Can Continuity Finally Work for the Bengals?


Nov 16, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) smiles as he approaches head coach Marvin Lewis in the fourth quarter of their game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Bengals won, 27-10. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

When 2015 rolls around, the Bengals will be proceeding with largely the same cast of characters.  Yes, some faces will change inevitably, but the major players will stay the same.  This also goes for the coaching staff which has remained in tact after Hue Jackson missed out on the head coaching job in Buffalo and Vance Joseph was blocked from leaving for Denver.

The Bengals are “creatures of habit.”  Change does not come easily to this organization much to the chagrin of many fans.  Others believe the team would’ve enjoyed greater success these past couple of seasons if not for numerous serious injuries.  But regardless of one’s feelings, the reality is the Bengals have chosen to remain steady during tough times.  Will this approach finally lead to greater success in 2015?

As frustrating as it is for some, it is fair to assume the Bengals can find greater success in 2015 without changing in a significant way.  As previously mentioned, injuries have undoubtedly effected this team in a major way.  Geno Atkins missed the second half of 2013 and, after missing 2014’s preseason; he spent the season playing himself into shape.  With a full season and off-season under his belt heading into 2015, it’s reasonable to think Atkins could reclaim his past form, or at least come much closer than he did in 2014.

The defense will also enjoy the return of Vontaze Burfict.  After undergoing microfracture surgery on his injured knee, the Bengals have expressed an expectation that he could be ready for the upcoming season.  Having the “quarterback” of the defense on the field in any capacity should help improve the unit, but I’d caution against thinking he’ll be the same old Vontaze Burfict.  His surgeon believes the goal is to have Burfict at “full-go” in July, but he could recover slowly and be forced into a similar recovery to that of Atkins (playing himself into shape during the season).

On offense, the Bengals will get tight end Tyler Eifert back.  Before dislocating his elbow in Week One, Eifert was becoming a major target for Andy Dalton as the two were enjoying a great rapport.  Having an effective tight end that presents a large target can change things for a quarterback in a major way.  Dalton will enjoy having this type of target during those moments he finds himself under duress.

The same goes for Marvin Jones who was a breakout star for the Bengals in 2013.  Jones opened up the field with his deep ball prowess, so his return will give A.J. Green and the running game more space to work with.

Finally, the Bengals will get back road-grader Andre Smith at right tackle.  The behemoth of a right tackle suffered a torn tricep in 2014, which caused him to miss about half the season (he was injured during the team’s ninth game).  His return will give the Bengals power running game a boost while also giving the offensive line the depth it usually enjoys.

The return of injured players isn’t all that gives the Bengals hope in 2015.  They are in a unique position considering their cap standing.  The Bengals will get back all of these injured players while also enjoying somewhere in the range of $35 million in cap space (depending on how much the salary cap ends up being).  With a relatively small group of players to re-sign, none of which will demand significant raises expect maybe Clint Boling, the team shouldn’t spend much of it when re-signing their own players.  This while the team should only require around $7-8 million for their nine draft picks in the upcoming draft (based on overestimating the total of last year’s selections while adding an extra third and fourth round selection due to the Bengals’ two presumed compensatory picks in 2015).  This should leave the team with plenty of cap space to sign free agents and it’s for these reasons that fans should enjoy some optimism regarding next season.

But these undeniable advantages heading into next season also may not be enough for the Bengals to find meaningful success.  With the major players (or issues) returning next season, depending on how one looks at it, the Bengals will be employing a similar one to past years; when a team chooses to retain it’s on-field general (the quarterback) and it’s head coach, a plan cannot change drastically.  The plan in past years has indubitably had flaws.

The Bengals have been limited by the play of their quarterback, and they clearly recognize Dalton’s limitations.  This is obvious based on the team’s choice to reduce his “load” and to try and take pressure off of him.  This past season, Dalton threw less passes than he’s ever been asked to before.  His passes were often unimaginative and basic throws requiring basic reads.  The onus was often placed on the team’s weapons to create yards rather than ask Dalton to create them with his arm.

Despite this reduced role in the offense, Dalton couldn’t avoid timely errors that stalled drives and contributed to some of the team’s struggles.  It certainly takes more than one player to lose a game, but when you’re the quarterback, much of the blame often falls on your shoulders and rightfully so considering how much a quarterback dictates a game regardless of how many passes they throw.

Dalton’s limitations wouldn’t be such an issue though if the opposition didn’t so clearly recognize it.  But because they do, the Bengals often face defenses that dare them to win games on Dalton’s arm.  It negates the strength of the running game and forces the team to overcome themselves and the opponent simultaneously.

As for the head coach, Marvin Lewis‘ approach to the game isn’t necessarily the problem.  Rather, it’s his ability to instill confidence in his players during the most difficult and pressurized moments.  Making it to the playoffs four consecutive years isn’t anything to sneeze at.  Clearly, Marvin Lewis has done something right.  But when a team struggles as often as this one does during “big” games and during the playoffs, something is missing.  Maybe it’s Lewis’ willingness to give innumerable chances to players who are struggling rather than hold them accountable.  Maybe it’s his ineptitude to coach at the highest level during these “big” games.  Or maybe it’s simply he’s been in Cincinnati too long without any real measure of success when it counts.  Whatever it is, it’s very hard to imagine much will be changing in 2015 from a coaching standpoint when things have been consistent from this standpoint for numerous years now.

Continuity has been a staple for the Bengals for as long as most fans can remember.  The belief is that steadiness is way to combat tribulations.  Returning players and new additions will always help and should give hope to the organization and it’s fan base.  But continuity within the most influential leaders of a team often leads to consistent outcomes.  There’s a reason that historically great teams have benefitted from great leaders and it’s hard to identify Lewis and Dalton as such.  But when someone’s “back is to the wall,” things can change, and as the Bengals have no real commitment to either Lewis or Dalton beyond this year, who knows?  One way or another, the 2015 season will settle a lot of issues for this team.

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