The winds of change are blowing on the banks of the Ohio River, and it arrives in waves of irony. Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown despises change. It’s one of the reasons he stuck with Marvin Lewis for so long. However, after three consecutive losing seasons, even Brown couldn’t deny that it was time for a new direction. So out with the old school, defensive-minded curmudgeon and in with the young, offensive guru.
What does it all mean for a team desperately searching for a return to the playoffs and its first Super Bowl victory? The Bengals claim that new head coach Zac Taylor’s arrival means a “new dey” for Who Dey nation. There are plenty of reasons to think that the championship window could be opening in the Queen City.
Early indicators are good
So far, by all accounts, the change has been positive. Players have praised the new balance between offense and defense on the practice field. New defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo seems to have the respect of a defensive unit in search of a leader. And if minicamp is any indication, the offense will resemble that of the Los Angeles Rams. That’s where new head coach Zac Taylor cut his teeth for two years as a coordinator under the NFL’s current “it” coach Sean McVay.
Players are buying in
It’s clear that so far the players are on board with Taylor’s Bengals program. The number one indicator, however, is the fact that players want to return, especially on offense. Wide receivers A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd are both entering the final years of their deal, and both say they already want to re-sign with the team.
Green, considered one of the top receivers in the game, is beginning his ninth season with the Cincinnati Bengals and says he can’t see himself playing anywhere else. Boyd is coming off his first 1,000-yard season and loves being in Cincinnati. Though Taylor’s system will rely heavily on the run and play action, it is also dependent on playmakers at the receiver position. That is, ultimately, the point of all that play action. If Taylor thinks the receivers are a good fit in his scheme, look for the team to get both players signed before training camp begins.
In addition, during his June 10th appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio, running back Joe Mixon said everybody is starting to buy in and players are excited to be there. That’s a good sign for a team with just 19 wins in the last three seasons. Mixon thinks the rebuild will happen sooner rather than later.
.@Bengals RB Joe Mixon joined MTC to talk about his expectations for the 2019 season.
“We’re gonna shock a lot of people”
? Audio ? pic.twitter.com/MluEYn3OOD
— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) June 10, 2019
A young core is taking shape
Taylor inherits a team in transition, but one that is certainly not barren of young talent. In addition to Green and Boyd, the offense features third-year all-purpose back Mixon and an offensive line anchored by the team’s last two first-round picks in center Billy Price and left tackle, Jonah Williams.
The defense struggled mightily in 2018, but it was also riddled with injuries and an underwhelming coordinator in Teryl Austin, who was fired mid-season. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap are 31 and 30, respectively, but both are still seemingly in their prime. They’re surrounded by promising edge pass rushers Carl Lawson and Sam Hubbard. The secondary features one of the top young cornerbacks in the game in William Jackson III. Pro Football Focus ranked Jackson as the 22nd best CB in the league in 2018, and seventh best in 2017. He’s likely to regain top-ten status in 2019 with Anarumo’s emphasis on the secondary. Also, the team’s 2018 second-round safety Jessie Bates was named to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie team (along with Price).
Seizing a small opening
The 2019 Cincinnati Bengals still have a number of questions to be answered. Is Andy Dalton or 2019 fourth-round selection Ryan Finley the answer at quarterback? Can Lou Anarumo clean up the mess of a defense he inherited? How will the young team withstand competing in an AFC North division full of contenders?
Despite the uphill climb, it looks like the Bengals have done everything right to position themselves for future success. They have an energetic young coach that players are excited about. The roster is a balanced blend of veteran leaders and promising youngsters. The illustrious “championship window” we hear so much about just might be cracked open a bit for this team. Perhaps Taylor and this young core of players can push the window all the way open and do something Marvin Lewis teams could not: Win a playoff game and maybe, just maybe, bring a championship to Cincinnati.
Travis Yates is a writer for PFN covering the Cincinnati Bengals. He is also the co-host of the AFC North and Goal Podcast for the PFN Podcast Network. You can follow him @TheTravisYates on Twitter.