One could easily title the January 2019 month of the Bengals’ offseason calendar, “Are we there, yet?”.
On this week’s episode of The Orange and Black Insider, our callers had a lot on their minds about the impending staff changes and what that means for the Bengals’ roster in 2019. While we all still wait with bated breath for the team to announce Zac Taylor as its next head coach, fans are also wondering just how much of the Rams’ recent successful philosophies will come with him.
With superstar A.J. Green in the fold, along with a freshly-produced 1,000-yard receiver in Tyler Boyd and former top-10 pick, John Ross, Cincinnati appears to be in good shape at receiver for 2019. However, guys behind them in Cody Core, Auden Tate and Josh Malone haven’t made their NFL impacts, yet.
In Los Angeles’ explosive, Super Bowl 53-bound offense this year, seven players notched at least 24 or more receptions. Six players had at least three receiving touchdowns, showing not only how well Jared Goff distributed the football, but also how many able pass-catchers the Rams currently employ.
By comparison, the Bengals had five and four players in each of those respective categories this year. Two of Cincinnati’s players in the receptions category were running backs (Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard), while Todd Gurley was the only L.A. back on the list.
Two of the receivers on the Rams eclipsed the 1,200-yard receiving mark in Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods. And, all of the players listed for the Rams in those two statistical categories were brought in during the Sean McVay era, save for Gurley and Tyler Higbee.
In short, the Rams have not only developed a system that is extremely quarterback-friendly, but they also realize the importance of having viable weapons deep in the positional depth charts.
"Play-Action Screen"— ChalkTalk-XO Clinics (@xoclinics) January 21, 2019
LA Rams use a TON of "Action" Creativity in their offense
▪️Fake Toss to MOVE Defense
▪️BS OT and OG Set the "Run Way"
(Working on Cut-Up for Members this week) pic.twitter.com/pVSsGZYslo
For Cincinnati, that isn’t to say that more innovative minds will be unable to mine these type of contributions from Core, Malone, Tate, more from Ross and possibly even Alex Erickson. But it could also mean that the Bengals could look at tight ends and wide receivers earlier and more often than some might be led to believe this offseason.
At the Senior Bowl this past week, a few names emerged as viable ancillary options for a pass-happy offense. Terry McLaurin, Penny Hart and Hunter Renfrow all had nice showings and should be able to help at the next level.
With Bernard being a threat in multiple facets and Mixon coming off of his first career 1,000-yard rushing season, Taylor will undoubtedly want to bring the creative, play-action-based offense to Cincinnati. In doing so, they’ll need viable receiving options six or seven players deep between both receiver and tight end.
Did I mention that, of the aforementioned group of seven L.A. pass-catchers of significant contributions this year, none are currently over the age of 26? Yeah—Cincinnati’s going to load up at those positions this spring.
Reports have the Bengals hiring Jack Del Rio as their next defensive coordinator once the seemingly-endless wait for Taylor’s arrival ends. It’s a sage strategy, as the first-time head coach will be relying on nearly 25 years of NFL experience (as a coach and player) in Del Rio.
If fans wanted the McVay mindset to travel to The Queen City with Taylor, the potential Del Rio signing is an early symbol in which to point. In a similar vein, as a green coach himself in 2017, McVay hired Wade Phillips as the Rams’ defensive coordinator. The hire provided to be not only a proven commodity as a coordinator, but also as a guy to lean on as a long-tenured NFL coach for a youngster.
Del Rio has had impressive defenses while being the coordinator of the Broncos from 2012-2014, as well as fielding strong units often in his nine-year stint as the Jaguars’ head coach. However, in his potential overtaking of the Bengals’ unit, there is a question of personnel fits in his system—which has been primarily a 3-4 look.
Ever since Marvin Lewis took over the Bengals back in 2003 (ironically, the same year Del Rio took over in Jacksonville), he employed a 4-3 system. It was a stark contrast from the diverse 3-4 base he used to win a Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2000, and there were only a handful of seasons where Cincinnati’s unit was stout—usually under Mike Zimmer.
When you look at the group the team fielded last year and who they are set to keep in 2019, one is inclined to think that Del Rio will be knee-deep in a year of major personnel transition. After all, two of the team’s 4-3-style stars in Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, signed big extensions this past offseason.
There are some pieces that would fit a Del Rio style defense on the roster, though. Andrew Billings has the build and skill set to potentially be the big nose tackle, while Carl Lawson seems to be versatile enough for multiple systems coming off of the edge.
Still, if he’s the guy, does it once again point to a major rebuild on that side of the ball?
It could. For some fans, the major transition and possible growing pains aren’t a big deal, as they will be exercising patience after the team finally decided to turn the page on the Lewis era. For others, they don’t want to hear excuses: three consecutive losing seasons and a Lombardi-less history of the franchise has been enough to endure.
Personally, I see the logic in both of those mindsets. I’m tired of mediocrity, excuses and an overall lack of a killer instinct seen from this team. The defenses under Zimmer had something close to that foot-on-your-throat mentality that is sorely needed from this team, but even his best units caved in some of the most crucial contests in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Get things corrected now.
The team’s mindset needs to be changed ASAP. Del Rio seems like a guy who can spearhead a defense and help change the organizational culture a bit.
On the other hand, I realize that the changes the Bengals have made this offseason (at least from what little we know because of their inability to announce hirings) are far-sweeping and could take time to bear fruit. Everyone hopes the McVay magic of immediate results will sprout in Cincinnati this year, but it just isn’t overly-likely.
Regardless, I have faith in Del Rio’s ability to not only adapt his system to whom the Bengals already employ on defense, but also bring in new pieces to make it a competitive bunch once again. In his recent stint as Denver’s defensive coordinator, Del Rio worked wonders with guys who had a wide variety of draft backgrounds, such as Derek Wolfe (first round, Malik Jackson (fifth round) and Danny Trevathan (sixth round).
If he’s smart (which has proven to be the case more often than not), Del Rio will implement a hybrid-type of defense as the transition takes place. Using the stars they already have on that side of the ball, while also varying looks to opposing offenses, Cincinnati’s defense can combine the ability to run a system designed to strengths that already exist, and create new, unfamiliar wrinkles. And, really there were many concepts in Del Rio’s systems that featured 4-3 looks at times over the years.
Though there will be growing pains, a potential move to Del Rio will be beneficial in the long run. Part of Lewis’ downfall was in his rigidity and the lack of doing something outside of his comfort zone. Del Rio, while cut from the same cloth as Lewis in a number of ways, will bring about a more diverse look to Cincinnati’s defense.
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