2018 Season Recap: Cincinnati Bengals

2018 SEASON RECAP: CINCINNATI BENGALS

Hello r/NFL! My name is Alex and I’m a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals. That’s my Sad Fans Anonymous intro. Today I’m bringing you a recap of our 2018 season and how a promising early season quickly turned disastrous. Sorry to Who Dey nation for making you relive this, I certainly had some bad flashbacks. I have never written anything like this before (and I’m sure it shows, so please forgive any errors) but I saw that it had been nearly a month and no one had written one yet. I went ahead and did it myself so we weren’t left out. I actually had a lot of fun writing this and digging into the season. Spoiler alert: It is a really long analysis so I’ll provide a (somewhat) brief summary at the beginning if you just want the highlights. I’ll also note that while I wrote most of this after free agency started, I did it from the perspective of before free agency.

Summary

6-10 (1-5) 4th in AFC North

Started off by hiring new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin of the Lions after Jon Gruden “poached” away our previous DC, Paul Guenther. We were able to acquire Preston Brown (LB) and Cordy Glenn (OT) in the offseason to really help shore up some glaring weaknesses. That was followed up by a strong Day 1 and Day 2 of the draft in which we got Billy Price (C), Jessie Bates III (S), and Sam Hubbard (DE). All of them played significant time and Bates and Hubbard were really impressive as rookies. The season started off strong with nice victories over the Colts in Andrew Luck’s return and a promising looking Ravens team. That got some people talking about us in a good way for once. Lost at Carolina. Won in dramatic fashion at Atlanta, but lost Tyler Eifert to another injury in that game. The defense single-handedly beat the Dolphins and were riding high at 4-1. Then our hearts were broken when the Steelers came to town and came back at the last minute to beat us. Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs throttled us in a primetime game. Almost let Fitzmagic do his thing and come back to beat us but we barely held on. AJ Green got hurt that game, however, and missed some time. That would be our last win for over a month as we proceeded to get manhandled by the Saints, gave Lamar Jackson his first win in his first start, struggled mightily against the Browns, did nothing against the great Case Keenum, and then actually kinda played good against the Chargers but still lost. We also lost Andy Dalton for the season in the first Browns game and Green went to IR after the Chargers game to add insult to injury. Or maybe injury to insult in this case. Thankfully, Tyler Boyd was having a breakout season so at least our entire receiving corps didn’t look like bums with Green out. Before we knew it, though, we were 5-8. The last win of the season came against the Raiders where Joe Mixon had himself a day. That was followed up by losses to the Browns and Steelers again to close out the season. And then wouldn’t you know it, Marvin Lewis was finally fired after 16 seasons. It would be an understatement to say that injuries hurt us (pardon the pun) in 2018. By the end, we had a franchise-record 18 players on IR, including our quarterback and top 2 receivers. Although the injuries sucked, they were at least not used as an excuse to write the season off and keep Marvin around. But in the wake of 2018, we were left with some serious concerns with the offensive line, linebacker room, and tight end group. The right side of the offensive line was, putting it mildly, trash. Our best linebacker all season was Nick Vigil, which tells you all you need to know about that. And then we had four tight ends land on IR and five overall are set to become free agents. The upcoming draft is pretty solid for all three groups so hopefully new head coach Zac Taylor will have his pick of the litter.

2018 Offseason

FREE AGENCY

  • Signed Chris Baker DT: One of the stars of Hard Knocks in Tampa a year prior, he didn’t even make it past the preseason. It was a typical Bengals signing. Older guy on a low-impact deal. Some thought he would start alongside Geno Atkins as the other players the Bengals had there were mostly unknown. Then Andrew Billings showed well enough that we decided to stick with the cheaper option and cut Baker before the season started.
  • Signed Preston Brown LB: I’ll admit, I thought this looked like our annual one-year deal to put a band aide on the linebacker spot as we had done for several years. But Brown was actually a younger guy and did some good work in his time with the Bills and I became less skeptical.
  • Signed Matt Barkley QB: Another guy that was cut before the season started, Barkley was brought in as the de facto replacement for AJ McCarron for the backup QB position since the only other backup was Jeff “Crazy Legs” Driskel, who has never seen meaningful snaps. Turns out, Driskel is a preseason showoff and did enough to push Barkley out the door.
  • Signed Moritz Böhringer WR: I remembered this guy from the draft a couple years ago and I thought he had a good story. I’m also half-German so I pulled for him then. He was really only signed for that extra practice squad spot that all AFC North teams got exclusively for an international player in 2018.
  • Signed Bobby Hart OT: Essentially brought in as a backup tackle competing for the starting right tackle spot in 2018. Friendly reminder that this was that Giants tackle that refused to play the last game of 2017. Maybe he just needed a change of scenery, I didn’t really think the right side of the offensive line could get worse. Narrator: It did.
  • Resigned Kevin Huber P: A fan favorite and a local guy (went to UC). He is consistently in the top half of the league’s punting statistics, so we were all at least a little relieved to see him stay.
  • Resigned Tyler Eifert TE: This was probably the biggest question mark in terms of resigning our own players. We all love seeing Eifert on the field, but we hadn’t seen him on it all that often recently. Given his injury history, the thinking was an incentive-based deal with lower guarantees. And that is exactly what happened. I’m a huge fan of Eifert so I was happy to see him stay on a team-friendly deal because he absolutely lights it up when he’s out there.
  • Traded for Cordy Glenn OT: I think this one shocked all the fans, and even many people outside of the Bengals but know about the Bengal ways. It was no secret that former first round pick Cedric Turnstile ahem I mean Cedric Ogbuehi became the biggest bust in recent memory for us (I haven’t given up on John Ross). But we got a solid left tackle for just moving down 10 or so spots in the first round. I liked the move a lot.
  • Lost Adam Jones CB: Good old Pacman. I don’t think many fans were that upset to see him go consider how old he was and that we saw his play fall off a cliff during the 2017 season. Had to get younger eventually with William Jackson III waiting in the wings to become a full-time starter. And boy are we glad he did.
  • Lost AJ McCarron: The guy who almost won us a playoff game. There was a significant group of Bengals fans that clamored for AJ to replace Andy Dalton as the starter. I wasn’t one of them, but I was a little upset to see him go considering how important the backup QB is becoming, a la Nick Foles. A shame that the Browns screwed up that last-minute trade that didn’t go through.
  • Lost Russell Bodine C: I feel like I can accurately say that no one was sad to see Bodine go. He had been one of the worst centers in the league for years but hey at least was on a rookie deal, right? Well that rookie deal expired and thankfully the Bengals weren’t dumb enough to give him a lot of money to continue to suck.
  • Lost Jeremy Hill RB: Good riddance. Hill had a stretch of 10 games or so as a rookie where he looked legit. Since then he had been an utter disappointment yet he was still started over both Gio Bernard and Joe Mixon. Not to mention how he fumbled away our first playoff win in over 20 years back in the 2015 playoffs.
  • Lost Chris Smith DL: Bengals fans loved this guy. We got him from Jacksonville for next to nothing and performed pretty admirably as backup defensive end. He’s a really good rotational guy but alas he became too expensive to hold on to after just one season in stripes.
  • Other notable losses: Kevin Minter LB (Jets), Andre Smith OL (Cardinals, but he came back for the 3rd time), Cedric Peerman RB (Unsigned).
  • We also released George Iloka (S) and Brandon Lafell (WR) before the 2018 season started. I didn’t mind the Lafell move since we have a ton of young guys that need to get going at receiver cough John Ross cough but I was upset to see Iloka go. He brought a good energy to the defense and I’m not sure how the coaching staff determined Shawn Williams was better.

COACHING CHANGES

  • Defensive Coordinator: For some reason, Jon Gruden wanted Paul Guenther, our 2017 DC, as his DC in Oakland and we weren’t really sure why. But nonetheless, Guenther’s blitzing scheme was not well-received by fans, so we didn’t shed a tear. The Bengals hired former Lions DC Teryl Austin to take over and we were very excited. Turns out, we were very wrong to be excited.
  • Offensive Line Coach: Paul Alexander had been with the Bengals for 20 some years and everyone assumed he had blackmail on Mike Brown because he had been straight up awful at his job. He whiffed on not only Cedric Ogbuehi but also Jake Fisher. In the same draft. He was replaced by Frank Pollack of Dallas Cowboys fame. Everyone liked that move. Pollack’s OL in Dallas was good to say the least so we hoped he could get the most out of our ragtag group of guys.
  • Other coaching hires: Bob Bicknell (WR coach, came from Baylor), Alex Van Pelt (QB coach, came from the Packers), Daronte Jones (CB coach, came from the Dolphins), Matt Raich (defensive assistant, came from the Lions)

THE DRAFT

  • Round 1, Pick 21 – Billy Price C: I was hoping they would get Frank Ragnow, but those darn Lions stole him the pick before us. But I did consider Price to be 1b to Ragnow’s 1a in terms of center prospects. This filled a huge need mostly because we didn’t really have a center on the roster going into the draft. The fans were a little shaky on him at first considering he had torn his pectoral muscle at the Combine just two months earlier. But he was good to go in time for camp.
  • Round 2, Pick 54 – Jessie Bates III S: Oh, this one gave me goosebumps. I went to an ACC school so I got to see him play in person a couple times. Safety wasn’t a massive need for us at this point as we had George Iloka, Shawn Williams, and Clayton Fejedelem on the roster. But he was a top 5 safety prospect that fell to the late-second round. Bengals love to go BPA, so this was a no-brainer.
  • Round 3, Pick 77 – Sam Hubbard DE: Essentially the poor man’s JJ Watt. And a local guy! Middle of the road athleticism, but the production was definitely there in college. Likely dropped to the third round as a result of not having freak measurables and being over-shadowed by Nick Bosa along that Buckeye defensive line.
  • Round 3, Pick 78 – Malik Jefferson LB: I thought Jefferson would’ve been picked up in the second round for sure. He was a bit raw coming out of Texas, but the athleticism was there. I thought it was another steal and this time at a position of need.
  • Round 4, Pick 112 – Mark Walton RB: This one gave me an extreme case of Pikachu Face. Already have Gio Bernard on the roster. Already have Joe Mixon on the roster. Glaring need at offensive line with some decent offensive line prospects still on the board. But we went with a guy that barely played his last season of college due to injury and was actually compared to Gio by many draft analysts. Reminder that Gio was already on the Bengals. Puzzling, to say the least.
  • Round 5, Pick 151 – Davontae Harris CB: Still not an offensive line guy but at least corner was more of a need than running back. Moderate production in college and okay measurables, about what you expect in the fifth round.
  • Round 5, Pick 158 – Andrew Brown DL: 5-star recruit coming out of high school and had middling stats at Virginia. Was thought he could play both on the edge or inside so he could back up both spots and be more versatile. But again, wasn’t an offensive line guy.
  • Round 5, Pick 170 – Darius Phillips CB: Two corners in the fifth but no offensive lineman? Okay then. At least Phillips was fast and could double as a return man. Decent value here.
  • Round 7, Pick 249 – Logan Woodside QB: The next Tom Brady?? Probably not. Woodside was extremely raw and was essentially just a camp body.
  • Round 7, Pick 252 – Rod Taylor OL: Finally! An offensive line pick! Oh but wait. It’s the seventh round. Taylor is at least versatile and could play either guard or tackle.
  • Round 7, Pick 253 – Auden Tate WR: Year of the Tater! A lot of us thought this was a sneaky good pick at the end of the draft. Tate fell because he is slow but he is a massive dude at 6’ 5” and we thought he could be a good option over the middle of the field or possibly convert to tight end.

Fun fact: Logan Woodside would become the only player out of this group to not make the Bengals 53-man roster or practice squad in 2018.

Weekly Game Recaps

The Bengals were hosted by the Colts and Andrew Luck making is return to football after more than a year injured. The Colts were obviously favored and looked to have control of things for most of the game. The first Bengals touchdown of the year went to none other than John Ross. Colts quickly got in front to 23-10, but the Bengals would go on to score 17 unanswered. The highlight being Clayton Fejedelem returning a fumble for a touchdown with Colts down by only 3 and clearly on their way to a touchdown to win it. Bengals win 34-23 and start out 1-0.

Ravens were obviously looking for revenge after the Bengals spoiled Baltimore’s playoff hopes at the end of 2017. AFC North games are typically hard-fought contests. This one didn’t look like it early on. The Bengals very quickly jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the second quarter, led by an amazing performance by AJ Green. But the Bengals let off the gas going into the half and allowed the Ravens to stay in it at 28-14. The second half was less exciting with the Ravens scoring the only touchdown. But that came with less than 10 minutes to go and brought the Ravens within 5. And then much like the previous week, the Bengals were able to force a fumble, this time by Shawn Williams, as the Ravens were driving for a game-winning score. Bengals win 34-23 and go to 2-0.

The clash of the Queen Cities. I was at this game and it was fun to watch. A lot of analysts had both of these times ranked very high. AJ Green made one of the greatest sideline catches I have ever seen. Both teams traded touchdowns throughout the game with the halftime score of 21-14 in favor of the Panthers. But the Panthers defense proved too much for Cincy to handle as Andy Dalton was picked off 4 times. The Bengals lose 31-21 and go to 2-1. Ryan Glasgow (DT) to IR.

Both teams fresh off a loss, this game would be a crucial one to win. Much like the Panthers game, both teams traded scores early in the game. Bengals seemed to be the hotter team going in to the second half until Tyler Eifert went down with a horrific injury in the third quarter. You could tell that deflated the team. But the defense was keeping Matt Ryan and Julio Jones relatively at bay. The Bengals offense, however, was not doing much. The Falcons took a 36-31 lead with less than 5 minutes left and dared Andy Dalton to lead a comeback drive in a big spot. Much to the dismay of Dalton haters, the Red Rifle did it! The Bengals slugged out a 16-play, 75-yard drive that include not one but two fourth down conversions, both to rising star Tyler Boyd. It was capped off with a clutch touchdown reception to a wide-open AJ Green with seven seconds left. Bengals grind it out to win 37-36 and get to 3-1. Tyler Eifert (TE) to IR.

This game made me nervous as the Dolphins seem to play well against us and were looking pretty good at the time, as we were coming home after a huge win. It was recipe for disaster. And sure enough, the Dolphins would lead the Bengals 17-3 going into the fourth quarter. But the Bengals defense really stepped up and scored two touchdowns, one by Michael Johnson and one by Sam Hubbard. There was a Mic’d Up clip of Dalton talking with Hubbard right after he scored the second defensive touchdown. “The defense is scoring more than offense!” said Hubbard. Andy stares at Sam for a second and just says, “The Bengals are winning.” I loved it. Bengals win 27-17 and move up to 4-1.

Steelers Week. Every Bengals fan favorite time of the season. The Bengals were skyrocketing up power rankings and we looked to be an actual contender. But the Steelers game was the true test to prove we were legit. The Bengals scored first and stayed competitive during the first half and got the break tied 14-14. The offense largely vanished in the second half but the defense stayed strong and only allowed 6 points after the half going into the final 4 minutes of the game. The Steelers were holding on to a 20-14 lead. Could Andy lead another dramatic comeback against a bitter rival with a little over 3 minutes to go? A defensive pass interference call and a couple of clutch catches by Green and Boyd and the Bengals were at the Steelers 11-yard line under the two-minute warning. Two plays later, Joe Mixon barrels into the endzone and the Bengals go up 21-20 with a minute and change remaining. Now could the defense do their part and just hold out another minute? No. No they could not. The Bengals forced an incompletion on 3rd and 5 with 29 seconds to go but Dre Kirkpatrick was called for a hold and the Steelers stayed alive. Ben hits JuJu for a huge gain on the next play and then Antonio Brown for a touchdown right after that. I still say JuJu should’ve been called for offensive pass interference on the touchdown play (don’t @ me Steelers fans). But nonetheless we still lost in dramatic fashion 28-21 and fell to 4-2.

Due to the success both teams were having, this game was flexed to Sunday night, which means the Bungles came out to play. Not even really play. They barely participated in this game. The offense couldn’t do anything against that awful Chiefs defense and the Chiefs offense was too fast and strong for the Bengals defense to stand a chance. Pat Mahomes and company tore the Bengals to shreds with over 500 yards of offense. Bengals get blown out at home 45-10 and move to 4-3. Mason Schreck (TE) to IR.

The Bengals desperately needed a win after the heartbreak against the Steelers and the embarrassment against the Chiefs. They started out looking extremely motivated. Mixon ran for two scores and Green and Boyd added one each through the air. The Bengals led comfortably 27-9 at the half. The defense was also looking sharp. Jameis Winston was picked off four times, one of those returned for a touchdown by rookie safety Jessie Bates. After that, Winston was benched for Fitzmagic and boy oh boy was he Fitzmagic. He was able to put the Bucs on his back and tied the game with a minute left. Needless to say, Bengals fans were getting real nervous. The game looks to be going to overtime but Andy pulled off another comeback (for lack of a better term given that we led by 18 at one point) and sets up Randy Bullock for a game-winning 44-yard field goal. But for the second straight week, the Bengals defense allowed more than 500 yard of offense as they hang on to win 37-34 and head into the bye at 5-3. AJ Green would get injured this game and be out for the next three. Carl Lawson (DE) to IR.

Chiefs part two essentially. The Saints were at their peak on both sides of the ball and the Bengals never stood a chance. The Saints absolutely manhandled the Bengals and were up 35-7 at the half, with Bengals only score coming off a John Ross touchdown. Crazy Legs Driskel eventually comes in for Andy since the game was way out of hand at that point. Driskel actually managed to run for a 27-yard score in garbage time. No highlights outside of that. Third week in a row that we allowed more than 500 yards on offense. Bengals lose 51-14 and drop to 5-4. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was fired the next day and Marvin Lewis assumed DC duties. Tyler Kroft (TE) to IR.

After a very rough three game stretch of just abysmal defense and terrible offense, this game was actually competitive. Also noteworthy, this was Lamar Jackson’s first NFL start. The Ravens game plan was to basically run the football down the Bengals throat. And damn did it work. The Ravens had two 100+ yard rushers and one of them was Jackson. Big yikes. There was a lot of back and forth in this game, with the teams trading scores. John Ross caught a really impressive touchdown catch that continues to give me hope that he isn’t a total bust and the Bengals actually led 21-13 in the third quarter. But the Ravens tied it up and Justin Tucker did what Justin Tucker does and nailed a game-winning field goal. Bengals lose 24-21 and fall to 5-5. Preston Brown (LB), Josh Tupou (DT), and Adolphus Washington (DT) to IR.

This game signaled rock bottom for the Bengals. Not to disparage the Browns, as they were starting to look like a competent team. But the Bengals really showed their ineptitude in nearly every facet and Andy Dalton was lost for the season in this game. The Browns very quickly jumped out to a 28-0 nothing lead and absolutely embarrassed the Bengals at home. Driskel admirably came in for the injured Dalton and he used his patented Crazy Legs to run for another score. But it was a fruitless effort as the Bengals were embarrassed at home once again 35-20, putting them below .500 at 5-6. Jake Fisher (OT) to IR.

Bengals fans were pretty numb at this point. Obviously, the offense took a step back, no matter how crazy Driskel’s legs were. The defense looked “improved” but I mean we were on track to be the worst defense in NFL history. You can’t do worse than that. Polish a turd, it’s still a turd. AJ Green would return this game only to reinjure his toe and land himself on IR. But Mixon and Boyd continued to do well with what they had. Bengals lose 24-10 and fall to 5-7. AJ Green (WR) to IR.

A competitive game despite all the injuries? Consider me shocked. A lot of field goals in this game as somehow the great Phillip Rivers could not figure out the “elite” Bengals defense. We had another John Ross sighting as he hauled in a touchdown. And the Bengals almost tied it up with less than 2 minutes to go but failed to net the two-point conversion and the Chargers would march the next drive to put it away with a field goal. Bright spot? Mixon had over 100 yards. Bengals lose 26-21 and arrive at 5-8, sealing their third consecutive non-winning season.

Only a team like the 2018 Raiders could make the 2018 Bengals look good. No offense Raider Nation, please don’t pillage my home. Mostly a ground game for the Bengals as Mixon tore through Oakland with 129 rushing yards, including two touchdowns and a 47-yard run. A couple young guys in Darqueze Dennard and Sam Hubbard forced some turnovers too. Alex Erikson also had a good looking 77-yard punt return. Bengals win handedly 30-16 and improve to 6-8. Malik Jefferson (LB) to IR.

The season of misery continued to compound on itself. The Bengals were getting shut out by the Browns until the fourth quarter. Jarvis Landry threw a 63-yard pass. That’s the kind of play the Bengals would give up at this point. Really nothing went well for the Bengals in this one. Mixon managed only 68 yards on the ground and no receiver eclipsed 50 yards. But hey another touchdown from Ross! See, he isn’t a bust after all. Bengals make it look like a close game but lose 26-18 and drop to 6-9, securing the third losing season in a row. Tyler Boyd (WR) and Dre Kirkpatrick (CB) to IR.

The Bengals could have spoiled the Steelers playoff chances in this one. I believe I speak for most Bengals fans when I say we would gladly sacrifice a few spots in draft position to prevent the Steelers from making the playoffs. And oh man the Bengals actually tried to. It was a massive defensive struggle with both teams going scoreless in the first quarter. But then the Bengals defense struck first and Shawn Williams picked off Big Ben and returned it for a touchdown. Bengals went into the half up 10-3 and actually had momentum. The second half was much of the same with only the Steelers scoring a touchdown and pulling ahead 13-10 after a field goal in the fourth quarter. Bengals responded with their own field goal to tie the game. And then Steelers scored another field goal and the Bengals were down 3 with just under two minutes to go. But Driskel had to rely on his Not-so-Crazy Arm which wasn’t enough to get it done. Bengals lose 16-13 and finish the season 6-10.

Highlights

  • Clayton Fejedelem returns a fumble to seal the game Link
  • AJ Green’s incredible sideline catch Link
  • A wide-open AJ Green catches the game winning TD with 7 seconds left Link
  • Jessie Bates picks off Jameis Winston and takes it to the house Link
  • Joe Mixon cannot be stopped Link

Lowlights

  • Antonio Brown’s game winning TD that broke the hearts of all Bengals fans and reminded them of that 2015 playoff game Link
  • Losing Eifert to a broken leg and dislocated ankle (Don’t worry I’m not going to post a link to that, just wanted to mention it).
  • Cody Core’s drop on 4th and 3 after it hits him in the chest (don’t let the video title deceive you) Link
  • Jarvis Landry’s admittedly great deep pass Link
  • Losing Andy Dalton for the year due to a bad snap. Please don’t hate on Billy Price

2018 Bengals Stats

Offense

(Per game basis)

Total Offense - 310.8 yards, 26th

Passing - 205.6 yards, 24th

Rushing - 105.1 yards, 21st

Scoring - 23.0 points, 17th

Time of Possession - 27:26, 31st

3rd Down Conversion - 37%, 21st

Defense

(Per game basis)

Total Yards Allowed - 413.6 yards, 32nd

Passing Yards Allowed - 275.9 yards, 32nd

Rushing Yards Allowed - 137.8 yards, 29th

Scoring Allowed - 28.4 points, 30th

Opponent Time of Possession - 32:33, 30th

Opponent 3rd Down Conversion - 49%, 32nd

Roster Review

The upgrade to Cordy Glenn at left tackle and Billy Price at center was noticeable. Glenn was injured some and never looked outright amazing, but that was actually a significant step up from 2017. Price showed flashes but got injured and missed half the season, with backup Trey Hopkins filling in and looking not half bad. The right side of the line, however, was a hot mess. Alex Redmond assumed the right guard spot and Bobby Hart the right tackle spot. Neither were remotely close to being even average. It seemed like you could rely on each of them committing at least two false starts and one holding penalty per game. Joe Mixon took a massive leap forward and looked like everything we wanted him to be, even with our below average offensive line. John Ross proved that he was, in fact, not dead and can sometimes catch a ball. Tyler Boyd stepped up all year even with AJ Green still in the lineup. He solidified himself as a premiere #2 wide receiver. Receiver Cody Core was given a larger role near the end of the year for some reason but showed that he clearly has bricks for hands and cannot be trusted. Tight end was decimated by injuries but CJ Uzomah performed well with an increased role. Andy Dalton started out looking like his 2015 self, disregarding that 4 INT game against the Panthers, but regressed back to average before ultimately landing on IR. After the Bengals played a primetime game against the Chiefs, the offense never really recovered and everyone suffered.

On the defensive side, there wasn’t a whole bunch to like. We had virtually no linebacker talent out there. Jordan Evans looked the most promising of the bunch but still struggled. And Hardy Nickerson had to have been the worst linebacker to actually start games in 2018. Despite all of the struggles at linebacker, third round pick Malik Jefferson basically never saw the field. And when he did, he stubbed his toe or something and landed on IR. But not everything sucked. Geno Atkins had a great year with 10 sacks but Carlos Dunlap had a somewhat down year. Sam Hubbard and Jessie Bates look to be the steals of the draft for us after impressive rookie seasons. Second year defensive end Jordan Willis also didn’t seem to progress at all but I would attribute this, at least partly, to Hubbard taking on a massive role as the year went on. And William Jackson was able to flip the switch and become a shutdown corner midway through the season. There are certainly some really nice pieces there, we just have to bring it all together.

Injuries really derailed this season. All three starting linebackers (Preston Brown, Nick Vigil, and Vontaze Burfict) missed multiple games. Andy Dalton, AJ Green, and Tyler Eifert all ended up on IR. Several other promising guys like Carl Lawson and Billy Price caught the injury bug early. It’s tough to say for sure how much better we would have done if we didn’t see one of the most injury-riddled seasons in club history but I think we would have won at least two more games with a healthier roster.

Coaching Review

In a word? Terrible. In two words? Excruciatingly terrible. I mean, you got this far. You saw how drastically our season flipped. You saw the offensive and defensive statistics. Marvin Lewis is notorious for not making halftime adjustments and it really showed this year. I point to weeks 2, 6, and 8 specifically. Weeks 2 and 8 are a little different than week 6 as the Bengals jumped out to massive leads early in those two games. But all three share the same story in the second half where the offense seemed to refuse to do anything until the last possible moment.

The offensive coaching is a little harder to judge as both our starting quarterback and star receiver were out with injuries for a good chunk of the season. Hard to succeed in that scenario. But there is one thing I can point to that is specifically a coaching critique. Joe Mixon. He proved in several games this year that he is more than capable of being the feature back and actually produced despite our offensive line struggles. But in critical moments like the Steelers game in week 6, he wasn’t utilized. Mixon was on pace for 120+ yards that game going into halftime. What happened in the second half? He ran the ball like only five or six times. Terrible personnel management. Shame on you Bill Lazor. Mixon is a peacock and you gotta let him fly. Also, have I mentioned how much a lot of us dislike Cody Core and don’t understand why the coaches believed he could be relied upon?

Defense is another story. Sure there was a gaping hole at linebacker pretty much all year. But the secondary and defensive line did not step up nearly enough, despite have good players in both groups. To me, that signals a coaching problem. Firing Teryl Austin halfway through the season helps prove that. Just look at that abysmal 3rd down conversion percentage. Unless it was something like 3rd and 65, I just assumed the opponent was going to convert. That is not a good look for your defense. Outside of Geno Atkins, there was almost no pass rush as they didn’t blitz all that often and that did no favors for the secondary. Oh and we were one of the worst, if not the worst, tackling defense in the league. There were actually reports during the season that practices started with several tackling drills. Seriously.

So with all that said, it was still a tiny bit surprising (at least to me), that Bengals finally fired head coach Marvin Lewis. Always assumed Marvin would leave of his own volition. I was happy to be wrong. And with Marvin gone, most of the Bengals 2018 staff went with him.

Upcoming Free Agents

Preston Brown LB

Darqueze Dennard CB

Kasim Edebali DE

Tyler Eifert TE

Jake Fisher OT

Bobby Hart OT

Michael Johnson DE

Tyler Kroft TE

Cedric Ogbuehi OT

Vincent Rey LB

Tom Savage QB

Andre Smith OT

CJ Uzomah TE

Quite a few free agents for us. But most are depth guys that are not likely to be resigned. The priorities should be Brown, Dennard, and one or two of the tight ends. Obviously, we need everything we can get at linebacker so Brown is an easy one. Dennard has slowly but surely become a solid corner and the stability on the backend would be great. However, he may have a steep asking price considering the importance of the slot corner in today’s game. And then we will actually have no tight end with experience signed so keeping at least one, preferably two of them would be ideal. I’d go for Eifert on another team-friendly, incentive-based deal and then Uzomah because I like his upside more than Kroft’s.

Team Needs

It goes without saying that our LB and OL rooms are not great. I would argue that any new player would be an upgrade at those positions but I don’t see the Bengals doing much in free agency, as is Bengal tradition. We’ll get a good number of our own guys then dip our toes into the market during the second and third waves of free agency. I rank linebacker higher than offensive line as a need but I don’t see them throwing dumb money at a linebacker in free agency. Granted, I don’t see them throwing dumb money at anyone because the Bengals are gonna Bengal but I digress. I’d rather them pay a premium for a right tackle in free agency as this a really good linebacker draft class coming up and Devin White could be sitting pretty when we draft at 11.

But after those groups, I’d say tight end could be next in line. Although it does heavily depend on who they resign. If we only get one of our guys back there, I say that tight end is in the conversation in first or second round. A lot of great guys going pro this year.

I know there is a huge sect of Bengals fans that are really pining to move up in the draft and grab either Haskins or Murray. I don’t personally see it as a need with Dalton signed for two more years on a team friendly deal and much deeper quarterback classes in 2020 and 2021 so we wouldn’t have to trade the farm to move up for one. But I do understand people wanting to move on from Andy as he likely won’t be getting much better. I will admit, though, that the thought of Murray at helm does make me a little bit excited.

Another need could be corner depending on if Dennard leaves or if the new coaching staff is fed up with Dre Kirkpatrick getting called for PI at critical moments.

Conclusion

2018 was rough for the Bengals and our fans. Lots of injuries. Lots of loss. Lots of sorrow. I’m hopeful that Zac Taylor and his new staff can bring a new life to our beloved franchise. I do think there might be too many problems that need to be fixed in one offseason to be really competitive next year, especially with a rookie head coach. But growing pains are to be expected. I think we have some really good players that will dominate or continue to dominate their respective positions for years to come but we definitely have an uphill battle. Who Dey!