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Bengals: Worst Rushing Offense, Trading Andy Dalton

Our collective analysis and general consensus is that, and despite my efforts not to be too dramatic, Cincinnati’s rushing offense is one of their greatest embarrassments during Marvin Lewis 2.0 (aka, the Andy Dalton/A.J. Green era sporting a mostly boring offense with a reliable, sometimes game-winning defense); for reference sake, the Carson Palmer/Chad Johnson era (aka, fun offense and a terrible defense) was the original squad developed by Lewis (aka, Marvin Lewis 1.0).

Despite having three serviceable running backs — well, two since Jeremy Hill significantly depreciated after his rookie season — the Bengals rushing offense ranks dead last, averaging 70.1 yards rushing/game. There are several reasons for this, from misjudging the offensive line’s potential and talent, the noticeable lack of coaching, to schemes being used by the team’s offensive coordinators, first by Ken Zampese and now Bill Lazor.

Regardless, this offensive line is horrific on the ground. The Bengals yard/rush average (3.1) is one of the league’s worst and Pro Football Focus wrote that “they are the worst run-blocking unit in the NFL to date as they struggle to get anything going on the ground. This is highlighted by the fact that they average just 0.42 yards before contact on all runs, the fewest in the NFL.”

Before we dig into this, let’s do an exercise. Turn off your television, close your eyes, and dim all the lights. Meditate. Think about life. Now imagine a really bad rushing offense. No matter what you’ve imagined, Cincinnati’s rushing offense is actually worse than that.

For example:

  1. Nine games into the 2017 NFL season, the Bengals are averaging 3.1 yards/rush. Their worst yards/rush average was during the strike-shortened year of 1982, when Cincinnati averaged 3.53 yards/rush. Cincinnati’s worst average during a 16-game season was 2010, averaging 3.56 yards/rush.
  2. If this trend continues, Cincinnati will have the second-worst yard/rush average, among all NFL teams dating back to 2003.
  3. Cincinnati is on pace to generate 1,121 yards rushing. That will rank as the second-worst performance in franchise history, challenging 1982’s 949 yards rushing.
  4. To make matters worse, Cincinnati averaged 105.4 yards rushing per game in 1982, due to the strike-shortened season. This year Cincinnati is currently averaging 70.1 yards rushing/game. Their worst average before this season was 1995, when the rushing offense averaged 89.9 yards rushing/game.

Don’t expect much to change.

The talent level is bad and you can only conclude that the coaching is suspect (they’re just not improving). Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, former first and second round picks respectively, are facing the “bust” tag; save for Tyler Kroft, their 2015 NFL draft class is best described as a “swing and miss”. It’s mind-boggling that they continue throwing Russell Bodine out there… for four years! Andre Smith, an offensive lineman that unceremoniously departed for free agency several years ago (and no one cared), is back and arguably one of their more stable components (which is laughable).

In the end, this offensive line needs to be rebuilt.

Do it through free agency (unlikely), a couple of trades (even less likely), or the NFL draft. It doesn’t matter. This path they’re on is a complete failure, and that reflects on the coaching staff (unable to improve the players), scouting department (look at the personnel right now), and front office staff (unable/unwilling to hold onto veterans that departed over the offseason). If there’s a desire to redirect these horrific failings, then this roster needs to be broken down and reconstructed over the offseason.

ANDY DALTON TRADE?

Lost inside the heavy fog of Cleveland’s botched trade for quarterback AJ McCarron, was an unexpected “by the way” from ESPN Insider Adam Schefter.

Dalton is finished with the guaranteed money portion of his contract; his $13.7 million salary for next season is not guaranteed, and Cincinnati can trade or release him without any salary-cap charges, according to a review of his deal.

Dalton always enjoyed playing for Jackson and Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden, who both previously served as offensive coordinators in Cincinnati and who both could be in need of a quarterback. Both Jackson and Gruden liked Dalton as well, a source told ESPN.

Neither Cleveland nor Washington have reasonable long-term solutions at quarterback, from a lack of talent (Cleveland) to ridiculous costs complicating negotiations with the franchise tag (Washington). Both teams could have new quarterbacks next season. In addition, there’s familiarity with Hue Jackson and Jay Gruden, both of whom were former offensive coordinators in Cincinnati. There’s history. Hue Jackson, who nearly gave Cincinnati a second and third round pick for AJ McCarron last month, actually exchanged Oakland’s first round pick, and a conditional second, for Carson Palmer in 2011, who had refused to play for Cincinnati after 2010 and temporarily retired.  Jackson is perhaps Cincinnati’s best friend.

The idea of another trade is intriguing.

There are folks in Cincinnati that are ready for McCarron. And why not? Cincinnati’s problems have little to do with Dalton, but the Bengals aren’t going anywhere. There will be no playoffs. Their head coach is probably out after the year. Why not see what McCarron can bring to the table?

Can he outperform Dalton?

Who knows.

And that’s the point. Save for a stretch in 2015 when Dalton was dealing with an injury, McCarron hasn’t had the opportunities. Bench Dalton. See what you have in McCarron — hell, if Ken Anderson can be benched and then go on to have an almost Hall of Fame career, Dalton can too.

However, time is running out.

Cincinnati has seven games remaining this year and McCarron’s 2018 status is up in the air; is he a restricted free agent, allowing the Bengals to tender significant compensation if he leaves, or an unrestricted free agent that could leave with Cincinnati receiving zero (non-compensatory) compensation.

According to the collective bargaining agreement, a player earns an accrued season if he’s eligible to play six regular season games. McCarron, who was activated for practice on Nov. 18 in 2014 and promoted to the active roster on Dec. 9 (with three games remaining) argues that he was the NFI (Non-Football Injury) list far too long. Had he been removed from NFI and promoted to the active roster 2-3 weeks earlier, he could have accrued a season in 2014 and an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Both sides are headed to arbitration this offseason, which will determine his offseason status.

If McCarron plays and performs well during these final stretch of games, sign him to a multi-year deal, trade Dalton (someone will take him), with an aim towards developing another quarterback. You’re addressing both short and long-term scenarios.

This isn’t an attack on Dalton.

The veteran quarterback has been serviceable and you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone with more character. As a quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals, Dalton is not irreplaceable. At any point during any NFL draft, Cincinnati can draft someone capable of replicating most of what Dalton has done. Yet, he’s been in Cincinnati for seven years and the results have been mixed. He’s made the playoffs in five of his seven seasons, but is winless. He’s statistically comparable to the franchise best quarterbacks, but he’s playing in an era that passes more. Big games under bright lights seem to blind him. You’re rarely confident that, when the Bengals are facing a deficit, that he’ll singlehandedly mount a comeback. Yes, he’s led come-from-behind wins before, but those were more subtle surprises and not things you’d expect to actually happen.

What has Dalton done that’s irreplaceable?

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