The New York Jets take on the Cincinnati Bengals on the road today. Previewing this matchup, Patrick Judis over at Cincy Jungle was kind enough to answer a few questions for me regarding the 2019 Bengals.
1. The Bengals had a nice run from 2009 through 2015, making the playoffs six out of seven years and consistently fielding deep, talented teams. After 2015 the team fell off some, but was still competitive. Then came this year, when the bottom has fallen out. What are the factors that have contributed to the Bengals decline, and why has the team gone from mediocre to disastrous this year?
To understand how this bottoming out happened, I have to first explain that the Bengals pretty much pride themselves on trying to build their team differently than others. Mike Brown, his children and Duke Tobin (who is essentially the general manager without all the power or title) have spent a few years putting this year’s team together. They watched many of their young players get misused and hardly played under Marvin Lewis following 2015.
There is no way to confirm this, but based on their moves like extending struggling players with multi-year contracts like right tackle Bobby Hart and recently departed linebacker Preston Brown, it is easy to assume the plan went liked this. After firing Lewis, they wanted to prove he was the problem with this team and not the outdated way it was constructed. They wanted to do this by bringing in a young bright mind like Zac Taylor, and then they did almost nothing in free agency in the way of tossing out money at free agents who could possibly elevate the roster’s weaknesses. Instead they brought in a few outside free agents and used the draft to try and address those needs instead. The front office wanted Taylor to come in and attempt to make the most of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green’s closing window, but as it turns out there were more problems with this team outside of coaching.
The front office put all their chips for this season on Taylor working a miracle, and that was unfair to the rookie coach. Other reasons include never having Green on the field, but if your team is only an injured wide receiver away from being this bad on offense, you have to look back at the way it was put together as the bigger issue.
2. The Bengals famously had a lot of patience with former head coach Marvin Lewis, who did well in the regular season but did not win in the playoffs. The team replaced Lewis with Zac Taylor in 2019 and the team has collapsed. Is there any chance Taylor is already on the hot seat, and if not, how long do you think the Bengals will be patient with Taylor before he has to make the team competitive?
I don’t see Taylor being on the hot seat right now. The team will hopefully give him a little more to work with via free agency this offseason as it is obvious how badly this roster needs to be gutted in certain areas. He is also probably a great candidate to roll whatever rookie quarterback they choose early (most likely Joe Burrow) into the future.
Taylor won’t have the same long leash that Lewis had. Many forget how quickly he had the Bengals back to being a respectful team after decades of ineptitude. That was a large part of why Brown trusted him so much. Taylor will have to earn that trust over the next few seasons. If he can’t make a playoff appearance from 2020 to 2022 then that is probably when Brown will pull the plug.
3. The most important position on the field is the quarterback, where the Bengals seem to be ready to move on from long time starter Andy Dalton. Will the Bengals be taking a quarterback with their first round pick in the 2020 draft, and if so, which quarterback would you prefer from the draft?
Many Bengals fans (who are also Ohio State fans) are still holding out hope the team will select Chase Young, but Cincinnati has to take a quarterback. That quarterback also probably needs to be Joe Burrow at this point. Tua Tagovailoa’s injury unfortunately probably took him out of the running. The Bengals just can’t afford to risk that kind of a pick on a quarterback with such an unfortunate injury history. Burrow is by no means a consolation prize. He has been on fire all season, and with more people talking about how he has been a film guru over his time at LSU, it has to have fans feeling pretty good about the possibility of him taking the Bengals into their next era.
4. The Bengals offense has been unable to get untracked this year, but the defense has seen much improved results the last few weeks. What has caused the improvements on defense, and are you confident that at least the defense is headed in the right direction for the years to come?
There are still some fundamental things wrong with this defense, but they have really been playing hard the past few weeks. One big thing was playing rookie linebacker Germaine Pratt more. He has been solid in coverage, and that is something the Bengals just haven’t had at that position much the past few years. They have also been able to get pressure on the quarterback more consistently the past few weeks, and defensive end Carl Lawson (who is finally back to looking healthy) has been a huge part of that. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard’s contribution as the slot corner, and his ability to tackle also hasn’t been talked about enough over the past few weeks.
There are still plays where it just looks confusing as to what the defense is trying to do, but overall I feel like the personnel is their for the future.
5. If you were the opposing head coach, how would you best attack the Bengals on offense and on defense? Who would you key on to try to neutralize on both sides of the ball?
When attacking the Bengals’ defense, the biggest and easiest target is linebacker Nick Vigil. He is a fairly sure tackler when he can get his hands on someone, but his agility and coverage abilities are lacking. The Jets should run as many outside runs where he is the unblocked defender as possible. They should also try to isolate Le’Veon Bell in coverage on him.
As far as attacking this offense, you have to takeaway running back Joe Mixon and wide receiver Tyler Boyd. Those are the two biggest offensive threats. As a defense you have to make everyone else beat you. Over the first 11 games, the Bengals have failed to do that.