WR AJ Green by Ytoyoda Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic
If you look at the Cincinnati Bengals roster as a whole, there is no way this team should be sitting at 0-7 on the season. A veteran quarterback, a dynamic running back, an all-pro receiver, and a solid defense. Everything has just gone wrong for Zac Taylor in his first year in charge of the Bengals. Lets look at how Cincinnati can go from bottom dwellers of the NFL back to a playoff contention team.
Get Rid of Andy Dalton
Like many teams that are struggling to find their footing this year, it comes down to the play at the most important position on the field, quarterback. Andy Dalton has been serviceable in the past, but it is time for Cincinnati to turn the page on the “Red Rocket” and find a new signal caller in this years draft. Looking poised to get a top 2 pick this year, the Bengals will have at least two options to choose from depending on how the rest of the season goes. I mentioned in my Miami article that the best fit for the Dolphins would be Tua, and I strongly believe the better choice for Cincinnati would be Justin Herbert (Oregon) to lead this team into the future. Herbert has the prototypical size (6’6″ 237 lbs) and has proven that he can make plays without having the most talent at the skill positions. Herbert would have a great running back he can lean on as well as a true number 1 and 2 receiver (A.J Green, Tyler Boyd) to help him grow and develop, even if he is thrust into the starting position week 1. Joe Burrow (LSU) could also be considered here, but Herbert has the body of work over 3 full seasons rather than 2 for Burrow. Herbert could be the start of the process, but other pieces are going to have to fall into place.
Fix the Offensive Line
Putting all of the blame on Andy Dalton might seem a little bit harsh. The offensive line has done him no favors ranking 4th in sacks given up and hits on the quarterback this season. In fact, Pro Football focus has the Cincinnati offensive line ranked second to last when it comes to average grade. The only team lower, Miami. I am aware that Cincinnati is not the premier free agent destination, but they are going to need as much on the offensive as they can possibly attract to help whichever young quarterback they end up taking at the top of the draft. The offensive line class for the NFL draft is not as strong as previous years so starters may be tough to come by other than in free agency.
Find Playmakers on Defense
It would not be the worst thing in the world if the offense was the only part of the ball with struggles, but combined with a defense that ranks dead last in yards per game, penalties, T-29th in interceptions, and 28th in sacks does not breed a winning mentality. Sam Hubbard has produced some for the defensive line as well as Geno Atkins (both have 3 sacks a piece), but Atkins and Carlos Dunlap are on the wrong side of 30 and the young guys on the defensive line have not produced as expected. The 2 starting safeties are the two leading tacklers on the team, which screams that ball carriers are getting to the second level of the defense way more often than they should. Cincinnati has never had the most impressive defense in the NFL, but a few quality playmakers from this draft class could build a foundation around Hubbard, Sean Williams, and Jesse Bates.
Cincinnati is going to take a couple of years to build up the offensive line and defensive back 7. AJ Green is 31 so his window is ticking and, with his recent string of injuries, his time might be coming sooner rather than later. A change in quarterback, linebacker, and at least one corner could really change this team around to compete in the AFC North.