After offensive coordinator Jay Gruden left Cincinnati to become the next head coach of the Washington Redskins, they decided to stay within the organization to find their next OC and promoted running backs coach Hue Jackson. After three seasons with the Bengals, Gruden’s departure was welcomed by many fans. Gruden’s first year was also the same as the rookie seasons of AJ Green and Andy Dalton. Under Gruden, Andy Dalton had shown some development, but in order to get the Bengals farther into the playoffs he will need to take the next steps in his play. A fresh start with Hue Jackson should help that.
Jackson has made it clear that he believes a strong running game is the key to an effective offensive attack. The Bengals have the perfect complimentary running backs to have one of the best two-headed rushing monsters in the NFL. Giovani Bernard had a great rookie season, rushing for 695 yards on 170 attempts and three touchdowns. He was just as effective as a receiver as he was a rusher, catching 56 passes for 514 yards and three more scores. BenJarvus Green-Ellis complimented Bernard well, rushing for 756 yards of his own on 220 attempts. While the Bengals as a team only averaged 3.6 yards per rush this season, good for fifth-worst in the NFL, Hue Jackson’s Raider’s average 4.5 yards per rush in 2011 and 4.9 in 2010.
Bernard is a guy who is short and quick and makes guys miss easily. Just giving the ball to him more often increases the chances of him making a big play to spark the offense. If Bernard and Green-Ellis get more touches, this opens up the passing game for Andy Dalton.
Dalton had 586 pass attempts in 2013, the eighth most in the NFL. He also had his career high in interceptions this year with 20. The high number of pass attempts gives Dalton more chances to turn the ball over. He has shown over his three years in Cincinnati that he can’t always be trusted to make the best decisions, so putting the ball more in the hands of Bernard will limit the amount of times Dalton has to make mistakes.
The run game can’t exist without great blocking up front on the offensive line. This is wear Jackson might run into a problem implementing his run-first physical offensive game plan. The trouble spots on the Bengal’s offensive line is the middle. I love Andrew Whitworth, but I think injury and age is starting to catch up with him. Then there’s Anthony Collins, who is a great pass blocker but an average at best run blocker. Collins has improved and gotten stronger since the Bengals drafted him in 2008, but unless he and the rest of the interior of the offensive line work on improving their run blocking, Jackson will have difficulty getting this run game going.
At the end of the day, the change in offensive coordinator will benefit the Bengals. Jackson understands the importance of a physical offense, and won’t be afraid to abandon the run when the Bengals are trailing, like Gruden was known to do. The offense as a whole is still very young and being developed by coaches, and with a change of coach Green and Dalton could grow tremendously learning a new system.