The Cincinnati Bengals are now 5-6. This isn’t where anyone in the building or the fan base expected to be this season.
They were coming off back-to-back deep playoff runs, but this was the first season where we had to see the front office make some difficult decisions about who to keep and let go.
Even then, this team shouldn’t be here.
Many will use the excuse of quarterback Joe Burrows's health. He started off the season playing through a calf injury that greatly hindered him, and then his season came to an end in Week 11 wish a wrist injury. There is some merit to that claim, but you could easily make the argument that the team around Burrow should be better and more consistent.
Realistically, this ownership has a history of being fiercely loyal to
General Manger President of Player Personnel Duke Tobin, their head coach, and any seemingly foundational player younger than 30 years old. The most realistic thing we see is some assistants being let go, along with what could be some turnover at the coordinator position if they get head coaching opportunities (which isn’t off the table).
Here are some coaches who could realistically be on the hot seat this season.
Offensive line coach and run game coordinator Frank Pollack
We all loved the move to bring Pollack back after he was allowed to leave for the New York Jets when Zac Taylor took on the role of head coach. However, someone has to face the blame for the position's lack of consistency and performance compared to the money going into it.
The Bengals have found they can not draft offensive linemen reliably. Whether that is Tobin, scouts or the offensive line coaches, the picks haven’t worked out, with the lone exception being Jonah Williams, who was taken with the 11th overall pick.
Then, after they went to the Super Bowl and fell mostly due to protection issues, they spent to bring in Ted Karras, Alex Cappa, and La’el Collins. And prior to this season, they opted to take on Jonah William’s fifth-year option and keep him rather than trade him, which wasn’t cheap.
Then, they made a big splash by bringing in Orlando Brown Jr. to finish it all off. That doesn’t even include the wasted second-round pick that was Jackson Carman.
The return has been mediocre at best. Even Cordell Volson has been an obvious weak link in pass protection and has yet to develop beyond the promise we saw early on.
Now, the question is whether the blame lands solely on Pollack, and that answer is obviously not. However, in this business, results matter quite a bit. The running game is still extremely inconsistent, and whoever the quarterback is gets pressured far too easily.
Someone has to shoulder all that, and if results don’t change, Pollack may not be with the Bengals in the next few seasons.
Defensive line coach Marion Hobby
Marion Hobby’s unit has had the roughest season. The big names are doing their part. Trey Hendrickson has been a monster pass rusher, and D.J. Reader has been filling his gaps. Sam Hubbard being absent has been obvious as well.
Still, this isn’t a unit filled with rookies. The only one is rookie defensive end Myles Murphy. The rest of the guys have been here a season or two, and yet no one outside of Hendrickson could get pressure on the quarterback. The disappearance of Joseph Ossai is mind-boggling, as he played really well at the end of last season. Zach Carter and Cam Sample have each had their issues as well.
It may look like to fans watching that the entire defense is playing poorly, and this isn’t to put the defense’s struggles solely on the defensive line, but they have consistently lost the line of scrimmage battle and can’t get to the quarterback. A lot of issues the defense has (outside of missed tackles) can be fixed by at least making the line of scrimmage contested again.
This line has fallen quite a ways from the one that shut down the Tennessee Titans and Derrick Henry in the playoffs two years ago. Now, they are getting gashed by runs to bleed the clock or not coming close to the quarterback to keep them from having all day to dissect the defense, so Hobby could be on the hot seat if this keeps up.
Zac Taylor (as a playcaller)
Taylor isn’t getting fired. It is more likely that one day Taylor will retire from football than the team actually fire him if it took them so long to finally move on from Marvin Lewis. Taylor has an impressive playoff record under his belt. He has taken it to the Kansas City Chiefs every single time he has played them.
What change may really come is his role as a playcaller. There have been issues with abandoning the run way too early, getting too conservative, and being predictable. The fact this team still uses teams playing two deep safeties as an excuse when they had Burrow and all their weapons just doesn’t work.
Things need to be shaken up. It probably won’t happen this season, but if this team gets off to a slow start in 2024, that conversation becomes very serious,