy Glenn should be a major upgrade to the Bengals’ left tackle position. How much can the offense improve from that alone?
RW: Immensely. If he stays healthy the difference with Glenn at left tackle vs. Cedric Ogbuehi is night and day. Not much can be added from an analytic standpoint — it’s varsity against JV.
Q: Preston Brown led the league in tackles in 2017, but he wasn’t void of problems. What does he bring to the field to help the Bengals who struggled to stop the run last year, and for much of the past five years?
RW: Brown is steady in the run game, but he’s not the athletic cover guy the defense truly requires, especially in the modern NFL with the spread sets. His best ability is availability — Brown hasn’t missed a start in the last three seasons.
I’m more excited about Jordan Evans, frankly. If he can build upon last year’s promise and be an effective nickel LB, that would solve a major issue on the defense. A healthy Andrew Billings and Chris Baker should also help shore up that putrid run defense.
I’m more worried about the continued inability to stop tight ends and running backs catching passes than the run defense.
Q: Between Trey Hopkins, Christian Westerman and Alex Redmond, who do you think the starting right guard should be?
RW: Tough question to answer without seeing them play under Frank Pollack’s new system. Based on last season, I’d give the slight edge to Westerman. He’s the most athletic of the three, and seemed to have a little better cohesion with the guys on either side of him along the line.
I thought all three had some moments, and I liked Redmond’s nastiness. If he can drop some of the fun fat he carried last year and become more of a mover, he might seize the day.
Thanks again to Robert for taking the time to answer out questions. Be sure to follow all of his work at Football Outsiders.