Though the changes have been minimal in Cincinnati, the one off-season alteration that has generated optimism amongst the fan base has been the promotion of running backs coach Hue Jackson to offensive coordinator, a position vacated when Jay Gruden left to coach the Washington Redskins.
The primary reason for a hopeful outlook with Jackson coordinating the offense is his commitment to the running game. Going back two weeks ago, Hue Jackson mentioned in an interview on Sirius XM NFL Radio that the Bengals need to run the football more. These sentiments of Jackson’s go back to his introductory press conference, where, according to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Jackson said, “The offense can look different. At the end of the day it is about creating an opportunity to make our players special. We want to run the football and have talented players on the outside.”
Looking back over Jackson’s career and at his stints with the 2003 Redskins, 2007 Falcons and 2010 Raiders, there’s only one season of results that supports Jackson’s words: the 2010 Raiders. Oakland finished fourth in rushing attempts, second in yards, second in touchdowns, and second in yards per carry. Darren McFadden didn’t seem like an injury prone bust with 223 carries for 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns that season.
Were these numbers a fluke? After all, in Washington and Atlanta, Jackson’s offenses hovered near the bottom of the league in all of the aforementioned rushing categories. Neither of those teams had a running back go over 1,000 yards, and Jackson had Warrick Dunn to work with, a back who was coming off of three straight 1,000-yard seasons.
Jackson’s stops in Washington and Atlanta were the aberration. In 2011, when he took over for Tom Cable in Oakland, the Raiders still finished in the top ten in rushing, though McFadden did revert back to being an injury prone bust. Still, Jackson remained committed to running the football.
To be fair, during Gruden’s three seasons in Cincinnati, it’s not like he eschewed the run in a fashion that even Mike Martz would object. 2012 was the only season in which the Bengals finished outside the top ten in rushing attempts. The problem was the team finished in the bottom part of the league in yards per carry (27th, 20th, 28th). Their rushing touchdown rank also was quite pedestrian – not the type of output a running game needs to keep the offensive burden off a young quarterback’s shoulders.
One thing Jackson will benefit from with the Bengals is stability at the quarterback position. Since 2009, the Bengals have had only two quarterbacks start every game. In every season and every stop Jackson has been offensive coordinator or head coach, he has had two different starting quarterbacks. If Andy Dalton stays under center and Jackson stays with the run, the Bengals will be in position for a successful season.