The Cincinnati Bengals are an interesting study. They had a decent draft, but not-so-decent free agency. They were able to keep several of their players, but they didn’t bring in much from the outside. They (finally) dumped Marvin Lewis as head coach but go Zac Taylor to replace him. Taylor was a hot candidate but he has only five games (yes games) experience calling plays at the NFL level. It’s clear the Bengals want to go the same route the Los Angeles Rams did with their hire, getting a young offensive mind to lead this team, but Taylor seems like he’d need a year or two as an offensive coordinator in the NFL to really be flashy.
That’s just nitpicking though. Lewis had to go. The Bengals had so much talent in 2015 and some of it (namely that nice wide receiver corps behind A.J. Green) has been gutted and off the team. With a new and young coach along with a erratic quarterback in Andy Dalton, and a running game that needed severe overhauls, the Bengals head into a rebuilding phase. Their offensive line wasn’t awful, allowing 37 sacks and 71 hits, but it still needs work, especially with all the retoolings it made. PFF has its pass blocking ranked 24th, that’s not enough to win football games.
Their back-half rankings don’t end there. The Bengals offense managed 1682 rushing yards, enough to put them at 21st in the league. Joe Mixon was the clear star, getting 1168 yards in 2018 with only 14 games played. The Bengals run game could have been improved had Mixon not been out with a knee injury.
But the clear star of the show was the Bengals defense which brings reminders of when Jim O’Neil was the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. Under Marvin Lewis, who also served as defensive coordinator, the Bengals were ranked dead last in pass defense, allowing 4414 yards to their opponents. That’s not the only thing they were last in, they are also ranked 32nd in total yards allowed with 6618. Rushing, the Bengals rank 29th, allowing 2204 yards. Oh and they are 30th in points allowed. They almost as bad as the 2016 49ers. Almost.
Marvin Lewis is a defensive mind and these were the numbers he turned in. This is why he doesn’t have a job anymore. So how did they address this?
Round 1: Jonah Williams (OT)
Round 2: Drew Sample (TE)
Round 3: Germaine Pratt (OLB)
Round 4: Ryan Finley (QB)
Round 4: Renell Wren (DT)
Round 4: Michael Jordan (C)
Round 6: Trayveon Williams (RB)
Round 6: Deshaun Davis (ILB)
Round 6: Rodney Anderson (RB)
Round 7: Jordan Brown (CB)
Notable free agent acquisitions
John Miller (G)
B.W. Webb (CB)
Kerry Wynn (DE)
Not too many flashy moves in free agency. I do like the John Miller acquisition. Tight end Tyler Eifert also re-signed with the team which will be a good crutch as Drew Sample gets ready to go. They didn’t spend much money in free agency because they are a long ways away from being competitive to put it mildly.
I do love the draft they had though. It’s not a earth shattering group of selections, but it’s a solid board. Jonah WIlliams was one of my favorite players and will be a great source of protection for whoever they put behind center. Ryan Finley in the fourth round is a decent pick for quarterback. If he doesn’t work, the Bengals didn’t burn a first round pick for a signal caller. Germaine Pratt and Deshaun Davis will both be interesting to watch.
I wasn’t sure about was Drew Sample who was an obvious reach. Even he didn’t think he’d go that early. I also don’t understand the numerous running backs towards the end, especially with Joe Mixon tearing it up. Though Mixon can’t be trusted with his character and behind him, there’s not much, so maybe they were looking to get some depth.
I said the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were rebuilding similar to the 49ers and the Bengals may be on that same path. I like the defensive additions the Bengals have made, but going from dead-last in some of those categories to a respectable ranking isn’t going to happen overnight or in one season.
Jimmy Garoppolo has to be licking his lips at the pass numbers the Bengals could allow. Sure they got some cornerbacks in the offseason, but Kyle Shanahan’s scheme against the worst pass defense in 2018? That can be very fun. The fact the Bengals can’t defend the run well is only going to make things even worse for them that day.
On the flipside, the Bengals aren’t the greatest running the ball. The 49ers were 14th in run defense and they only got better with what they did in free agency. The passing offense of the Bengals will be a be a nice way to gauge if the 49ers secondary has improved at all. Ranked 24th against a secondary that busted coverages all through 2018 will see if the 49ers can put a stop to their issues and keep the Bengals from throwing it all over the place.
If the 49ers defense can show up, there’s no doubt Kyle Shanahan and the offense can devise some schemes to leave the Bengals reeling. They will be a nice test to see where the 49ers are in 2019, take notes of this game, the 49ers can win it, but it will be an important progress report.