• The Bengals hired an impressive young coach in Zac Taylor, but between Andy Dalton's limitations at quarterback and Cincinnati's weaknesses at linebacker and at safety, the playoffs remain out of reach.
By Andy Benoit
July 16, 2019

The 2019 NFL season is just a few weeks away, so Andy Benoit makes a few predictions for each NFL team. Today he looks at the Cincinnati Bengals, who finished 6–10 and last in the AFC North in 2018.

Andy Dalton remains up-and-down in Zac Taylor’s Rams-style system. The shifts, motion and misdirection concepts brought by the new coach play perfectly to Dalton’s sharp presnap awareness, but the condensed formations help defenses disguise coverages and blitzes, exacerbating Dalton’s career-long struggles when the picture changes after the snap.

Joe Mixon rushes for more than 1,300 yards. He would have even more with a sound offensive line. Though 2018 first-round center Billy Price progresses, the season-ending shoulder injury to would-be rookie left tackle Jonah Williams and the unexpected retirement of long-time starting guard Clint Boling hurts. Veteran Cordy Glenn must move back to left tackle, leaving massive holes at both guard spots—a critical position in Taylor’s outside zone scheme. Mixon, however, is agile and explosive enough to compensate, and he builds on the improved decisiveness he ran with late in 2018. But overall, Cincy’s ground game remains a week-to-week proposition.

Tyler Boyd’s production declines. The shifty slot receiver had a breakout 2018 in which he caught 76 balls for 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns—and, just as importantly, regularly drew double-teams inside. But his lack of top-end speed becomes more problematic in Taylor’s scheme; Boyd still prospers underneath, but Taylor’s condensed formationing puts the slot receiver in more downfield route combinations.

The back end of the Bengals defense crumbles in the middle. Refreshed by playing for first-time defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, Cincy’s maddeningly inconsistent defensive line stabilizes, with strongman Geno Atkins remaining one of football’s best 3-techniques. But that is not enough to offset severe limitations at linebacker and strong safety. Third-round rookie linebacker Germaine Pratt, who originally played safety at NC State, gives Cincy its long-missing man coverage answer for tailbacks, but tight ends pose major problems as strong safety Shawn Williams’s performance remains wildly up and down (especially in zone coverage) and second-year free safety Jessie Bates, while solid back deep, is too small for those match-ups.

William Jackson gets rich. The corner played almost strictly on the right side under former coach Marvin Lewis, but the new regime decides to let him travel with smaller, faster receivers. This works well because No. 2 corner Dre Kirkpatrick is suited to travel with big receivers. The Bengals, who typically re-sign their own free agents, ink Jackson to a long-term deal after he plays out his fifth-year option season in 2020.

BOTTOM LINE: This franchise looks rejuvenated under Taylor, but more talent is needed before that translates to wins.

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