By the Cincinnati Bengals’ standards this offseason is one of earth-shattering change. This relatively conservative franchise doesn’t do dramatic or sudden. Nonetheless this offseason they moved on from long time head coach Marvin Lewis after 16 seasons, replacing the seasoned veteran with the relative greenhorn Zac Taylor.
Impact on the offence
That will mark a dramatic change in the type of offence fans in the Queen City can expect to watch during this campaign. The last time that unit ranked in the top 10 in the league was back in 2013, and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden parlayed that into a head coaching role in the nation’s capital.
Owner Mike Brown therefore actually followed a league trend by turning to a coach from the McVay tree in Taylor despite his lack of play calling experience. It will be interesting to observe the impact the Taylor has on quarterback Andy Dalton who has long been seen as the median for NFL quarterbacks. Dalton can play at a Pro Bowl level, which he was voted to in 2012, 2014 and 2016, and in his age 31 season, could be primed to flourish under his new head coach.
Another potential beneficiary is running back Joe Mixon. The former Sooner accrued over 1,100 rush yards last season at 4.9 yards per attempt, despite the offence as a whole ranking 26th in the league in yards per game.
Inevitably though, Taylor won’t be a carbon copy of his former boss, and this is where his relative inexperience as a playcaller and coordinator may come into play. The former quarterback only called 5 NFL games as interim offensive coordinator for the Dolphins in 2015 which he followed up with a year in the same role at the University of Cincinnati. So not only is Taylor going to be adjusting to his new role as head coach of an entire franchise, he’ll also be taking on game planning and calling a professional offence on a full-time basis.
Cincy’s attempt to reload this year though has been dealt two serious blows in the form of injuries to first round pick Jonah Williams and blue chip receiver AJ Green.
Williams, out of Alabama, was supposed to reinforce the Bengals pervious offensive line, yet was ruled out for the season through injury during training camp. That will forestall the move of Cordy Glenn to guard, which was to accommodate Williams as the blindside blocker at left tackle.
The problems on the line haven’t been immediately solved in terms of personnel either with the retention of right tackle Bobby Hart, who led the team in penalties in 2018. Any obstacles on the O line might also become more pronounced following the retirement of center Clint Boling.
Compounding all of this is the fact that Green, who is the fulcrum of the passing game, will be out of action for around 2 months. That follows the fact that he was only able to suit up for 9 games last year due to time on the trainer’s table. The silver cloud of that injury was that it enabled the emergence of Tyler Boyd with a 1,000 yard receiving season, and he will have to carry most of the load again, especially if 2017 first rounder John Ross can’t become a permanent fixture in the offence.
There are, nonetheless, some bright spots on the defence, most conspicuously in the secondary. Ball hawking safeties Jessie Bates and Shawn Williams snagged 8 interceptions between them and that was in Bates’ rookie campaign.
Cautious or cheap?
Despite hiring a new head honcho this year, Mike Brown and director of pro personnel Duke Tobin, have stuck to the familiar script of restraint in free agency. The Bengals focused on retaining their own players like the aforementioned Hart as well as solid, if unspectacular, players like linebacker Preston Brown.
Likelihood of making the playoffs: minimal
The Bengals remain a long way off the Steelers and Browns in talent level though Taylor and his crew will be given time to reshape the roster. Cincinnati are likely heading for a top 5 pick in the 2020 draft in Nevada and this year is likely to be more oriented around blooding the young players already on the books.
Looking at the schedule ahead doesn’t bode well either. I can see this team sitting at 3-5 going into their bye week, with potential victories at home against the 49ers and Cardinals and on the road against the Bills. Their other competitors during October and September: the Seahawks, Steelers, Ravens, Jaguars and Rams present imposing hurdles in the first half of the season. Following the break, the Jets, Raiders and Dolphins are the only other candidates for possible notches in the win column.