When a team scores nine points and zero touchdowns in the season’s first eight quarters (all at home, no less), frustrations will boil over and heads are liable to roll. Usually it’s the quarterback’s. But in Cincinnati it was the offensive coordinator’s, Ken Zampese, who had been the QB coach since 2003 before taking over as OC in 2016.
Former Dolphins OC, Bill Lazor, is now The Guy. Like Zampese, Lazor had been coaching Cincy’s quarterbacks, and he knows what it’s like to get fired midseason. The Dolphins, amidst a tumultuous 2015 campaign, canned him that November after his 27th game calling plays.
Friday’s move was more about replacing Zampese than promoting Lazor. Few organizations value coaching staff continuity as much as the Bengals do. Marvin Lewis—who, it must be noted, is in a contract year—almost always promotes from within. Lazor didn’t join the team until last season. Unlike Zampese, he isn’t deeply rooted in the intricate, run-pass balanced system of predecessors Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson.
When Lazor was hired in Miami, coaches across the NFL wondered aloud what kind of system he would run. At league gatherings, Lazor, a soft-spoken but affable guy, stayed buttoned up. He’d been on a variety of staffs, including Chip Kelly’s in Philadelphia, as the quarterbacks coach.
Many suspected Lazor would feature a lot of Kelly’s horizontal spread concepts. He did, most notably in the ground game and with all of Miami’s pre-snap shifting and motioning. The pre-snap movement gave an offense the illusion of complexity. But the reason Kelly’s men could always do it and also play fast was that, once the ball was snapped, the scheme was quite simple.
This is what Lazor will aim for in Cincinnati. It’s unrealistic to become a Chip Kelly-styled offense midstream, and it’s unlikely that Marvin Lewis would want to play that fast. (The Bengals almost always register between 55 and 65 snaps a game.) But pre-snap motion is already a meaningful part of Cincinnati’s offense. Lazor should expand this in an effort to simplify other departments. The Bengals will have fewer plays in their game plan, but they’ll run those plays from a variety of different formations: More for the defense to digest, less for the offense to master.
Zampese, the son of longtime NFL play-caller Ernie, has long been a respected quarterback tutor. But he’s also known for being intensely analytical. There was some sense that, schematically, he tried to do too much. That’s not ideal for Andy Dalton, another known analyzer, who has a reputation for explaining every detail of every play—even the ones where athletic instincts should just take over. By keeping a litany of formations, but also scaling back the game plans, Lazor can halt some of the ever-grinding gears in Dalton’s head. At least, that’s what Lewis and the Bengals hope.
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