As expected, the Cincinnati Bengals promoted Hue Jackson to offensive coordinator on Jan. 9 to assume the vacancy created by Jay Gruden, who departed to the Washington Redskins to take over as head coach.
Jackson will quickly provide the answers the Bengals need to take the next step.
Fans can argue for years (and surely will) about how Gruden will fare with the Redskins and if he was gifted with such a prestigious position within the NFL based on the merits of his last name. In the meantime, the Bengals have to pick up the pieces, as quarterback Andy Dalton predictably collapsed in the postseason against the San Diego Chargers. Fans now have to ponder whether the promotion of Jackson will have a positive or negative impact on the TCU product.
There are two sides to every coin, and this is certainly no exception.
It is easy to pile on Gruden — he did this to himself via a lethargic showing against the Chargers in which he noticeably failed to make adjustments, and his most notable philosophical change after the first half was to go away from the run — a strategy that ultimately failed.
But there is something to be said for what Gruden was able to get out of Dalton. Yahoo! Sports’ Frank Schwab illustrates this point best:
If you think Andy Dalton stinks, doesn't it speak to Jay Gruden that he got 80 TDs and almost 12,000 yards out of him in three years?
— Frank Schwab (@YahooSchwab) January 9, 2014
Dalton’s first three years put him on a historic path not many have traveled — statistically and in the win column, although the latter is a horrific judge of the position. But Washington must have seen something in Gruden other than a name to bring him on board. What do we, as observers, know? Right?
Let’s dive right into the negative surrounding Gruden — and what makes Jackson the right man to fix Dalton.
Bengals fans surely remember this nugget, courtesy of NFL.com’s Michael Silver:
…Dalton’s not showing signs of developing into anything more than a decent quarterback. And it isn’t just a matter of putting forth underwhelming performances in games: Sources say Dalton also routinely produces uneven efforts on the practice field and that coaches, rather than admonishing him to improve, tend to offer primarily positive reinforcement.
At the time, this report of the coaching staff coddling Dalton like a rookie — despite it being his third season at the pro level — was easy to scoff at.
Does the believability of this report change now that we understand Gruden personally picked Dalton over San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick? Perhaps. Add in the fact Dalton is the type of quarterback who routinely allows mistakes to snowball and is somewhat perceived as the anti-cool under pressure signal-caller, and things are a bit more clear now if we are to believe Gruden and his staff took a reassuring approach.
Well, Silver is at is again — but this time he has a great point as it pertains to Jackson’s impact on Dalton in the cerebral sense:
However, when it comes to coaching, he (Jackson) is tough, demanding and relentless in his pursuit of excellence, and this is especially true when it comes to the man playing the most important position on the field.
Make no mistake: Andy Dalton’s work reality is about to get a lot different, and quickly. However, unless the quarterback is resistant to the change (and I don’t expect that he would be), this could be a very, very good thing for him and the Bengals.
Will Dalton, who has one year left on his rookie deal and is surely not getting an extension in the near future, succumb beneath the pressure or respond to a somewhat different style from Jackson? It’s hard to tell, but conventional wisdom suggests Jackson will be more inclined to stick with the running game, which in turn should protect Dalton. Dan Hoard points out how Jackson relied on the rush during his stint in Oakland, and how it impacted average quarterbacks:
In Hue Jackson's last year as OC, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush combined for 1812 rushing yards and 15 TD
— Dan Hoard (@Dan_Hoard) January 9, 2014
The last time Hue Jackson was an offensive coordinator, Raiders were 6th in NFL in scoring w/ Jason Campbell & Bruce Gradkowski at QB
— Dan Hoard (@Dan_Hoard) January 9, 2014
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller spoke to this point a bit from an on-field perspective:
The #Bengals, and Andy Dalton, will be much better off if Hue Jackson is the OC next year and not Jay Gruden.
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 8, 2014
Interestingly enough, while this line of thinking may prove to be true, Jackson’s offense may bear a striking resemblance to Bob Bratkowski’s—the coordinator before Gruden who was run out of town. Bengals fans will surely love the potential throwback look, but it is one that may protect Dalton the best.
Armed with the knowledge he is playing for his next contract while in a different environment that will not necessarily pull punches as Gruden did to protect his quarterback, Dalton very well may thrive under the guidance of Jackson. Whether Gruden or Dalton was the problem will be answered soon by the new man in charge.