Quarterback is a position that is always in need, and for the first time since 2011, the Cincinnati Bengals have a legitimate chance to draft one from a high spot in this year’s crop. Andy Dalton seems to have a grasp on the starting job again in 2019, but with a new staff in place, his leash should be shorter than what he was given in the Marvin Lewis era.
Even with AJ McCarron leaving last year, the Bengals were pretty confident in their quarterback situation last season. They went into 2018 with Dalton as the starter, Jeff Driskel as the backup and only invested a seventh-round pick at the position in Toledo fizzle-out, Logan Woodside.
Cincinnati did also bring in Matt Barkley in outside free agency. With his prior experience under former offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, Barkley looked to have a shot at the backup gig until he got injured in the preseason finale, and was released with a settlement shortly after. Even though he had a nice couple of games for the Buffalo Bills last year, we’re not so sure that he would have provided much more in relief of Dalton than Driskel did.
So, at a minimum, the Bengals need to look at addressing their backup quarterback situation.
Though this year’s rookie class is considered weak compared to other recent ones, there is talent to be had. Sure, there is Dwayne Haskins and the enigmatic Kyler Murray just declared, but there are potentially-capable signal-callers outside of the first round.
West Virginia’s Will Grier is a name to watch on night two, with a plethora of other guys going in the final day of draft weekend. One player who isn’t getting much run, in terms of NFL potential, is Washington State’s Gardner Minshew.
Aside from his epic mustache and beard throughout 2018, Minshew was incredibly productive last year. After transferring from East Carolina, Minshew threw for 4,779 yards and 38 touchdowns, against just nine interceptions.
Additionally, in one of the most important statistical categories—completion percentage—Minshew had a 70.7 rate in 2018. He also has decent size at 6’2”, 220 pounds to go with ample mobility.
There are reasons why he isn’t as highly thought of as some of the other prospects, though. A lack of great pre-transfer stats aside, it’s these gaudy numbers in Mike Leach’s quarterback-friendly system that has NFL scouts wary.
At Texas Tech, Leach’s two most prolific passers, and they were stat-machines, were Graham Harrell and Kliff Kinsgbury. The former’s NFL career spanned four, brief appearances in 2012, while the latter’s claim to fame is his meteoric rise to Cardinals head coach this offseason.
With the Cougars, Leach also groomed Luke Falk who, despite having one of the most prolific passing careers in Pac-12 history, is on his second NFL team after being drafted in the sixth round last year. The Run-’N’-Gun style just hasn’t been translating to the NFL level. It was also a down year in the Pac-12, making the road to 11 wins in 2018 by Washington State easier than many other campaigns.
Still, a team like the Bengals has a lot of skill position talent to work with should a guy like Minshew be called upon. Driskel didn’t use it overly-well, but he was missing A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and Tyler Eifert for some or all of the six games of extensive work given.
Look, the ball doesn’t always come out as the prettiest-looking spiral, there is great simplicity in some facets of Leach’s offense and Minshew took advantage of a weak conference. Still, the kid wins games, is incredibly scrappy and was a rock star in and out of that Cougar locker room.
There are others to note in this year’s class, but Zac Taylor and the Bengals have to ask themselves how solid the marriage is to Dalton. If they feel he can succeed to 2015-like levels under the new coaches and system, then they can wait on the third day for a guy like Minshew while rebuilding the roster around No. 14.
Otherwise, we may see an earlier pick used on a bigger college name as “Taylor’s guy”.
One of the big issues with Lewis was his inability to get the Bengals to rise up in the most crucial of contests. Whether it was under the bright regular season lights, or single-elimination playoff contests, Lewis’ Bengals failed regularly in these venues.
Aside from starting fresh with an overall new perspective, the Bengals need a coach who will grab the team by its haunches and drag them to victory in these type of contests. They also need a guy who will concoct a game plan with enough wrinkles to keep the opposition on its toes.
Remember the 2013 Wild Card game against the then-San Diego Chargers? After beating them a month before in Southern California, the Bengals stumbled to a very disappointing loss at Paul Brown Stadium.
Following their opening round win in Cincinnati, versatile linebacker Melvin Ingram basically said that the Bengals didn’t throw any new offensive wrinkles that his unit wasn’t prepared for. It was a direct indictment of Lewis’ stubborn ways, as well as it pointing to the lack of “in-game adjustments”.
The hope with Taylor is that he’s young enough to have an overflowing fountain of fresh ideas, while also being far less rigid than the old-school Lewis. The latter will require Taylor having confidence in young players, which wasn’t always a forte of Lewis.
Really, from a coaching standpoint, it couldn’t get much worse. Lewis was 9-32 in primetime/playoff games throughout his 16 years with the Bengals.
That’s a sub-22% winning percentage in what were largely the most important games of the season, for all of you math whiz’s out there. Then again, if you’re the “tinfoil hat guy”, you probably won’t like what Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy said about the Rams’ offensive plans (or lack thereof) in Super Bowl LIII.
While most of the losses can be placed right at the feet of Lewis, he shouldn’t be the only one shouldering blame. In the case of the Wild Card loss against the Chargers, Jay Gruden should be faulted, as should the woeful play of quarterbacks in these huge contests spanning 16 seasons.
Dalton is the easiest to point to for these spotlighted faults—because of the egregiousness, the amount of opportunities and the fact that he is the most recent guy to play in these games. Disclaimer: your eyes may burn at the sight of the table below:
Dalton supporters, however, will readily point to others collapsing around No. 14 as well. Folks remember the Jermaine Gresham follies in the 2011 Wild Card loss against the Texans, as well as porous offensive lines and some of Mike Zimmer’s best defenses inexplicably crumbling.
Carson Palmer’s two postseason trips with the Bengals were forgetful as well. Aside from 2005 when he threw a 66-yard bomb moments before his knee was shredded, Rex Ryan’s Jets also shut him down. With the Bengals, Palmer was just 19-of-37 for 212 yards, with one touchdown and one interception in those “two” postseason games.
Ultimately, yes, the head coach is responsible for the overall play of his team in these critical situations. But, any shortcomings by said coach and other elements of the roster can be masked by superior quarterback play.
To borrow a Lewis phrase, Taylor will need to do a better job of game planning and getting his team hyped to play in these big games, for sure. But, other critical players will also need to start pulling their weight if they want to change national perception of the team.
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