Our 2019 NFL Preview continues with our trek through the AFC North bringing us to the Cincinnati Bengals, who are entering into a bold, new era after finally parting ways with Marvin Lewis, who had spent the previous sixteen years with the Franchise. However, after a third consecutive season without the Playoffs, the club ultimately decided that it was time to go in a different direction, tabbing Zac Taylor as their new Head Coach. The former Rams’ Assistant appears to have his work cut out for him in rebuilding a roster that has already been beset by injuries to key personnel. Facing adversity at such an early stage of his tenure, will Taylor and the new regime be able to turn things around? Let’s pull back the curtain and see what 2019 has in store for the rebuilding Bengals…
A New Era
After sixteen seasons in Cincinnati, Marvin Lewis was finally relieved of his duties after his charges crashed to a 6-10 finish, leaving them out of the Playoffs for a third straight year. Needless to say, this change was a long time coming, particularly given the criticism that Lewis had earned due to his lack of postseason success; the longtime Head Coach went 131-122-3 in his time with the Franchise, though was an unremarkable 0-7 in the Playoffs. And thus the team’s Owner, Mike Brown, underwent his first coaching search in well over a decade, ultimately settling upon Zac Taylor, who had spent the last two years coaching up Receivers and Quarterbacks for the Los Angeles Rams. It can be debated that this hire was met with as much criticism as Brown’s continuous support of Lewis over the past few years, largely due to it being perceived to be following the recent trend of hiring young, offensive-minded coaches, particularly those who had worked under the Rams’ Sean McVay. At 36-Years Old, Taylor lacks any Head Coaching experience on any level, and hasn’t even served as a Coordinator in the NFL, though his time working under McVay and further mentoring Jared Goff over the past two years is no doubt what attracted the interests of Brown. Now, he’ll have to prove that he’s capable of not just sorting out an Offense that had grown stale in 2018 (328.2 Y/G, 26th Overall), but also a Defense that relinquished the most Total Yards in the league last season (413.7 Y/G). To coordinate that particular side of the football, he brought in a familiar face, Lou Anarumo, whom he worked with in Miami from 2012 to 2015. The 52-Year Old has spent the last seven years coaching Defensive Backs, most recently with the New York Giants in 2018, and will be leaned upon heavily this season, as Taylor looks to rebuild a team that has been in decline for years.
Behind the Curve
As if rebuilding a declining team isn’t difficult enough, the fact that Taylor and his Staff must do so without a number of their prominent figures has made the task all the more arduous. The first blow came in the form of their First Round Pick, Jonah Williams, tearing the labrum in his shoulder, forcing the Offensive Lineman to undergo season-ending surgery. Widely-regarded as the top technician at his position in the NFL Draft, the Alabama product was expected to slot in at either Right Tackle or Guard in 2019, further stabilizing a unit that underwent massive changes a year ago. In his absence, Taylor will have to get creative in regards to his protections, particularly when you consider that the club will be without the services of their top playmaker, A.J. Green (46 REC, 694 YDS, 15.1 Y/R, 6 TD) for at least the first month of the season due to torn ligaments in his ankle. The seven-time Pro Bowl Receiver missed seven games last season thanks to a sprained toe, leading to career-lows in Receptions (46) and Receiving Yards (694), and was also the subject of persistent trade rumors around the NFL Draft, though Taylor & Co. ultimately relented. Needless to say, the veteran’s importance to the team is rather significant, with Cincinnati going 5-4 in the nine games that he managed to suit up, averaging 25.7 Points per Game in the process, in comparison to 19.6 Points and a 1-6 record without him. Add former Pro-Bowl Tight End, Tyler Eifert (15 REC, 179 YDS, 11.9 Y/R, 1 TD), to the list of players who are expected to be MIA come September, still recovering from surgery to repair a broken ankle that cost him all but four games in 2018. Since hauling in Thirteen Touchdowns back in 2015, Eifert has struggled to remain healthy, playing in just fourteen games over the last three years, only four of which were Starts. And then there’s another Pass-Catcher, John Ross (21 REC, 210 YDS, 10.0 Y/R, 7 TD), who after being selected Ninth Overall back in 2017, has mustered a disappointing Twenty-One Catches for 210 Yards over the past two seasons, frequently hampered by injuries. There is no doubt that Taylor would relish the thought of having all of these players available to him at the same time, though if the past has taught us anything, the prospects of that actually happening are rather low.
Dalton’s Last Stand?
There are generally a few checkpoints that can be expected from a new regime when rebuilding a team, and at some point the incoming group of decision-makers must come to a conclusion at Quarterback. Do we maintain our Signal-Caller and stay the course, or do we say goodbye and develop a replacement? That is where the Bengals find themselves at this stage of their rebuilding process, with Taylor set to evaluate his veteran Quarterback, Andy Dalton (61.9%, 2,566 YDS 6.24 NY/A, 21 TD, 11 INT, 64.6 QBR). Apart from the aforementioned Lewis, no figure in the Bengals’ organization has served as a greater posterboy for their postseason struggles than the 32-Year Old, who has enjoyed numerous highs and lows during his eight years with the Franchise. In truth, the three-time Pro-Bowler was in the midst of a bounce-back season in 2018 before tearing ligaments in his right thumb, ending his campaign, along with his team’s Playoff hopes. Now, the pressure will be on Dalton to impress the new Coaching Staff enough to keep his job heading into 2020, which is coincidentally the final year of his contract. Basically, if he wants a lucrative Extension, then he’s going to have to earn it. Unfortunately, as we detailed earlier, he’s likely to have far from a full complement of pieces around him, which could hinder his acclimation to Taylor’s system. If the new Head Coach can build the chemistry with his Quarterback that he enjoyed with Goff and the Rams, then it will likely go a long way towards cementing the veteran’s future in Cincinnati, otherwise the Bengals will very much be in the market for a new Starting Quarterback, most likely in the 2020 NFL Draft.
2019 Forecast: 4-12
In a move that came arguably two years too late, the Cincinnati Bengals have finally entered into a new era post Marvin Lewis. As relieving as that may sound for the fanbase, the uncertainty of this new regime may in fact give them pause. There is plenty of concern of the ever-frugal Mike Brown settling upon Zac Taylor to spearhead this new rebuilding project, with many in the football world openly criticizing the trendy hire of yet another Sean McVay Assistant. Make no mistake about it: this is a risk for the Bengals, for there is a great chance that the Rams’ success over the past few years is due to McVay’s stratagem, with the likes of Taylor simply along for the ride. Mentoring a group of Quarterbacks is very different from leading an entire team, and it should be fairly evident sooner rather than later if the 36-Year Old is indeed up for the total package. The fact that he’ll be without the services of so many key players certainly doesn’t help matters either. While the schedule isn’t particularly daunting, Cincinnati won’t be playing with a full deck early on, and with the rest of the AFC North having improved there is likely to be some significant growing pains in this stage of their rebuild. With that said, keep an eye on Green, who was nearly moved at the NFL Draft, and depending on where his team stands come October, could very well be traded away for assets to further the process along. Bengals fans have been hoping for a revolution for years now, though they may not find this particular revolution to their liking…