Bengals have to be better between the twenties

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 31: Running Back Joe Mixon
BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 31: Running Back Joe Mixon /

The Cincinnati Bengals were one of the better teams inside the red zone last year but struggled severely getting there.

The Cincinnati Bengals offense was easily the weaker side of the ball in 2017 as it ranked toward the bottom in multiple categories. There is plenty of blame to go around the offense for why it failed in almost every area last season. Between the poor offensive line play, lack of creativity and consistency in the playcalling, or injuries it was an ugly season to put it nicely.

It’s no secret that letting the Bengals two best offensive linemen in offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth and guard Kevin Zeitler go has hurt this offense’s production. Just about every part of the offense fell off in 2017 has a lot to do with poor line play. While the line played a huge part in the offense’s lack of production, it wasn’t the sole culprit.

Quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked 40 times in 2017 and was under pressure for most of the season limiting what he could do with the football. However, there were twelve teams that allowed more sacks than the Bengals last season and ten of those teams had more successful offensive production. The offensive line play has to get better but so does Dalton and the play calling to attack in shorter time instead of holding onto the ball too long.

Here are other ways the offense can become more successful in 2018.

Play calling has to be more creative

Cincinnati’s offense lacked creativity in 2017 and was very predictable. After the first two games of the season where the Bengals failed to put up a single touchdown, offensive coordinator Ken Zampese was the team’s scapegoat for the problem. Quarterback coach Bill Lazor was promoted to the position for the rest of the season and is the offensive coordinator going into 2018.

Without enough time to put together his own playbook, the Bengals offense still seemed to struggle the rest of the season. Ranking last in yards per game with only 280.5, it’s safe to say that the offense still needs improving. The team has made some adjustments already trading for offensive tackle Cordy Glenn from Buffalo and promoting the second year running back Joe Mixon to the starting role after not retaining running back Jeremy Hill. They also retained tight end Tyler Eifert on a one-year prove it deal for 2018.

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The team will likely add more offensive line help through the draft and with former Dallas Cowboys offensive line coach Frank Pollack joining the program we could see a big change from the line’s production. This will no doubt significantly improve the offense if there is better play in the trenches but it’s not the only thing that needs to upgrade.

With a full offseason to prepare, Lazor will hopefully become a better play caller in 2018 and help get this offense back inside the top half of the league. He will have to commit to the running game more in 2018 as the team ranked 29th in rushing attempts during the 2017 season. Even when the running game is struggling, sticking with the gameplan and continuing to run the ball will eventually break off a big run and will open up the passing game. Refusing to run the ball when it doesn’t work at the beginning of the game just lets the defense know exactly what you plan to do.

Mixon coming into his second year with the Bengals and taking over Hill’s spot as the lead back will give Cincinnati a big weapon in both the running and passing game. Head coach Marvin Lewis is known for not playing his rookies at a high level and we should see a huge increase in Mixon’s carries.

The offense has to clean up mistakes

Cincinnati’s offense struggled with penalties and turnovers way too often in 2017. It ranked 6th in the league of most penalty yards given up. Those kinds of mistakes have a huge impact on the offense. If there are constant penalties on your offense and the team is having to make plays due to longer downs, especially with terrible offensive line play, it makes it really hard for Dalton to move the chains.

The Bengals offense ranked 29th in third-down conversions only converting 33.7% of their third-down attempts. Most of that can factor into long third downs due to penalties. This team has to clean up their penalties if they are going to be a bigger threat and more successful unit in 2018.

The offense was also sloppy with the football last year. Giving up 12 interceptions wasn’t the worst numbers but fumbling the ball 11 times for the 8th most in the league is horrendous. Giving the ball away 23 times in a season is unacceptable and another area that the team needs to clean up if they expect to make a playoff run this year.

Playmakers need to make plays

Last but probably the most important is playmakers need to rise up in 2018. Tight end Tyler Eifert was out after only two games in 2017 making it difficult for the offense to succeed. Wide Receiver A.J. Green saw even more attention last year due to lack of other playmakers on the Bengals offense. Tight end Tyler Kroft had his best year with the team but most of it came inside the red zone. He will need to be better in between the twenties if he is called up again in 2018.

Cincinnati also has to find another playmaker to compliment Green on the other side. Wide receiver Brandon LaFell has been a consistent average second receiver but the Bengals need someone to step up in 2018. Second-year wide receiver John Ross and third-year wide receiver Tyler Boyd should see some extra snaps this season in an attempt to find more playmakers.

Next: Bengals are not in rebuild mode

Mixon will likely become a dual threat in the Bengals offense as he showcased his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. If they can find someone to compliment Green well whether Eifert is healthy for a full season or not, this Bengals offense should see a huge step forward.