Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
The Bengals begin the 2014 season with a new offensive coordinator (OC), Hue Jackson. Jackson, formerly the head coach (HC) of the Raiders in 2011, will replace former OC Jay Gruden, who is now the HC of the Redskins. The team should benefit from the change primarily because of how Jackson will complement Marvin Lewis, how he will address the challenges of the AFC North, and, most importantly, how he contrasts to Gruden. With an extensive coaching resume he brings another established leader to the team. Fans will enjoy his style and his impact should be felt relatively quickly.
Having already been a head coach in the NFL, Jackson brings an understanding of the game and a team as a whole that may have lacked in Jay Gruden. Having already spent time as a head coach, it will allow him to better focus on the task at hand versus trying to advertise his coaching skills towards future HC job opportunities; it often seemed evident with Gruden. This isn’t to say that Jackson doesn’t think about being the head man once more, but having conquered that hill means he has already shown he can do the job, especially after not getting much of a fair shake in Oakland. Gruden’s style never really seemed to fit the AFC North, nor Andy Dalton’s skill set. He often came off as philosophically stubborn rather than as a flexible coach, willing to adjust in order to better fit his players. This frustrated fans as it seemed clear that the “less is more” philosophy, pertaining to passing, often produced better results for Dalton and the Bengals. Jackson understands this and his philosophy also fits the Bengals better. What’s the point in having a top three defense if you’re going to throw the ball so often, enabling the opposition to get on the field more? Why not utilize the running game to control the time of possession, hence allowing this stellar defense to lead the team to victories? Jackson will resolve these philosophical discrepancies amongst the coaching staff in short order.
Jackson’s attitude will be a stark difference from his predecessor’s. It will challenge players to improve in ways they weren’t before, most notably Andy Dalton and AJ Green. Jackson’s tough and relentless demeanor will provide a balance amongst the coaching staff towards Dalton and Co. This isn’t an indictment against Dalton because he’s smart and works hard. But having a coach who challenges you differently on a day-to-day basis from the way current coaches have in the past, will provide a different way of looking at improvement and ability; this can only help the Bengals’ in the long run. Jackson will also challenge AJ Green in different ways. Green is often heralded as a star and savior for Dalton and his lack of ability. These statements are often deserved as Green is capable of making great plays, even on bad throws. But there is an aspect of Green’s game that must be improved if he is to become the type of receiver he is perceived to be over the long haul; Green must get stronger and more aggressive at the point of the catch. This is one thing that won’t be a problem for Jackson to address. He is an aggressive coach who’ll want his attitude mirrored by the offense and this is where Green will have to improve in order to fit the attitude. It will help reduce some interceptions on throws that are forced to Green, as well as enable him to let corners like Joe Haden, who has often given Green difficulty, know that there’s a different approach to the game this year. This same aggression will reinvigorate the offensive line. This line is an extremely effective one and does a great job in the passing game. That being said, there’s no better way to reward your line than to make them the aggressors in the trenches. Andrew Whitworth, the unit’s heart and soul, often talks of his penchant for “hitting” the opposition. His attitude will mesh with Jackson perfectly and inspire the line to take control of games, willing the team to victories through its aggression.
All this change will better fit the attitude of the AFC North, allowing the Bengals to get back to what makes these teams so successful and that’s aggression at the point of attack. Hue’s approach is more a severe black and less Gruden’s flashy orange. The offense was effective on paper in past years but rarely led the team to victory. He will bring an edge to the Bengals’ new emphasis on quality people and “nice guys.” The defense will remain the team’s dominant unit for a long time, especially under Marvin Lewis, but this new offensive attitude will not only hold leads better while decreasing costly turnovers, it will wear opponents down, punishing them until victory belongs to the Bengals.