It’s hard to remember a time when a Bengals season started on this poor of a note.
Two games. Two home games, against teams that went a combined 17-15 over the 2016 season. Nine points. The last Bengals team to go two consecutive games without a touchdown was the 2008 squad that started Ryan Fitzpatrick for 12 games. The last team to open a season with two home games and fail to score a touchdown in either was the 1939 Philadelphia Eagles.
It’s crazy to think that the Bengals can remain this bad, but they’re already in historic territory.
Four Quick Notes
• Almost as historic as the anemic start the Bengals’ offense has had this season was the immediate reaction made by the front office after Thursday’s game. In fifty years of owning the team, Mike Brown has never signed off on a mid-season firing of a coordinator, yet Friday came and offensive coordinator Ken Zampese received his walking papers.
Zampese joined the team as a quarterbacks coach in 2003, the same year that Carson Palmer came to Cincinnati as the first overall draft pick. He was elevated to offensive coordinator after 14 years with the team, having served under offensive coordinators Bob Bratkowski, Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson. After having success with Gruden and Jackson as internal hires, it was clear after 18 games with Zampese that the well had run dry.
Zampese isn’t a bad coach, he’s just a quarterbacks coach. He’s had success as one, and he’ll land on his feet as one in another NFL city. The Bengals, for their part, actually have to go outside at some point in order to find their next coordinator.
• Bill Lazor, the quarterbacks coach during Zampese’s stint as offensive coordinator, was promoted to fill the void left by the latter’s firing. A 45-year-old who has bounced around the league as a quarterbacks coach, Lazor himself was also fired midseason as an offensive coordinator, by the Miami Dolphins in 2015.
That’s not to say that Lazor’s tenure in the position for the Bengals is doomed, but he was essentially the Bengals’ only option. Of the six interim offensive coordinators appointed over the last two seasons, four were the quarterbacks coach of their team (Zac Taylor in Miami, Jim Bob Cooter in Detroit, Marty Morhinweg in Baltimore and Nathaniel Hackett in Jacksonville).
Ultimately, it may not matter. The chorus calling for Marvin Lewis’ job has grown louder over the past two weeks, and Lazor will almost certainly be swept out with him if Lewis has to be fired. It would be an unusually bold move for Mike Brown, but he’s already made one this season when he had to.
• It would make sense for quarterback Andy Dalton to be on some kind of hot seat after his nightmarish start to this season. According to several sources close to the Bengals – from Lewis to receiver A.J. Green to backup quarterback A.J. McCarron – that isn’t the case. Zampese has fully fallen on the sword, and the discussion about improving the offense has revolved around getting skill players more involved in the game plan.
That hasn’t stopped conspiracies from forming around changes at the quarterback position, however. Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk published a piece on Sunday suggesting that some in the locker room wanted the Bengals to pursue Kaepernick. George Iloka joined the Flying Pigskin podcast on Monday to shoot the rumor down, which is frankly more recognition than it deserved to be given. Even this five-line paragraph is pushing it.
• While the performance of the Bengals’ defense has been admirable in the face of an offense that refuses to score, their performance against Houston last Thursday was still disheartening. The book on quarterback Deshaun Watson was wide open quickly – he had about five skill position players available to him but only had eyes for DeAndre Hopkins. A stop on Houston’s last drive or not giving up a long scramble would have been enough to win the game, and both were fair requests. Even if the circumstances around them weren’t.
Regardless, this is a defensive unit that currently ranks seventh in the league in scoring defense, fifth in total yardage and first in pass yardage. All this with linebacker Vontaze Burfict having yet to return from suspension.
Geno Atkins: In the interest of only choosing one repeat selection from Week 1, Geno Atkins will get the nod here. Through the first two weeks of the 2017 NFL season, Atkins has looked like the most disruptive interior presence in the NFL. Unfortunately, of course, those performances are still buried under a couple team losses on the national radar. Atkins finished with a 93.4 overall grade per Pro Football Focus. J.J. Watt led Houston with 88.8, while second place for Cincinnati was Shawn Williams’ 81.9.
Jordan Willis: Filling in the for the injured Michael Johnson, Willis had an effective night rushing off of the right edge. He wasn’t remotely near as productive as Atkins, but his 78.8 PFF grade was only marginally below the 80.0 scored by Carl Lawson in week 1. It’s wasn’t a breakout night for the third-round rookie, but it’s a solid building block for a very young career. He’s a promising piece for defensive coordinator Paul Guenther – the question that remains is whether Guenther will remain around to use him.
Tyler Boyd: Boyd was held out of Thursday night’s game without an injury playing a role. It’s hard to believe that, in a game where Alex Erickson was targeted in critical situations, the Boyd that looked like a solid slot weapon in 2016 couldn’t have contributed. It’s fair to question Boyd’s role with the team going forward, especially with John Ross still needing to get on the field.
Andy Dalton: It’s hard to pin the abject failure of the offense through two weeks all on Dalton, but he has to shoulder some of the blame as the starting quarterback. Dalton’s game Thursday night was average, but he had to be more than average in order to win. If nothing else, he had to consistently find his established more-than-average players – A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert combined for only 109 yards on 8 catches. Both players, especially Eifert, haven’t been sufficiently involved in the game script over the past two weeks.
Four Things Looking Ahead
• The most recent parallel for the Bengals’ current situation on offense is what Buffalo went through in 2016. After two weeks of fielding a subpar offense, the Bills fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman and promoted Anthony Lynn, the running backs coach, to fill the void. Coming off an 0-2 start, Lynn refocused the offense to accentuate the strengths of the personnel and run-first mentality desired by then-coach Rex Ryan. Buffalo rebounded from 0-2 to 4-2, stomping Arizona and San Francisco and shutting out New England on the road.
Buffalo was widely seen around the league then as being the first team to hit the ‘panic button’ in that season, firing Roman for the sake of firing somebody. Others saw it as Ryan scapegoating his offensive coordinator for losses caused by his defense, or even ejecting coaches he wasn’t close to from a ship he knew was sinking. While Ryan was ultimately fired, Lynn became the interim coach and now coaches the Los Angeles Chargers. Before any of that, though, he provided the Bills with a rapid turnaround. It can happen.
• Traveling to Lambeau Field is a daunting task for any NFL team. For fans, it’s daunting to watch – especially for fans who don’t have any confidence in their team’s chances of winning. That’s an understandable place for Bengals fans to find themselves in right now, but perhaps the situation is better than they’d think.
The Packers are currently dealing with injuries to starting tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, as well as reserve tackle Jason Spriggs. Additionally, five Packers left Sunday night’s game against the Falcons with injuries – defensive lineman Mike Daniels, receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, cornerback Davon House and safety Kentrell Brice.
Obviously, the Bengals just came off a week where they lost at home to a team similarly emaciated by injuries. No amount of injuries can guarantee an outcome for a bad team, but they can provide opportunity for a good one. If the Bengals can, in fact, come out Sunday looking like a good team, there’s a chance they’ll show it in the win column.
• Around the AFC: five teams in the Bengals’ conference are currently sitting at 0-2: themselves, Cleveland, Indianapolis, the Los Angeles Chargers, and the New York Jets. Baltimore, at 2-0, has a perfect record as a result of beating Cincinnati and Cleveland. What this means in a nutshell: the AFC hierarchy is far from established. That may seem like an obvious truth of week 3 in the NFL, but it doesn’t always feel that way.
• Past the Packers, the Bengals head to Cleveland in week 4, host Buffalo in week 5, then have a bye during week 6. It’s entirely possible that Cincinnati goes into the bye at 2-3. Cleveland and Buffalo have one win between them over two weeks (against the Jets), and have both averaged under 20 points per game. Again, they’re not hand-outs, but the Bengals don’t have to become world-beaters to win them. They just have to play to the sum of their parts.
– Andrew Hammel is the managing editor for cover32/Bengals and covers the Cincinnati Bengals for cover32