The Cincinnati Bengals are in the midst of some change this offseason. “Rebuilding” won’t be part of the vocabulary used by the front office and coaches, but one might be inclined to believe there are hints of it as a new NFL year approaches.
Of course, the majority of questions surround the retaining of head coach, Marvin Lewis. But, we’ve covered that ad nauseum and this is more about assessing the questions among his assistants.
Keep in mind, the Bengals still have a few posts left to fill: quarterbacks coach, offensive line coach and secondary coach. Though the team could bring in some solid names to fill those roles, we still have a pretty clear picture of how the staff is shaping up in 2018.
Here are a couple of the biggest questions among the decisions made at the assistant level so far.
Retaining Bill Lazor as offensive coordinator:
The positives: On the positive side, Lewis and the Bengals likely feel that an entire offseason with Andy Dalton working with Lazor could bring better dividends for the offense. And, if you’re taking the word of new Bengals’ receivers coach, Bob Bicknell, Lazor is focused and is heavily-prepared.
“The excitement of just trying to put together something that Chip had brought from Oregon to the NFL was really something special. Anybody who’s around Bill (Lazor), there’s not a smarter guy in football. He’s very well organized,” Bicknell recently said after his hiring. “Whenever I thought there was an opportunity (to reunite), I just remember how I enjoyed football with him. We think a lot the same way and it’s exciting to be on a staff like that.”
And, if there’s anything Lewis and Mike Brown love, it’s continuity. So, while there’s a change at receivers coach, Bicknell and Lazor are pretty familiar with each other and it should pay off among the receivers.
The negatives: Still, the Bengals’ offense was anemic last year. They finished dead-last in the NFL last year in offense, while also coming in at No. 27 in passing offense and 31st in running the ball. Throw in a mess at offensive line and the questions surrounding Lazor and his ability to greatly raise the level of play in his unit in just one offseason are prevalent.
While he’s had previous NFL experience as an offensive coordinator, the output of his previous units haven’t necessarily been anything to write home about. Will he be able to have Lewis’ ear to get potentially higher-talented youngsters on the field over more trusted veterans?
It didn’t happen with John Ross, Christian Westerman and Alex Redmond last year, so what will change this season? Also, what will be the team’s offensive identity in 2018—a hard-nosed running team, balanced, or a bombs away attack?
His 2018 goals: The first is to make sure he can find a prominent and effective role for last year’s No. 9 overall pick, John Ross. Lewis simply didn’t trust Ross as a rookie, and his injuries also made it difficult for him to see the field.
Fixing the offensive line should also be a major facet to Lazor’s success next year. It’s going to take some capital on behalf of the front office, be it in free agency and/or the draft, but both he and his new offensive line coach will need to groom new faces, as well as Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi.
Lastly, raising the quarterback play should be on the docket. Dalton played admirably in the face of terrible play of the line and an inconsistent run game, but Lewis, Lazor and the front office will need to commit to helping him out with quality personnel, should they continue to deem him the long-term starter.
Letting Kevin Coyle go as secondary coach:
Some believed that Coyle was going to be a front-runner for the Bengals’ open defensive coordinator gig, but that wasn’t in the cards. After a pretty effective year from the secondary where the defense ranked No. 8 in passing yards allowed per game, Coyle isn’t being retained by the club in 2018.
Last year, we saw some great strides from both Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson as their roles increased, which has to be the major feather in his cap from last season. Both had pick-sixes this season, while Jackson graded out as one of the best cornerbacks of the year by Pro Football Focus.
Still, Dre Kirkpatrick showed signs of regression this season, as did Shawn Williams and George Iloka. After notching three interceptions last season, Iloka had just one this year, while Williams had the exact same dip in the statistic. Meanwhile, Kirkpatrick has the dubious distinction of being the most penalized defensive player in the NFL since 2015, when he became a full-time starter.
I understand that the bringing in of Teryl Austin as the defensive coordinator means he has say over his staff, but the secondary wasn’t the big issue in 2017. Check out the No. 30 ranking by the unit against the run last year and one can point there as the crux of any defensive problems.