The Cincinnati Bengals were among the top teams in the league during the 2015 season. How can they get back there in 2018?
The Cincinnati Bengals had a well balanced attacking offense in 2015 that had quarterback Andy Dalton in the run for MVP until he injured his hand with only three weeks left in the season. With weapons like wide receivers A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, and Marvin Jones it proved difficult for defenses to slow down the Bengals offense. Then you add in tight end Tyler Eifert who had a career season with 615 yards and 13 touchdowns which added to the firepower of the Cincinnati offense.
The Bengals running game was yet another threat with running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard each rushing for over 730 yards, Bernard adding 472 receiving yards as well. Helping make all of this possible, the offensive line was ranked one of the best in the league. Until Dalton went down with his hand injury, all things looked bright for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Cincinnati has yet to even reach the playoffs since the 2015 upset and leading into the 2018 season, there have been a lot of significant losses to what was once a great offense. Following the 2015 season, the team lost both Sanu and Jones to free agency. The running backs have failed to stay healthy or put forth much production and Eifert has been out for considerable amounts of time the last two seasons.
Last offseason the club lost both Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler to free agency forcing a shuffle along the offensive line. First and second round picks Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher have yet to prove reliable in replacing Whitworth and Zeitler and the offensive line was in turmoil last season. In order for the Bengals to get back to the playoffs and having a high powered offense, it starts with significantly improving the offensive line.
The team has already spent a significant amount of draft capital in building its offensive playmakers over the years and should not add to it this season. Taking a look at the Bengals offensive playmakers, here is a list of top round talent they have invested in.
Wide receiver A.J. Green – 2011 first rounder
Quarterback Andy Dalton – 2011 second rounder
Tight end Tyler Eifert – 2013 first rounder
Running back Giovani Bernard – 2013 second rounder
Wide receiver Tyler Boyd – 2016 second rounder
Wide receiver John Ross – 2017 first rounder
Running back Joe Mixon – 2017 second rounder
Cincinnati has already spent enough first and second round draft capital on playmakers for the offense and needs to provide some protection to be able to maximize those playmakers. They traded back nine spots in the first round to acquire Buffalo Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn this offseason which is the first start. There is still plenty of room for improvement as Fisher and Ogbuehi have not been able to develop (also both drafted in the first two rounds).
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The Bengals are in a good spot to improve this offensive line with four picks inside the first three rounds and at least two of those should go to the offensive line. Center, right guard, and right tackle all need improving after center Russell Bodine left to accept an offer from the Buffalo Bills in free agency. This is also the perfect season to be looking to significantly improve the interior part of the offensive line.
With a rich class of interior linemen, the Bengals could draft two in the first two rounds to be immediate upgrades over their current roster. Guys like Georgia guard/tackle Isaiah Wynn, Notre Dame tackle which would probably move to guard Mike McGlinchey, or UTEP guard Will Hernandez. There are also some solid centers that could be taken in round one or two between Iowa center James Daniels, Arkansas center Frank Ragnow, and Ohio State center Billy Price.
It would be an absolute mistake to draft yet another playmaker on this offense instead of bolstering the offensive line for new offensive line coach Frank Pollack to work with. Protection is the main issue for the offense and if they can get back to providing some production, this offense has the chance to flourish in 2018.
Cincinnati also needs to give some of these early round playmakers more snaps to give them an opportunity to succeed. Ross will be coming in for his second season after not catching a single pass his rookie year and dealing with numerous injuries. Boyd, a second-round pick from 2016 has yet to see many snaps in the Bengals offense but has shown some promise including his touchdown catch to defeat the Baltimore Ravens in week 17 last year knocking them out of the playoffs.
Mixon will be taking over the lead running back role after the release of Jeremy Hill who signed with the New England Patriots this offseason. If offensive coordinator Bill Lazor can spend this offseason to put together his own playbook and utilize these weapons properly, it could be a great year for Cincinnati. They still have a defense that can keep them in games but need an offense capable of putting up points. Last year, the offense ranked 26th in points per game with only 18.1. That’s a big dropoff from 2015 where they ranked 7th scoring 26.2 points per game.
The key to this year’s offensive success is building the offensive line and developing the young playmakers that they already have. There is plenty of potential in some of these young players but they need more opportunity. Lazor will also have to do a better job this season utilizing these weapons to their strengths and bringing back some of the aggressive playcalling that was there in 2015 under former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson who left for a head coaching position in Cleveland. Eifert’s health will be a huge part as well considering the struggle to push the ball deep without him on the field taking pressure away from Green and being that safety blanket over the middle for Dalton.