After another successful regular season, the Cincinnati Bengals staff will be looking over the performances. Bengals fans were treated to stellar performances on both sides of the ball. But before the 2016 season gets under way, the Bengals coaches need to fix a few things that will make or break the team’s chance at another great year.
There’s no denying the fact that the Bengals’ defense was the star of the year. Their performance started out big in Week 1 and seemed to spark Cincinnati the rest of the campaign. With the return of Vontaze Burfict, a good unit got even better. His energy and understanding of the defense made them a force to be reckoned with.
The date for Burfict’s return was a well-kept secret. Bengals fans anticipated his return against division rival Pittsburgh. They were right. The Bengals WILL linebacker made his leadership felt immediately. Before his return, the Bengals’ defense was allowing 21.2 points per game. With his first game back against the Steelers, the Bengals held their AFC North rival to 10 points. The average also dropped to 15.2 per game.
The Bengals’ defense is sculpted around the smart play of Burfict. He knows the game and what Bengals coordinators want from him. But he also knows his fire has to be contained and focused. The 2015 season will be remembered as a great comeback for him. But it will also be known for the year he lost his cool in the Wild Card Round.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is on the NFL Competition Committee. After the game, via the Cincinnati Enquirer, Lewis said the hit wasn’t over the line. But it’s something the league is cracking down on.
“He can’t have that kind of blow with the guy receiving the pass. The call was part of what football is now. You have to learn to play within the scope of what football is right now. When receiving the football, those guys are being protected. I understand, I’m part of why they’re being protected.”
Jim Haslett will be the new sheriff in charge of Bengals linebackers. He’ll have to find a way to get Burfict firing on all cylinders inside the parameters of the rules changes. Taking away the edge is not the option. The aggressive play is what attracted the Bengals to Burfict. But his temper will have to fuel his passion in ways other than penalties.
“He’s got great instincts. I understand he’s very, very smart,” Haslett said. “He’s very powerful. He’s one of the best tacklers I’ve seen in a long time. So from an on-field perspective, just watching tape and having not met him yet, I think he’s one of the top linebackers in the National Football League.”
The Bengals’ running game was woefully suspect at times. That could be due to the emergence of Andy Dalton as a passing threat, and Hue Jackson’s stubbornness. According to stats from the NFL Network, Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard both had over 700 yards rushing. Bernard was able to do more with his attempts, averaging 4.7 yards, while Hill logged 3.6 per run.
The running game will be instrumental, if the Bengals hope to make a repeat appearance in the playoffs. New offensive coordinator Ken Zampese will evaluate the situation and determine what can be done. The Bengals’ offense wasn’t extremely unbalanced. Bengals running backs got the call 48 percent of the time. Jackson set a nice foundation for the offense. Now, the key will be finding out how to revive a running game that has the weapons, but isn’t performing like it should.
To find perfect offensive balance, look no further than the 1995 Dallas Cowboys. They ran 495 times and had 494 pass attempts. Ken’s father, Ernie Zampese, was the maker of magic for the Super Bowl Champion Cowboys. Maybe he can get some pointers on how to fix the Bengals running game.
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