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No easy fixes for the Bengals

This week has sucked. Bad.

…yet, it didn’t start that way.

There was optimism. Excitement. Chills. Even a little giddiness. Entering the regular season, Cincinnati boasted a legitimate trio of running backs, a talented mix of wide receivers receivers (young and old), a top-flight defense, and the promotion of two high-round draft picks at offensive tackle. Youth was being served, promoted, and Cincinnati was entering another era in their illustrious history.

In addition, this was the second season for offensive coordinator Ken Zampese, who could find his zone as a play-caller and utilize his players better than last season.

It’s been a complete disaster.

Quarterback Andy Dalton appears to have regressed;he’s missed passes; including two deep passes to Cody Core against the Ravens and a wide-open Brandon LaFell against the Texans. And to his defense, there are mitigating factors that’s enhancing the narrative against him.

  1. The offensive line hasn’t played well;
  2. His offensive coordinator hasn’t shown an ability to adapt, or apply all of the tools at his disposal;

While many AJ McCarron fanatics want to use this opportunity to replace Dalton, Andy’s issues aren’t exclusive to only him — and most of these problems would STILL exist with McCarron.

Cedric Ogbuehi hasn’t played up to his first-round billing; there’s even a justified argument that Ogbuehi, a former first-round draft pick that was recovering from an ACL injury, is a bust. Jake Fisher is mostly known for being Hue Jackson’s big-man redzone receiver prior to settling into his role as the team’s starting right tackle. Trey Hopkins, a former undrafted signee, suffered a major knee injury during the regular season opener. Then there’s Russell Bodine.

Essentially, the offensive line is a mess.

Arguing unsignability due to age and/or contract demands, the Bengals allowed Pro Bowl offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth and offensive guard Kevin Zeitler to leave. Rather than making a conscience effort to replace them and enhance the offensive line, they placed their experimental eggs into a single basket, relying on players with significant inexperience and questionable talent to protect Andy Dalton, and to generate running lanes for their three-headed monster at running back.

Then there’s Zampese. After being shutout during the regular season opener against Baltimore, and failing to score a touchdown in their follow-up against Houston, Cincinnati announced that they’ve fired Zampese. Offensive coordinator responsibilities would be handed over to quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor.

Lazor was previously an offensive coordinator with the Miami Dolphins between 2014-15. Though Miami never ranked inside the top-10, when Lazor called plays for both seasons, quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 64.2% of his passes (755 of 1,176) for 8,253 yards (4,126/season) with 51 touchdowns against 24 interceptions for a passer rating of 90.8. Miami’s running back Lamar Miller had some success, averaging 4.8 yards/rush and scoring a combined 16 touchdowns.

However, the promotion isn’t about Lazor’s credentials (he was the most experienced play-caller on the staff); it was the exponential pressure to ditch Zampese (was it Marvin Lewis or the front office that made the call?). Following Cincinnati’s 13-9 loss to the Houston Texans on Thursday Night Football, reports emerged that head coach Marvin Lewis was facing a “near mutiny”, according to Pro Football Talk.

“After two home games only four days apart and zero touchdowns and nine total points scored, Lewis was facing a ‘near mutiny,’ a league source tells PFT,” Mike Florio writes. “The normally quiet A.J. Green publicly sounded off, and plenty of other players had plenty of pointed things to say privately, we’re told.”

Wide receiver A.J. Green was surprisingly vocal (raising an obvious red flag) following Thursday’s loss. “Andy missing balls here and there, we can live with that. When it’s crunch time though, we have to get our playmakers the ball. It’s simple as that,” Green said.

He’s right.

You have an All-Pro wide receiver in Green, former first round picks in Tyler Eifert and John Ross, as well as a former second-rounder Tyler Boyd (who led several receiving marks among rookies in the AFC last season), the reliable Brandon LaFell and Giovani Bernard, a threat to re-write all of the team’s receiving records for a running back.

Yet, tight end Tyler Eifert was targeted once (a four-yard grab), during Cincinnati’s shutout loss to the Ravens. He was a non-factor until the final drive of the second quarter against Houston, pulling down a 22-yard reception that put Cincinnati in position for Randy Bullock’s 29-yard field goal. Tyler Boyd was inactive with a hamstring, according to NFL Insider Ian Rapoport.

Head coach Marvin Lewis disputed that during the team’s postgame press conference:

Why did you decide to make Tyler Boyd inactive tonight?
“I can only suit up so many players.”

Was it a medical reason?
“No.”

That’s it? Okay dokey.

John Ross, making his NFL debut against the Texans, fumbled the football on his first touch. Texans defensive back Kareem Jackson used his helmet to jar the football lose. Rather than help re-build the kid’s confidence by putting your faith in him, the Bengals essentially benched him (he only played four other snaps).

“Obviously, we have to protect the football,” Lewis said after Thursday’s game. “Having the fumble like he did, with the way the ball bounced into the air, and it probably went to the one guy on the field that has the athleticism to score. He’s a young player, and we can’t do that. We’ve got to protect the ball.”

Did you hear that, John? You can’t fumble. Did you know that? Fumbling is bad.

This team has significant issues. Lewis is losing control of his team, staving off a “near-mutiny” by firing Zampese and this offensive line is a problem. We’re two games into this season and no touchdowns have been scored.

More importantly, they’re going to face another exodus by fans if this disastrous trend continues. When the Bengals finished 2008 with a 4-11-1 record, and then went 4-12 two years after that, fans left. Season ticket holders gave up their seats. Despite qualifying for the postseason for five consecutive seasons between 2011-15, fans have been slow to return; there’s absolutely zero confidence from this fanbase with this organization right now.

If this season continues this trend, then they’re going to lose more than just games.

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