Why The Bengals Will Return To Form In 2017
After a disappointing campaign, the Bengals hope to turn things around for 2017. Let’s take a look at why the new season could be a bounceback year.
Well, the Bengals gave it their best shot. But the 2016 campaign came up short…again. The frustrating part about being a Cincinnati believer is the heavy crash after the burn. This was a year that could have been special, if not for the typical NFL problems that popped up. A mass exodus of coaches caused players to contend with new teaching techniques and personalities. But, that wasn’t the whole story. Injuries finally took their toll on the team. Along with that, familiar faces on offense left in free agency.
For the first time in six years, the playoffs didn’t include the Cincinnati Bengals. Though the Stripes were close to getting a last-minute berth, they failed to beat the Steelers in Week 15. That L was followed by a disappointing loss to the Texans.
Marvin Lewis has stated that the Bengals aren’t in need of a total overhaul. But, that’s something Cincinnati fans have become numb to. The promises of a new year always seem to include the incentive of patience and a turnaround. This is the ritual of a lifelong fan.
Yet this could be the season that Lewis and the Bengals get it right. Before the off-year, they’ve had five tries to get the feel of being in primetime. Now, with time once again playing a factor, Lewis and company will be forced to find the answers. Ultimately, the Bengals should return to form…here’s why.
Yes, the offense wasn’t great in the red zone. Sure, you can try to blame it on the leader. Finally, it’s all on his shoulders as the leader. But, through the problems and unforeseen glitches, Andy Dalton had a darn good year. His numbers didn’t match the stats that he piled up in 2015 before getting injured but he was still steady.
C’mon, man. Give the guy a break. Ken Zampese was Dalton’s third OC in six campaigns as signal caller. Even if the scheme is the same, there are bound to be different philosophies tied to the play calling. What Jay Gruden did was a far cry from what Hue Jackson liked to do. As the season progressed, Dalton and Zampese seemed to get on the same page.
There was also the loss of deep threats Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. Brandon LaFell finally developed the chemistry with Dalton that fans wanted to see. But, there was still the lack of offensive punch. Tyler Boyd also stepped to the forefront and offered his abilities. But, one training camp with new weapons doesn’t guarantee memories will fade. It takes time to develop a connection with the new toys. Hopefully, the offseason will be a time for them to connect.
Dalton was still able to tie a franchise record. His 4,206 yards linked him with Carson Palmer as the only player to hit the 4,00-yard mark twice. Look for him to come out strong.
The Ground Game
Funny. The running game was just about in the same position that it was last season. In 2015, the Bengals rushed for 1,805 yards. That was good enough for No. 13 in the league and seventh in the AFC. The numbers practically the same from each year. What does this mean? Simple. The ground game wasn’t as bad as it seemed.
Essentially, the Bengals’ offensive scheme didn’t deviate from the attack that Jackson employed. Fans wanted to see more of the run and thought it was happening. Nah. According to NFL.com, the offense had 446 rushes for a 4.0 ypc average. The numbers in 2015? They rushed 467 times for 3.9 average. Actually, the carries were down slightly. But, the answer is clear. Bengals coordinators like to pass. What’s interesting is the upward swing in the yards per carry. Evidently, that little hiccup occurred when Rex Burkhead was added to the mix.
Rex got his chance when Giovani Bernard suffered a torn ACL. Then, Jeremy Hill fell to the injury bug and missed the finale against the Ravens. Burkhead stepped in and politely shredded the Baltimore defense for a career-high 119 yards.
The formula is there. All three running backs will be trying to outshine each other. Hill will certainly be on alert. He’ll be in the last year of his rookie contract.
To say his first year at the reins was disappointing is an understatement. The Bengals new offensive coordinator came aboard with fresh ideas and tons of hype. I’ll admit, my chops were watering thinking about the points that would be put up. What happened? Cincinnati moved the ball with ease. But, when it came to putting points on the board, the offense went flat.
Some of the blame can be placed on the shoulders of former kicker Mike Nugent. But, the Bengals found themselves in too many 3rd-and-long situations in the red zone. Speaking of that area, Cincinnati scored 53 percent of the time. Sounds decent enough. But, when compared to the 2015 average of 65 percent, the struggle becomes clear.
Zampese has taken the blame and says things will be different. He says the Bengals didn’t score touchdowns at the rate they were accustomed to. Scoring points is the bottom line. Everything else is frosting.
The only thing that is encouraging is when you score and you win,” Zampese explained per Bengals.com. “The other stuff is just fluff to the end goal. We didn’t perform as well as we could have or should have. We didn’t make enough plays to win the end of those games. Our red zone production was just not good enough to score enough touchdowns when we got in there. That showed up a lot.”
The OC knows the problem. Consider it fixed. Zampese has dedicated his offseason to analyzing every play.
Return Of The Last Chance
This just may be the end of a long relationship. Marvin Lewis has been given chance after chance to prove his worth. The 2017 campaign could be his toughest test. Since being brought aboard to lead the Bengals into battle, he has become the winningest coach in franchise history.
There’s only one problem with Lewis and those 118 wins…the playoff losses. Maybe Mike Brown is feeling sympathetic to Lewis because of a glaring similarity. Founder Paul Brown went 0-3 in the postseason. But, PB’s saving grace is his stint with the Cleveland Browns. His record there was 9-5 (.643) in the big games.
Nevertheless, 2017 could be the year that Lewis decides to get mean again. When the Bengals were under the drill sergeant influence of Forrest Gregg, the made it to Super Bowl XVI. If Lewis can harness the fire that he once had, things could turn around.
The last time the Bengals had a losing season under Marvelous Marv, they rebounded with a strong showing and a Wild Card berth. In fact, after the retooling, the 2010 campaign yielded five straight playoff appearances.
Lewis was adamant in saying that there’s too much talking and not enough action.
“It doesn’t matter how close we are. Next year is different than this year. The only way we can take care of it is take care of it on the field. We can’t talk about it. Too many people around here talk too much. Everybody talks.”
Smells like team spirit in the making. Now, he needs to produce.