Preseason predictions obviously don’t mean much.
Prior to last year, Sports Illustrated picked Baltimore to beat Seattle in the Super Bowl (neither team qualified) and had the Bengals finishing 6-and-10.
This year, I will not be surprised if most prognosticators expect the Bengals to win fewer than the 12 games they captured last season – after all, it’s hard to win that many – but I must admit I was stunned when one writer from NFL.com predicted that the Bengals will go 4-and-12.
His reasoning for the drop of eight wins is connected to the departure of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
For the record, I think Hue did a tremendous job in Cincinnati and was an excellent hire by the Cleveland Browns as their new head coach. But let’s take a look at some numbers.
Last season, the Bengals finished 7th in the NFL in scoring with 419 points. In 2013, Jay Gruden’s final year as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator, the Bengals finished 6th in the NFL in scoring with 430 points.
In other words, Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, and one of the league’s best offensive lines should help any coordinator have success.
“It’s the quarterback and the players all the time,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “Good players make smart coaches.”
Ironically, “smart” is among the first words mentioned when Cincinnati’s offensive players are asked about their new offensive coordinator Ken Zampese.
“He’s really smart,” said Dalton. “I think that’s one of his best traits. He understands by certain ways that guys line up how teams are attacking us and how we can attack them.”
“Coach Z is a real energetic guy,” said wide receiver Brandon LaFell. “He’s always upbeat and preaching this and that, but everything he says is gold as far as football.”
Maintaining continuity on offense was a key factor when the Bengals elected to promote Zampese from quarterbacks coach to coordinator. But will fans notice a significant difference now that Ken is calling the plays?
“They won’t notice anything different,” said Zampese. “We’ll do the same things that got us to this point. There will be some things that show up that may be different and highlight particular players. The offense is always driven by the skills of players and it’s a matter of how you get it to them.
“We have a couple of new pieces offensively, and I need to find out what those guys are, their skill set, and how to get them the ball.”
“He knows the type of players that we have and he knows what’s been successful here so there’s no need to change things drastically,” said Dalton. “There will be some new stuff and he’ll have his own twist on things – that’s just all part of it.”
While the X’s and O’s aren’t drastically different, there is a change in the offensive coordinator’s personality from the boisterous and extroverted Jackson to the analytical and businesslike Zampese.
“With every coordinator that I’ve had, there’s always a learning period where you learn them and they start to understand you,” said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. “That won’t be any different. But what I know about Ken from being around him for 11 years is that he’s going to give us everything that he’s got. He’s extremely bright and extremely talented.”
Hue Jackson has a unique ability to connect with the wide variety of personalities in a football locker room. Zampese says that’s just as important as anything found in the playbook.
“It’s up to you to reach them,” he said. “And whatever that means is what it means. It’s different with each guy. Guys are coming from many different backgrounds. It used to be that guys wanted to be like everybody else. You wanted to do what everybody else did and wear what everybody else did. It’s different now and that’s a good thing. And it’s up to us to find the good in it and not the other way around. Everybody has something to offer and it’s up to us to find it. The guys are here for a reason. They put something on tape and did something when we talked to them that made them exciting to us and we need to put it together in such a way that we get the best out of each guy and the best out of the group in the process.”
Zampese has been an offensive coordinator once before at Northern Arizona in 1985. Three years later he began his NFL career as an assistant in Philadelphia and now, after 18 years with the Eagles, Packers, Rams, and Bengals, he finally gets his chance to run an offense at the highest level.
“I am very happy that it’s here,” Ken told me. “I love being here and I appreciate the way the organization has treated me and my family – particularly in recent years. I enjoy our head coach a lot. I like his style and his delivery. He allows us to coach and do our thing and then he oversees it all. I really like the players that we bring in here and I think all of those things suit me. I like family loyalty and I would rather do this here than anywhere else.”
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